A mesmerizing acoustic rock creature, Dress Rehearsal reintroduces a forgotten yet heavily adored sound. As singer/guitarist Kevin Graham told us, its roots come from music being a major part of their lives while growing up in small town Southwestern Ontario.
How did you come up with the name Dress Rehearsal?
I was driving around outside St. Marys, Ontario one day and listened to “Ahead by a Century” by the Tragically Hip followed by “Left & Leaving” by The Weakerthans. Both songs have the phrase “dress rehearsal” in the lyrics so it kind of stuck out. At the time I was looking for a new name and it seemed to fit what Sean (drummer) and I were up to, which was basically writing songs and kind of pretending we were in a band. I always knew I’d eventually record an album so we used that name with loose plans of changing it once we got around to recording. Though some people aren’t fond of it, there were enough people that didn’t want us to change it, so we left it as is.
If Dress Rehearsal was a single physical being, what would it be and what sort of characteristics would it have?
I think Dress Rehearsal would be a Mogwai -if you know your Gremlins, of course; full of love and compassion for others, excitable in social situations and equally gentle on slow nights, scared of bright light (we much prefer lamps) and equipped with an ability to be “furoscious”, particularly after midnight.
When did you first get involved in music?
We actually started writing in a band called Beverage Tunx before I knew how to play guitar. I’d write the riffs on one string. So, that was in the spring of 2001, I think. I started actually playing guitar that Fall and took lessons for about five months. The first time I ever played in front of an audience was my first year at Guelph University. I played an open mic and played “Mayonaise” by The Smashing Pumpkins, “Low Light” by Pearl Jam, and “Miss You Love” by Silverchair.
How did the band first come about?
Sean Graham and I were the only members for the longest time. In the summer of 2008, I was at an open mic in St. Marys and talked to Tiffany Blom about adding backing vocals on some of my songs. I picked four for her to work on and all four made the album. She did such a good job coming up with harmonies for them. She really gave new life to “Gumdrop Hills” and “Molly Flower” especially. The album was recorded with just the three of us.
Once it was in the works, I obviously started freaking out a little as I knew we couldn’t possibly pull the songs off live with only three of us. Ryan Watson wrote me one day and said he wanted to jam together. I basically was like, yeah, we should jam, and you should probably join my band. It came together very quickly.
Paul Vergeer, our bass player, was a good friend from university and we’d kept in touch. Sean and him had an apartment together. He’s been offering his bass services for years and he’s very intelligent with it. He was more than happy to help us out and so by the end of June, we had a five-person unit.
What do you think Tiffany Blom’s voice adds to the song “Gumdrop Hills”? Is it likely she’ll be featured in Dress Rehearsal songs in the future?
I’m happy to say that it was my idea to include her in that song. As I said earlier, I approached her with four songs and that was the first one we worked on – it’s my favourite as well. She turned that song into something so enchanting. Because of the lyrics and chord progression, it always had that x-factor of taking you to another place, but Tiffany really took it to another world in my opinion. The work she did on that song is perfect. As far as future plans, it’s all up in the air. I’d love to feature her on our next album but that will be something that will come up when it needs to.
Iron & Wine or The Smashing Pumpkins?
Smashing Pumpkins. Though I’d say that Sam Beam has written more quality songs in the past decade, I personally don’t think anyone will ever be able to write the kind of stuff Billy Corgan wrote from 1992-1994 – basically Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie and all-encompassing releases around those. He was a genius during that time and was so prolific. It’s almost mind boggling to me. I still listen to the Pumpkins, no matter what era, every single day.
The Smashing Pumpkins and Blind Melon are two influences of yours that you can really hear in the lyrics and melodies – how do you relate to Billy Corgan and Shannon Hoon as song writers? How do you think growing up listening to their music has affected yours?
I think both Hoon and Corgan are good at “sugar coating” their lyrics, in that they write about stuff that might seem to be happy and sweet, but in actuality, it’s much darker at their core. Shannon Hoon was just very “real” and I think that’s what attracted people to him. His lyrics weren’t always obvious, but you could tell that what he was feeling had a lot of substance. Corgan is the same way, especially on the early albums and on Adore.
You get to a point where you just can’t worry what people are going to take from your lyrics and just write them for you. They were both very good at that.
