Silverstein played to a capacity crowd at London’s Cowboy’s Ranch on February 7th, 2008, Playing material from their three commercial releases. I’d seen them play before actually, on the second run of Taste of Chaos dates. I’d just forgotten I’d seen them. What struck me about seeing them this time around was that they felt like a more established live act. Tight power chords mixed in with some equally tight drumming & their signature howling vocals seemed to take the crowd through moments of mayhem, to jaw-dropping silence on a few of Silverstein’s ballads.
While most parental units would wince their way through the majority of Silverstein’s material – Arrivals and Departures does showcase the band’s best work to date. I thought the band translated well up on stage. Their audience certainly couldn’t get enough of them. The floor was pandemonium for most of their show – with moshing and crowd surfers aplenty. The security guards certainly earned their money! When the evening came to its eventual wrap, I felt I’d seen a solid live band. Bill Hamilton, Silverstein’s bassist was kind enough to take a few moments before their show to field some questions with me. Here’s what he had to say:
Mike: You guys tour a lot.
Bill: Yeah, we do 200 shows a year, most years.
What’s that like? Do you find that stressful?
Bill: It’s very stressful, yeah. It’s really rushed all the time because when I’m home, it’s like I’m always trying to fit so much in. It’s never really relaxing because when we get home, it’s like “Okay I’ve got to see these people, I’ve got to spend this time with these people, I’ve got to do these things.” So it’s always just go-go-go. I need some time to wind down.
Where is home for you? Burlington?
I live in Toronto downtown. It’s nice. It’s over on the east side like Queen and Parliament. It’s a place with a couple of friends.
I’m always down there. I go to a lot of shows.
Yeah, I’m just down by the Opera House.
Cool. I love that neighbourhood. Can you talk a little bit about the Canadian music scene and specifically where Silverstein fits in?
It’s funny, this is actually our first ever Canadian headlining tour, and we’ve only done a handful of Canadian tours ever. And something I guess I’ve noticed about the Canadian music scene is there’s a lot of bands that do really well because they’re Canadian bands – the government helps out with grant money. There’s Much Music supporting groups from Canada as well. Canadian bands do a lot of touring in Canada, but very few of those bands will break out to the rest of the world. And I think our situation was a lot different from that. We started doing tours, and then we signed to Victory Records, which is an American label, so we didn’t have that support in Canada. Victory Records was a little unaware of how music-things are run in Canada, so we didn’t tour Canada for a long time. I think that we were able to learn the ropes in the States and then do some touring overseas and then come back to Canada and be really good, professional, and seasoned veterans in touring. Now we’ve got this full tour, the shows are all selling out, they’re big shows, and we’ve got great support and the kids are just having a really good time, and we’re really excited.
Well, tonight is sold out. There are already kids outside looking for tickets. It’s interesting that you’ve done the opposite of what most Canadian bands have. Bands who say they can’t break into the States or abroad, and they find it hard to get that audience across the border. You’ve done it backward. You signed with an American label, built up an audience abroad, and then came back 2-3 years later, and you’re selling out your Canadian shows.
Right, and it’s kind of cool because I think for awhile kids didn’t know we were from Ontario. It was like we’d do a Canadian tour with bands whether they’re Canadian bands or bands from elsewhere, people just kind of thought we were just a band from the States or something and then all of a sudden now it’s kind of like hey we’re a Canadian band. We love Canada, and we’re really excited to do this tour, and people are embracing that.
Now, if Silverstein hadn’t worked out, what would you be doing?
Oh, I’ve always been involved in the local music scene. I was really into taking photos and doing some stuff like that. I used to run a little print-zine and did a lot of cool extra things like that in the local scene, and I think I’d kind of be doing some sort of progression of that. I was thinking of going to school for photography or do an internship at a weekly paper, and I think I’d kind of still be working closely with music locally in some sort of job.
Something that I noticed about your band is you’ve achieved something that most groups will never even get a taste of. A lot of them will start garage-style and maybe tour a bit. But they’ll never really get anywhere. You managed to self-release, get signed to Victory, and taken off from there. That’s pretty amazing.
Yeah. It happened really quickly. We were all pretty young. I was still in high school, and some of the guys had just started a few years of college, and we just started playing shows, and it was fun, and we were just doing it and then all of a sudden – I guess we kind of had the ‘let’s be serious’ talk because it was kind of like we were just doing it for fun. Then this band called Safe Way Home (who were originally from London) got ahold of us and said, “Hey we’re going to go on tour. You guys should come”. And we were into it. Then we figured if we were going on a tour, we should probably record something, press a CD ourselves and sell it on tour. We did that, and then we got a good response on tour, and then we figured the touring went well, so maybe we should take the CD and send it out to some labels. At that point, we agreed this is what everyone wanted to do and really focused on it. And then from there, it was like, record material & tour.
So I think it’s just been a lot of legwork.
That’s neat that there wasn’t a lot of thought behind it – you just jumped
There wasn’t. And every record has been like that. We’ve never really thought into it too much… here’s what we want to do, or here’s the audience we need to appeal to. We’ve just been doing it for fun and working hard at it.
