When I contact Jon Redditt of Vancouver grunge trio War Baby for an interview, he only has one condition for me: “No questions about sharks or whorehouses”. It’s the exact type of dark, off-beat humour that I learn to expect from the Vancouver doom rock trio.
War Baby’s brand of distorted, grinding grunge suggests a group that takes almost a cathartic approach to music, pounding their instruments with unbelievable timing and intensity. Yet, amidst that there’s a trend of humour; their sophomore album was entitled JESUS HORSE, after all, and after Redditt’s email it’s clear they aren’t going to be tough-as-nails metal heads.
The band, as it would turn out, is a pretty normal bunch of guys. Jon is cracking open a few beers, drummer Kirby Fisher is enjoying a couple of cigarettes, andbassist Brock Allen is relaxing on a long, leather couch while they debate and joke about everything from local bands to Fisher’s upbringing in Australia. Without me there, this would look like any other group of friends shooting the shit on a Saturday afternoon. As the interview progresses, I almost feel like I’m just facilitating a chat between friends. With the help of a few beers, the band tells me about their first show, their musical upbringing, and their grudge against the Zeitgeist. The band despises hipster’s, music nerds, and generally anyone who tries to tell them what they can and can’t do.
“We’ve always been more about being good people than cool kids”, Redditt explains.
What’s going on with War Baby right now?
K: Well we’ve just mixed and recorded about 99% of our new album. The next phase is to send it off to mastering and then getting it pressed! We’re about to go to Toronto to play Canadian music week.
J: And we also just found out that we are playing Sled Island! Looking really forward to that.
How’s the new album looking compared to JESUS HORSE?
J: It’s going to destroy Jesus Horse. It’s going to destroy your ears.
Do you see it going in more of a grunge direction, or a lighter sound?
J: We’re gonna be going in both directions, I think. What do you think, Kirbs?
K: The guy who produced it, Jordan Koop, who also did Jesus Horse, because, well, he’s the man-
J: Actually Brock, what do you think?
B: It doesn’t matter what I think because this is all scripted. [laughter]
K: I’ve actually got Google Glass on right now. But yeah, he [Koop] had a lot of great stuff to say about the album.
J: His number one criticism for us was that we were writing better songs. On a whole nother level from Jesus Horse.
K: It’s kinda got a bit of a dual direction going on, which is sort of a theme for us but has never been intentional. It’s just because we all have such different tastes in music. It’s sort of a beautiful melting pot of sound.
Back to the early days of the band now; what can you guys tell me about Wendy Thirteen?
J: Well, she gave us our first show, so we’re super grateful to her for that. We haven’t had much contact with Wendy since the first show…what happened was, we were supposed to play a show with my old band, which I played with in Calgary, but they bailed out because of a snow block.
K: We found out the day of the show. It was supposed to be at the Media Club, and when it was cancelled it was honestly just devastating. You know, It was supposed to be our first show, I had just gotten over here from Australia to begin a new chapter, we had been telling all of our friends about it for so long. So when it got canned, I was just sort of like “fuck that”, and I thought that the person who was most likely to give us a show would be Wendy Thirteen.
J: This is kinda embarrassing, but we went around to different venues that night, and we were like “We’re going to get a show.” We were gonna Oasis it and just force our way into a show. And nothing. We went to all the venues that were available, and then we went to the Cobalt- which is still my favourite place to play- and we saw a number outside. I didn’t really have the balls but Kirby just went ahead and called that number. It didn’t say anything either. It was just the number.
K: It literally just said “Wendy” and then the number. Of course I knew it was the infamous Wendy Thirteen. So I just called and was basically planning to beg my way on, and she was just like “Yep, that’s fine.”
J: I think she kinda hated us. [laughter]
K: We may have lied and said that we were way more punk than we actually were. But yeah, that was our first show.
Do you guys support Wendy in her political campaigns?
J: I didn’t even know.
K: To be honest, I’m so removed I had no idea.
