Toronto, and southern Ontario in general, has become a virtual breeding ground for bands. Back in December, I hit the Underground Operations show and was amazed to find that every band playing was from the GTA. It was my first night on the job, and my first interview of all time was to be with Luke Hoskin, guitarist for Protest the Hero. I was intimidated as hell, but Luke was totally laid back as we discussed touring, Kezia, Officer Phil, and the Toronto music scene in general.
At the end of August you guys released Kezia, which is your first full-length album. Since then it’s been getting some killer reviews, and it’s brought you guys some well-deserved recognition. What are some of the things you chose to do differently with this album, as opposed to A Calculated Use of Sound, for example? Luke: First of all, we started off by recording it at a slower and more efficient pace. As far as writing, we took a lot more time to do that, and we actually put it out with, y’know, real art. It was just actually a “real” CD as opposed to a little starter. We put a lot more money into it... that was a big change. That’s about it really. We took everything to a little bit higher – and usually more expensive – level.
So basically, it’s a story on a CD, right? Luke: Yeah, or a concept.
Okay, so what’s the story behind Kezia? Luke: That’s always the question, and I could explain it but I’m not the one who wrote all the lyrics, so I wouldn’t be the best to explain that. I can just give you a general rundown. Actually, our bassist, Arif, is responsible for writing all the lyrics. We came up with the concept together, in like a Coffee Time or something, and then he’s the one that put it down on paper pretty much. But what it is, it’s three different acts and then a Finale. The first act is a prison priest, the second is the prison guard, or the executioner, and the third is the executionee, or the girl being executed. Then the tenth song, or the Finale, is the one that ties them all together. So it’s just three different acts from three different points of view.
So are you guys planning on continuing this whole story in an album thing with your future CDs? Luke: Um... I couldn’t say right now. If it were up to me I’d say probably not, because we don’t want to get too nerdy with it or anything. We wanted to do something that was like... concepts have been done like a hundred times or more, and we were down with that, but we wanted to do one that was a little bit different... so we chose this three-part approach, and we probably wont continue it I don’t think. But I don’t think we’d go back to doing just a record with a mix-match of songs on it, y’know? We’d have to definitely have some sort of story, or probably invent some new way of doing lyrics or something like that.
Cool. From what I understand, you guys pretty much finished your last exam of high school and then went straight to touring. Luke: Well yeah, actually we started touring before we were even out of high school. I think grade 10 would’ve been our first tour in the summer? That was the Underground Operations Unity tour. But you’re right, we did finish an exam, and run to the van, and go one time. That’s the truth. Amazing. It’s a good feeling.
Alright. So from then up until now, it’s been basically non-stop, right? You’ve played with bands like Anti-Flag, Death By Stereo, Bad Religion… What kind of an experience has that been for you guys? Luke: Playing with these bigger bands?
Yeah. Luke: Amazing. And every one of them different. I mean, Anti-Flag... that one was huge, but like, Death By Stereo wasn’t as big, but it was three times as cool because it was a band that we loved, and we always loved growing up. So it’s just... you don’t think you’d ever end up playing with the bands that you grew up listening to, and all of a sudden you’re playing with them and you’re like, “Well, it’s not so weird...” It was a very cool experience.
What’s been your favourite part of touring so far? Favourite cities, bands to play with, that kind of stuff? Luke: Death By Stereo was a great tour. We had a lot of fun on the Silverstein tour as well. They were bigger shows, cause they’re being pushed these days. Um... favourite cities in Canada? There’s a few that we’ve been to a lot. I really like Halifax. We’ve been there a bunch of times and it’s always fun. We just went to Newfoundland – Saint John’s, and another place called Cornerbrook – and they were both really good shows. We had a good time.
Yeah, Cornerbrook’s a cool town. Luke: Yeah. You’ve been, obviously?
I’ve definitely been. So in November, you guys did an appearance on Much Music. Luke: Sorry when was that?
November? Luke: Yeah yeah... was that the Bad Religion show...? Whatever, keep going. I’m just trying to remember which one it was, cause it’s happened a couple of times.
