After a genuinely horrid three and a half-hour drive into Toronto – leaving me fourty minutes late for my interview with Switches, a gracious fellow opened the front door to the Opera House and let me in. I was just shaking all of the snow off myself when he piped up with “Hi, I’m Matt, from Switches,” and proceeded to lead me in past an assortment of gear and sound guys to the bar.
After some quick introductions (to Ollie, and Jeff, the bands’ tour manager) I was lead up the center of the stage, into the small alcove on the right side of the stage, then down to a pair of small rooms below the stage where the rest of the band were waiting. Side note: I’d never actually been in the bowels of the Opera House before. It’s a narrow little spot, with access to both sides of the stage on the left and right. I took a moment to reflect on the talent I’d seen in the Opera House in the past. My Bloody Valentine, Soundgarden, Ash, Snow Patrol, The Stereophonics, Mudhoney. It gave me a shiver thinking that all of these bands and so many more had hung out down here in years past. I quickly brushed off that thought and got to the moment at hand; some Q&A with Switches, a band destined for greatness in 2008.
Interscope, Switches label, has been sitting on their debut CD for over eight months. The band has already done a round of dates in North America opening for The Fratellis and had played the Mod Club the last time they were in town. Apparently, they are banned from the Mod Club over a misunderstanding regarding altercations with some of the staff there. That. And some drunkenness on behalf of the band. They pleaded their innocence before me, saying it wasn’t their fault at all.
The four fellows standing in front of me were pure British Rock and Roll. Skinny, unshaven, and dressed in funky sneakers & scarves – they were eager, chatty, and a wee bit tired. I’d been fortunate enough to score an advance of their debut (entitled Lay Down The Law) a few weeks earlier from their New York PR firm – an album with no less than four standout singles that should see them grow an audience in North America. Lay Down The Law gets released here on March 18th – put it in your calendar – it’s music to get excited about. The next time the band comes to town, they will likely be headlining their own dates
Since the UK release of Lay Down The Law, Switches have focused a tonne of their energy on North America. This has diminished their headlines in UK magazines like the NME. The band seem un-wavered by this fact and are enthusiastic about a full release in North America, and more touring to support the disc. The group has gone through member changes (vocalist Matt is the only founding member left), relentless live shows, and a renewed excitement at their repackaged discs release.
What follows is a short interview with all of the bandmembers, below the Opera House a few hours before supporting The Bravery on February 12th.
Mike: Switches are still a UK based band, are you not?
Matt: Oh yeah.
Any chance you’d consider relocating?
Matt: Oh, I might move over. My girlfriend’s from this town, so I’ve thought about moving here one day maybe.
Is she still in town here now?
Matt: No, she’s in London UK right now (laughs). It’s a bit of a bad deal, really; “Come to the UK and live with me – and I’m now over here.”
Classic. So she’s on the other side of the pond right now?
Matt: Yeah. Her family are coming tonight though, which will be nice. She went to university – did you say you lived in London?
Matt: She went to University in London, Ontario.
Matt. Yes. Western University.
I actually work on the campus at an ESL school there.
Matt: Oh? Nice. That’s cool. I’ve not been up there yet. Is that right? Up there? Or Down there? I’m not sure ‘where’ it is, really.
Two hours west of here. But in weather like today, more like four hours. It’s about 300,000 people give or take. I don’t know how you’d fare out there. London’s got a music scene but it’s more of a secondary market. It’s a bit dicey for many bands like yourselves.
Matt: So you’d have to come all this way to see a show, I suppose?
I do it all the time. I keep an apartment down here.
Ollie: So you don’t have to drive back tonight then?
Nope, I’ve had enough of this action for one night. Driving was pretty slow going today. I’m staying put tonight.
Ollie: I’d rather be in a hot tub this evening myself.
I don’t blame you one bit. What do you guys do for accommodations on nights like this? You’re not pushing out of Toronto tonight, are you?
Ollie: We’re staying at a hotel tonight. It’s right around the corner, I think. Chesnut something or other?