She runs for mayor just about every election.
K: If I could vote- I can’t, because I’m not a citizen- then knowing that, I most definitely would vote for her.
J: I support her in spirit.
Brock, you came to the band in 2012. What was it like coming into the chemistry between these two?
B: Oh jeez man, where’s my script? [laughter] You guys know how quiet I usually am. I dunno. It felt kinda natural, because I had already played with Jon before in other bands.
What are your guys’ craziest touring stories?
K: I kinda feel like everytime we go out of town, we feel like we’re in the boy scouts or something and we’re going to go light fires in the bush.
J: That’s good. Nice anecdote right there.
K: Oh, shut up [laughter]. It almost feels like it’s sometimes way too much fun, because part of the reason we do this is to escape our shit lives. So as soon as we are in the van, everything is so novel. It’s just three goofs in a van.
J: Dude. Terry.
K: Oh, yes! [takes a card from Jon]. Where were we? Oh right, it was Cranbrook. We were playing Cranbrook with another band to like, nobody—it was our first time there. And then we met Terry, who was just….
J: So drunk.
K: I think the drunkest person I have ever met in my life. He was singing and…oh god. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a crazy story, more just a crazy person. [to Jon] There was that one time you killed that guy. [laughter]
J: Terry was just magic, man.
K: I have a story for something that happened here. We were playing a show with Black Wizard around Halloween, and so we went walking around dressed as 1990s Las Vegas grandmas. Perfect theme, right?
K: So we were walking around with pearl necklaces, high heels, really bad makeup. So we played the show, had a really good time, and then went down to- what was that club called?
J: Goodie, or maybe it was still the Emergency Room back then.
K: And we were walking and there was this guy dressed as a dead Steve Irwin. And keep in mind I was a bit wasted. I wasn’t offended by it because I was Australian—funny is funny. But I thought the joke was so dated. I mean, if you want it to be funny you have to hit that “too soon” factor and do it like the day after. I felt like the joke had died. So after some shenanigan talking…
J: In the meantime, this dude had this rubber stingray stinger sticking out of his chest and I was doing this [hits his chest] to him…
K: And then he sucker punched me, and then Jon started throwing punches, and then his two friends joined in and it just became an all out brawl.
J: I think Glen from Beatroute was in there too.
Classic. Jon, a big influence you talk about is Nirvana. What’s your favourite Nirvana record?
J: Nevermind, all the way. A lot of people we talk to say that Bleach was their best record, which you probably wouldn’t expect, cause that’s bullshit. Bleach didn’t have Dave Grohl. Nevermind is absolutely the best record.
K: I think it’s like when something gets so massive out-of-control big, the cool kids revolt against that.
J: We hate the cool kids.
K: If there’s one ethos we have as a band, it’s that we hate the cool kids.
J: We’re down with the losers, the nerds…
K: We like blue-collar everyday people. Anyways, I think it’s clear there’s a reason Bleach sold this much [puts his hand low] and Nevermind sold this much [holds hand in the air].
J: And I love all of their records. Bleach is a great hidden gem. But seriously, Nevermind is the best record.
K: Me and Jon have had this discussion so many times before. And it gets so heated everytime!
B: I like Nevermind too, that was the first record for me.
J: Is that on your script too? [laughter]
K: Nirvana came out at just the right time for me, back in Australia. I was around 13, maybe like 15. We definitely didn’t hear about Bleach.
And you’ve said that in Australia, basically your only source of music was Triple J, right? So that’s where you got your music from.
K: I would say about 80% was from Triple J and then another 20% — the good 20%– from this other show. There was Triple J, which in my opinion is the best big radio station in the world, but then there was also this thing called Rage. which went up every Saturday night, and it was basically our version of MTV back when they still played music videos. It started at 12 at night and went to 6 in the morning. “
J: And if you google up any 90s band, you’ll see the Rage insignia at the bottom of the page- not MTV. It’s so weird.
