S.H.I.T. is a raging hardcore band from Toronto, Ontario. In 2014 they put out three ripping 7”s for three estimable labels: Iron Lung, Lengua Armada and the UK’s own Static Shock. Greg (guitar) and Ryan (voice) were good enough to do an interview with us, and their answers are far better than my stupid, glib questions, so many thanks to them for their time, effort and intelligent responses. You can listen to the band’s music here and keep up to date with their goings-on here.
Tell us a bit about S.H.I.T. What brought you together, and what kind of a racket were you initially aiming for?
Ryan: The band started as a bad joke or some kind of challenge. Greg and I were sitting around drinking one night, probably reminiscing about the corny hardcore bands we were playing in around the early 2000s. Greg expressed his desire to play drums in a band, having no previous experience playing the drums. I told him that it was a terrible idea and he said that I should sing in the band. I joked that the band should be called SHIT, because that is most likely what we’d sound like. We decided it would be a great idea to recruit other friends that had little or no previous experience playing in bands and it was a fucking disaster. Our first couple jam sessions we had zero direction, Greg could barely keep a beat and we all lost interest pretty quickly. I think we sounded kind of like a bad Germs cover band. After a few weeks we decided we’d take another shot at it. This is basically how the current line-up formed. We took a simpler approach this time as a hardcore band and wrote the demo in about three jam sessions. We had all known each other and were friends through hardcore for about a decade. I think we created what we did as a result of this sense of familiarity but also the diverse music tastes/experiences of everyone involved. I don’t think any of us had a real idea of what the end result would sound like until we recorded the demo.
Ok. Much as I dislike asking the ‘band name’ question, what the fuck is going on with S.H.I.T? What’s the rationale? Did you want people not to buy your t-shirts? Were you just hoping to compete with GISM and the various PISSes in the bodily fluids stakes?
Ryan: It can all mostly boil down to “the joke that went too far”. I think a lot of people hate the name and think it is incredibly stupid (a few of them are in the band). While I don’t disagree, I think that this reaction means that it was successful at provoking people to some degree. I think it was ridiculous to name the band SHIT and maybe that played some part in people’s curiosity with it. Making the name an acronym but never explicitly explaining it just furthered the provocation. From the beginning people seemed to love making up their own acronyms for the band, ranging from funny to not funny to completely absurd.
I think the name works and is appropriate as far as modern hardcore punk is concerned. To me, S.H.I.T. represents a place and time where absurdity and sensationalism meet the illusion of greater meaning. Mass media control, celebrated ignorance, self-obsession, a culture of violence and sexual exploitation all play into the illusion. This is life in the 21st century… it’s all just SHIT at the end of the day.
The ever-reliable internet informs us that S.H.I.T. occasionally stands for ‘Sexual Humans In Turmoil’. Ok then. Considering 94% of all music ever is about making the beast with two backs, hardcore, despite the connotations its name might imply, has been a curiously sexless genre. The last few years, however, have seen all manner of bands muttering about man muck and going on about bonking. Oftentimes these depictions are not ‘sexy’ but at least ‘sexual’. What do you think gives? Has hardcore finally hit a delayed pubescent hormone rush?
Greg: See, I’d argue that. There’s been a long history of punk bands that at the very least questioned gender and gender roles. Without diving too far into it, I’d point at Limp Wrist. Martin’s lyrics in that band are incredibly smart and not just for their content but in what that band would do to a seemingly average hardcore audience. Case in point, in what social setting is it normal and widely accepted for people to get that close to each other, to jump and climb on each other, other than hardcore punk? Repressed sexuality abounds!
I have to admit, while I love the 7”s I thought the demo was merely ‘ok’. How do you think the band has grown and developed over time, was there any sort of ‘step change’ for the band and how has the writing/recording process changed for you
Ryan: When we wrote and recorded the demo I don’t think any one of us expected to have much of a positive response or even an intention to tour, we just wanted to do it – to make something. Since then we’ve tried to play as much as we possibly can, anywhere we can. Last year we did a West Coast tour and even got to play the UK. This year we’re doing a Texas tour with Power Trip and playing a festival in Mexico City. I can definitely say that travelling as a band and meeting like-minded individuals abroad has grown my perception and understanding of hardcore punk, DIY culture and how it all fits into the modern social/political/technological landscape. With respect to the writing and recording process, it has been an uphill battle. In 2014, we finally released all the material we had written and recorded the year prior. We have written and recorded ONE new song since. Currently, I think we might be the most unproductive band in existence considering how much we play.
What can you tell us about the three 7”s and the songs on them? Titles like ‘Collective Unconscious’ and ‘Feeding Time’ are weirdly, quietly sinister, so it’d be good to hear what’s going into it all…
Ryan: As I had mentioned before, all the material on the 7″s was written and recorded in 2013 as one session. We had originally toyed with the idea of putting it all out at once as an LP, but ended up breaking it up into three 7″s released on different labels throughout 2014. Regarding the lyrical content of the songs, I tried to take more of an abstract or existential approach to writing I guess. I feel like the human psyche serves as a modern battleground and I’ve always had a fascination with the subconscious, perception and our notions of reality. My intention was to focus on how systems of control affect our bodies and minds as well as how we perceive our environment, ourselves, and other people. I wanted to explore the metaphysical war that is waged on a society that is increasingly self-obsessed, yet lacking in real awareness and real action. We live in an age where the human experience is continually being assaulted and distorted, reality and fantasy becoming more and more indistinguishable to the masses. Nowadays, people seem to value their delusions more than real interaction or experience. I wanted to write lyrics that are relevant to existence in this day and age.