Matt: I don’t know what it’s called. I have the hotel key in me wallet, but I can’t be bothered to get it out.
Well, on a night like tonight, that’s much better than sleeping in the van.
Thom: They’ve cut us down to size recently too. Wouldn’t you know it? We had a bus for the beginning of the tour, and we just got dropped into a van, right as the weather gets bad.
Steve: (laughing) Can you imagine that?
Matt: Yeah, “the budget started to run out, so now we’re in a van.”
Ollie: Cest’ la vie, eh?
When does your disc come out over here?
Matt: March 18th is the date.
And how long has it been available in the UK?
Thom: About ten months?
Matt: We didn’t have a deal over here until last year. It came out in the UK, and we spent a few months touring it in the UK, and a couple of weeks in Japan. Then we got a deal with Interscope over here and then obviously things took a bit longer to move, as they tend to do in life sometimes – and finally it’s going to come out over here next month.
How hard is it for you to play material for audiences when there’s no physical CD available to support your show? Do you feel the crowd is getting it when you perform?
Matt: Ah, we’re used to it now. We’ve done three years of touring to people that don’t know our music. The album only came out in England ten months ago. And since then we’ve been (pauses) not in England.
(all laughing) So I don’t know. I’m looking forward to it coming out and then coming back to do some more shows where people know some of the songs. You get a few hardcore people that have got the import. They come to the shows, and you see them sing along to every song – which is pretty amazing. On the whole, our job is to try and win over people with our live show right now.
I do follow a lot of the UK trades, and I’ve seen your name pop up in them.
Matt: Yeah, we were in a lot of the magazines over there. The UK is very fickle, though. If you’re not over there working it, they forget about you very quickly.
Ollie: Yeah, we had the NME going off about it for a while. And then we left the country. The UK is very flush with live bands…
I think the UK produces some of the best music in the world…
Matt: It used to.
Ollie: Canada’s got some great bands, though.
Matt: Personally, I think the UK used to produce the best bands in the word, but the past couple of years have gotten a bit – I don’t know? I haven’t been real impressed with what we’ve been coughing up.
Most of the stuff coming out of North America is Emo. Or some derivative of Emo, you know?
Matt: Yeah, true. All of your big bands in England are bands like Panic At The Disco, My Chemical Romance and Hawthorne Heights. They’re all bands that I’ve never had much interest in. The groups that I like, it almost seems that they’re not as big as they used to be. The Super Furries; their new album came out in England. You know it might have gone top twenty. They’ve got a hardcore fanbase over there. But it seemed like they had no press and no radio. It’s sad.
Thom: The bands I like aren’t around anymore. They’ll pack an arena still, but there’s no press or TV for them or anything. It’s kind of sad, really.
I don’t even know if the Super Furry Animals have a release over here or not. I’ve not heard the new disc yet. I think they may have a gig coming up, though.
Matt: The new one’s called Hey Venus. It’s good.
That happens a lot. UK releases can wind up staying in the UK, and the bands tend to tour on their laurels. I see the Charlatans come around still, but I don’t believe their past two CDs got a release over here.
Ollie: Yeah. All those bands are more touring bands now. They were super popular ten years ago or more, and they can still pack in a crowd of fans who like their stuff. It doesn’t even matter if they release new material or not. They’re still going, though. They’re brilliant, really. It’s good to know you can still tour to a fanbase.
You can do it even after the bands all broken up. Dude from Ride still drops CDs and tours around.
Matt: Ride. Yeah. They broke up years ago, didn’t they? In fact, one of them is in Oasis now, isn’t he?
The guitarist, Andy. That’s right. So, what do you figure you guys will be doing in ten years then? Are there tracks on your debut you figure you’ll be busting out to crowds in a decade?
Ollie: Oh, I don’t know. We just love making music, y’ know? I don’t think that will ever stop. If we get to the point where we’re a top pop band, where we can just coast on our hits or something…
Thom: Like we are at the moment, aren’t we?
Ollie: We’ll see in a month of we can sell some records, won’t we?
