Go Alien: An Interview with Oh No! Yoko

The studio doesn’t look very impressive from the outside. I spend a good ten minutes wondering if I accidentally walked by it earlier, but resolve that the chicken refining plant up the street is probably not hiding a recording studio inside it. I finally get inside the narrow studio hallway and walk down the hallway to find two guys in the balancing booth, sipping beer. One of them is Tyler Johnson, the producer behind the band that I came here to find—Oh No! Yoko.

Sometimes the window between when a band starts releasing material and when they blow up is so tiny, so easy to miss, that it seems to dissolve into a blur. One second you’re opening for a local act, the next you’re touring the continent to back up your new album. That space is where Oh No! Yoko has been comfortably sitting for the past few years. The band caught fire in a CBC High School Battle of the Bands competition back in 2008 (when the band was in the 11th grade), in which they came second. Three years later, the band dropped Pau Pau, their debut EP. With a poppy, fun, innovative sound, Pau Pau rode lead singer Everett’s high vocals and the band’s melodies to an indie smash hit. The EP gave the band enough momentum to tour with fellow Vancouver act Said the Whale and even do a stint in Europe.

Now it’s time for the next step. Oh No! Yoko isn’t coming to this studio on a whim; they are here to start recording songs for their upcoming full-length LP.

Tyler doesn’t seem to mind the band hasn’t shown up yet; he’s too excited about his studio. The space is massive, filled with instruments, and has enough equipment to make any producer geek out. Tyler is no exception. He shows off their $20,000 vocal rig, the instrumental arsenal, and some of the names that have recorded in the studio. We spot Barenaked Ladies, Hanson, Three Doors Down, and yes, Nickelback. In the attic, we find the company that once owned the studio also did records for Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, and Cher. Not exactly Oh No! Yoko’s crowd–the band’s music is more along the lines of chiming, synth-backed, smooth pop-rock than the racks of angst that line the walls. But if you go by success, the band is definitely in good company.

Tyler—who was also the producer behind Pau Pau—is definitely pumped about the new LP. “We’re having them all record together in one, big room” he explains. “So when they play live, it’ll sound the same. Kinda a ‘60s or ‘70s vibe going on.”

After a few more minutes of exploring the studio, wondering what other relics of a famous artist lurk in the corners, the band arrives. Everett Morris, the singer and guitarist, seems to be in a permanent state of happiness. Either he has figured out the mysteries of the universe, he’s constantly drunk, or both. Liam Hamilton, the drummer and the other founding member of the band, is more grounded. He’s no downer, but he is definitely more serious—he runs all the band’s press work, and seems to be the go-to guy for bookings, too. Raphaël Bédard de Vilca, the bassist, is the most relaxed member of the group. He seems like the perfect guy to sit and chill with after a concert or at a party. Together, they’re Oh No! Yoko, and man, are they pumped to record.

Tyler hugs them, then immediately starts setting levels. Ralph is sorting out his bass selection. Everett drops his guitar off, then proceeds to run and guffaw at all the records hanging from the walls. Oh No! Yoko has been on the come up for years, and now they’re finally recording. This is it.

Or not. Liam starts swearing. The band has forgotten their cymbals.

“Why does this shit always happen?” mutters Liam as he storms out back to the car to make sure he didn’t accidentally leave them there. He didn’t. The cymbals are missing. They try out some spares they have, but quickly declare the sound quality on them to be subpar. The recording is halted.

“We always, always forget something,” says Ralph calmly. Everett, who doesn’t seem too bummed out, breaks out a couple of beers for him and Liam. The band wanders upstairs to the lounge. On the wall, there is a chart that details all the different varieties of magic mushrooms. Ralph stops to stare at it thoughtfully.

Everett has found his way to a piano, and decides to demo a track from the new album. It’s slow, but has spry, nimble melodies scattered about it. It’s hard to place it to one band or style, but it sounds really good, whatever it is. Liam takes the time to start phoning every band he can think of within a 5 kilometre radius to see if he can borrow their gear. No dice. They will have to wait for a while to get their cymbals. This is the kind of guided chaos that seems to follow Oh No! Yoko. They are halfway to stardom, but still get sidelined by the same mistakes that plague a band just starting up.

They wander outside to a glass table out of the studio. They light a few cigarettes. Liam breaks out a bag of Doritos and starts eating. They start to relax a little bit after the cymbal fiasco is over. This is the kind of thing Oh No! Yoko does. They might have been sidelined a bit tonight, but they can and will stay until midnight to get the recording done.

Who are you?

Everett Morris: We are Oh No! Yoko! I’m Everett, and I play guitar and sing.

Raphaël Bédard de Vilca: I’m Raphaël and I play the bass.

Liam Hamilton: I’m Liam and I play drums.

EM: And we’ve got a producer here!

Tyler Johnson: Hey guys. I’m Dick and I’m the producer…guy.

Your debut EP, Pau Pau, helped you guys break out. And now you’re working on your new LP, Sorrow. How do you think the sound on Sorrow will differ from Pau Pau?

