UC Follie’s B-Side rocks the Stage at Hart House this November

The show’s creator discusses making a show about records in the digital age

UC Follie’s <i>B-Side</i> rocks the Stage at Hart House this November

From November 30 to December 1, the UC Follies will be at Hart House for a two-night performance of B-Side: A Rock Cabaret. The show is a grand musical experience that will take you back in time with classic rock records you love and lesser-known songs for you to discover and fall in love with.

The Varsity wrote to Jocelyn Kraynyk, the show’s creator, about her inspiration for the show, nostalgia for rock music, and listening to records in the world of online streaming.

TV: So many people listen to music digitally, on Spotify and Apple Music — why did you decide to create a show about records instead?

JK: The simple answer as to why I created a show inspired by records is that I find digital means of listening to music passive. Don’t get me wrong, I am in love with my iPod and I might actually die without my Apple Music, but I think it’s important to acknowledge how easy it is to become complacent about listening. Many a time, I have found myself in a playlist loop where I don’t realize I’m listening to music that I don’t really like or care about. With records, the act of listening becomes so active. You carefully choose what record you want to listen to. You engage with the music in the ceremony of putting the record on and the needle down. If your mind is focused on other things, the record waits for you to reengage at the halfway mark. I think that level of immersion lends itself well to a theatrical endeavour.

TV: Where did you get your inspiration for B-Side?

JK: I was so thrilled when the Follies asked me to create a show and I celebrated by going to my favourite record shop and picking up a heap of new music. When I got home, I put on my new Pat Benatar and rocked around my living room basking in the amazing vocals and bopping tracks. Two things happened while I listened to that record: 1. I found a couple songs that I had never heard before but fell totally and completely in love with, and 2. I heard songs that I forgot that I loved and it felt like coming home. That is how I found the concept for this show — thanks Pat. For me, B-Side is all about celebrating the songs of amazing artists that don’t get the same amount of play as other classic rock, as well as celebrating better known songs that were put on the B-Side of their record. Some of the songs in this show are ones few people will know — but everyone will love — some are songs everyone will know and can sing along to, and some are songs that people will hear, be flooded with memory, and fall in love [with] all over again. 

TV: How did you choose what songs to include in the show and why did you choose rock music?

JK: Listening to hundreds of classic rock songs to find the perfect setlist was torture — just kidding, I was in my glory. I love that shit. I ended up deciding to centre this show around songs that explore young love and relationships – the good, the bad, the ugly, the horny. It connects every song and performance and reined me in — if I didn’t have that connecter, the show would be hours long instead of the sleek 55 minutes it is now. B-Side has an unclockable flow and energy. It’s dynamic. It’s energetic. It’s magnetic and it demands to be seen!

As an artist and a consumer, I love the feeling of nostalgia. For me, it serves as escapism and when I perform or listen to music from or reminiscent of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The flow and intensity of it allows me to let go and live in its palpable energy. That feeling is what I want for my audiences and that is why I gravitate towards rock. 

TV: What is a song or performance in the show that stands out to you? 

JK: As far as what song or performance stands out, I’m going to give a pageant answer: every single song and performance stands out. When creating this show, we wanted to make sure that every performer got their moment to shine, and shine they do! We have been incredibly fortunate work with this incomparable group of people. Every single one of them owns the stage and I challenge anyone watching not to be warmed to the core by the joy and energy that radiates off of them when they sing. They are a beautiful unit. Hart House is an intimidating space. It is huge and can be daunting for performers — I say this from experience: that stage is scary — but we don’t fear the stage, we dominate that stage. The passion and excitement from our cast fills the theatre from the dressing rooms to the very last row. 

 

In conversation with Abigail Whitney

U of T student, model, and director — how does Abigail Whitney do it all?

In conversation with Abigail Whitney

At just 21 years old, Abigail Whitney is a full-time University of Toronto undergraduate student, model, actor, and now, director. Whitney is majoring in Theatre and Performance Art, with a double minor in English Literature and Equity Studies. When she is not in a lecture or a library, she models for CoverGirl and Vogue Italia, and most recently, she has become the centre of Sephora’s national beauty campaign.

Whitney’s latest creative endeavour is directing the UC Follies’ show Les Frères (The Brothers) by Sandra A. Daley-Sharif. The play stars Kwaku Adu-Poku, Kato Alexander, and David Delisca as the brothers, with Most McNeilly as Woman and Rob Candy as Mr. Brent Ewens.

