You could feel the buzz ripple through the Regina Brandt Centre when Hamilton’s Monster Truck were announced as the 2013 Breakthrough Group Juno Award winners. It was like en masse the audience were gasping “Who the hell are these guys?”
Well those guys; lead vocalist/bassist Jon Harvey, lead guitarist Jeremy Widerman, keyboardist Brandon Bliss and drummer Steve Kiely are about to come off a year where they’ve toured Canada with Slash, released a debut album “Furiosity” on top indie label, Dine Alone Records, are currently in the midst of an extensive European tour opening for Vista Chino (formerly Kyuss) before heading out on their first headline Canadian tour which kicks off in Vancouver December 4th at the Commodore Ballroom.
Not bad for a band who, at the beginning, didn’t even take themselves seriously!
“Our motto at the beginning was `Get drunk, play simple rock songs and have fun,” said Widerman on the phone as the band prepared for their Euro junket. “When we formed in 2009, it was like a side project for more serious bands that we were all in at that time, we weren’t that serious about this band at all. Then we started to play a couple of shows, got a great crowd reaction, which we responded to by recording a couple of independent E. P’s and kind of took things from there.”
Again, the band adopted a lassez-faire attitude towards the record industry. “At the end of the day, we weren’t concerned about getting a record label,” revealed Widerman. “ We were truly just playing a bunch of songs for fun only. We were not interested in entertaining offers or going on tour. Despite this, word started to generate about this great rock band and that we had to be seen. This buzz attracted booking agents and record companies and eventually it made sense for us to take the next step. All of us are over 30 years old, we can do everything ourselves so we were an easy sell to them”
Signed to Joel Carriere’s Dine Alone Records and his Bedlam management company, Monster Truck quickly formed an affinity with another band on the Dine Alone label, Saskatoon’s The Sheepdogs with whom they toured together.
“We met them three years ago and our reaction was `Wow!, here’s an honest band. They are our brothers from another mother,” quipped Widerman. “We were excited to see them win the Breakthrough Artist Juno in 2012, and for them to get that Rolling Stone cover.
Admitting that the Monster Truck sound is based on classic rock riffs “that have been boiled down to its purest form,”, whereas The Sheepdogs have a stronger Southern rock feel , Widerman acknowledges that both bands have been perceived as bringing vintage rock back to the masses. “There’s camaraderie between us. When we tour together it was like we both were raising the banner for honest rock music.”
Widerman acknowledges that winning the Juno for Breakthrough New Band, has been perceived as a kiss of death for previous recipients but points out that neither Monster Truck nor The Sheepdogs have suffered from this supposed `curse’ so far.
“It’s exciting to be recognized by your peers,” commented Widerman on the award. “Its fun in the moment but it is a fleeting emotion. What we are left with is the tangible aspect of the win opening up a lot of doors for us. We started to get taken seriously.”
Coming at a time when their first full record “Furiousity” was about to be release, the Junos’ win kick started the Monster Truck’s record launch campaign. “Up until the Junos, we had only released two E. P’s, a self-titled effort in 2010 and “The Brown” EP in 2011, (engineered by Hiren Mistry) and we almost messed that up, the final album is a second-generation effort, our first attempt at the recording was a failure.
“We recorded the debut in Los Angeles but the producer didn’t share in our mindset,” informed Widerman. “So we came home with a record that wasn’t up to par. Thankfully, our label gave us the budget to do it again so we trashed the original and produced it ourselves.”
The resulting “Furiosity” record has generated solid national airplay for a number of tracks which prompts Widerman to decry any band who claims it is near impossible to obtain radio airplay for their record in Canada. “At the end of the day, if you write songs that resonate with people, you are going to find your way on to the radio,” challenges Widerman We got our fan base excited and that makes it a helluva lot easier to get radio programmers interested in the record. They’ve heard about the band, they’ve heard from people who have been to our shows and they know that if they play our songs, it’s going to connect with a favourable audience.”
Widerman also takes issue with artists who feel that in the age of social media, having a record company behind you isn’t necessary. “We are a living testament to what you can do when you do have a good record company and management company behind you. We couldn’t have possibly done the album, got the airplay or got the European tour without them.”
Monster Truck have proven they can hold their own on a major concert stage having earned critical praise for their three and a half week Canadian tour opening for Slash and for two recent performances in Detroit on a bill with Kid Rock and ZZ Top, part of an eight-night series Kid Rock staged as a morale-builder for the besieged city that just filed for bankruptcy. Now they face the task of venturing into unexplored waters to open for Vista Chino on their first ever European sojourn.
“As far as most of these countries are concerned, our visibility factor is zero. We might as well have started the band yesterday,” acknowledged Widerman. “But this is the way we built up our band in Canada. As the opening group, nobody expected much from us but we made a career out of surprising people. When we play these European audiences I want the fans there to say at the end of our set `I came here not expecting much, but you guys blew me away. I’m definitely checking you out next time you come back“ Widerman feels that if they can achieve this, their trip to Europe will be a success.
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Next on the agenda is the bands first 13-date Touriosity national tour which kicks off in Vancouver and continues across the country through December ( see our Concert Connection for the full tour) , Duff McKagan’s Walking Papers is the opening act. “First time we will have ever toured in a bus,” exclaimed Widerman who has vivid memories of past excursions of driving cars through the Rocky Mountains during the dead of winter. I still remember a December adventure we had two years ago.
“We had just finished touring with the Sheepdogs and we had three days to get back home. We got to Rogers Pass (in the heart of the Rockies) and the road was closed due to an accident. By the time it re-opened we had to drive 55 hours straight with three drivers working eight hour shifts.” concluded Widerman. “Its amazing we didn’t get killed, but we rolled home totally shattered and I vowed I would never do that again. Now with our own tour bus, we don’t have to.”
– Keith Sharp