Thom: I suppose that obsession dies when you lose all of your hair then.
Matt: So basically, when I go bald and start putting on serious weight, then I think I’ll go behind the scenes and put out some low key indie albums. Or wind up writing for other people.
Steve: Or producing.
Matt: Yeah, or producing. So While we’re young, I thought we’d have a go at the pop-game. But in an indie-rock guise.
So what does signing to a major over here mean to you guys? What comes with that?
Matt: When I was a kid, I always thought all I wanted was a record deal with anybody. We wound up being told by management, and people like that indies don’t have so much money to put behind the band. With a major, they don’t seem to ask so much of you. Sometimes you’ll find with a major label, that they’ve got a bunch of money to spend on you – but with that comes…
Ollie: They work the hell out of you.
Matt: Right. And not only that, sometimes they don’t seem to know where to spend it. Sometimes they don’t care about you. We were on a major in England. But now we’re not with that label anymore. Once the album came out, and it didn’t go top ten, they lost interest. It’s sad, really. Everyone says this sort of thing happens, though. Everyone over there knows this stuff. We just thought that we’re young, we’re hungry, let’s just go for a major label and try and make it big. Why not?
Ollie: Definitely in our own country, in England, most of the indies have been swallowed up. The majority of them. There’s a couple of independents left, but they’re mostly gone. You want to go with a major label, really. You want the backing and the opportunity to work it. Many indie bands don’t necessarily have the opportunity or the financial support to get as far as they might be able to go.
Matt: There’s only a few left in England now. You’ve got Domino – who made it big off of the success of Franz Ferdinand, and again with the Arctic Monkeys. They’ve likely got a lot of money behind them now. What others’ are there that haven’t been swallowed up? There’s Rough Trade, but they lost a lot of money on the Libertines, and they spend a lot of money on him, didn’t they?
Ollie: Effectively, you’re signing a deal, and that’s major. But the level of support you can get varies from label to label.
I don’t want to be downplaying Interscope at all with this question; do you feel that the major labels understand where bands are coming from? And that they get where you want to go?
Matt: Yeah. For us, the good thing about Interscope is they’ve been very supportive of us all along. We’ve been through lineup changes since we signed our deal. The record hasn’t come out straight away – yet they are still very excited about the album. They’re still into it, and they’re showing the love. Which some labels might not have done, y’ know?
Ollie: A lot of it is the luck of the draw. If you’re fortunate to have someone sign you who’s really into your music and your band – it doesn’t matter if their an indie or a major. They’re going to want to make something of the music. Sometimes at a major, you’ll find that maybe their not all that fussed about you.
Thom: Sometimes, a major will sign you because your IT, you know? The flavour of the week. But they won’t really know what they’ve got at all.
Matt: We had that in England, really. I’m not saying the guy that signed us in England was that kind of guy or anything. But we were one of those bands in England. We got to a stage where there was a massive scrum by all the majors. They all put in loads of money. I think it takes on a life of its own. “there’s this band, and they’re getting all of these offers, so we should put an offer in too.” That sort of thing. So they get the band, and then they’re like, “What now?” Do you know what I mean there?
Yeah, I can see that.
Matt: Now, I’m not saying that happened to us. I don’t think it did. But that can easily occur. And I believe that at Interscope – the guy that worked our deal is really passionate about our music. He took us out the other night – and it’s been over a year since he first heard these songs, right? And he’s like “These songs – they knocked me over when I first heard them. They reminded me of being young again”. They took him back to his college days, he said. And I do think there’s a 90’s thing going on with what we’re doing, and he was probably in college in the nineties or something.
I like that aspect of your music Matt; I was that guy as well. I enjoy the harmonizing on the CD. You don’t often hear three people all singing along the same chorus on songs in pop music these days.
Ollie: we get that a lot.
Matt: I mean, harmonizing has been around in music since the renaissance days and all, but you’re right. There are not many bands bothering to do it anymore, which is quite lazy. I think the human voice is the most beautiful thing, instrumentally.