The Varsity sat down with Whitney to discuss how she, as a woman of colour, navigates being both hyper-visible and invisible in her three worlds: student, director, and model.

The Varsity: How are you juggling being a full-time student, director, and model all at once?

Abigail Whitney: Yeah, it’s so much, but I knew that I wanted to direct this play and I would do anything to just make it happen. Currently, I have assignments due, so I couldn’t even schedule rehearsals this week because I knew I had to focus on school. The actors are super understanding about it, because this is the only week that I haven’t been able to have rehearsals and they’ve been rehearsing together.

I have a [modelling] gig today — I’m such a bag lady on campus. I have this interview, and then a class, and then I am missing part of another class, and then I have another interview, and then I have to run to the shoot, and then I have class in the evening. So I’ve been able to sort of balance school and model, but it’s definitely a lot on my plate.

TV: That’s incredible. It all sounds quite demanding. How does the industry navigate your availability?

AW: As long as I’m free, I can let them know that I can schedule something, but they are totally up-to-date that I’m directing [Les Frères] and that it can’t conflict with show dates or anything like that. They are completely aware that I’m a full-time student as well, and they know my class schedule, so they try to work around that. Honestly, I feel more like a student because I’m a full-time student. I’m not yet a full-time model, so I consider myself more of a student.

TV: The fact that you’re part of Sephora’s national campaign is a big deal. What’s it been like working in the industry as a woman of colour?

AW: It is a big deal. I take it so seriously because I know having this opportunity doesn’t come to every dark-skin Black model. And, oh my gosh, it’s super emotional too… it’s rare — just the slightest opportunity is huge and a super big deal. I’ve met so many incredible women of colour on set who are tremendously supportive. Doing this campaign, I was kind of low-key when I went into the Sephora stores, but my friend was with me and she’s told all the workers, “That’s the model.” And then I had really beautiful Black women come up to me, who were like, “Oh my gosh, to see you, you know, a dark-skinned Black model, showcased with this huge brand.”

I’m just happy for the support that I’m getting. I haven’t had a negative experience, but obviously coming into it, I was a bit hesitant, because of the perceptions of being a Black model [and] what kind of shoots they might put me in because of the way that [the industry] perceives Black women. I thought that would have an intense role in what I could do. That’s something that I just thought might happen, but that has really never been the case.

TV: You co-directed I Can’t Trust Anyone, Everyone Hurts Me: A Comedy for the U of T Drama Festival earlier this year, but Les Frères is your directorial debut — how have the two experiences differed, if at all?

AWWhen this play came around, I knew I had to do it on my own, because it’s unique to my experiences. It’s still a collaboration, in the sense that I am collaborating with my set designer, my lighting designer, and my actors as well. These ideas are not solely mine. I still welcome opinions. It’s honestly just a total learning experience, and I want the work to be transparent with both the actors and me. They tell me how to improve. I tell them how to improve. It’s student production. We’re all learning. We’re all just trying to make the best out of things.

TV: Now that you’ve worked professionally in the industry, how does that translate into student productions and your understanding of them?

AW: I know that there are limitations to student productions — limitations with budget, with how much energy and time people can actually commit to the production compared to when you’re doing, say, a professional modelling gig. [In that scenario] everyone is focused and zeroed in on that and they’re not thinking about other commitments. But for this, the actors have other commitments, the stage manager and assistant stage managers have other commitments, [and] I have school. It’s a lot of balancing.

TV: For sure — everything is such a balancing act! Why is this play so important? Why should people go see it?

AW: For so, so, so many reasons. It’s the first time [Les Frères] has ever been staged. So really, it’s the premiere of this play. It’s just super amazing. When I asked the playwright for the rights, she was hesitant because [the script] was a draft so she didn’t know how I would feel about it and didn’t know how she would feel about it or if she wants it out there.

It will be the first time that [many audience members will] get to witness a play that centres around Haitian culture and [a] representation of Haitian history on stage. I’m half Haitian, so it’s just so full circle. It feels like an out-of-body experience just to have the opportunity, in a creative space, to talk about Haitian culture, to talk about Haitian history, and to speak the language. I remember when one of the actors was speaking Creole and I was just like, “Oh my gosh, this is so amazing.” The audiences will be able to witness that, and I think it’s a beautiful, really beautiful thing.

