Interview with Nick from Spill Canvas above Call The Office in London –
Mike: So… what’s the shittiest question you tend to get asked when being interviewed Nick?
Nick: I don’t know if it’s so much shitty as I guess there’s the monotonous routine, which I understand those because you have to establish something in the interview and the run of the mill ones get me, so monotonous and boring. Like how did you get your band name? ‘Cause even if it’s like Aerosmith or something enormous like U2 I don’t know if I’d want to know. I’d just be more like okay, that’s your thing. That’s just me though.
Due diligence for me is you need to get the album and the bios. A lot of times the bios give you nothing. And then you have to start with the basics.
Nick: And those are fine I understand those questions totally, I think it’s just the monotony.
So this is the norm now? You do 2 or 3 interviews every time you’re in a place.
Nick: Or more. Yeah which is cool, cause I still love doing it and I still love getting that word out, but at the same time it gets a little tired. So sometimes I just think – it’s fun to embellish a bit, y’know?
How involved are you with your promotions? – I know you’re doing a clothes drive promotion tomorrow with Salvation Army in Toronto. How would something like that come about?
Nick: Well this new record that we’re doing, and pushing right now, we feel it’s like our first real shot to get out there with all the stars aligned perfectly for us. We’ve never been able to do anything ‘cause-wise’ because if you’re at that supporting band level it just gets so hard to keep your fire fuelled and also let’s try to this as well (supporting a charitable cause). So we’ve never had a chance
to – now we finally can. And we’re all about – we’re not exactly able to be involved in charities, (inaudible) so we’ve always been very into doing something like that so let’s start doing some stuff and we can have a little more leeway with the connections and our management. So we’re going to be doing that and I think now we’re doing the things around Children’s Services and kids that come from broken homes and stuff like that. I feel like if we could just take a second and put OUR band stuff on hold for a second – If any of our popularity or success could be translated into something other than for our own benefit – why not do it? A lot of way bigger names are now are very politically active … I don’t really care too much about politics I’m just more into charity. I CARE… but I don’t care that much, y’know?
Once you’ve got the ears of an audience, and grow a fan base then you can do something to influence a cause. I don’t know why more bands don’t get involved with causes they believe in.
Nick: Yeah it’s so easy too because you’re right there. Influence people. Make a difference.
Like Shirts For A Cure – I’ve hit them for Christmas presents for friends. Why not? Great looking shirts for not a lot of money, and the loot goes to a great cause (Breast Cancer Research)
Nick: Yeah and it’s great, and it’s so cool because the people that do it are amazing and it’s awesome. I love it.
So (pause) How did you get the band together? (Laughter)
Nick: This one’s OK, it’s ok. I had done, started The Spill Canvas acoustic when I was in high school for two years and then as soon as I graduated it was like okay I want a band. I basically was doing acoustic out of necessity. I’m from South Dakota so there’s no real plethora of musicians to pick from looking to start a band. So it just took a long time to find the right guys and the right line-up. So right around when I got out of high school I just started looking into where to find these guys to do the band with. It’s ironic that I went to high school with all the guys. I actually went to elementary school and through middle school as well with all the guys. Basically they were in another band and I kept like hanging in the background, y’know? One member would leave and I’d be be on them saying ‘do you want to do this?’ And then all of a sudden I’d ‘stolen’ all the members of this other band to be in Spill Canvas.
It was kind of humourous that it all happened locally, and here we are today.
Was there a point where you guys altogether realized that maybe it’s just not going to be playing bar shows, and that a record deal could happen and that you could be playing to capacity venues instead of opening band?
Nick: Yeah there was this moment … there was a few, many moments that occurred when we were maybe midway through the second record that we put out. It was our first full band record and it was midway through that cycle, like half way through that year and we just started getting all these really great tour offers. We’d be like ‘OK, let’s go tour with this band then’. We were very in tune with where we were as far as our audience goes. And the bands would just get cooler. There’s this band called Copeland we toured with, and then we went out with Motion City Soundtrack. And Ok Go were on that tour as well.
They’re such great guys, aren’t they?
Nick: They really are. We loved them. So we all thought that they’re pretty much right there – on the cusp of breaking out – so WE couldn’t be that far behind. And then our new management came into play and everything just started to fall into place. We got the record deal with Sire/ Warner Brothers. We really felt like we were at this plateau. We have this pallet of resources right at our fingertips. It’s surreal to think we’re still here now. Headlining a tour. There were some pretty crazy years, getting started and hitting the road month after month… and I’m sure things can get even more crazy but .. the grassroots beginnings are really some of the more memorable years of my life just knowing how much I grew as a person. You go through a lot doing this. It’s basically challenging yourself every day. Every day I’d look at where I was, and be like ‘This sucks. Am I ever going to get there?’ It’s just sticking with it that got us through.
How much stuff do you pick up from bands like Copeland, Ok Go & Motion City Soundtrack?
Nick: I think we’ve learned so much from them, just watching them work and whether that means us saying ‘I don’t want to be like that’ or ‘I DO want to be like that’. I think Motion City, those guys had such a professional feeling about them, and they loved what they were doing. and they were like kids – they’re older guys – but they were kids at heart but they still knew enough to have fun doing the business. It was a business to them – it was their job, and they were having a blast doing it. I think that’s what we got from them more than anything. As much as you want to not ‘work for the man’ as a musician, it’s also like how can I play the game and get what I want from ‘the man’ at the same time.
Last time I checked – nobody is throwing out bags of money to up and coming bands.