EM: We put a lot more time into these songs, so we feel like they better represent us as a whole.

Do you also feel you guys have more experience as musicians going into this one?

EM: Definitely, that just comes with time. I feel like we went through a phase where we didn’t want to make things that sounded “too poppy.”  But then we just kinda changed our minds and decided to go back to the pop mentality for the end [of the LP]. So its kinda a mixture of both.

I have a question about your latest single; who is Mimi Ashi?

EM: Mimi Ashi is just our friend from Toronto, who we stayed with when we went over a couple years ago. It was really just the shittiest time ever. And I dunno, I just thought her name was kinda cool.

So it was a shitty time, and that’s why you decided to name the song after HER?

LH: Because we showed up to Toronto with no accommodations at all. She totally saved us and let us stay in her empty apartment what she was moving into a week later. So we stayed there for a week, with no furniture or anything, and slept on the apartment floor.

So it was kinda a thank you?

LH: Yeah!

EM: Definitely. Thanks for everything, Mimi!

Regarding the album artwork for Pau Pau. In the bottom right corner, we see a picture of Everett taking a massive bite of a Japadog dog. Any connection between Japadog and the band?

LH: That was the first time we’ve ever been there, actually—we’ve gone a couple times since.

EM: I don’t know if that was the first time…first or second time, probably.

LH: That was the first time, hundred percent. Remember? We were playing at Media Club and we walked over there.

So how did that find its way into the album artwork?

EM: Well, we really just wanted three pictures of..

LH: Four.

EM: We just wanted three pictures of us, divided into four, obviously. And then one of our friend doing the “Go Alien” hand. It was really just us, on nights out. We didn’t want anything crazy.

You guys have been touring a lot recently, even going on a tour of Europe. Where would you go on your dream tour?

EM: I’d probably go to Japan.

RBdV: That would be sweet.

EM: Yeah, I’ve been to Japan once and it was just so sweet. I can’t even imagine playing a show there.

RBdV: We played with a band in Camden, UK, called Pharaohs. They had just done a ten-day Japan tour prior to that show, and said it was insane. We should definitely give it a try.

Speaking of playing shows in a new place, you guys aren’t actually from Vancouver. You’re from the ‘burbs, Abbotsford to be exact. Was it a big transition coming to play shows in the city?

LH: We kinda always played in Vancouver and stuff, cause theres not a lot of places to play in Abby. So we always try to play in Vancouver.

EM: Touring is fun though. I dunno—its not really a big thing for me.

LH: It’s kinda transitioned really well.

EM: Yeah. We just play show to show, we like going out more. Even as we grew older, we just liked hanging out with friends and meeting people and stuff, and now at this point, we’re meeting new people every night, and its fun.

RBdV: We just recently did a show at the Rifflandia festival last weekend, and we weren’t expecting much. We played the opening slot at 8:30, but it was a huge banger, had a ton of fun, it was packed. A really great experience.

Tyler, you produced Pau Pau. You’ve seen the band through the years, how would you say their sound has evolved since they were teens?

TJ: Interesting question. I dunno; I kinda let these guys go do their thing, and here I am along for the ride. With Pau Pau, when I heard the songs I was like “Oh wow. These are great, this is awesome. Lets work on this.” And we did it. I think with a lot of the stuff that I produce, either with these guys or other acts that I work with, I don’t really like to plan things out too much. I just like to take it as it comes on, let the songs form naturally, and usually it turns out for the best.

Just go with the flow.

TJ: Just go with the flow.

In a previous interview, you guys said you had a fourth member—another Liam, I think. Liam Thiesen, But—

EM: Lucas!

Lucas, pardon me. But you kicked him out because he played rugby.

Laughter

LH: That was a student reporter, yeah.

So what do you guys have against rugby?

LH: He was just too busy.

EM: Yeah, too busy with stuff.

RBdV: Yeah. We have nothing against rugby.

LH: He wasn’t really committed to music, I think.

You guys have had a few lineup changes, though. Because you’re just coming out of high school and there’s pressure to go to college, is your rehearsing being affected at all?

EM: Not really. We’re just working right now,

RBdV: And we rehearse as much as we can. We were all living together in Montreal, so we were basically practising together everyday.

You guys blew up on a CBC Battle of the Bands competition when you were all in the 11th Grade. Has your age impeded you at any point?

EM: I’m not sure—I know that a couple years ago, maybe a few years ago, when we were 17, it was more awkward than it is now when we played in places that were 19+, because they didn’t really know what to do with us afterwards. Like, we were chilling and stuff, we had friends over there, and it was like, uhh….

“Should we call their parents to pick them up”?

Laughter

EM: Yeah, it was like, “Should we get these guys out of here?” And obviously there was the legal aspect of it. But it’s a lot less awkward playing those shows now.

Here’s the most stereotypical question ever; a name question. But its got a twist: is there any link between your name and the Barenaked Ladies’ song “Be My Yoko Ono”?

EM: Uhh….

Because there’s an interlude in the song where the singer goes “Oh No! Yoko!”

RBdV: Whoa. I didn’t even know that.