I have the opportunity to creatively express my own relationship with Haiti. I’ve never stepped foot in Haiti. I was born [in Toronto] and the play is allowing me to question what that means, and I am able to explore how I express that on stage. I completely relate to the male characters, in terms of them being displaced from Haiti and being displaced from their apartment as well.

They are estranged brothers and haven’t seen each other for over 10 years. There’s this fear of entering back into their apartment, and the play explores what the apartment represents and what it reflects — perhaps, our ideas of Haiti, or maybe it simply represents Haiti. So I get to creatively work through these ideas. The actors are doing an incredible job. It’s a lot, but it’s going to be really, really good.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Les Frères runs at the George Ignatieff Theatre from November 29 to December 1.

In conversation with Wild Rivers

The Toronto-based band's latest EP, Eighty-Eight, is a nostalgic, harmonic blend of genres

In conversation with Wild Rivers

Formed at Queen’s University, Toronto-based band Wild Rivers is on an upward trajectory. The indie four-piece, comprised of Khalid Yassein on guitar and vocals, Devan Glover on vocals, Andrew Oliver on guitar and bass, and Julien Laferriere on drums, recently released their EP Eighty-Eight, a mix of Americana and folk influences.

The record is a perfect soundtrack for when summer starts slipping into fall, one that pivots between tones of longing and nostalgia on tracks like A Week Ago and the beautiful harmonies of Howling, and resignation on the plaintive Call It a Night and kiss-off track I Won’t Be Back.

Wild Rivers are currently opening for Australian band The Paper Kites on the North American leg of the Where You Live tour. The Varsity spoke to Yassein about the production of Eighty-Eight, the band’s time in Nashville, and the upsides and downsides of touring.

The Varsity: You and Devan [Glover], the other vocalist in the band, were formerly a two-piece called Devan & Khalid, but you’ve since added two new members, Ben Labenski on drums and Andrew Oliver on bass and guitar. How has that affected Wild Rivers’ music making process?

Khalid Yassein: We’ve kind of become a whole band as opposed to the duo that we were before. We’re more jamming in a room instead of just doing acoustic stuff, and sounds are coming from different places. So it’s really enriched our creative process. That’s two, three years ago, and we haven’t looked back.

TV: You just put out an EP a few months ago, Eighty-Eight. What were some of the themes that you wanted to incorporate in the writing and production of that album?

KY: Musically, we wanted to do a pretty raw representation of who we are as a band. A lot of the sounds were tracked live in a room, without a lot of additional stuff. So it’s got a live feel, which we really wanted. We spent so much time touring our first album and playing on the road that we feel like we have become a real band. Then, thematically on the album, a lot of the songs explore relationships in some way or another. And a lot of them involve the element of time. “I Won’t Be Back” and “A Week Ago” are songs about getting out of town and having regret, and that became the theme accidentally to the EP, which is why we called it Eighty-Eight. There’s a lyric in the first song, “A Week Ago,” that goes, “If I could get this Chevy up to eighty-eight / I’d take it back in time,” from Back to the Future, obviously. That kind of theme just accidentally came across through all the songs on the record. 

TV: While you were listening back to all the songs that you had put together, was it then that you felt like there was a theme? It hadn’t been obvious to you all along?

KY: Totally, yeah. We have our tendencies when we write, to write about certain stuff — usually mention a car, or a movie reference, or some kind of accidental calling card. It’s cool that it makes the music feel a little more organic and not so contrived, that the songs just naturally have these ideas that we’re talking about based on where we’re at in our lives. So it was cool to notice that and lean into that after the fact.

TV: Would you say that while you were putting the songs together, you were thinking of how they would play live?

KY: I think it was actually a little bit of the opposite. Usually, before we record we do pre-production, which is us in a room rehearsing and talking about the arrangement of a song, and we definitely did that for the EP, but a big part of it too was that we played a bunch of the songs live this year before we recorded it and got the live feedback from the audience and figured out what hit, and what worked, and what felt good live. That more informs the record than us worrying about if we could play the songs on the record live. At its core, it’s just us, because we played the songs, and that’s what made it feel good and real. If we want to do something in the studio, we try not to worry about if we can do it live; we consider it a totally different medium. We find that it’s been good not to tie ourselves down to worrying about that too much.

