The Gay Nineties on Bruce Springsteen, Prom Night, and Rocking the Nation

The Gay Nineties are a group of people that exist to defy convention. Your average rock band doesn’t marry drag with David Letterman to make the whackiest music video you might ever see. Your average rock band doesn’t decide to take some alternative dance classes for their next video. And your average rock band definitely doesn’t release a debut LP with anywhere near the maturity, energy, and bliss that is Liberal Guilt, their thunderous debut that sent the group on a cross-Canada tour.

And since they aren’t your average rock band, this wasn’t an average interview. It’s not my first run in with the Gay Nineties; I had met the tag-team of Daniel Knowlton and Parker Bossley a year ago, and in that 15 minute interview time frame they gave me a steady lecture on ebonics, explained the risks of time travel, and christened my microphone “The Craydar Mic”. This time around, Parker and Daniel bring me out to their favourite park.  Daniel is wearing a dashiki– a loose, West African shirt– and Parker is wearing his sunglasses and smile, which both seem permanently affixed. In the daytime, the two lay here, bathe in the sunlight, and sip coffee. At night, Parker comes here to listen to Bruce Springsteen by the baseball diamond, with a couple glasses of wine on the side. If Oscar Wilde rose from the dead and joined this band, it wouldn’t even be surprising. The Gay Nineties embody the essential desire of their era; a desire for freedom– whether its from social constructs, expectations, or that little voice in your head that says “you can’t dance”. The Gay Nineties exist to move people from the booth to the dancefloor, and they do a fine job of it.

They’ve been back for two weeks when I meet them, and as they prepare for Pemberton Music Festival, something new pulses through the band. Parker, Daniel, and the group as a whole have found a new direction, and with it a sense of clarity. The constellations on the cover of Liberal Guilt have shifted and aligned, and now more than ever, the Gay Nineties seem poised to rock the nation.

*

Parker:  “Born in the USA” is the jam right about now. You know what’s crazy about that song is that it’s not really pro American—it’s a pretty depressing song. It’s totally anti-America.

Daniel: It’s Pro-Jersey, anti-America. It was written by the Republic of Jersey.

That sounds like the only country that could be worse than Andorra. 

P: What’s Andorra?

It’s a principality between France and Spain. I hate it instinctively.

P: You hate it for a legitimate reason, or you’re just a douchebag?

The second, to be honest. It’s the one nation I’m racist towards, I guess.

P: It’s not so much racism, its more xenophobia.

You know what? I’m a family man of values. My hatred for Andorra is my one sin. The one thing I hate.

D: You quit smoking too, right? 

P: But do you have a problem with battery covers? Because the battery cover on your mic seems to be missing.

After it became the Craydar mic, it went through some shit. 

P: Oh my god, I totally forgot I named it that.

D: That’s a deep cut, man.

Alright, we should actually get into the interview, but I might keep this segment just to mention my hatred of Andorra to the world. I need to come clean.

D: I’m flattered that you chose our band to come out of the closet of being an Andorra-hater.

Questions now: Last time I met with you, you named this microphone the Craydar microphone. As you can see, it’s been through some shit. What would you name it now?

P: The CrayGnar mic. Or maybe the Trash Mic. That could be a good rap name. 

What name would you rap under?

 P: Whiskey Houston. That’s my drag name, and if I was a rapper I would rap in drag. 

Last time I spoke to you guys, you were a week off recording the “Letterman” video and were finishing Liberal Guilt. What’s happened since then?

D: We just got back from a cross-canada tour around two weeks ago. It was a really successful tour—night after night, every show was fantastic. As we passed through all the provinces and territories, every time the crowd improves and the vibe improves. I feel pretty fortunate.

P: Lethbridge was a weird big deal for us. We played Lethbridge to literally nobody so many times, and then we had a perfect sellout and we were like thank you. It was like, full families were coming out saying how stoked they were. We filmed another music video as well—have you seen the video for “Hold Your Fire?” No? No one seems to have seen that one. 

Don’t worry, I can casually hyperlink it in the interview. But I understand the video involved some avant-garde dance. 

