a change is gonna come.
interview by Kenyon Hopkin
A lot of times you see a list of a band's influences but the band that is citing them is either shit or nothing like them. Uncut is neither. They are the total sum of their influential parts - Swervedriver, Trail of Dead, Sonic Youth, Fugazi and early My Bloody Valentine. Proud to be hailing from Toronto, Uncut--Jon Drew (drums) , Chris McCann (guitar), Derek Tokar (bass, vocals) and Ian Worang (guitar, vocals)--have completed their second album, Modern Currencies (Paper Bag records]. It sonically kicks down the door of rock and so does the stop motion video for "Darkhorse," which features Care Bears getting militant. So far, the band has opened for the Walkmen, Sloan, Dinosaur Jr. and Bob Mould. In a few weeks, Uncut will face its biggest physical challenge yet-- Japan. While still in North America, Ian Worang shared his obviously educated insight on health care, influential 1990s band Swervedriver and what it means to be rock 'n roll. -Kenyon Hopkin [Kenyon knows how to write a feature story but doesn't have that kind of time. So here is the ever-popular Q & A. photo with books By Alex Collados-Nunez. photo with photos on wall by Alex Collados-Nunez and Sarah Louise Lock].
Advance Copy: I just watched Michael Moore's Sicko and now I want to move to France or Canada for the universal health care. How fair has it treated you in Canada? It seems so incredibly simple to deal with there.
Ian Worang: It is and it isn't. I think Michael Moore has a tendency to idealize Canada, which is flattering, but not entirely the best approach to take as a documentarian. For example, in Bowling for Columbine he comes to Toronto only to find that no one locks their doors. I have no idea where in Toronto he went. Having lived here my entire life -- both downtown and in the suburbs -- I have never left, nor known anyone, who left the doors unlocked.
But back to health care. It is free here, and it's great to know that if you're sick, for the most part, you'll get the best care available regardless of your economic status. It's a great feeling to be able to go get something checked out just to ease your mind. You can go to a walk-in clinic, without worrying about how you're going to pay for it, just to make sure that nothing is seriously wrong with you. One of my closest friends just spent 45 days in the hospital with a severe case of colitis, from which he almost died. Without free medical care he would have been economically devastated. That would have been the last thing he needed to worry about while he was recovering.
I've seen the dark side of the HMO system in the U.S. My father lived and worked in Buffalo and got sick. He repeatedly went to the hospital and was sent home with diagnoses like pneumonia and respiratory infection. Turns out he had stage four lung cancer and died, which was completely unnecessary. If the main goal of the doctors wasn't cost management, he would have received proper treatment. That shit is completely reprehensible to me. It's our responsibility as a society to take care of the sick and vulnerable, no questions, no debate, and it's barbaric to do otherwise. That said, our system in Canada is far from perfect. There are still "private hospitals" which sneak patients in to the top of the line for MRIs if they have the money. Waiting for medical attention can take hours. The hospitals are completely overcrowded and the staff completely overworked. There is also a strong push from the political right in Canada to move to a multi-tiered health care system, which is gaining favour all the time.
AC: How is the culture of music doing in Toronto? What are your favorite bands from there? And please don't say Broken Social Scene or Stars. Thanks.
IW: There's lots of great bands and a healthy music culture here in Toronto. My favourite Toronto bands at the moment are Quest for Fire (best band name ever), Metz, The Constantines, Brutal Knights and, without a doubt, Fucked Up. Toronto bands no longer in action, that I miss greatly, include Phleg Camp, Life Like Weeds, The Deadly Snakes, The Illuminati and Cursed. My mom really likes Feist.
AC: Would you ever live in the United States at this point?
IW: Nope. I have a great time down there, I love my family from there, I love my friends from there, I have great affection for the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Detroit. But I just couldn't do it. I never realise how Canadian I am until I cross the border. It's more different than you might think.
"I have no idea where in Toronto [Michael Moore] went. Having lived here my entire life -- both downtown and in the suburbs -- I have never left, nor known anyone, who left the doors unlocked."