TV: How do you know when to take feedback from the audience and when to disregard it because it’s something you feel really strongly about?

KY: It’s kind of intangible — when you go to a show and you can feel that moment that everyone’s in it and responding to it emotionally. Everyone in the room, us and the audience, can feel it when that kind of stuff happens. It’s more of an organic thing than someone coming up to us at the merch table and saying, “Ah, you should add a bridge after verse two.” It’s a feeling, and after the show we’ll talk about, “Oh, ‘Call It a Night’ felt really good tonight.” We feel like we were catching a groove and everyone was buying into it. So it’s that kind of thing that informs it on a human level, which is hard, because the magic about it isn’t obvious on paper and it’s rather a vibe, which is something we tried to chase for the EP. 

TV: How would you say that your sound has evolved over the years? Even from being a duo with Devan through to the album in 2016, and now with Eighty-Eight.

KY: In terms of genres, I think we started in the indie-folk world, and that was a product of the songs starting as a voice or two voices and acoustic guitar, and building a song around that. Every song on the first record had an acoustic guitar at the centre of it because that’s the origin. And on the second record, the EP, there were more band songs, more songs that originated from the four of us jamming in the room, and that’s allowed for a different sound — rock, some indie-rock, some country. It’s become a little more of a polished version of our sound, especially production-wise. We just recorded a song a week ago that doesn’t have an acoustic guitar at all and it’s a different feel. We’re all individually into all kinds of music and we’re lucky that the fact that the two voices and acoustic guitar makes it us, but at this point we can explore a little bit to do something cool and different and it still feels honest and like a Wild Rivers song. So it’s cool, we feel like we’re in a place where we can really do whatever we want and we’re always trying to get better at what we’re doing. 

TV: I read in an interview with the Queen’s Journal that you wrote Eighty-Eight between Toronto and Nashville. What do you think those two cities bring to the table, musically speaking, and do you think the EP has influences from both places?

KY: We’re all from the Toronto area, and that’s where the conception of the EP happened. We wrote a bunch of the songs in Toronto but we made them our own in a little studio that happened to be on 888 Dupont Street, a little basement recording studio, so that was another push for the namesake of the record. It started in Toronto and then we went to Nashville, which we’d been spending some time there this year, and wrote two other songs for the EP. We’re all crazy about the city and it’s so rich in talent; every time we go, we feel like we soak up a ton of energy and inspiration and get a lot done. We consciously decided to lean into that influence as a product of being on the road and being in Nashville that year. It was a cool part of where we were at. There’s definitely a little bit of that feel in the design, the album cover. It was an important part of the project practically and it comes out a little bit in the sound too, which is probably more country, Americana than we’ve ever done.

TV: Do you see Toronto as your home base for the foreseeable future?

KY: I think so. Right now we’re talking about spending a month or two here to start working on the next record, but we’re very easily enamoured by new cities. So, who knows, Toronto’s definitely our home base and I don’t ever see us leaving for good, but the great thing about this job is we don’t have a 9 to 5 and we can live and do whatever we want, whatever feels cool, and push ourselves. So, who knows, maybe the next record we do will be an LA concept record or we’ll move to a cabin in Montana. 

TV: Pivoting a little bit toward the tour, is this your first months-long experience on tour or have you done similar lengths in the past?

KY: This is basically on par with our longest tour. We just came back from our longest tour, which was a little over a month long. It was a couple weeks ago, we just came back. So we’ve been on the road a lot this fall. But I think this is the biggest scale tour we have. We’ve upgraded our van, we have a tour manager, we’re playing these amazing theatre venues all over Canada and the US, so it feels like we’re doing it bigger than we’ve done before. 

TV: What’s your favourite and least favourite aspect of touring?

KY: Favourite is eating good food and getting into shenanigans with my friends. My least favourite is probably that it’s tough to sleep and it’s tough to stay healthy. But you live so much and have so many experiences in such a short period of time that you don’t really think about how tired you are — you just kind of enjoy it. We’ve had a lot of fun touring and being on the road this year. I think we’ve set a good balance of being ambitious and serious, and also appreciating that what we’re doing is actually crazy and enjoying every moment. 