D: It was the best. We would always look forward to going to dance classes with the pals.

 P: It was with Ja Pace—she’s fucking cool as hell. We would hang out, in a circle, put on some tunes, she would be wearing a leopard-print unitard, and we would stretch it out. She even had us stretch out our ring finger. It almost felt like, as a band, we all kinda got naked in front of each other and just like stared at each other. When you’re dancing—weirdly—in a room with four dudes, it’s very…humbling. I was very uncomfortable at first because I was like “these are my best friends” and by the end of it I was like “This is the best thing ever.”

D: We went really hard on that choreography too. The Jesus lift was crazy.

What’s a Jesus lift?

D: As if you were picking up somebody who was on a cross, and carrying them to their final resting place. In this case, it was picking them up to go to the other side of the room to grab a beer.

P: Not enough people casually employ the Jesus Lift in public.

You need to have a Gay Nineties party where you do all these things—Springsteen in parks, Jesus Lifting, etc. 

P: Can you imagine how crazy that would be? 

Speaking of parties though, how was your release party you played with JPNSGRLS?

P: It was great! I was wondering why you weren’t there. 

Surprise surprise, I’m not 19. I’m a fetus. 

P: You have that disease that fetuses get where they look like they’re 19. 

I’m actually 4 years old, have been this whole time. 

P: Crazy plot twist though. How many years do you have? 

9 months, and I’m heading to France, so hey, there is no drinking age.

P: Is it some really obscure program?

It’s this international relations school where a lot of my classmates just travel the world on boats.

P: Speaking of that, a friend of ours—Hannah—is gonna go on this thing called a Seed to Sea tour. It’s a full on zero fossil fuel tour where they’re doing everything on this wooden sailboat, and their touring eco-farms along the Coast Salish region and playing all these amazing songs acoustically. It might be the first tour of its kind to actually be a zero fossil emissions tour. I would do that in a heartbeat, but we’d have to get Bruce to play one of those toy pianos. Daniel would have to play a banjo. Malcolm would just have to sit on the poop deck.

Not even playing an instrument. Just sitting on the poop deck.

P: He’s just cleaning the poop deck. 

Doin Malcom shit.

P: #Malcolmshit should be a thing.

 So, after touring Canada numerous times, what is a dream tour for the Gay Nineties? 

P: I would love to open for a band like Sloan. We have a lot of respect for Sloan. They are absolutely the closest a Canadian band has gotten to being like the Beatles. I also like Zeus.

D: I like the idea of touring the West Coast of America. It’d be amazing to have shorter drives between places, and there’s all these little amazing surf towns down the Oregon Coast. I love touring Canada, and the fact that in every city we play we build family and community, bUt I personally am ready for adventure. I crave seeing things I’ve never seen before.

P: And those beaches on the Oregon coast are so slick. That would truly be the pleasure cruise of touring.

The trouble touring Canada is the huge distance between towns, so what went down on this tour?

D: We did a show in Winnipeg where we had to be at Regina at 7 in the morning to play for a TV show. So we played the show and then drove through the night to get to the CTV station to do the on-air performance and interview.

 P: Daniel and Malcolm slept, and my idea was that if I drank enough wine staying up through the night co-piloting Bruce, it would make for a better interview in the morning. And I was totally right.

 D: Bless his heart, the best thing about Malcolm being American is that this one time when we were doing an interview with Bill Welychka in Kingston, he kinda accidentally backhand slapped the Tragically Hip in their own town. And the guitarist’s wife was the next guest on show. 

P: It was amazing. It was tongue in cheek what he was doing, but they took it so straight to heart.

D: The question was the difference between making a splash in a big city or a small town, especially since many small towns have a tunnel vision of musical taste. But in Ontario, the Hip is on high rotation. But Malcolm has an ability to make everything sound super sarcastic, so even though he had no bad intentions, he shook up the entire city of Kingston. I’m surprised there weren’t mobs of people with pitchforks.

P: I was surprised Pitchfork festival didn’t just come to Kingston.

An angry hipster mob just goes across America to hunt you down.