Do you all still live in Canada?
Yeah. Actually, for the most part, everyone still lives at home. I live in Toronto, but Shane still lives with his parents in Oakville. Paul still lives with his parents in Burlington, and Josh is back with his parents in Burlington. In Burlington, Neil is just on his own, like a block, down the road from his parents, so everyone’s still kind of at their home bases.
You tour something like 200+ days out of a year, so you’ve only got 3-4 months you’re not on the road, it’s good to have places to come home to.
Absolutely. The way we’ll usually work is we’ll go out on tour for 6-7 weeks, and then we’ll come back for a week and a half, and we’ll be gone again for another 6 or 7 weeks or maybe ten weeks. Then we’ll be back for a week and a half, and then we’ll go out for two weeks and perhaps back for four days and then we’ll go out for another ten weeks, Y’know? It’s pretty busy, and not always the same amount of time. And then, we’ve been going straight since last spring. We finished recording our new record and had about a month off for that, and then we did some festivals and made a little trip to Mexico and then went to Europe, and then we went straight into summer touring. Then the fall touring. We had like two weeks off over Christmas, and now we’re doing this tour. Actually, on January 1st, we flew to Australia, went from Australia to Japan, and then to Vancouver and came across Canada, and we’re now here. Yesterday was my first time being home all month after being in Australia and Japan for a month and a half.
You’ve been a part of some pretty impressive bills & festivals like Warped and Tasted Of Chaos. Any stories you can share from being on either one?
Yeah, I think Warped tour is all the best for those kinds of things. But it’s a big summer thing, and everyone’s doing the same thing, there’s not really a headliner. I mean, there’s always the more prominent bands, but as far as when you’re actually playing the main stage or a side stage, you don’t know when you’re going to play. You could play at noon or at 8 pm. It’s just like whenever you’re on – you go with it. The good thing about that is there are so many generations of the scene involved in a tour like Warped Tour. My favourite thing was just being able to bond and build personal friendships with bands that I grew up listening to. One specific is the band NoFX – easily one of the three groups that got me into punk music (The Devil Wears Prada fired up their soundcheck at this point. We both stopped for a few minutes until they were done.)
You were talking about NoFX.
Yeah. So doing Warped Tour, it was like we’ve done it a couple of years now, and there’d be bands like NoFX that I grew up with, they were one of the three groups that probably are the reason that I listen to punk rock and do what I do, and they did it for me, right. On a tour like Warped, you just become friends with those people, and bands like that they’ve been in it for so long, and they don’t have any kind of ego, they don’t need to have an ego, they know what their band is, and they just have fun, you know. And Shane and I especially were really into playing poker on Warped Tour, and we’d get playing poker with some of those guys and just have some entertaining nights. And I remember one night I kind of got a little out of hand with how loose I was playing and I ended up beating the drummer of NoFX for like a $600 pot, and he had pocket aces, and I had like a five and a two, but I pushed to make my flush. And he just kept betting into me, and I knew he had aces cause how much he was gambling, but I kind of like was going for it and I just kept calling and then all of a sudden the river comes, and I make my flush. So I said, “I made my flush – check!” And he’s like, “What? Ah, I guess I check.” So I show him the flush, and he yells out, “You fucking douche-bag!” And then he started cussing me out all night – and he left, and he was in a huff. He comes back a bit later, and he’s still cussing me out. He kept asking, “How do you play like that?” Totally ripping into me. And then later that night I got a phone call from him, and he’s like “Hey man I’m really sorry. I kind of got a little upset there. I didn’t mean to say those things to you, y’ know? And I just want to make sure we’re cool.” I’m like, “You’re NoFX! Of course we’re cool”. Then the next day like he gave me a big hug and now every time we play in L.A., he comes out to the shows. Stuff like that just happens on Warped Tour.
Does he still play poker with you, though?
Yeah, he does. I think my loose style has lost me more than it’s won me, so I’ve peeled off a little bit and tried to eliminate that game from my life somewhat.
The only time I can win at poker is when there’s no money.
Yeah, me too. Basically, those guys are great, and there are tons of great bands on Warped Tour and Taste of Chaos, and the good thing that we’ve been doing now is playing a lot of festivals in Europe, and it’s so refreshing to see these bands because it’s even more diverse over there. And there’ll be like 60,000 people that’ll come to the shows and all kinds of groups we didn’t grow up liking but just knew about. I think we’re doing one in the spring with Prodigy or something like that. It’s just cool.
Prodigy is an insane live band, Bill.
Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. It’s cool to do festivals. With the European festivals, it’s neat to see bands that we know from North America that we’re friends with and stuff and see them do well in Europe. We’ll run into someone we know, and it’s like a family reunion. It’s like hey we’re in Düsseldorf or something! Look at us!
You’re all doing the same circuit, the same shtick. There’s comfort in that.
For sure. It’s been really cool to see Billy Talent, they’re the biggest band in Canada, but they’re the biggest band in Germany as well. They’re real big over there.