Wild Rivers will be opening for The Paper Kites on November 22 at The Opera House.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Two ‘newspapers’ have a chat

U of Tears™, a boundless education, and self-deprecating humour: The Boundary covers it all

Two ‘newspapers’ have a chat

Founded in 2017, The Boundary is Victoria University’s humour newspaper. The Varsity sat down with the paper’s Editor-in-Chief Ted Fraser and Head Content Editor Kyle Brickman, while Finance Executive Daniel Aykler lounged nearby.

The Varsity: How did The Boundary come into existence?

The Boundary: The Boundary is our head staff writer Jack Mageau’s brainchild. He came up with the concept, and then after mistakenly naming it The Farcity — which we thought was a hilarious name — we changed it to The Boundary. It’s a play on ‘boundless.’ We toe the line; we are that ‘boundary.’

Any school that earns the nickname U of Tears needs a humour outlet, because otherwise it’s just depression and Con Hall and cold winters, and there’s nothing really to express yourself [with] in terms of opinions or just human emotion. I think we share a very similar sense of humour with the meme page and our main goal is to almost formalize that type of humour through The Boundary.

[Mageau’s] concept was just an outlet [to] see if we can reach people. The spirit of the University of Toronto population is almost self-deprecating — and I don’t want to say self-hating, but definitely aware of the reality that [the] University of Toronto is not a fun school in the traditional sense. I think it’s really deeply ingrained into the psyche of University of Toronto students that we don’t have fun, and we’ve worked really hard, and we get screwed on tests, and that no one — no one — likes their life.

It’s great because U of T is sort of the opposite of every other university, right? Because frats are lame, no one goes to football games, studying is king, and it just provides constant fuel for headlines. Like, they don’t have to drop into your lap per se, but they’re going to drop more than they would [at] a prototypical college-based school.

TV: Why should people read The Boundary?

TB: Our mission is to amuse rather than to inform, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We acknowledge our own irrelevance and we thrive off of self-deprecation.

TV: Your content is predominantly published online. How often do you release content? Are you going to release a paper copy?

TB: We aim to release four or five articles a week, but through our brainstorming process, we always have one or two articles that we know are really good that we want to release at a certain time.

Perhaps [we’ll have] a semesterly bound paper publication that we will try our best to put on some newsstands or throw in some study rooms at Robarts.

TV: Where are your current contributors and contributions coming from?

TB: The majority of the contributions are coming out of a very core group of people, three of us in this room, then three or four more. And that’s just a product of us being in our infancy. We had a soft launch, as we were calling it. But really, we were just kind of fooling around with the idea to see if it would even work or [if people] would be interested in [it], including ourselves. I think we were figuring out if the contributors would be interested and I guess it turns out that other people are too, to a certain extent. We’re always looking for new contributors.

TV: Why should people want to write for you?

TB: The articles that are being written are 200 words. It’s half a page really and it’s funnier that way. We don’t want long editorials. Our goal is to provide very short content because, again, students are busy. Like, even as the writers, we’re busy.

TV: You’re both in your third year. What’s the plan? Are you going to pass on the torch to keep The Boundary around after you graduate?

TB: We’d love to pick up some contributors from second or first year and have them continue this because I think, yeah, it’d be a nightmare if this was the end. We’re the architects of our own fate. We can definitely figure this out and see if we can get some more people. We’re trying to increase our Facebook presence, which is crucial, and I think there’s also a thirst for this humour across Ontario. The Beaverton and The Onion hit up certain demographics, but I think we cater to a neglected demographic, which is why we’ve kind of sprung up.

TV: Can you explain a little about the neglected demographic?

TB: The Beaverton caters to young professionals and sort of cerebral university students who get the jokes. The Onion is more like the everyman’s satire and, I think, not specific to university in general. We’re specific, I think, so there’s more people like our current consumers out there. Also, a good thing to note is that we’re not nearly on the level of The Onion, so we couldn’t just do Onion content, satirizing everyday life, because we will not get the traction with our current audiences.

TV: Do you have any sources of funding, for Facebook ads, for example?

TB: Initially our bravest member, Kevin Yin, submitted his credit card, but [he] will be compensated. We just kind of went out on a limb and sort of fundraised bankroll ourselves, and it was minimal costs. We’ve now got funding from the VUSAC [Victoria University Students Administrative Council] and our budget is going to be ratified, hopefully soon.

TV: Are you considered a club or a publication?

