Interview with Casper Skulls

Ava Muir interviews Casper Skulls, the newest addition to Toronto's Buzz Records. Debut EP 'Lips & Skull' available now.
Photo by Chris Borges

“If Sonic Youth had a baby, it would be you guys!” reads a comment on the Facebook page of Casper Skulls, one of the newest additions to Toronto’s most thriving independent label, Buzz Records, Casper Skulls. Comprised of Neil Bednis, Melanie St-Pierre, Chris Anthony and Fraser McClean, the group have accomplished more in their short time together than some bands could only ever dream of and are ready to take the world by storm. Their debut EP ‘Lips & Skull’ was released on October 28 and is made up of 5 tracks that manages to melt your face off and put it back together again. I spoke to Mel and Neil, the groups lead vocalists and guitarists, over speaker phone as they sat in their newly purchased band van, just moments after wrapping up a live session. Their genuine excitement and gratitude was contagious – carrying through the phone waves and giving me even more hope for the future of the scene.

Northern Transmissions: First things first – I want you guys to please tell me all of the amazing and special things about Sudbury that you love so much and have influenced you.

Melanie St-Pierre: Sudbury is a really great place. There’s a lot of great bands from there, I’m not even going to go about listing them all. Just go to Bandcamp and look through the Sudbury, Ontario listings. There’s a part where you can look through hometowns so do that!

Neil Bednis: I will say one thing. When I was 13, I went to my first show and there was this Sudbury band called Varge! and after I saw that band, that’s what made me want to play music and get into music. There’s so many great artists and musicians. There’s a great venue called The Townehouse that has hosted tons of bands.

MSP: Literally, that’s where we grew up. We grew up at The Townehouse. We just loved music so much and wanted to go and see live bands and that’s where you could go and see live bands. We would always be there, no matter what. Rain or shine, snow or no snow.

NT: Did The Townehouse host some of the Up Here (Urban Art & Music Festival) shows, as well?

MSP: Yeah! That’s where we played our Up Here show.

NT: I thought so! You played there with Dilly (Dally)?

MSP: Yeah! Dilly Dally and Partner. It was a really great show. They took such, such good care of that festival. We missed the first year because we were here (Toronto) and we couldn’t get the time off but this year we were playing it so we got to go and actually experience it. It looked amazing last year too.

NT: You guys are also grateful for so many of the bands that you’ve had the chance to play with like The Dirty Nil, Perfect Pussy, Chastity who just got signed to Captured Tracks, which is really cool.

MSP: Yeah! That’s so cool. I’m so, so, so proud of them. We saw Brandon, like, a week ago and we just caught up and stuff like that. He mentioned Captured Tracks in passing but we didn’t know if it was a for sure thing. Then all of a sudden it was like BAM! So awesome.

NT: They work so hard. They tour relentlessly.

MSP: I know! They tour more than anyone I know, it’s crazy.

NT: If you go to Chastity’s Facebook page, it’s just an endless list of tour dates.

MSP: Yeah, for sure! And really good dates too, like with PUP and everything.

NB: I love how modest they are too. They signed to Captured Tracks and literally didn’t post anything about it. Everyone else did for them.

NT: How does it feel to see your friends achieve this kind of success? You guys are obviously doing very well too. How does it feel to kind of get to share this with them?

MSP: It feels amazing and really inspiring. It makes us want to go for it. We were in the car driving today and Neil said to me, “Honestly, it just makes me want to try and go for it and know that I can do this.” It justifies it for us, you know what I mean? Our friends just got signed to a really great label in America, at that, which is hard to do. It’s just really inspiring.

NT: You are going down to the States soon too. You got your P2s recently.

MSP: Yeah, finally! We expedited them so we’re able to go.

NT: That process must just be such a pain. I can only guess how much harder it’ll be once they up the prices even more.

NB: 42%.

MSP: It’s already hard enough for bands to go anywhere. Pretty unfair.

NT: Regardless, are you excited to be going down there and breaking some new ground?

MSP: Yeah! The last time I went to the States, I was 13 and I went to a horseback riding island. I think it was called Mackinac Island. It’s a big tourist island and you can go horseback riding and biking and there’s no cars. It’s really, really cute. It’s going to be nice to actually go when I’m older and get to experience things.

NT: You recently got your first van too.

MSP: Yes, we’re in it right now! It’s been great. We didn’t have a car for a bit. We lost our vehicle in a freak taxi accident. A taxi just kind of slid into us when it was raining and hit us in the back. They were really nice about it though.