Ollie: There’s almost a trend NOT to do it right now. Which I find a bit weird. Certainly, there’s a significant movement of a sort of simple, indie, jagged sort of music in England.
Matt: The Wombats do it at the start of their show, don’t they?
Ollie: Yeah, they do. But it’s one little bit, though, just an intro to their set. It’s almost like it’s not cool to do it. And it doesn’t fucking need to be that way, does it? We love it. That’s the music we’ve grown up to. And we like doing harmony. There’s been room for bands that harmonize in every decade of music, really. So why not now?
Matt: Even Blur. Do you remember? There were backing vocals on their older records.
Ollie: Or Supergrass too.
Matt: Yeah, them too. You can’t always pull it off live, though. Even Queen didn’t do some of their harmonizing when they played live, did they?
Do you guys ever do any cover versions?
Matt: No. I’ve recorded a few, but we don’t play any of them live. I’ve done a cover of Beck’s ‘Sexx Laws.’ I did it in my bedroom. We’ve never spent money on it though – we’ve not done any studio-recorded covers or anything. We may do one down the road if we get some more money to play around with. What would we do if we did a cover, though?
Ollie: 10CC ‘Une Nuit A Paris’
Matt: Ooh, that’s a bit ambitious, isn’t it? (laughter) Maybe ‘Bicycle Race’?
Some ELO or some Cars seems like a natural fit. I hear a bit of both of them when I play your music.
Matt: Yeah. Actually, we did a cover of ‘The Sweet Escape’ by Gwen Stefani…
Ollie: Oh yeah, we did, didn’t we?
Matt: But we sort of did in a slow-groove-rock style. We straightened it out, so it was quite swingy. More like a Weezer-esque fill. Lots of guitars. And it sounded really good. But we never recorded it. We just did it live at a session one time.
Oliie: It might be up on Napster.
Matt: I tried to find it once, but I didn’t have any luck, really.
Steve: It did turn out quite good, though.
You’ve been over in North America now on multiple tours. What have you been finding is different in our music scene compared with the UK? This could be press & radio or audience reception to your music here compared to the UK…
Matt: I don’t read much press over here. We’ve been back in England for a while now. We’ve only been on the road with this tour now for a few weeks. But I think it’s more spread out. In England, it feels like there’s one radio station, One magazine, One TV show – that kind of thing. Whereas over here, there are more areas to conquer, really. And it’s great, because each region in North America may require something different from us as a band. It’s quite unique. In England – it’s like if you’re into Pete Dougherty, then you wear this kind of clothing, and it’s the same from place to place. But in the US, you travel around – like in Arizona – we played there recently, and the kids are all mental, and they were all drinking excessively. And then we went to San Diego, and they were all quite sedate. It literally is different vibes in different towns. They say that as well in England. They’ll talk up the Manchester crowds and whatever…. But it’s not like that at all. Everyone in attendance is all reading the same magazines, playing the same radio station, and watching the same TV show. It doesn’t apply up here.
We’re all dressing like Pete Wentz.
Matt: Yeah, well (laughs). That’s an entirely different type of music, though, isn’t it? A different scene, I suppose. Their scene is more pure pop but dressed up as something else.
Ollie: What? In England?
Matt: No, with Pete Wentz and their lot.
What will be your first single in North America then??
Matt: They are putting “Drama Queen” to radio right now. And we’re due to make a video for it as well. So that will be the first thing.
Have you done anything in the UK already that you could pilfer?
Matt: We’ve done three videos over in England already. But (a) we’ve got a different lineup now, and (b) we want to spend some more money. (laughter) We’ll use the major labels cash here. (more laughter) Seriously, we can do something better. The first video for “Drama Queen” was pretty average – to – poor. So we want to do something better, and they’ve given us the opportunity to do that. It’s a different place – a different band now.