Okay. So how did your fans react to that? Did they think you were selling out, or were they supportive? Luke: By doing an interview on Much Music?
Yeah. Luke: I don’t know, I didn’t really hear. I know one of them... they did two interviews that day – I wasn’t part of either of them – but one of them was for New Music, which I think is amazing. I love the new music. It’s always informative as Hell, and pretty exciting I guess. I liked it a lot when George Strombolopolous did it. I still do, I just don’t get a chance to watch it as much. So, that’s amazing, and I’ve yet to see that. The other one, I saw, and it wasn’t the greatest interview. I don’t know if it was interviewers or interviewees, but neither of them were really on their game on that one it seemed. But I don’t imagine anyone thinking we were selling out, just for doing an interview. In an interview, you get to say what you feel, so if someone thinks you’re selling out for saying what you feel on TV, then whatever. Nuts to them.
Right on. There seems to be an explosion of bands coming out of the GTA [Greater Toronto Area]. With this show alone, Hostage Life, Bombs Over Providence, and Dead Letter Dept are all out of Toronto, and then Closet Monster’s from Ajax and you guys are from Whitby. What do you think has caused this uprising of music? Luke: I don’t know. As long as we’ve been in a band, there’s always been tons of bands from like, Brampton, Burlington, Brantford... anywhere in the GTA. All the B’s anyway. But even when we went to our high school, I remember I didn’t know many people who weren’t in some sort of band struggling or whatever. That was mostly guys, because it’s dominated by males, but everyone was trying to get a band together or something, and that’s how it will probably always be. So what caused it? I don’t know. Just people wanting to be in a band. It feels good.
Okay. Now… tell me about Officer Phil. Luke: I will tell you about Officer Phil, the Man and the Van. Our last van, which is now deceased... basically, we were done with it. We were finished putting money into that van. It cost us an arm and a leg. We named it after Officer Phil, a policeman in Winnipeg. It was the last date on, I believe the Unity tour? Or another tour, I can’t remember. We were just leaving Winnipeg, and it’s about a 24 hour drive back to our hometown, so we were just gunnin’ it, going for it, and we got pulled over for speeding. We were just like, “Ah. Dammit.” Right as we were leaving, we were like... this isn’t a good way to start. Our insurance wasn’t so hot at the time cause we had a couple of other tickets. Basically, this officer stopped us, long story short, we’re all nervous, there’s beer bottles everywhere in our van... just a band van... we could’ve gotten booked for a lot of stuff. This officer comes to the side door and opens it up. He asks us if we’re in a band, and he started singing Grand Funk Railroad or something like that, and we started clapping along with him. He had a great voice on him, told us he was in a band and his name was Officer Phil, and he’s just like, “get going, boys. I don’t care how fast you’re going, just get home.” So we were still trying to think of a name for the van or whatever, and it was just like... That’s it. It’s Officer Phil. So that’s Officer Phil, and that’s how it got named.
So he basically saved you guys that whole ordeal of naming a vehicle. Luke: And a bunch of money on a ticket, and heightened insurance. So he did us a bunch of favours, and he sung us a sweet tune. So it couldn’t have been named anything else but Officer Phil.
Alright, so it’s been three months-ish since you released Kezia. Are you guys working on any new material now, or are you just kind of putting it on hold? Luke: We’re kind of putting it on hold. We have some tours coming up, and we thought about it. I have – or, we have – some riffs ready to go and stuff like that, but we’re a little – and I am, too – hesitant to start writing them. I just find that we might start writing them, go on tour for a year or something, and then forget all about them. So no, not yet, but we’re always thinking of new ideas.
You mentioned you’re doing some more tours. I know you’re doing a mini-tour this week with Boys Night Out and The Fullblast. What else do you have planned after that? Luke: Anything else that we have planned after that... we’re trying to get a release in the States and elsewhere, and we’re still working on that. When that goes through, hopefully in the new year, we’ll be able to go to the States, Europe, Japan, Australia... the world’s our oyster I guess. We’ll see what happens. Really nothing concrete after that, but not to say that we’re not working on anything. Things will come together in the new year we hope.