How would you describe your music?
Without saying we sound like other bands, I do feel as though we’re kind of a fusion between the Pumpkins and Elliott Smith. Every song I’ve written started with me and my acoustic guitar, and things were built up from that point. I think the music is generally bright and happy sounding, though the lyrics delve into darker areas.
I love to double up my vocals which is totally and Elliott Smith/Mark Kozelek influence. I tell people we’re “acoustic indie rock” for lack of a better term. Acoustic at the core, with layered vocals, pretty little guitar solos, and super solid drumming. There are so many experimental bands out there that have far reaching ambition that I can’t always comprehend. So, I like the fact that we have songs that are easy to digest yet have enough to make them sonically and emotionally pleasing.
Have you begun to write any songs for the follow up to Greens & Honey? Do you have any plans to head back into the studio again any time soon?
I’m constantly writing. A lot of songs I’ll write and play a few times over the course of a week, then they kind of fall by the wayside. At this point there are two or three that I would consider putting on our next album. In addition, I have a lot of old songs that I would love to dust off and rework.
For our next album though, I’m sure it will be more of a group effort, especially from the musical standpoint. I feel as though once we have a chance to grow together as a group, the influences of Paul and Ryan will start to shine through. We probably won’t be back in the studio for some time, unless it’s to record a demo or two. It costs a lot of money – something that we don’t have at this point.
Having said that, I’m hopeful that we’ll have a follow up to Greens & Honey set in a year or two. I have no doubt that it will happen, and it will be a wonderful experience, just like the first album was.
What’s one unique thing you bring to the table that other bands don’t?
Well, I feel that because of our undying love for 90’s grunge/alternative, we have the elements that those bands had – guitar solos, personal but not always obvious lyrics, and an attachment to rocking out power chords! That’s been offset by our love for more stripped down music like Sun Kil Moon, Elliott Smith obviously, Hayden, Wilco, etc. In other words, I think we kind of threw all of our influences into a big musical pile and the end product was Dress Rehearsal. I don’t really know many bands these days that will put an album with a song like “Featherbrain” and follow it with “Killing Spiders”. Except maybe Pearl Jam.
What’s been your favourite show that you’ve played and why?
Our show at the Horseshoe Tavern was amazing. We certainly had the biggest draw there and everyone there came with open ears. The sound was good and for one of the first times, I had the feeling that we could actually make something of this if we just keep at it.
On your live performance on 100.3 FM Radio Waterloo, you mentioned you had never played north of Toronto – when/where is this landmark event going to happen?
Haha. We’ve talked about doing a weekend tour of Kingston, Ottawa and Montreal. Sadly, it’s all just been talk and no action. I made contact with people in all those cities about playing but when you’re in a band with members who all have strange work schedules, it’s hard to get it accomplished. My guess is we’ll head up there next Spring, or maybe this winter if Mother Nature decides to be on our side.
What’s missing from Canadian music?
I don’t think there’s anything missing from Canadian music. I think Canada offers listeners a ridiculous amount of fresh music that either pushes the boundaries in quirkiness (Sunset Rubdown) or screams “we’re f*cking Canadian and we love it” (Elliott Brood and Rural Alberta Advantage). Between the growing popularity of Feist, Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, and Metric, along with the up-and-comers like Wolf Parade, Wintersleep, Hayden, Basia Bulat, Great Lake Swimmers, Land of Talk, Plants & Animals, etc. – we’re in good hands.
What’s your favourite place to hang out at in St. Marys?
I love O’Neill’s pub for the simple notion that you’ll know at least 50% of the people when you go there. Harvest is a great little coffee shop and they’ve decorated it well. It’s actually got some good culture to it. I can feel content anywhere in St. Marys. It really is a beautiful, beautiful place and I’ve always been proud to say that I grew up there.
What does music mean to you?
After family and health, music means more to me than anything else. It’s the driving force of my livelihood. It’s shaped the way I live my life and it’s shaped the way I look at life. Most of my best friends are my best friends as a result of our love for music. I can’t go anywhere without my iPod and consider it my good buddy. Music is the only thing in the world that can literally bring you back to another moment in your life in a split second. That’s my favourite part about it – the nostalgia factor.