K: So basically, from midnight to four in the morning, they would play like, anything. Like if we made a music video right now of us smashing plates together and then spliced it up, there is a very good chance they would play it. So you would just see, like, Built to Spill on there, and they’re now one of my favourite bands ever.
J: I had a similar thing called City Limits. It was an hour and a half I think, and you’d get stuff like Mudhoney on there.
K: What people don’t realize is that pre-internet, you’d have to dig really fucking hard to find good music. So you’d be sitting there in your armchair, mum’s asleep, and you’d be sitting there watching with some popcorn and some hot chocolate.
J: That was my Friday night man. I would tape it every time, just so I had it on record.
K: I would sit there with pen and paper in hand and just write down all the cool shit that came on.
J: It was so amazing.
Jon, when I first contacted you about this interview, you said “no questions about sharks or whorehouses.” So, what are your personal thoughts on sharks?
J: [laugher] The reason I added the thing about sharks is because my greatest fear is different stuff, which I think is very real.
K: Your greatest fear is different stuff? What the hell is that?
J: You know, like space and death and all that. But my friends said that sharks are their greatest fear, which I just thought was so funny. And that bit I mentioned to you about Whorehouses, well….uhmm…well we don’t go to whorehouses, just to start.
You guys are War Baby, but are you aware there used to be a band in Seattle called War Babies in the 90s?
J: Of course I’m aware! Don’t even finish your sentence! Didn’t those guys have something to do with Ted Nugent?
I think so, yep.
J: Well fuck them! I can’t even sell my Ted Nugent T-shirt on Ebay, let me put it to you that way. They were a horrible band and I’m glad we’re stealing their thunder! [laughter] They weren’t even really a grunge group. They were a hair band.
If you really don’t like them, were you worried about comparisons?
J: Not at all, they don’t sound anything like us.
K: To chime in as the most sober person here, we didn’t even know that band existed until two months in when a friend of mine sent me a Youtube video. But hey, even if we were called the War Babies I wouldn’t do anything unless someone contacted us.
J: We have a friend in a band called Cowards, and if you look on the internet there are like 50 bands called Cowards, but until they get an email it’s all good.
K: I was in a band in Australia called Rawkus, which was also the name of a record label that Eminem- that’s all I can remember. We got an email like right away saying “cease and desist”.
J: We managed to find a name that was barely used and barely similar to anything, and it kicks ass and we love it. So if War Babies wants to come and try and change our name, I’m going to slit their throats.
Oh my god. A lot of bands have a lot of really bad names before they settle on a final one. What was the worst band name you ever played under?
J: Oh, that’s a good one.
K: Let’s go around and answer that. I was in a band with not only the worst name ever, but it may have been the worst band that’s ever existed in the history of mankind with three really terrible people.
J: What if those people read this?
K: I don’t care! The band was called “Snow in Africa”. I was not there when the name was chosen. It was in L.A. That was my first mistake.
B: Probably either Pale Blue, or Dark Sun.
J: Dark Sun? That doesn’t make any…
B: Because the sun doesn’t get dark, damnit! laughter]
J: My worst one was kinda an unfortunate homonym: Jooul. It’s a good name, but you have to see it, right? Otherwise you think of that other singer. Although I’ve been texting with the lead singer and we might even do a throwback piece because we were in a band for 10 years.
J: I just have to say this is the interview we’ve done, easy. Anyways, what’s next? We’re gonna do an album for starters….Kirby?
B: Can you put some input into this put?
K: We’re gonna employ the guerilla ethos of the Black Panther party.
J: Some Black Flag shit.
K: But seriously, there’s a lot of anger that fuels this band that we find a positive use for. I think we’re kinda campaigning against cool kids.
J: We’ve always wanted to be more about being good people than cool kids.
War Baby will be playing in Toronto on May 4th at the Smiling Buddha and another show just two days later at the Bovine Sex Club. Their next shows in Vancouver are on May 17th at the Railway Club followed by May 29th at the Fox Cabaret.