NT: Going back to the topic of your friends and how everyone inspires you – is being a part of the Buzz (Records) family a constant source of inspiration?

MSP: Oh, all the time. For sure. They’re so inspirational, like Chastity type of thing. They also tour more than anybody that we know and go for it hard. It’s so amazing to see Weaves get to the level that they’re at or Dilly Dally or Fake Palms or Greys. Everybody!

NB: I don’t know if I’m getting this right but Shehzaad (Jiwani of Greys) had a booking agent before but now he’s been booking stuff himself. Some of the shows he’s booking now are just crazy. I think he booked that White Lung tour himself. Same with the Bully tour they’re going to do and the Japandroids show.

MSP: Because he’s such a good person and he’s so sociable! He’s just so good at being himself. Himself just gets him far.

NT: Everyone in the Buzz family just has their own specialties that they bring. Ian, Denholm, Tom – it’s a good team.

MSP: Everybody has something that they bring to the table. They’re all a little bit different in these really great ways and everything they bring just makes it one big great hole.

NT: Things have moved pretty fast for you. Going from being pretty much DIY to getting signed – was it overwhelming at all or did Buzz help make that transition pretty smooth?

MSP: I mean, it’s a little overwhelming a bit because you have to move pretty quickly and you’ve got to get with it pretty fast. I haven’t been playing music as long as Neil and the guys. This is a little bit newer to me so I’ve found that, me alone, I have to be quick about everything and pick up on stuff and learn, learn, learn and you’re always learning.

But then Neil tells me “Mel, I’m still learning too. I still don’t know a ton of things.” We don’t know a lot, at all. This is a great learning experience for us, even the guys. We’re just excited to learn and for every experience that comes our way, I guess. For that to be something that we take away from and get better. Get to the next level.

NT: You’re getting amazing opportunities. You just played the Danforth (Music Hall) with Born Ruffians which would have been awesome.

MSP: Yeah, it was a really great show for us. We were really, really grateful for that show. It was interesting to hear what we would sound like on a big stage because that’s really the biggest stage we’ve played. We’ve played Lee’s (Palace) and stuff like that but nothing compares to the sound of a room that has reverb, like the Danforth. The room is always changing with the amount of people coming in and out of it so it’s really interesting to hear.

NT: That in itself would have been an amazing learning experience. It’s awesome that you guys are so grateful for that.

MSP: We’re just grateful for everything that’s ever happened here ever. Honestly, no one has to care about our band. No one has to at all but thank you for caring about it! That’s what keeps us going.

NB: I was playing with this other band when I was living in Sudbury and I remember sending demos to Buzz and Pleasence (Records) and Hand Drawn (Dracula) and never hearing back. I thought they were all cool labels so when Buzz was interested, I was really excited just because I liked their label so much too.

MSP: We are a fan of the label which just makes it even better. We love all the bands on the label.

NT: Does it feel good to finally have this EP out? Are you ready to move on to the full length?

MSP: Yeah! We’ve had it for a while. Some of these songs are the earliest songs that we started working on as a band. We recorded them in February (2016) and were like “So, when can we put it out?” and Buzz was like “October!” and we were like “Oh boy…”

Since I work for a record pressing plant, we had our records pressed super quick. Before, we were working with a very, very low turnaround time but then once we turned to our own pressing plant, our turnaround times became so much quicker. We had our record within two months so we had them by May or June. We were just kind of like “Now what? They’re just going to sit in the basement and collect dust!”

NT: Are you starting to work on your first full length yet?

MSP: Oh yeah. We have the whole thing pretty well demoed. We’re going to do two songs that are well demoed and then go from there, try to apply for some grants and stuff for a little extra help.

NB: We’re hoping to record it in March.

MSP: Yeah, March would be nice.

NT: Are you planning to record it at Candle Studios again?

MSP: That’s where we recorded the EP, yeah. We might not do actual Candle. I’m pretty sure we’re going to go with Josh (Korody) again but I think we might do – what’s the name of that studio?

NB: I forget what the studio is called. It’s like a barn. I think Graham from Holy Fuck owns it. We’re going to do that place with Josh.

MSP: A different recording experience.

NT: Is it good to work with Josh? He’s done so much good stuff.

MSP: Oh yeah. He kind of gets our sound. Even when he watches us play live, after a set he’ll be like “Okay so, I pictured this, this and that and I totally get what you guys are going for in this one song” so he’s our guy. The full length will probably be a lot different from the EP, in terms of sound. I find the EP is a little bit more dry and we didn’t really know what we kind of wanted in the studio because we’re pretty new to it. We just kind of let Josh and Shehzaad play around and figure out our sound. They wanted to go for a Rather Ripped by Sonic Youth, around that type of sound so that’s kind of what we went for.