TB: Technically, I think we’re considered a club. I’m actually in the process of doing the CCR [Co-Curricular Record] phase right now, but I think we would offer it in the same space as maybe the UC Review or something like that — a local, regional, or… a college-based club — although the content is not really catered to college at all. I’d say we kind of referenced it in passing.

TV: How can people contribute?

TB: We have an email, it’s boundarynews@gmail.com. Some people have submitted pitches, but I’d rather honestly meet a potential candidate in person. It’s not necessarily [a screening], but more so just [to] talk to them and see what they are interested in — does this person share a sense of humour with us? Do they have an understanding of what we’re going for?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You can follow The Boundary on Facebook or visit their website.

Arkells and their sports, politics, and community Rally Cry

In conversation with lead singer Max Kerman about the band and their upcoming album

Arkells and their sports, politics, and community <i> Rally Cry </i>

A 10-minute walk east of McMaster University in Hamilton lies Arkell Street. The small residential road is where the alternative rock band Arkells got their name. The band was founded at McMaster in 2004 when lead singer Max Kerman met guitarist Mike DeAngelis at Welcome Week. The members consist of Kerman, DeAngelis, keyboardist Antony Carone, bassist Nick Dika, and drummer Tim Oxford.

Now a decade since their debut album, Jackson Square, the band is set to release their fifth studio album, Rally Cry, on October 19. Kerman spoke with The Varsity about the band’s formative years, their contributions to the sports and political worlds, and what’s in store for Rally Cry.   

The Varsity: What does Hamilton mean to the band?
Max Kerman
: The whole band grew up in Southern Ontario: London, Guelph, Toronto, Mississauga, Newmarket, but the band was born in Hamilton. That’s the way we like to put it. We feel really lucky being a Hamilton band. We got a lot of opportunities when we were coming up that I feel wouldn’t come to us if we were in Toronto.

We had a chance to open up for some of our favourite bands at the local rock-and-roll club because we had good relationships with the promoters, and there weren’t as many bands as there are in Toronto. So I think we got some chances that were unique to being in Hamilton.

The other cool thing, when we were in university — I started in 2004 — it was sort of the height of the ‘great indie rock era’ in my mind. A lot of great Canadian bands, Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Constantines — we got to see all those bands at 300 [capacity] clubs, and to see that level of talent up                                                                       close like that — I think it helped shape who we are.

TV: In the summer you played in the Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton for 24,000 fans. What do you think the band means to the city?
MK
: You know we have a lot of support from the city, or whenever anybody in Hamilton goes out, and [that] makes an impression on the rest of the country. People in Hamilton are especially proud of that. It’s not like anyone’s going to resent you for that. People like their champion — there’s good stuff that’s produced in Hamilton.

I think [in] the city, we feel like we get a lot of hometown love when we’re there. I think we’re pretty aware of how awesome each community is, [and] how everybody makes it work, whether it’s small businesses or local community advocates, city councillors — not that everybody always gets along. But I do think that everybody adds something to the party. I am appreciative to be part of the ecosystem that is Hamilton.

TV: What accomplishments are you and the band most proud of?
MK
: That’s a good question. It’s funny because in music, you don’t sign up to be musicians just to win awards. It’s not like sports, where you want to win a championship. And there’s a part of me that thinks winning an award for writing a song, quote-unquote ‘beating out the competition,’ is kind of stupid. I don’t think that art should be competitive in that way.

That said, obviously, everyone likes to win awards, so I’m happy about it. I think, for me, the thing I’m most proud of is that we just continue to evolve and grow and remain really curious about what it means to be in a band and have lots of conversations within the group that are like, “What’s the next thing we’re going to do?” We’re always trying to push the “what’s the next thing we can do that would be really interesting and exciting to us” and “how can we get people on board with those ideas or that are part of our live show,” whether it’s a piece of merch or a new song.

The fact that we’ve had a steady upward trajectory since we started, I think that’s what I’m most proud of. We’ve never really stagnated. I’m really proud of that.

TV: “People’s Champ,” “Knocking at the Door,” and “Whistleblower” are not only sports anthems, but are also strong political anthems. Can you share a little bit about the meaning behind the songs?
MK
: Yeah, I mean that’s one thing I think we’re proud of… that we sort of [share] our politics [with] a much broader audience, like a broader audience that might not be up for talking about the politics I’m interested in talking about.

