It’s midafternoon on a bright, cold, winter’s day. The snow from the previous night’s storm coats the sides of the road, virtually eliminating the sidewalk in certain parts.
This is industrial Scarborough, and on a side street bracketed by rows of factories, warehouses and auto shops, piles of the white stuff have turned a two-lane road into a narrow, clogged artery. Luckily, being a Saturday afternoon, there isn’t much traffic, but in front of one of the buildings, a welding shop, a large group of cars is parked amidst the drifts of snow. Unlike the large trucks and cargo vans passing occasionally on the street, these cars are mostly regular sedans and minivans.
Stepping inside the building, the snow-dulled noise of distant outside traffic is quickly replaced by the sound of an electric guitar being strummed, the low murmur of filming crew going in and out of the various rooms that make up the interior, and from an unseen open space further along, a burst of music that starts and stops, punctuated by talking.
The sight that greets your eyes is a table strewn with intricately wrought rings, studded wristbands, myriad pairs of earrings, and leather-and-metal accessories. And behind the table is the grinning, freshly-made up face of Laura Petracca, resident drummer for the all-female punk rock band, Hunter Valentine.
Welcome to the music video shoot for “The Pulse”, the latest single off the band’s most recent studio offering, Collide and Conquer.
Hunter Valentine formed in Toronto in 2004 when Petracca and lead vocalist Kiyomi McCloskey met at a crowded bar when the latter was looking for a drummer. Their talents collided and eight years, a band and three albums later, they’re still striking flints and making the music happen. The lineup at it’s fullest capacity is made up of Kiyomi on guitar and vocals, Laura on drums, Veronica Sanchez on bass, and Aimee Bessada on guitar and keyboards. However, the latest news is that Vero (as she’s fondly referred to by the rest of the band) is moving onto other projects, making Hunter Valentine a trio for the time being, until they recruit a new bass player.
In the meantime, they are hard at work today creating the dark, gritty, smoky visual atmosphere for “The Pulse”, a punk-pop diatribe against the frustration of faded love.
In between takes and hair and makeup touch-ups, I got to chat with the band about their new album, their Canadian Music Week showcase, and what the rest of the year holds in store for them.
Alrighty. Your third album just came out, Collide and Conquer, that was October, I think it came out?
Laura Petracca: Yes, the 23rd of October, I believe that’s the exact date. I believe.
Well, how’s the response been so far, from what you’ve seen?
It’s been really good, and you know, it’s only been out just under four months, and you know for us it’s been probably the one that’s had the most response. There’s a lot of people picking up a copy and they love the music, there’s so many different people who have already have a different favourite song, and it happens to be the whole album, you know what I mean? It’s not like everyone likes the same songs. And I think it’s a variety of sounds, too. There’s some ballads, there’s some hard rockers, some punk-poppy stuff, and then there’s this random – “The Pulse” – dance-y kind of song we’re doing the video for today.
One of my friends calls that a “random” album, where you can hit random and like any song coming up.
That’s awesome. So you did work with Grieg Nori on this album, so what was it like working with him, first of all?
He is a very unique individual, and even just getting to be in the studio with him everyday was a really great experience as a musician. He hears things in so many different ways, and basically taught me a lot about writing, songwriting, in general. He really helped shape some of the songs, and really tore back songs that we brought to the table that we thought were finished, he would come up with all these different ideas and you’re like, “Ohh, okay, let’s try it.”
So he’s just, I think he’s a musical genius in a lot of ways, and he’s worked with a lot of great artists and has shaped a lot of really great bands, and he’s just a really nice guy! You know, he’s not one of those arrogant [types]. He means business when he means business, and then he knows how to take off the suit jacket. He does not wear a suit jacket, but, you know. He’s just great. I loved working with him. And we also worked with a guy named Chuck Coles who did a lot; he really helped us out a lot too, and he’s a really great musician.
