Brian Howes, lead singer of DDT, lends some insight on what it’s like to tour around Canada, starting a career. In early spring, DDT released their first record major record, Urban Observer, on Elektra, with a little help from Lars Ulrich of Metallica. These Canadian warriors are a brave new band that fuses together rock, rap, punk, and ska, making their new record a breath of fresh air to the music world. Brian Howes is a songwriter composing intriguing and humorous songs. He’s a classy guy whose blood is filled with determination and love for rock ‘n’ roll.
In getting your record deal, who contacted you first, Lars Ulrich or Elektra?
Tim Duffy, Lars’ partner, he was friends with our manager years ago, and he mentioned that him and Lars were starting a label, do you have anything that you could send us? Tim was like, ‘Yeah, I got a perfect match.’ He went and sent him our early EP (LOTGOOP: Living Off The Generosity Of Other People) which was recorded in early ’93, and Elektra really liked it. So, we sent them some of our newer stuff and they really liked the evolution of the band. Then they came and saw us live. It was just a perfect match on both parts, we were looking for a boutique label that we would not be part of a big machine and get lost in the shuffle being a new band. Lars really, really dug the music and was emotionally attached. It was perfect.
Do you remember where Lars came to check you guys out at?
Yeah, a place called the Starfish in Vancouver.
Speaking of Vancouver, in ’92, the music scene on that side of the country was pretty crazy. I mean, you had grunge and punk music, like Green Day was just ready to explode. How did the band try to go against the grain and fit in? Grunge music was pretty high.
It was, but it is pretty funny though, because when we first started we just kind of did our own thing and people latched onto it. We were doing really big clubs in Canada even before we recorded anything, just because our live shows are very energetic. We have two singers too, two frontmen who do the dual assault on the crowd kind of thing, and it’s all very positive energy. I think everyone, because the whole grunge thing was cut a little bit down, I enjoyed grunge music but it was surreal and our thing is jumping around and having a good time kind of thing. The crowd seemed to really respond to that. It was cool, we just jammed in our basement and got our shit together and went out, it just kind of happened organically. It was not pre-planned at all.
The band just learned to mature over time
Exactly, man. Every year we just keep working on songs and writing, and working on our live performances, discovering each other exactly, and being on the road with one another on a milk truck for months touring Canada, freezing our asses off! (laughs)
Oh, God! Especially in the winter. (laughing) That Canada wind can be awfully cold, man!
Oh, man it’s brutal! Minus forty degrees loading gear off of a truck in the middle of Winnipeg and your nose actually freezes, and all the hairs in your nose are breaking off because they’re frozen. It’s scary!
When Cory (Cory Perry White, singer) entered DDT, did he change the image or sound of the band with what he brings with his energy and style, or just help the band expand?
Yeah, it expanded; he just added to what was there all ready. He was a DJ at a modern rock station in Vancouver and we just hung out with him because he had a van! (laughing) Cory lugged all of our gear, and then we were just jamming and he would just hang out at rehearsals and he would be doing this stuff on the side. And I was like, ‘Yeah, man, that’s cool, here’s a mic. Why don’t you come in and join me for a couple of songs?’
No shit! That’s how he came into the band.
Yeah, man, we were like, ‘That’s really cool.’ It works too because I’m more of the singy guy and he comes up with the character stuff through the megaphone and rappy stuff, and we were like, ‘This is really neat.’ It’s interesting, different, and from there it just kind of went on.
Your singing style I can really, it’s really distinct, kind of like Mike Patton of Faith No More, and then when Cory comes in, it’s a good mix. Your voice is strong and deep, he’s got the flow thing going with the rap, you know what I mean?
Yeah, thanks man. I love Mike Patton, and he’s one of the reasons why we brought in Matt Wallace (produced Helmet, Rage Against the Machine, Faith No More).
Yeah, I was going to ask you about Matt. Did he add or change anything because of his experience and technical knowledge?
Yeah, he did a little bit. I also co-produced the record too. I’m an aspiring producer as well; I love that side of making an album. He came into the mix (recording) and threw a certain chord there or shortened this section of it. He’s really brilliant with the songwriting end of it. He came up with a lot of cool ideas, and he was sure fun to work with. We’d show up after four or five grueling days in the studio. He said, ‘Ah, screw it. Let’s go up to Magic Mountain.’ (laughs)
That’s the best way to record an album though. This way you don’t burn yourselves out, you know. You said you like to produce. Do you feel with that being with Elektra you have the freedom to do so?
Definitely. I think that’s the thing that drew us to Elektra. With Elektra and Lars, you get the muscle and power behind it that an album needs to be seen and noticed, but also nobody ever told us, ‘Okay, do this or wear this.’ It’s awesome. We have complete artistic freedom, and even with the singles we pick them. Unless we make a drastic mistake, like put out “Hounds”! (laughs)
(laughing equally as hard) Now that would have been an interesting single!