I mean, a song like “Whistleblower” is an ode to journalists who dig deep and dig in a corner and are exposing the truth to a wider audience. “Knocking at the Door” is about the Women’s March and the idea that you have to keep standing up for what you believe in. And, you know, the Women’s March is so inspiring to me, just because it’s sort of all of the things that I think are essential to our lives, equality and acceptance of all different types of people and compassion, and just continue to fight for that.

“People’s Champ” is an anti-Trump song, but I didn’t want to do it in a hit-you-over-the-head kind of way. I kind of wanted it to be a little bit more subtle lyrically. The idea behind that song is [that] I think we should all be disappointed and angry about how the current system works.

It’s okay if you didn’t like Hillary Clinton, if you thought she was part of the problem, I think there is an argument for that. But to believe that Donald Trump would be the guy to sort you out — I don’t think it’s the best route to go, because he’d be the last guy to help someone out, in my opinion.

PHOTO BY MATT BARNES

TV: We’re seeing this hostility toward the entertainment business, especially for those using their platforms to promote political change. Where do you think musicians stand in politics using their platform for change, and what would you say to people who say just stick to music?
MK
: I think of all jobs, artists and musicians are the most expected. People aren’t as surprised. I think it actually was surprising when [we had] the late show hosts like [Jimmy] Kimmel talking about health care, or [Colin] Kaepernick, a football player who was talking about police brutality. I think that caught people off-guard and that’s what made some parts of the population annoyed.

But I think with musicians, I mean, occasionally I’ll tweet something and somebody goes, “Stick to the tunes” or “I liked you better when I didn’t know your politics.” But I think there is a pretty good precedent with people like [Bob] Dylan or [Bruce] Springsteen or Neil Young [who] talk about their politics in their music.

TV: Can you tell me a little bit of the story behind Rally Cry?

MK: Actually, this is my first interview with someone who’s heard the whole record. I think there’s certain subjects that over the years that I keep coming back to. I think I tweeted a month ago, when someone asked about the record, that there are three types of songs that we kind of come back to all the time: political songs, love songs, and then there are songs about friends and people in the community. This record is 10 songs, so it’s like three, three, and four. Something like that.

“Company Night” is a song that was inspired by Sean Spicer, former White House Secretary, and the idea of being somebody who loses who they are, because all they care about is the name they represented, like in the company they work for. With a song like “Hand Me Downs,” there’s a shame you carry with you from where you come from. I think everybody has got a bit of that in them. “American Screams” is about this hysterical conversation between the left and right in America. It touches a bit on gun violence.

The idea of calling it Rally Cry is [that] all the songs have an outward-looking perspective. There’s a message that we want to put out there, and when I think about a rally, it’s a very outward experience. You’re coming together and you’re around people that maybe are like-minded, and that’s why the word ‘rally’ kept coming up over the last year and a half.

Whether a political rally or a sports rally, there’s this idea of being part of the community and I think all these songs are not songs that a guy with an acoustic guitar is singing from the deeper parts of his inner emotions, but [from] thinking about the world around you.

I like guys with acoustic guitars, but we’re trying to do something a little bit broader.

TV: The album is 10 songs and three have been released so far. Of the remaining songs, what song are you most excited for fans to hear?
MK
: You know, we have four records now, and I think as a fan of bands, I want to be surprised by a band. I want to be surprised and hear something I haven’t heard from the band before. But then, I also want to hear parts of the band that I love and that I come back for, and I think the record has got that.

“Hand Me Downs,” to me, is like a “Leather Jacket” 2.0. I think it has that kind of joyfulness, but a bit of sadness. That’s an oxymoron, but the qualities I think people connect with “Leather Jacket,” you’ll find in a song like “Only for a Moment” or “Hand Me Downs,” which I think is comforting as a fan and a listener of our band.

But I also want to challenge them to go, “Oh, I haven’t heard that before.” So a song like “Eyes on the Prize,” I think is a good example of that — that’s us doing something different. This is something that we’ve never done before, but eventually want to become part of our catalogue and become a part of who we are.

Even a song like “Saturday Night” or “Show Me Don’t Tell Me.” I think we always have a ballad or two and I think [they’re] going to be the [ones]. I think the romantics will connect with [those] most.

