Needless to say, but I am going to say it anyway; I now see why it is important to do interviews over the phone.
Just under a month ago, I stumbled upon a band calling themselves “The Strangemakers”. Considering myself to be a strange enough of a person myself, I figured what better way to meet your maker than head-on in an interview. The problem is I have this thing about hearing my own nasally, geek ridden prepubescent voice (I am 32) that I would rather email than call.
I listened to some of their songs, and their tunes brought a tickle to my ear. In a good way, not the way some distant relative did to you when you were younger (or was that only me?). I also reached out to them regarding mental health, as I was planning to write a piece on music and mental health and figured that since Alex had experienced her own mental health issues that this was a great idea that would get underway fast.
Quickly, I was proven wrong.
It’s been very slow, also being in talks with two bands from Quebec (Scattered Clouds and Norse’s Thorn), I’m realizing these things take a lot of time. Why can’t people just do things when I say to do them? Anyway, The Strangemakers are a band’s band, Tom and Alex literally started this band from scratch, really puts meaning in that Drake lyric “started from the bottom, now we here”. They have been touring all over Toronto and Ontario, and are ready to take their talents elsewhere, utilizing social media to reach locations all over the world. Just before they release their single “Wait On Me” this Saturday at the Painted Lady,, I get a more of an in-depth view inside The Strangemakers.
A: Where did you guys (and gal) come together?
Tom (Perry) and I met doing a musical at the University of Toronto. He was in the band playing guitar and I was in the cast. Our drummer Chris Lyttle responded to our Kijiji ad with cat pictures. We’ve been lucky to work with a ton of other amazing musicians along the way, and we’re always meeting new people that we love to collaborate with.
A: I’ve seen that you have played a lot of shows, especially in Toronto’s long winters. How was your very first show together?
Our first show together was at a Toronto dive bar playing for tips–we had a great and very loud time and there were definitely good and not so great parts of the performances. We had a ton of fun and we’ve grown a lot as musicians since then!
A: I was listening to the song “My Train”, I felt some funk in that bass. What would you say are your biggest musical influences as a band?
You did some digging! That’s an old tune – actually the first song that I wrote about Tom and it’s pretty rough and uncultured in both its structure and lyrical quality. I’d say that those lyrics reflect where I was at the time and that I’ve grown a LOT since writing them. But it’s interesting to have that tune to memorialize where my thinking was at the time. My video quality is also SO MUCH BETTER WE PROMISE.
I’ve had a focus on dope bass lines ever since I played the tuba in band class (which is a bass instrument and super fun to play). However, I also love acoustic players like Laura Marling and Ben Howard that focus on both melody and bass in their compositions. Other big influences for us right now are all the alt-country and folky players: Chris Stapleton, The Strumbellas, Glen Hansard, Blake Mills, Jason Isbell and of course, Tom and I have an enduring love for classic rock and Motown soul.
A: Having gone through some struggles with mental health yourself, how does your music impact those currently suffering?
I can’t speak for other people’s experiences, but I would hope that our fairly frank representations of mental health challenges – particularly in our new single, “Wait on Me”, will help people to see that they are not alone and that life can be beautiful and wonderful despite its challenges–that what they are going through is not shameful or wrong but merely a challenge that they can work through. Also, that it’s okay to not be okay and it’s okay to be weird or strange. Finally, I’d say that anyone in crisis or struggling should not be afraid to seek help or information. However, we are also open to any other interpretations of our music and overall we just hope people enjoy listening to it.
If you are in crisis or need support, the Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) is available to anyone thinking about or affected by suicide. Call toll-free anytime at 1.833.456.4566 or text us at 45645 between 4pm-12am ET.
A: Who’s the diva of the group?
I think diva is often used to demean women who are emotional and set high standards of excellence–and I would definitely say that I am emotional and set high standards of excellence, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that! The term diva is also used to describe a powerful woman who is overly demanding to those around her–which I don’t think that is something that describes our band dynamic. We work together as a team and try to create a positive atmosphere where everyone working with us feels welcome and respected. That being said, the ‘divas’ that I idolize are Etta James, Beyonce, Dolly Parton, and Whitney Houston and I would love to be anywhere near as successful or skilful as they have been.
A: Understanding how mental health is so important, what are some strategies that you employ as a band; say, before that nerve-wracking performance?
Self-care is a thing that I’m always learning to do better. I do meditation and breathing exercises regularly, among other things.
Before a show, though, there is the normal amounts of nervousness. I don’t worry about that so much because I know that as soon as I step on stage it will melt away, and the nervousness is there because the music really matters to me. In those moments I just try to let people around me know that I’m nervous and I try my best to not take out any of my stress on them. Usually, everyone in the band is nervous before a show, so I would say that we are all super understanding with each other!
A: So far, you’ve played predominantly Toronto venues, with a stray Etobicoke venue. Are there any plans for taking this show on the road, or do you love us in Toronto that much?
We definitely love our home town Toronto although we have hit up Oshawa, Hamilton, Etobicoke and Scarborough. We also post regularly online on our YouTube, Facebook and Instagram pages, where people can watch us from all over the world. This summer, you can see us live in Toronto June 22, Ottawa July 12, Kingston July 13, Peterborough July 14 and Toronto July 18.
A: What has been your favourite performance to date?
In 2016 I did a TEDx talk at the University of Toronto. That was a pretty awesome experience. In August 2018 Tom, Chris and I played a set at the Toronto Pearson Airport. It was lovely to play music in such an unusual venue and the folks seemed to really enjoy it!
A: Starting the band, get gigs, finding the time where you can practise together while leading a life, has to be tough work. What is your biggest obstacle as a band to keep the train going?
Always reminding ourselves that we do this for fun, and keeping it fun.
A: Speaking about fun, what do you guys do for fun, (other than playing for us of course) is there anything, in particular, you do together to keep the band morale high?
We send each other lots of great memes.
A: Anything that you want to say to the readers before we wrap this up?
We really appreciate anyone who has taken the time to listen to our music and read about our story. Our new single “Wait on Me” is out now and our single release party is June 22 at the Painted Lady in Toronto. We’d love to see you there! If not, you can follow all of our adventures and see the latest content at our website www.thestrangemakers.com.
I’d definitely like to thank Tom and Alex, for answering my questions. The Strangemakers is a band that I know that I will be keeping my eye on to see what the future has in store. I myself have dealt with aversive feelings like shame, guilt, worthlessness; I have been yelled at, made fun of, spat on, punched, and the list goes on; from abuse to being taken advantage of, worst of being lied to and lied about.
Your reputation, your ego, your self-esteem and your self-worth really take a hit. One thing that will always be there for me, and I know it will, is music. These things are all normal, it’s a part of life, sometimes I think it shouldn’t be but other times I know it has to be. If you are having a rough week, get out to a local venue, have a beer with friends, or with a loved one. You definitely deserve it, come by The Painted Lady this Saturday and come hang out with myself or any one of The Strangemakers, because you’re never alone if you don’t want to be.
Cover Photo Credit: JP Kelly with Dot JP Productions