That’s our guitar player by the way, Mike Mackay. He can do this awesome dog sound, so we were like, ‘Hey, let’s triple track it and throw it on the album.’ Just to show everyone that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, it’s fun and we are having a good time.
Cool. So why did you take “Walkabout” as your first single?
We thought it represented the diversity of the band and it kind of had a little bit of rap, a little bit of singing, some weird guitar affects.
I like the wah wah guitar effects. I think it sounds smooth.
Yeah, as far as the wah wah guitar. So we thought it might be a good introduction for people to get into the band and then we can fire the other stuff out. It’s kind of, well, hopefully it will suck people in and they can check out the rest of the record. We’re definitely not like a hit singles kind of band; we are in for the long haul. We wanted to make an artist album, every record after this we’re going to stretch and stretch as far as we can.
The first four cuts on the album are different from the rest. The most appealing tracks to me are “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, “Chlorine”, and “Boring”. They’re tighter sounds. “Walkabout” I have been hearing on some of the Canadian stations that I can pick up here in Rochester. 107, 102.1, and 97.7 all broadcast out of Ontario.
Actually, I have a question that I ask all Canadian bands: How do you present yourselves to the American market? I interviewed and chatted with a few Canadian bands and have had many opportunities to openly discuss the matter. How do you feel?
Good question, man. What Canadian bands are you into?Oh, The Hip, Tea Party, I Mother Earth
Hey, Edwin (ex-lead singer of I Mother Earth, who has a great new solo album called Trip Around the Sun) sang on our record!
What? Get the fuck out of town!
Yeah, man. Edwin sang on “Unsaid”, “Boring”, he’s singing the boring part in the background. Yeah man, that’s Edwin. He is a great guy.
Have you heard his new album yet? I have only heard bits and pieces.
Yeah, I got to check it. It’s pretty awesome! It’s really diverse, exactly.
I heard the single for “Trippin” and dug it, and like the other stuff I heard too.
It’s diverse. I was really surprised when I heard it because he’s taking chances on here though, but it’s cool. Getting back to your question, the best way to present ourselves, we’re gonna come out and play and have positive energy at our shows, like it doesn’t matter, don’t take yourselves too seriously have a good time and hopefully the fans will leave with a smile on their faces. When we are up there having fun, we want everyone else to have fun too. So come on out and have a good time. There’s lots of humor stuff and some serious stuff. We mix it up really well.
I think people will get that vibe from the show and music, lyrics. Do you see any difference in the Canadian and US radio market?
Well, there’s only one really one modern rock station in Canada, and that’s in Toronto. Across the country of Canada they play what is called “active rock.” That’s where they’ll play anything from Sabbath to the newest Third Eye Blind, or something like that. It’s a little a difficult, especially being from Canada, it’s kind of like if you have a little action in the States, then Canada embraces your success. Sometimes I feel like they are afraid to take a chance on their own kind of thing, but Canadians have been really supportive of us though, man. Especially where we are from, the local station in Vancouver has been playing a lot of local stuff and helping out the scene out.
I know that 102.1 The Edge out of Toronto plays different music, but what I really like about it is that they play stuff you normally would not hear anywhere else. That’s cool. Many of the Canadian radio stations blow the shit out of the US stations by a long shot. I like what they do.
That’s true. A lot of stations will just take their top 20 and hammer it out five times each song, each day, and people get sick of that. That’s one good thing about Canadian stations: they will play a lot of diverse stuff too. You’ll hear a Sabbath song next to a Porno for Pyros song. It’s pretty cool that way.
Moving to another topic, when you’re writing songs with Cory, how do you blend the rock lyrics with the rap elements?
Usually because we write in several different ways, like some songs, “Mc DDT” and “Blues Hair Crimes”, were written in a jam rehearsal. We just go to the rehearsal room, lock ourselves in, and have a couple beers and hammer out a bunch of songs. Everything just comes, and some of the other songs, I come in and bring a melody and a chord progression and throw music to it. Then I’ll leave certain spaces out for Cory, like I’ll go, ‘Hey, that would be a good section for Cory to throw his in.’ I usually give him a tape and he’ll take it home, comes back and goes, ‘How awesome.’ Sometimes we’ll just do it in rehearsal and it will just spontaneously happen. It’s never the same twice. It’s weird, but which is actually good because I don’t like to rehearse as it is. (laughs) So it least it makes it fun.
Yeah, but you got to do it.
Oh, exactly. I like to rehearse, then getting out on the road, you know. Save my hearing for being burned out on the road!
Do you feel that this record is more challenging because it is your first major release? Many goals and schedules to fill
Yes, but you know, we have been waiting for this for a long time and we are up for it. It sure beats digging ditches. (laughs) We actually get to make a living playing music and talking to people about our music. Honestly, I could not be more stoked. I just love the whole thing, living and breathing music twenty-four hours a day is fine with me. It’s a good escape from all the shit in the whole world. That’s for sure!