EM: I had no idea. Damn.

Well, there goes that theory. So it was an accident?

LH: Yeah, I guess so.

EM: I think Liam was just watching a documentary about Yoko Ono and we were like “Oh No! Yeah! We should add Oh No in front of it!”

On the subject of Barenaked Ladies—what artists, albums, or songs inspire or influence you? Anyone you would collaborate with?

TJ: I don’t know about artists, but producers? Brian Kennedy.

RBdV: That’d be sick.

LH: Who would I collaborate with?

Yeah. Or what do you think a perfect album is, by another artist?

LH: I would….fuck, I don’t know.

RBdV: This is a tough question man.

EM: I would collaborate with Drake. Call him in, let’s do a track.

On a side note, if you put a few periods after every single Drake album name, it sounds like something an angsty teenager would post on Facebook. Nothing was the Same….Thank Me Later…

Laughter

LH: We like Drake though.

RBdV: Yeah, I like Drake.

TJ: Dude makes good music.

RBdV: He has a chill new single.

LH: Yeah, that one’s good.

EM: “Take Care” is sweet.

So Liam, that one person you’d want to do a track with?

LH: Maybe like, David Bowie? That’d be awesome.

EM: Ralphy?

Isn’t it your turn, Everett?

EM: Drake. Drake’s mine!

TJ: That wasn’t serious though, was it?

EM: Yeah, seriously! Drake’s mine.

I can see an Oh No! Yoko/Drake collaboration working.

EM: Exactly! That’d be sick!

LH: Oh No! Drake’s Here!

RBdV: I dunno who I would collaborate with, but if I was ever in a band or anything I’d definitely want to…shit.

EM: Dude’s stumped.

RBdV: Oh wait, you know what? I’d totally just be down to chill and play fat bass with the bass player from Everything Everything. That guy has the sickest basslines right now, its just crazy. I’d just watch him play those notes and that would be it.

Here’s something that could use an explanation: you guys played at Simply’s a while back and one of you started lecturing the crowd to never ever do drugs.

LH: That was DEFINITELY me.

Including Tylenol.

LH: What? Really?

TJ: Yeah, I was there too.

LH: I dunno man.

RBdV: I was not there, actually.

LH: Our bass player back then wasn’t there, so we kinda like, screw it.

EM: It was still a lot of fun. The venue itself was kinda… I dunno. I was just hoping everyone was drunk enough.

Now on the song “Buki Bag”, you guys have the lyric “James and the Giant Peach made me feel thirsty.” Why that particular movie?

LH: I think we made that line about Fantasia. Because we were talking about how, like, Fantasia was a really fucked up movie for kids.

EM: And we used to watch it all the time. But yeah, we didn’t really have any experience or knowledge or emotion with that.

LH: Exactly. No emotion.

EM: We literally wrote those lyrics when we were 15.

How did your songwriting develop from that point? Tyler, any idea?

TJ: As far as songwriting went I don’t think I was ever really focused on that. I just really liked the whole vibe of the band. Everett’s vocals were just awesome, the harmonies…I knew something was there when I heard it, and knew I had to be a part of that project. And now we’re buddies and stuff, sitting outside the studio…

Around a table, being interviewed by a kid in a leather jacket…

RBdV: Thats a nice jacket, by the way.

Thanks! Any other favourite movies? It seems you guys get some inspiration from them.

EM: Limitless!

LH: Everett actually showed me Airheads the other day, and I thought it was pretty fucking funny.

EM: The Lone Ranger!

LH: Actually, like, the name of our 4th guitarist when we were starting out, the name of his first band was the Airheads.

RBdV: Star Trek 2 is pretty awesome.

EM: Yes!

LH: I love that movie.

TJ: So good.

RBdV: To the next level of technology, man.

Laughter

RBdV: Space exploration, man.

Another arbitrary question; Liam, has anyone ever told you that you look frightening similar to Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys?

LH: I don’t know what that guy looks like. Does he have a beard?

Yeah.

EM: Let me look him up. The guitar player, right?

RBdV: I always kinda thought he looked like a fox. Like a lion-bearded fox.

EM: Yeah, you kinda look like him. But you kinda look like a fox, dude. Like he looks a lot like a fox. But Google Images is always tiny, so…

RBdV: Yeah, he kinda does look like you.

LH: Hmmmm. Kinda. Never been told that though.

Well, that wraps up all I had to ask you. Anything you guys have to say for the fans out there?

EM: Look out! We’re in the Peak Performance Project, of course.

LH: Dat shit.Top twenty!

EM: We’re gonna be putting on a charity event soon.

LH: Early October in Abbotsford.

EM: Yeah, for the Devon R.B Clifford Memorial …

LH: Foundation.

EM: Yup.

LH: It’s a big name.

EM: Yeah, and we’re doing our Peak showcase on October 17th at Fortune. Music video coming soon!

RBdV: Album coming very soon, touring coming soon…Everything

EM: Lots coming soon!

LH: Much to come.

Well, thanks so much Oh No! Yoko. That’s a wrap. 

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