I feel like towards the full length, we’re probably going to go for more of a lusher sound. Not caked in reverb and all that stuff but a little bit more reverb at least. Still keeping that dryish stuff but just kind of getting that in between. We want to play around with a couple different instruments on it too, a couple of strings or something like that. Our new songs are a lot more melodic so we want to get the most out of them and how can we make these sing? How can we get them there? We’re just spit balling ideas, I guess.

NT: I know you two (Mel and Neil) have been together romantically for over 5 years now. It doesn’t seem like that would ever be a negative factor at all. I feel like it kind of makes the band stronger. Would you agree with that?

MSP: Yeah, for sure. Neil and I actually talked one day about this and he was like “Mel, if anything ever happened to us, if a random freak thing happened and we broke up, I’d still want to continue doing the band” and I was like “Me too!” We’d slow dive it.

NT: It seems like a good dynamic all around between you two, Fraser and Chris. You are obviously all best friends too.

MSP: We all work really well together. We all add something. During a jam, even if we’re like “I don’t like that” or we’re bickering about a certain part, we always try everybody’s idea and we always come out with an idea that we all agree upon in the end. We all just add to everything and it always works out somehow. I think about it all the time because, man, if you think about it, we met Chris on Kijiji. That’s so not formal!

NT: What was it for? Just a drummer?

MSP: Yeah! Neil made the Kijiji ad and he had moved to Oakville with me and he was depressed because he wanted to play music. We didn’t know anybody, I was in school in my art program so I don’t know any musicians that go to Sheridan (College) so he put up an ad on Kijiji and found Chris. I think he put one up but he also found Chris’ Kijiji ad?

NB: Yeah, I found Chris’ Kijiji ad and then responded to that. I don’t even think Chris wanted to play drums but he said he had a drum kit so I took that as “Oh, you’re a drummer!” He learned how to play drums.

MSP: He literally learned how to play drums! He was a born drummer and he probably didn’t even know it!

NT: It’s awesome that Chris has all of his connections from Little Men (Promotions) because he did all the shows in Oakville and was so involved in the scene there. You couldn’t have asked for a better person.

MSP: Exactly! We didn’t know anyone in Oakville who was in the music scene until Chris came along. He introduced us to so many people. He introduced us to Fraser and that’s how Fraser came into the band because we needed a bass player. We started jamming just the three of us and then we had maybe two jams. Then we jammed with Chris’ friend Dave but he lived too far away and was in school so he was a little bit too busy. Chris was like “Well, what about Fraser?” We met him at Burly Calling, I think it was, two years ago so we were like “Yeah sure!” and then we started jamming with Fraser and we just fell in love.

NT: You all work together so well. It’s so nice that you’re such good friends.

MSP: Yeah, I don’t know. They’re just – you guys are my rocks. Chris and Fraser are in the back of the car now. They were putting things away but then they decided to come into the van. They snuck in!

NT: Hi guys! With everything happening, would you say your song writing has progressed over the past year?

MSP: It’s getting a lot poppier actually. The punk thing is still there, it’s still the base. You can still hear it in these songs but they’re just becoming more melodic and pay a little more attention to melody. The songs that I sing are a little bit more poppy but every time Neil sings – he’s the more talky, singy guy – his songs always remain spoken word kind of feeling to them.

NB: There’s some songs too where I’ll write them and have the melody for them and then realize after that Mel’s voice is the better fit. So then Mel will sing it and put her own spin on it.

MSP: Neil is actually an amazing sad songwriter. He writes the best sad songs I have ever heard. He’s just really amazing at melodies. He’s got such a good ear for it. That’s something that I need to work on more, as it’s still so new, but Neil has it down so well. He’s a heartbreaker!

NT: What are your hopes and dreams for 2017?

MSP: We want to tour a lot, we want to get out there, we want to put out this record. We just want to work really hard and continue doing what we’re doing. Hopefully people will get on board and like it.

Interview by Ava Muir

Casper Skulls Tour Dates

Nov 12 O’Brien’s Allston, MA
Nov 13 Shea Stadium New York, NY
Nov 15 Kung Fu Necktie Philadelphia, PA
Nov 19 Downstairs Chicago, IL
Nov 26 The Baby G Toronto, ON