Let’s talk about those vocals. They’re horrible, and make me feel like a paint scraper is being used on the inside of my skull. What are you trying to do to people, and why use all that reverb?
Ryan: The vocal delay effect was added by Jonah when we recorded the demo. I think he decided to utilize it to fill out the spaces in the vocal patterns and create a kind of rhythmic, cerebral chaos. I think it has this kind of psychedelic element to it, which I think is cool.
While I love hardcore, a lot of it sounds the same. And that’s boring. S.H.I.T. doesn’t sound the same. And that’s good. Were you intentionally tried to sound a bit whacked out and ‘out there’, or is that just the way you roll?
Ryan: I think it has more to do with us trying to avoid emulation as a starting point. We never set out to sound exactly like any particular band from the get-go.
I read the interview you did with Suspect Device/Zonked and was really taken with you saying how averse you are to peoples’ fragmenting hardcore down into various micro-genres, as this is something that’s been seriously bugging me over the past few years. Much as I love many bands who effectively define/distil genres (Crossed Out, Discharge, Blitz, whoever…) I’m generally peeved by bands who slavishly try to ape a specific sound, style or point in time. After all, it seems almost silly to start at a band’s end point at the exclusion of all else, and when you slave away at emulating something you often lose some of your own energy along the way. At first I didn’t really know where I was going with this question, but I guess the nub of it is this: how do you go about making straightahead hardcore music which is distinct and different, considering the genre’s parameters and also all the music you’ve consumed yourselves?
Greg: I’d simply say this – be creative. It’s a bit silly to give any more input than that. When you make something, people will like it or they will not. Some people are keen to like things that cohesively merge things they like. Others are keen to like things that sound exactly like something else that they like. There is no true answer. All I can say is that fragmentation of individuals with seemingly like minded concerns is dumb as shit to me.
Toronto seems to have a brilliant and rather incestuous punk rock scene. It’s pretty great. How do you think that such a comparatively small city is capable of generating so much good punk?
Greg: We’re not exactly a small city by North American standards. We’re actually fourth largest. With that being the case, I’d say we produce a comparatively small number of good bands. That said, Toronto is on an upswing and I think, if not this year, within the next few, there will be a remarkable surge of meaningful punk music from here. The number of punk spaces is slowly multiplying. The scene is young and growing. It’s just a matter of keeping it moving forward now.
What can you tell us about S.H.I.B.G.B’s? Where’s the project at, and what was the motivation for it?
Greg: S.H.I.B.G.B’s is essentially a concrete bunker under an industrial strip, in what was once a dejected but is now deemed “up and coming” part of town. If you didn’t know it was there, you probably wouldn’t be able to find it. With the rapid gentrification / condo-ification that’s gone on in the city over the last decade, not to mention the fact that “everyone’s a DJ”, most live venues that would host punk events have been shuttered. In that, we opened our own space. I do not know how long it will last. I do not know what it looks like even a year from now. For now, we’ve hosted a great number of shows and they are getting better and better. We’ll see what the future brings.
I realise this is old news, but I was enormously upset when my Canuck other half told me that Hits & Misses was no more. Where’s your top tip for TO punk vinyl these days? Rotate This?
Ryan: Hits was a great place to buy records and hang out and Pete is a legendary dude. It being gone leaves a pretty big hole as there are no real dedicated punk record stores in Toronto at the moment. Greg operates a small distro at SHIBGB’s and we have plans to hopefully expand that into a shop later this year.
Greg: Rotate This, absolutely. Incredible shop, incredible staff. Soundscapes is great for books. June Records has a nice staff. Other than that, there’s a couple decent used spots that I’ll keep to myself. Every other record store blows.
While many tr00 pvnx have long since turned their back on Fucked Up, I imagine they were a pretty important band for TO’s punk scene. Would you say their success/above-ground popularity has had an impact on people coming to gigs, getting involved, starting bands and all the rest of it?
Greg: 10 years ago, absolutely. When they were coming up within hardcore, people would travel from all over just to see them. As they’ve changed, hardcore has also changed. First, people don’t seem to travel as much these days. And second, here, Fucked Up haven’t been a “hardcore” band for about 5 years now. That’s not to say that they are not involved any more, because some of them very much are. I just don’t think at this point people find their way to a gig at S.H.I.B.G.B’s say, because they just got into Fucked Up.
As well as the standard hardcore document that is the 7” single, you have a few tapes out. Why bother when you can whack shit (S.H.I.T?) up on bandcamp or whatever? Do these tapes represent some kind of totemic, time-and-a-place kind of thing or are they just a throwaway item that can be chucked out quickly and cheaply?
Greg: I don’t know if they are totemic, but absolutely, when this world is a burnt up pile of garbage and aliens are digging through the rubble, we want them to find S.H.I.T. recordings. That’ll never happen with a bandcamp. And really, a band’s physical recordings are very much part of what forms their identity long term. That’s why it should be done. They are testament to effort, time and place. So, maybe they are totemic?
Also, in terms of format, is there any likelihood that there’ll be a S.H.I.T LP, or do you think the band works best in short, terse blasts?
Ryan: I think the likelihood of an LP relies more on our productivity (or lack thereof) rather than a preference to any particular format.
Greg: Personally, I like the fact that the “industry” and dorks look down on you for not having a full length like it’s some sort of important goal to reach. People who are interested in what we do will find us.
What’s next for the band? What are your short-term goals and what, if anything, would you ultimately like to achieve?
Ryan: We have a Texas tour planned with Power Trip at the end of the month, we are playing a fest in Mexico city and have a gig in NYC just before New York’s Alright. We also have a new track being released as a part of a comp put together by Beach Impediment Records. Beyond that, we are going to focus on writing new material this year which will hopefully result in a new release of some sort.