What is the song “Blue Hair Crimes” all about?
I live in a twenty story apartment and I live on the six floor, and it’s about this older lady who lives on the seventh floor, right above me. And, of course, I always have my window open writing songs on my acoustic guitar, and she yells at me all the time! (laughs) She tells me to shut up, and actually she’s so anal that she put newspapers under her door and windowsills so that when people cook the smells do not come in. She is just nuts!
Yeah, she is!
Her hair was so gray it’s blue! (laughs) The song is kind of a slam against her. The music is not even that loud, and every day without fail she’s screaming at me to shut up, calling the cops on me and whatever else.
What does the landlord say about all this?
The landlord, when we did our first album and video, we put him in it! He loves me. I made him a star in Canada. He lets me get away with murder.
What’s Vancouver like as a city? Compared to Toronto?
Toronto’s more urban-like, Vancouver is beautiful, and the downtown is a little small. It’s absolutely beautiful here; you got the ocean and the mountains all in the same spot. We live right in the valley overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In the summer here it is stunning, I would have to say it’s one of the top three cities in the world. The air is totally clear and, you know, one thing you’ll find about Western Canadians is that every one is really friendly up here. (giggles) It’s so beautiful up here that no one’s got anything to bitch about. We’re all easygoing. (laughs)
I’ll have to make a road trip out that way some time.
You would love it up here in the summer, man. You can go fishing and skiing an hour apart. It’s pretty crazy.
Here in Western New York we have the seasons, which is nice, but you have to plan your schedule accordingly. In the summer, do all of the boating, swimming, and camping you can, and in the winter take up skiing or snowboarding.
Well, the only negative thing about Vancouver is that it rains a lot. It’s good though because when you’re in a jam rehearsal I would rather have it rainy and shitty outside than missing out on a beautiful day. (laughs)
Where does the band do most rehearsing?
Actually, do you remember in the ’80’s a place called Little Mountain Studios?
It was like a rockin’ place in the heyday of the big hair rock bands, like Aerosmith recorded there and a few other bands. Management has converted that studio into a rehearsal spot. It used to be a recording studio, so it makes for really good sounding studio to jam in.
Did you record much of your first record, LOTGOOP, there?
Yep. We recorded that record at several different studios in Vancouver. I think the total budget for that record was like one thousand bucks. (begins chuckling into his sentence) That’s Canadian! So, that’s like two hundred American dollars, right? That album was live, off the floor, let it rip, baby. Actually, “Overripe” is the original recording from 1993; we just remixed it. We threw in Metallica crowd noise. (laughs)
Oh, that’s where that’s from!
We did that as a joke!
I wrote about the use of the crowd noise introducing the song in my review of your CD.
Oh, cool. It’s just a fun ska song.
Have you toured mostly just Canada?
We have toured mostly in Canada and in Europe actually. We did a couple of tours in Europe, and we’ve done Canada so much that I cannot even count! (laughs) Probably one hundred times, but it’s pretty hard to tour up here because of the terrain, the mountains. The cities are, the next big city from Vancouver is Calgary and that’s a twelve-hour drive. Each drive is in between ten to twelve hours.
So how many miles did you put on your van? (jokingly)
Well, we have toured in a converted milk truck, believe it or not. We put a few miles on before it gave up and died.
So what’s on tap for the summer?
We’re starting our first major tour this month, in May. We have only touched the States, and New York, LA, and Seattle a couple times, but we never really dug into America. This is just our first step in that direction. We are going to head out June 10th and hopefully play every city we can.
If you’re going to be in the Buffalo or Rochester area, let me know. We’ll hang out and I’ll show you the town.
That would be wicked! I think we definitely will hit that area on our way up to Toronto or from.
There are some really cool clubs in Buffalo, man!
I would love to go to Buffalo. I’m a big Sabres fan. I like watching them play hockey.
No, shit! They are on tonight at 7:30!
Oh, man, that’s right! Are you a hockey fan?
I love the Sabres. They’re such a scrappy team.
Music and hockey are my life, man!
Boy, do you sound like a typical Canadian rock star! (laughing)
Actually, actually! (laughing and trying to spit out a response) It’s true, though. We grow up playing that freaking game and we just love it. Playoff hockey is a great thing, man. You guys got the Dominator (Dominic Hasek, goalie for Buffalo Sabres). He’s the best!
That guy can be unreal.
He’s got a slinky for a spine, man! He’s so scary and so good.
Hey, man, I don’t want to chew up any more of your time, but it’s been fun!
Yeah, thanks Larry. When we come through the area I’ll make sure to get a hold of you!
That would be sweet! I’ll give my number to Tamra.
Cool! I’ll be in touch. We’ll go out for some beers and talk some hockey!