They are totally a big band over there.
They’re like real, real big over there.
I watched that 666 DVD they just popped out. I couldn’t believe the crowd.
Yeah, it was at that festival, and it’s just insane.
Do you guys have a charity or a cause that you tend to get behind?
Yeah, well, there’s a couple of things that we kind of get behind, something that’s been with our band since the start. The group was kind of formed because Josh and our original guitar player Richard lost a friend that went to their high school in a car accident. And from that, we just kind of decided to pull together some positive energy around a negative time and make something good happen. They put on a benefit show for raising funds for the funeral arrangements as well as to raise some money for their school for someone else who was in the accident that ended up being paraplegic. So since then, we’ve always tried to work with causes. On this tour, we have a friend of mine, Rob Dyer, for Skate 4 Cancer, and he’s on tour promoting his organization. His main thing is to get kids involved in cancer awareness and prevention as opposed to raising money. He just thinks that you can do a lot more if you’re raising awareness and getting people involved than any amount of dollars. And we, unfortunately, lost a really close friend last summer to cancer. We decided to start our own charitable organization, the Nicholas Hurlbut Memorial Fund. We’ve done two shows now locally in Burlington where we put on the show ourselves and do all the work ourselves and get all our friends’ bands to play for free. We play for free, and we do it at the local YMCA who helps out with everything, and then we were able to raise $10,000 or $15,000 a show to give back to the local organizations. We make sure it goes to the places that need it – this last one we did, we sent all the money to the local hospice where our friend Nicholas was staying in his last days of care because places like that don’t really get the funding from the government. It’s essential to people who are in their final days. So we’ve always been aware of charities that we like to help out, and our band is always trying to take bad things and make them into good things. That’s what our music is about, and that’s what we’re about as people. We just try to show that with our actions and with our music.
Good for you. What kind of hobbies do you have?
Oh, so many. Like there’s like the classic ones, a bunch of the guys are into the video games, and we do the whole bus-time stuff.
There are touring hobbies, and then there are your home hobbies.
True. I’m really into riding my bike at home, and I’ve gotten into fixed-gear bikes, which is like the way gearing is run; you can’t stop peddling. It’s like a whole new culture of cycling. So I’ve gotten really into that. Last summer, I was able to bring my bike on tour, and it’s just helped me so much get around and see the cities and get off the bus and get away from the venue and stuff. So that’s been great. I do a lot of that while I’m at home too. I have a lot of good friends in the city. I mean having a bike in the City of Toronto is the best thing you can do, get anywhere way faster than any kind of automobile, especially in the summer.
It’s not an easy city to park a car in either.
No, and with the traffic, and so you can just fly on a bike. So I’ve been doing a lot of that. Personally, as I said, Shane and I were kind of really into poker, but I’ve fallen off that a little bit. But he’s still really into it. He plays a lot. He plays a lot online and does a lot of that when we’re at home. Paul’s really into graphic arts, he does a lot of design work and builds websites and stuff.
That’s my background, design.
Cool, yeah, Paul’s really into that.
What do you think about your audience? Do you guys like to meet your crowd? Do you do signings?
Yeah, that’s always been a real big thing for us is – we kind of come from a scene and a world where there’s no division between the crowd and the band. We grew up playing hall shows where it was like everyone was friends, and whoever’s band was playing that week, other people would watch and the people who were watching that band, well their band would play the next week. That’s kind of how it worked. So we come from that, and I think at first it was shocking and weird to have people try to put us on a pedestal and be so excited about us. We’re just the kids from down the street, you know? But we’re really into hanging out with our fans, and we try to do scheduled signings at places. We’ll just come and hang out at the merch table after the show, and that’s something we’ve always been doing. We do things with the tour as well. Like on this tour, if people bought tickets in advance from the website, fans would get a meet-and-greet with us, and we just love doing that stuff because our fans are what is important to us. Without the fans, there’s no band – that’s what we’re here for, so we like to meet our audience. I think it’s always good to talk to the fans, see what they’re into, see what they’re dealing with, and hear about their stuff and what bands they’re stoked on. It’s refreshing to talk to fans because it’s just like an insight into their world.
They’re the ones buying your shit.
Yeah – exactly.
Who did the cover artwork for Arrivals and Departures?
We’ve been working with this guy, his name is Martin Wittfooth, and he’s an old friend of Josh’s they used to work together at a snowboard shop, and he was going to school for illustration in Oakville and Sheridan College. We did our first record When Broken Is Easily Fixed, and we thought up the whole robot thing. Josh was like, “You know what? My friend Martin would be really good at painting that.” So we got him to do it, and we were really stoked on it. When we did Discovering the Waterfront, we decided to get Martin to do it again. And then this time around we’re just like we’ve gotta get him to do it. Arrivals and Departures is my favourite. The new artwork is the best that he’s done. I love the inside spreads and everything, it’s all really rad. He’s a really good dude. He’s progressed in his art and is now doing showings all over the world.
Good for him. It’s a really clean cover image. I thought the painting was pretty neat.
He’s a real good illustrator.