AC: What caused the original Uncut to transform from electronic-based music to guitar-lead post-hardcore noise rock?
IW: The band started with just my roommate, Jake Fairley, and I messing around in our living room without really having a clear direction of what we wanted to do. He eventually moved to Berlin to pursue his career in techno. The first Uncut full length ("Those Who Were Hung Hang Here") has a number of songs from the Jake days that were reworked to be played as a band, so some of that original sound carried over. Once we started playing live, we naturally got louder and brasher, and continue to do so. I think early tours with Bob Mould and Death From Above 1979 rubbed off on us as well.
AC: In the song "Darkhorse" there's a riff near the end nearly identical to Swervedriver's "Rave Down". Has anyone else noticed that yet?
IW: Others have probably noticed that, but you're the first to call us out on it. I like to think of it as a loving tribute, rather than an outright rip-off. Technically, we likely owe Swervedriver 10% of the profits for that song. So, if you're out there reading this Swervedriver, we would be more than happy to mail you a cheque for something around $2 CDN. If you could hold-off on cashing until Friday (pay day!), that would be awesome.
AC: You played with Swervedriver a few weeks ago -- they were fantastic here in New York. Did that show rock the house or what?
IW: It was really great to hear all the old favourites again. However, there were a lot of meatheads at the show moshing to every song. Who even moshes anymore? It was like the first Lollapalooza all over again. It was surreal watching the pit in action while they were playing "Feel So Real." It just didn't add up for me.
"Who even moshes anymore? It was like the first Lollapalooza all over again."
AC: The video for "Darkhorse" is shorter than the actual song. It leaves out a verse and chorus. Is that because animation takes a long time to do?
IW: That's exactly what happened. We would make an edit and they would say "can you just take out a little bit more?" Every second of the song represented hours of filming, so we were totally sympathetic. We have the dolls and the little instruments from the video. Best band memento ever.
AC: How are you feeling about playing dates in Japan? What are you most looking forward to there? Are you scared to go in a plane that far?
IW: My mind is exploding in excitement. It's all I think about (and talk about -- I think most of my friends are sick of hearing about it at this point). I'm not so excited about the plane though. Mind you, we've done longer drives straight through in a minivan, so how much worse can this be? (It will likely be much, much worse.)
AC: Some of your lyrics sound like they have some kind of profound political-social edge or message. Does that ring true? Any inspiration from political thought or philosophers?
IW: I used to read a lot of stuff like Howard Zinn, Michael Parenti and Noam Chomsky. I went to school for politics. I currently work at a non-profit organization and my entire family on my mom's side has worked in the public service for generations. And I spent my youth with bands like Fugazi and Minor Threat. I think in that way, politics and social thought are a part of who I am, and that does creep into the songs. I find the theme of loss of community and neighbourhood (which for some reason I keep framing in images of violence, I'm not sure why) is something that constantly flows through the songs, much more so than the bigger picture issues like war and neo-imperialism.
AC: Most of your musical influences have redefined what you can do with the electric guitar. Do you wish to contribute to that?
IW: I wish I could do that, but I probably can't. I think that our songs do try to assert the idea that you can be serious about playing your instrument and being proficient, without being overly rockist. We're not going to get all Blueshammer, but we are going to have some guitar solos. There was (is?) a time where anything beyond basic proficiency would render you a pariah in the indie and punk rock circles, as though by being excited by your instrument and wanting to get better at playing it meant you were missing the point by taking the naiveté out of rock. I would love to know how is it more authentic to rub a butt plug on your guitar than it is to know what the mixolydian mode is. Both have their place. Not that I'm trying to say we're Mastodon or anything. We're still pretty basic rock.
AC: For serious, before you play a show what are you thinking about? Do you ever think, "oh man I am totally gonna rock the hell out tonight"?
IW: It depends on the show. Sometimes I'm thinking "oh god, I hope I don't fuck up." Sometimes I'm thinking "we're going to crush these people with volume." Sometimes I'm thinking "fuck this place, I want to destroy it."