P: And they end up following us across the continent in the end. I imagine that’d be like a Grateful Dead and Phish situation, where they’re just with us on the road.

D: Speaking of the Grateful Dead, we played every town in Southern Ontario, but as we progressed we would keep saying the same faces every night. Much like a lot of North America, all the towns are an hour away, so we had this little bandwagon following us around every night.

Sounds like you guys had some adventures. I sympathize with Parker’s wine situation, especially. As a fetus, I had my prom recently.

Laughter

P: “As a fetus, I had my prom recently.” That came out of nowhere. That was incredible.

I had to be get on a flight to Toronto at 7 in the morning after. I was a little out of it.

P: Well, being drunk on a plane is a good vibe. I had my prom and then went to the afterparty knowing I also had to catch a flight to Toronto, but during the prom I had gone outside and fallen in the mud, and so I was covered in mud and then had to be escorted into a van and then into the airport. And I remember trying to get through security, wasted and covered in mud. They were not impressed. But I got on the flight, and it was all good.

Dan, you said in an interview that you saw the Gay Nineties of being an art project beyond music. Can you elaborate on that?

D: I think we’ve incorporated a new level of visual artwork into our stage shows and into our album art- I’m holding the 7 inch from “Letterman” and “Hold Your Fire”, and we put every band member’s birth year and tarot card on it, in a bit of an art-deco format. And the colour palette- pastel on black—has really become a staple of our live shows. Parker has a similarily coloured light up micstand. So that kinda shows our progression there.

P: For me, I’m informed by everything. I absorb everything I see. There’s so much inspiration out there and there’s so much art to be absorbed. And of course, everyone is impacted by everything they see.

D: I just gave the most literal answer.

P: Yeah, you gave like a spinal tap answer.

D: “This album cover could be none more black.”

Who’s the hanged man?

D: That’s me—it’s not as bad as you think. 

I know, that’s my card too.

P: I’m Temperance, Brody is the Magician, and Malcolm is the Queen of Swords.

Laughter

And I understand this is designed by Alexis Youngblood?

P: Yes! Alexis Youngblood is a friend. She’s a certified gene-dawg, and a graphic designer, and I’ve actually been writing and making music with her because she’s just gone solo, and is doing some seriously cool shit. So Canada, stay tuned for Alexis Youngblood.

My final question is kinda the classic interview question…

P: “Tell us about your name!”

D: “Are you guys gay?” 

P: That would actually be refreshing.

D: Wait, do I have blood on my face? 

P: No worries, it’s super rugged. You look like Christopher Columbus. Just don’t get any blood on your sweet new Dashiki.

Is that what that type of shirt is called? 

P: We call it a dashiki. Some people would call it a mini mumu. But we call it a dashiki.

Note to self: invest in a mini Mumu. 

D: That sounds like a type of yogurt.

P: Find us in the yogurt isle. Somewhere in Germany, probably. 

So for real now, what’s next?

D: New songs, new record.

P: We’ve been really working on this new record, we have some new material, and there’s a very clear defined direction that we are all going in at the exact same time. Liberal Guilt was kinda a banding together thing—us all figuring things out—but after this tour, we’re all naturally like “We’re goin that way, let’s fuckin do it.” We’ve all figured out the direction we’re going in and it’s streamlined beautifully.

D: We set up a beautiful recording studio at our home base so that we can actually get recording involved in the writing process. It’s really helped us streamline and elaborate ideas in a fresh new way. 

P: And a lot of the ideas that work on the record and are hard to do live actually become a possibility, whereas in a noisy jam space all those ideas don’t sound good enough—they aren’t quite load enough. Whereas when you record it, you can be like, oh, that’s actually quite beautiful, blah blah blah. Keep that “blah blah blah” in the interview. 

D: I think the other benefit will be that the live show will be super congruent with the record. This is the most excited we’ve ever been to record something.

P: We could be none more excited.

D: None more black. 

P: Expect an LP in January, and very quickly we’ll become contractually binded to that. So that’s a promise. 

Anything else for the fans out there?

P: Love you guys. Hey there.

*

Check out the Gay Nineties’ website for more updates on the band. 

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