Ollie: We’ve grown up a bit too. We’d like to treat them as separate entities, y’ know? We’ve made different artwork for the CD, and were a different band now. It’s all for the better. It’s just the way we’ve been growing. The only thing that’s remained constant with switches is the music, really. And that’s the most important thing. Everything else around the band since the album first got made has changed. It’s been interesting to go through these changes; Shoot new videos; Have new photoshoots. Change our hairstyles. As long as we keep our minds free.
Matt: You learn as you go, really. We’re fortunate to be where we are and to have another life in Switches. We’re like cats; we’ve got our second life on the go now.
The artwork that was on your MySpace looked like ‘Waking Life.’ That style of animation. It was also used in…
Ollie: Are you talking about the graphic novel?
Matt: Are you talking about the current MySpace?
Yeah. A lot of the photos on there are all distressed. Your skin-tones are all cartoonish like they’ve been rotoscoped.
Matt: THAT was the English artwork. Yes. I liked this film called A Scanner Darkly…
Yeah, yeah. That’s the same guy. He made a movie a few years back called Waking Life.
Matt: Richard Linklater?
That’s him. He did a flick five or six years ago called Waking Life in the same style of animation.
Matt: Really? Was it good?
Yeah, I thought so. It was more relationship-based. More talking and dialog. But it was interesting none the less.
Matt: Well, I watched this Scanner Darkly film, and I liked it. I had to suss out the novel it was based on to try and understand the movie better. But visually, the film was really amazing. We wanted to replicate that style of illustration for our album. And the video we made for “Drama Queen” was an example of that. But the guy that made the video for it obviously didn’t know how to fucking do it. So we get this video handed to us that was not how we wanted it to be, and it’s like “Here you go boys. The singles out in three weeks. We’d better get this out there!” It was all quite disappointing. There’s an example of the major label for you. “Fuck You guys. We’re doing it.” Do you know what I mean? That was our older label.
You’re going to move away from that now, right? New stuff for North America?
Matt: Yes. I bought this book before Christmas called Heartbreak Soup. It’s like a graphic novel? And I liked the pictures on the front. And We’ve kind of tried to do our own thing in that style. It’s not the same, exactly, but as a concept, it’s a bit easier to execute. But to us, it’s better artwork. We’re more into it. We love the new artwork, and we can’t really say that about the other artwork, can we?
Ollie: No. The new stuff is much more us.
Thom: I like both of them, but the new artwork is my favourite. Everyone who see’s it goes, “Yeah, that’s good.”
Matt: Rob, the guy that made our album, saw the new artwork, and he was like, “Wow, this stuff looks fucking cool.” So we’re happy with it.
This is what I got sent (I hand them my advance – which is black and brown, with a small black and white photo running through the center of the cover). It doesn’t look like this does it?
Matt: Oh no. Not at all. I think they knocked this together last summer when they’d just signed us, and they then put us out on tour. If you pop onto our MySpace, you’ll see the new colour scheme and artwork. It’s blue with some drawings on it.
Oh yeah, yeah… it’s a drawing of someone getting punched, is it not?
Matt: That’s right. There should be something by the merch table: posters or something. We’ll have a look afterward.
What was it like jumping out on the road with the Darkness?
Matt: Oh, we only did one show with them. It was a long time ago. None of these guys were in the band then.
That must have been a while ago then.
Matt: It was 2003. I’d started the band up, and we got into a battle of the bands’ contest at the university, and The Darkness was coming through on tour. I was only about 19 at the time, and they were like massive. It was a bit of a big deal, really. It was fun. The first tour we ever did with Rakes, and that was two years ago now?
They’re a good band. Not a lot of love for them over here either, is there?
Matt: No, Not really. They are very English sounding. I can imagine a lot of folks over here not even understanding some of their lyrics.
Their music is excellent, though. And that usually translates no problem.
Matt: That’s true. We enjoyed that tour. That was our first little bit of exposure.
Ollie: we were playing to – up to 1000 capacity venues on that tour. Kind of like this venue. It was great. We’d get a 2-minute soundcheck, and then we’d just go out and give it up. It was awesome.
So, how did your current lineup all come together? At what point did you all start working together as Switches?