With this album, what would you say was different in terms of creating it, aside from working with Grieg Nori, what would you say is different from your other two albums and your EP?
Wow, the EP…. That’s funny because the EP we did with Ian Blurton, and then our second album, Lessons from the Late Night we did with Ian Blurton. So it was funny with him because when we did the EP, we were just this young band that needed something to have at shows or to shop to like, the big labels. So when we went back to do the second album, Lessons from the Late Night, Ian Blurton was like, “Oh, wow, you guys have really improved!” So I guess the first album was more of like a polished sound for us, and it was more of what we were doing at that time, when we worked with Julius Butty, and then going into the second one we wanted it to be more raw and gritty because we felt we were a little more live, a little bit more raw and gritty, so we wanted to sort of have that, and I guess this last album is just a nice sort of mix of both, you know?
I like that each one has its own distinct sound too. So, you have had a couple of line-up changes.
Yes we have, very recently. [laughs]
So how’s that been, like, did it take a while to adjust to the new dynamics?
Well, so it’s funny because we’ve actually just recently had…So basically we had Vero that joined the band, about a year, just over a year ago, and it was like, immediately we clicked. She is just a really amazing individual and just such a free spirit in a way and she’s hilarious and being on tour with her was really easy and fun. But she actually just gave her notice to pursue other endeavours and…life things. So unfortunately, that happened. So we’re looking for a new bass player! You can put that in there [band member Aimee to the side: “In bold!”]
But having Aimee join the team back in the fall, end of summer, roughly, it’s sort of given us our confidence back in that there are real …musicians, I want to say, but that sounds kind of mean. Like, she’s just…you know she’s in it for the music, and that she loves it. But Kiyomi and I have been in it for almost nine years now, we’re kind of stuck with each other! And we just hope that, you know, other people want to share our passion, that’s what we’re doing.
So, right now it’s you, Kiyomi, and Aimee. And you’re looking for a new bass player.
We’re looking for a bass player. I think…I feel like in bands, bass players are – [turns to Aimee] – would you agree with this? In bands… [“Hardest to find,” says Aimee, completing her sentence.] Yeah.
Aimee: It’s not an instrument a lot of people take up primarily.
Laura: That’s true, actually. Vero was…it was the first instrument she learned, but it actually wasn’t the instrument she was playing at the time.
So you said this video now is for “Pulse”?
Yup, video we’re shooting right now is for “the Pulse”. It’s basically a story about a marriage that has no more love, you know what I mean?
So what inspired the idea of this, shooting here?
Well, basically, the director had this really cool idea, which you’ll see…maybe. It’s supposed to be staged in a welding shop, and that we’re basically building this secret thing and it’s just…the big reveal will be at the end.
I guess it’s a good thing that I’m around for a little while! Awesome. So later in the year you’re going to be playing Canadian Music Week, a showcase, so do you know yet what you’re going to be playing, or a mix of everything or just primarily the new album?
Usually we do a lot of…a mix of all of it, get a little bit of the first album, and then a little bit of the second, and then mostly it’s the [third album].
[Kiyomi comes on to continue the interview]
Kiyomi: So the song is basically a song about an old married couple who hate each other. I don’t know, it’s sort of like the struggle of trying to get out of that routine of like doing the same thing that you do everyday and trying to make yourself happy again. So it’s a really upbeat song [she adds deadpan.]
Laura [laughing]: And it really is an upbeat song!
And I liked with the camera, what they were doing, it’s really kinetic. That’s really cool.
So you’re going to be playing at Canadian Music Week –
And you said it was going to be a mix of your older work and the new album that just came out..
So what else are you looking forward to regarding Canadian Music Week?
K: No, we’re just doing some Canadian dates attached to it, we’re not doing any other Canadian Music Week events, we’re just doing one big one at the Great Hall.
L: We’re excited about it too because we don’t get to play Toronto as much as we used to. Before, obviously when we were trying to build this was where it was born for us. We used to play Toronto frequently so now, getting to pick and choose and doing it for Canadian Music Week…
…Is kind of awesome?