Nick: Exactly. So, we figured we’d glean that lesson from them and there’s so many bands that have such good heads on their shoulders and I think we were really lucky. We learned from a lot of them. And then there’s the flip side, bands that don’t take it seriously, that are so dysfunctional as a unit. It’s so easy to spot it. It’s like they are the rock cliché – on the road with three other dudes who are like their pseudo-wives – all bickering. But being on the road with bands that are smart – you couldn’t ask for anything better because you sit and watch them every day and just learn.
I always look at bands, and they tend to have a similar story – friends in school, or friends that just got together and started jamming. I don’t see a lot of bands that meet each other online or through a magazine and have that chemistry. Working stuff out or having issues with one another has got to be
Nick: It is. Yeah, you kind of have to do that whole getting to know you thing. You have to learn acceptance very quickly and you just learn that everybody’s different and you’re going to have to get better at communicating. I’m not really good at dealing with it. You have to deal with your bandmates every day, it’s a necessity. At the same time you also just learn. These huge things – I feel like if I was in college it would take me a lot longer to learn these things, because you’re not in the real world doing it. I just feel a lot of my peers, granted they excel in other areas but as far as that life experience I feel pretty fortunate to have the band and to learn from it.
So you’re about half way through your tour right now, a two months stretch right? What’s an off day for you – if you take a day off in a city what do you guys do for kicks?
Nick: We had a day off yesterday. We did another city, it was Buffalo that we were in. Even though it was Halloween we didn’t treat it as such. We were so tired and we ended up going to a movie. So we’ll go to a movie, we’ll run our errands and go to a mall. I’m addicted to coffee so I’ll find some coffee somewhere, maybe Barnes and Noble or a book place like that. You look for those staples that you know are going to be at certain places. Up here we’re in love with Tim Hortons. We love their coffee, and down in the USA, they are pretty few and far between. Only in northern areas. We relax. I think it depends on seasonal days off, what you do with it. Ultimately, we just hang out.
What’s the coolest thing that’s happened to you on this tour so far this first month?
Nick: I think, there’s been a lot of great crowds and a lot of great shows, but I think … I don’t know if it’s the coolest thing… but it’s the craziest thing. There’s this girl, there’s a fan and she has a tattoo of me on her body. I’ve seen it before. She comes to a lot of the shows in the area that she lives in and she came to this one a few weeks ago. I dunno man… She’s crazy. It’s so overwhelming when you see that kind of thing. She had ‘Nick Thomas’ birthday cake for her birthday and it was amazing but at the same time there’s these lines there, you know? You can see that honest and sincere Spill Canvas fan, who’s thankful for us making music, and then compare that to over here where I’m thinking I should never let her know even remotely where I live. There’s those weird things and you can’t be mean about it or anything. It’s flattering. But that’s one of the more crazy things. I think honestly there’s a good group of super fans that are just so cool. It would ultimately be the coolest to meet them all. It’s like every night I’m so blown away by these fans that have lyrics tattooed on them, and you can tell that they’re shaking when they’re talking to you. I just try to say – I’m just a normal guy. They get very tense and very worked up. Aside from the creepy ones, I love meeting our fans.
I think I’m a little long in the tooth for your core demographic Nick. A guy I work with is bringing his 16 year old daughter tonight. She’s freaking out that she’s going to see you guys.
Nick: We totally have the younger demographic in our target group. It just seems to work out that way. Which is fine. We joke about it every day – but it’s great to have an audience. These days… we love when we get 22 – 24 year old college students chatting us up. When this happens, we feel we’ve accomplished something.
Is every show you do right now all ages?
Nick: Yeah, I’m pretty sure.
If you could pick a tune that you really dig and play live right now what is it?
Nick: I love to play the song ‘Battles’ it’s like the third song we play. It’s also the third track on the new record. It’s one of my favourites.
And as a music fan, how do you keep up with new music when you’re on the road, it’s not like you can just pop out and hit a store whenever you want?
Nick: We’ll use the internet and that’s obviously one of the best tools for new music. I don’t know. I think we all have our favourites, like we’ll get a new record, whatever band we’re a fan of and we’re all such huge music. We like a lot of older music. I listen to Van Morrison every day. Our guitar player Dan is a big Pink Floyd fan. We have our classic rock groups where we just like to sit there and revel in their greatness. The new music on the internet is so hard to cull through. There’s so much of it out there.
What are you really digging right now?
Nick: I, like for new music I’m into, I love this guy Ray LaMontagne. I’m a big folk and roots kind of fan. I grew up on Van Morrison he seems like one of those incarnate kind of things. I love his stuff. What did I just get recently? I love the new Jimmy Eat World. That’s one of those bands that we grew up with and they write such great pop songs. Jimmy Eat World will always be a favourite of ours.. I listen to so much stuff, y’know?
I hear you. I get sent a lot of new shit to preview man.
Nick: what are you digging right now?
I’m really enjoying this Canadian band called Wintersleep. You’d probably dig them based on what music you’re talking about here. The album is called Welcome to the Night Sky. It’s like a mixture of Neil Young from around 1970 and I hear a bit of Built To Spill in them as well.
Nick: I LOVE Built To Spill. Wow. Wintersleep okay. I’m going to check them out.
I think they’re playing here in 2 weeks.
Nick: That reminds me I’m a big fan of Weakerthans from up here.
They’re going to be playing Call The Office pretty soon too.
Nick: I’m really digging their new record.
They are doing well on it too, I think they sold the show out in Toronto and they’ve got another one tacked on already.
Nick: That’s crazy. Good for them. I love them so much. I was like a kid when I first heard them, and just fell in love with them. They are just one of those great bands. Wintersleep, huh?
Check them out man. I think you’ll be impressed.