Living With Lions Are Punk Rock’s Best Kept Secret

LIVING WITH LIONS are punk rock in its purest form. The Vancouver-based fivesome live by Dookie and Dear You and rock beards that pretty much do the same, but their ability to convert every riff and hook into personal anecdotes is what sets them apart. From “A Bottle Of Charades” to “Tidal Wave”, they clink glasses with Kerouac; upend the various butterflies that come with our impossible pasts; and remind us of the countless nights we’ve spent in dimly lit bars — pinned to the friends and conversations that feel like home. They write anthems for misfits and hopeless romantics, and with respect to their decade-plus run so far, they are only getting started.

Most of it can be credited to Island being an understated remodeling of ’00s pop punk. It’s a record that has been shuffled through lineup changes, health scares, and Mike Seaver-esque growing pains, but like the Rented Worlds and Teenage Retirements that came before it, it just has character. “On A Rope” tethers being lost in reverie to Bleed American guitar work. “Plastic Flowers” and “Hastings Sunrise” retrace dwindling relationships with heartbreakers for choruses. And for a closer, “Island” digs into Vancouver’s ties to addiction and mental illness — reinforcing what it’s like to see someone overcome the self-sabotaging behaviors that often leave us feeling misdirected.

It’s heavy stuff, but befitting for what’s still to come. Living With Lions signed to No Sleep in May and started their own Bloom Records — a “DIY type avenue” in which people can share music, art, and ideas — and they’re already focused on new material. They have a fall tour with Such Gold and Charmer to get through first (see dates) so we caught up with vocalist Chase Brenneman before the band’s return to Toronto’s Sneaky Dee’s to discuss Island and moving forward.

One of the most difficult parts of adulthood is learning how to accept and be comfortable with change — whether it’s with friendships, relationships or the little nuances that life has to offer. What has it been like for you guys to tackle that head on and evolve considering the break you’ve had over the past few years?

There are definitely adjustments that naturally occur, but for me personally it’s been so easy. We have so many amazing friends in Vancouver that are doing so many cool things… starting families, businesses, and various artistic projects. It seems like more of a next chapter to me. It’s really exciting. I’ve never really focused that much on age — like a “What am I going to do with my life?” kind of mentality. I just live my life and try to enjoy it as much as I can while I still can and try to do what I love as long as I’m afforded the opportunity. The break has helped us all realize just how much we enjoy playing music together and how much we want to continue doing it.

Did you guys ever find yourself questioning whether Island was meant to be?

Yeah, that certainly crossed a few of our minds. I don’t know if it was the health issues or more so the delays that were caused by them. Things began to really drag out and there was some definite financial strain going on. Luckily, we’ve dealt with so much shit in the past that I don’t think anyone was truly discouraged to actually entertain that thought. We needed to make this record.

How would you say you guys have changed over the past few years?

I mean… we’ve just grown up a bit, I guess. The band has always been super important to all of us as it’s part of who we are as individuals. We grew up in Living With Lions; it had a huge impact on us. I think the biggest change for me was the realization that although music is my passion — I love playing and this band is so indescribably important to me — there are other things in life that are more important and you need to enjoy the other aspects as well. Some of us are married and engaged, have nieces and nephews, have businesses, and our parents are getting older. There’s been a serious shift in priorities and that just comes with getting older.

What would you say is the biggest thing you learned about yourselves while putting together Islands?

That we still love each other. Otherwise we probably would have killed each other at some point throughout that process (laughs). It’s crazy how lucky we are to have guys that are so dedicated to writing music and playing shows in the band. It can be easy to take that for granted sometimes.

For fans that are old and new, how would you summarize Island?

We just wanted to make a Living With Lions record. We wanted to make it better than any of the other records, but we wanted to keep it on the same track. That has kind of been our philosophy in this band. If we wanted to do something different, we’d start a new band. I’m really proud of it. I think it’s a lot more diverse than our previous records and we tried to dive into some more serious subject matter lyrically. The artwork for it is super cool too.

Our friend Kevin Moore took a pretty insane concept that we had and made it into an interesting die cut album artwork that ties in with the lyrical content. We wanted something that was going to be fun to look at — something interesting that people would really want to have. With Spotify and Apple Music, and the people who care to buy the physical copies… we just wanted to find a way to make it special.

Speaking of the record’s themes and its lyrical content as a whole, what is “Hastings Sunrise” about?

That song is a real mishmash of people writing vocals. Matt Postal, our original singer, wrote the chorus — which is probably one of my favourites on the record — and my friend Chris Van Der Lann wrote the rest of the song. Chris and I actually wrote a lot of lyrics for this record together. He’s super talented and really pushed me to do better. That specific line “I’ll pin a rotting flower to your shirt collar” is a line that Chris wrote when he was in grade school. He just always really liked it and it fit the direction so we decided to use it.

The way I interpreted that line when we put it in was you’re giving someone you love something that was beautiful but inevitably rots or dies. It’s kind of a dark perspective but it’s about realizing you’re in a relationship that’s slowly falling apart and there’s nothing either of you can do about it. The chorus is more about that even though you feel shittier than you can ever imagine, you’re going to feel better. It’s just a matter of time

One of the most moving aspects of Island is the way it layers feelings of regret, anxiety, and heartache with a sense of nostalgia that’s comforting as every hook and lyric about basements and dusty records actually feels like home. Was that something you wanted to convey? Or does it stem from being honest?

That song [“Dusty Records”] was written about my uncle, who sadly passed away last year. I’ve never had someone I’ve been that close to pass away before, so it was a really difficult thing to experience and go through. When I was growing up in Vancouver, my family lived with their family for brief periods. We spent so much time with them; some of my first memories were in their basement.

My uncle also collected records, hence the title. He was the the first person I had ever known that collected records and he was so passionate about them. When I was talking about the beanbag chair and the basement — I was trying to give the listener a sense of what it’s like to be there. I really wanted to write something that kind of paid respect to his memory. Something happy.

Are there any artists that you guys are really excited about these days?

I’ve been listening to a lot of mellow stuff lately. Snail Mail is a band I have been super into. There are some pop punk bands coming up in Western Canada that definitely deserve shout outs as well as Youth Fountain, Calling All Captains, and Chief State are all touring and putting out their own records.

What sort of advice would you give to someone who is finding it hard to move forward?

I mean, first off I’d say if you’re finding it hard and you’re being down on yourself, it’s okay to feel that way. It’s not easy to make changes or drastically alter your course in life. That said, the easiest thing to do when you want to make a move is to do it. It sounds so dumb to say, but that’s the truth. People say things like “I have time” or “there’s no rush” — that’s wrong. You don’t have time; if you want to do something you need to do it now. If it’s not that simple and it’s hard to move forward on an emotional level, then it’s all about perseverance. Surround yourself with people that love you and support you, and you’ll find your way.

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