So what are your plans for the rest of the year?
L: Just touring as much as possible. We’re going over to Europe, in the spring we’re doing SXSW in Austin, a few festivals, you know, this is like a very fresh record, so touring it, and playing it, and getting out there as much as possible. Yeah.
Where in Europe are you going to be?
L: We’re starting in Germany.
K: Yeah, and the dates are still growing so, Switzerland, Germany, the UK…yeah.
L: Fingers crossed we’re finally getting out to the UK. There’s been a lot of demand for us out there, we just haven’t had the opportunity – really haven’t had the time, we’ve been so busy doing North America. Now it’s time to focus…
K: …On other territories. Actually we’re going to Japan, we were recently there, and we’re going to play Summersonic Festival over there so it’s one of the biggest festivals in Japan, and hopefully be going over there consistently because it’s a great market for us, and it’s a whole other world over there and we love it.
L: A lot of it has to do with the Ramen noodles for me. [laughs]
K: Really we just want to go over there to eat.
So, one more question. You did mention you were in the market for a bass player again.
K: Yeah, it’s unfortunate, we were very happy with our lineup, but you know, people have to part ways from things that they love sometimes in their life, and Vero had some other things that she wanted to achieve, and so we wish her the best of luck.
L: Yeah, it was probably one of the best break-ups you could ever have, you know what I mean? Like, we cried and hugged, wrote Sharpie all over each other…
K: Yeah, it was great, but you know, bittersweet, and so now we’re on the quest for the perfect fourth member again. [Laura laughs] And, you know, it’s tough to be a touring musician, it’s not a lifestyle that everyone wants, and it’s a big commitment.
L: You live out of a bag and you sleep in a different city every night.
K: And not everybody’s down for that.
L: That’s kind of our lifestyle, it’s what we love.
K: So yeah, we’re looking for that person right now and we’ll see.
L: Day number 65 in a row – I’m sure you won’t be saying that!
That’s awesome. I hope you find someone.
[L&K]: Thank you.
L: Maybe we need to find a Canadian because it seems to be the people that stick! The Americans…That’s not going into the interview, okay??
* * *
As an added bonus, I also got to speak with music video director Stephen Scott, about what decisions went into creating the look and story for the video.
So, I was talking to Kiyomi and Laura and getting the idea for the story behind the song, where it’s a couple trying to inject some life back into their relationship, so where did the idea come from to shoot it here, to have this sort of background, and the crazy camera angles?
Well, it sort of…I always try to get away from whatever the sort of first level of the narrative in the lyrics are, just to sort of add a different layer, a different interpretation. Because everyone should listen to songs and make up their own interpretation of the song, I think, and in this case I just sort of honed in on a few words and the energy, and there seemed to be a lot of anger, you know, like, “you make me sick”, and “ooh, I’m gonna come after you”, that kind of thing in the lyrics. So it had this kind of pursuit, sort of aggression, somebody not happy with somebody else, so rather than…removing it from the sort of level of a love story or relationship issue, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun if the girls were building something, but it’s all very mysterious, we don’t know what it is, some mechanical thing, which we only reveal at the end of the video what it is.
So, I won’t say what they’re building, you have to watch the video to find out, but they’re building something and it’s all very mysterious, and so where do you build stuff? You build it in a workshop where there’s welding, and tools, and all that kind of stuff. So that kind of put us in this sort of environment, and then of course it always makes sense to shoot the performance in the same place, because you’ve got one day, and you sort of want to keep it local. But also it’s a rich texture for a kind of high-energy rock song. So that kind of put us here, in that sort of environment.
And then in terms of the camera movement, and the lighting, you want it to be as dynamic as possible because it’s a very high-energy song, they’re very high-energy girls, so that was kind of why we went with the look with what we did, with the weird camera movements and, you know, flashing lights and all that, you know. High energy!