Thom: I started off touring on keyboards in April of last year. Through some of the British and Japanese dates. Then in September of last year, I moved to bass. I’m a bass player originally. And I knew Steve, who jumped in on drums.
Steve: It was pretty easy, really. I just knew him (points to Thom).
Are you guys going to be back down south for SXSW this year?
Matt: Yes. They still haven’t announced the dates or anything, but we’re flying back for it.
I haven’t gone down for it yet. I hear it’s fantastic, though.
Matt: we went there once. Two years ago. It was great. We played one gig there. And then drank a lot of margaritas and ate burgers and fries. It was awesome.
What have been some of your favourite live performances that you’ve done to date in North America?
Thom: This tour has been excellent for us. Some crowds are better than others. The best venues, though? Probably the House of Blues. They have some lush catering. And the stage is massive. It’s funny, some of the different places you play the crowds will vary from pure energy to really calming.
Ollie: Crowd-wise, Vancouver was really crazy. That should give Toronto some competition (laughter).
Was that Richards on Richards?
It’s a great venue. Lots of wood, The stage is up nice and high as well, so you really can’t get a bad vantage point in the venue.
Matt: it was a packed house. We were up just before the Bravery, and when we came on, they just loved it. It was great. We’ve had a few shows like that.
Thom: We sold a considerable amount of CDs in Houston, Texas.
Matt: Oh yeah. Houston Texas! That was a great show. And we figured who the hell is going to get into us in Houston Texas as we rolled in there. Good gig. We did a concert at the Bowery Ballroom with the Fratellis that was quite good. And before we went on, our manager was like, “Now this is a New York crowd. Don’t expect too much.” But it went alright. The crowd was mental. We played Toronto on that tour as well. We played at the Mod Club. And we weren’t sure what the crowd was going to be like at all. It was good, but it wasn’t quite as good as the Bowery. But this is only our second time here. I wish my girlfriend was here to see it.
I quite like the Mod Club. It’s a good little venue, with a nice green room.
Matt: They banned us from it, though, didn’t they? We didn’t do anything wrong, either. I don’t know what happened there. They sent an email to our management, and they forwarded it to us, and they were like, “What happened here, guys?” It said the band had a bad attitude towards the staff, we ruined the sound system, left a mess everywhere, and trashed the place. We didn’t do any of that. I don’t know whether it was the tour manager at the time who said something or the other band who on before us – but we got trampled for it regardless.
Ollie: If your reading this Mod Club, we’re innocent!
Matt: It was too bad, really. We’d had a good night there as well. These dates with the Bravery, though, I don’t know. They seem a pretty good match for us music-wise. Some good pop songs. Fun live.
The last time I saw The Bravery here, Sam walked out on stage naked.
Matt: He didn’t?
Yeah. The story is he lost some sort of a bet with Tim Wheeler from Ash (who they were touring with). That was a few years ago now.
Thom: Completely naked?
Matt: He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would even do that? He seems sort of very serious. I don’t know.
Have you been hanging around with them at all?
Matt: Yeah, we all went out for some Texas Barbeque together a few days ago.
Todd: Did he do the whole set naked?
Oh no. He bumbled out on stage midway through Ash’s set with his drawers down, showed his junk, and quickly deeked back behind the stage. He started a chain of events, really. A girl in the audience jumped on stage shortly afterward and whipped her top off and danced around Ash for one of their songs. It was very Rock & Roll!
Matt: Awesome. Well, we can’t promise any skin tonight, but… we’ll do our best.
Afterward: I made some recommendations for food for the band. The Real Jerk being a few steps down from the venue, it tends to get my recommend every time. If the staff in that place only knew the amount of indie celebrity they serve every week! It sounded like the band was going to make their way over to Sneaky Dee’s for a late-night bite, and I mentioned that the place served good nachos and poutine. The look on Steve’s face when I described the ingredients of poutine to him was one of pure joy. I hope he got a dish of them in before leaving Canada.
Matt Bishop / Thom Kirkpatrick / Ollie Thomas / Steve Godfrey