TV: You guys have mentioned on Instagram that you want to play more campus shows. Have you considered playing at U of T?
MK
: Yeah, we’re going to figure something out. I don’t know, we do have a big Toronto show in the works. So you’ll hear about that when the record comes out. If it’s not [at] U of T, you’ll just have to go down the street.

Arkells’ Rally Cry is set to be released on October 19.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In conversation with TD’s VP of Online Technology

U of T alum Sladjana Jovanovic talks digital transformation, path to leadership

In conversation with TD’s VP of Online Technology

In recent years, online technology has shifted its focus to industries such as finance, or financial technology, in a move to innovate outdated banking systems. Financial technology includes everything from mobile banking to investment and financial strategy platforms.

Companies like TD have realized both the impact of financial technology on consumer trends. In fact, TD has recently pledged $4 million toward the Rotman School of Management to form the TD Management Data & Analytics Lab, which will further contribute to advancements in the field of data analytics. The lab is an addition to the Rotman Financial Innovation Hub in Advanced Analytics that encourages students to build on their analytical skills, particularly those relevant to the financial industry.  

The Varsity corresponded with Sladjana Jovanovic, Vice-President of Online Technology at TD and a U of T alum. Jovanovic completed her undergraduate degree in the Department of Computer Science and recently earned her Executive MBA from the Rotman School of Management.

The Varsity: What kinds of projects do you work on as VP of Online Technology and what relevance do they have at TD?

Sladjana Jovanovic: While our customers continue to use our online applications, they are also interacting more and more through our mobile applications. With that, our online platforms are transforming to support multiple channels and put mobile first. It is exciting to drive that transformation.

We are driving the digital transformation for many TD’s businesses including Banking, Wealth and Insurance. One digital capability at a time, we are creating legendary experiences for our customers and building the bank of the future.

TV: How do you think your education at U of T shaped your journey? What experiences led you to pursue tech?

SJ: My path to technology was not a straight one. While I initially considered engineering, as a young woman, I did not have a lot of support. [Furthermore], none of my female friends went into engineering. Instead, I enrolled myself into architecture, which was a good fit based on my interest in math and creative arts.

Two years later, I knew that architecture was not my passion and I decided to give Computer Science a chance. I had mixed feelings about it to say the least as I had never tried coding before. One of my worries was that my creative and artistic side would not be fulfilled. Getting into Computer Science at U of T was a critical decision for me.

Only few months into the program, I knew that I had made the right choice. I learned that it required a lot of creativity to write elegant, reusable, and expandable code and create user-friendly, life-enriching applications. Writing a computer program was like creating artwork. This set a basis for me on how I view technology and why I have such a huge passion for it. Being a part of the technology club has been awesome and I am very happy to have followed my gut feeling and chosen this career for myself.

TV: What would you tell your younger self about pursuing a career in tech?

SJ: Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t do something because you are categorized in a certain way – a woman, a person of color, an aboriginal, an immigrant … the list goes on. I know that there is nothing I cannot do.

TV: Budget 2018 has outlined some ways Ontario can promote equality and diversity in the workplace. What do you think could be done in the tech industry to better support women?

SJ: This is a very important question that led me to be an active observer and listener, so I can get closer to the issue. I feel that we have to look at the high school period as a time when our children make critical choices.

Several high school students told me that there was a lot of focus on science in their school, and less focus on technology.

If we can empower teachers and high schools to champion technology with all students equally, then I feel more students would consider it.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In conversation with Professor William Cunningham

Cunningham is one of five academics behind Science column ‘Letters to Young Scientists’

In conversation with Professor William Cunningham

Science Careers has launched ‘Letters to Young Scientists,’ a column that aims to offer students in the sciences useful and candid advice.

The column is inspired by scientists’ century-long tradition of sending letters with words of wisdom to aspiring scientists.

According to Science, ‘Letters to Young Scientists’ borrows its name from EO Wilson’s Letters to a Young Scientist and John Cacioppo’s “A Letter to Young Scientists.”

One of the authors of this monthly feature is William Cunningham, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto who studies emotion and self-perception.

Recently, The Varsity had the opportunity to speak with Cunningham about this new initiative and his advice to students considering or currently in graduate studies.

The Varsity: What drew you to this new initiative and what do you hope the impact of this column will be?

William Cunningham: Jay Van Bavel and June Gruber, two professors that initiated the column, are very public all the time. When they started putting out information to the world through social media channels, many people were suddenly downloading all of their materials that they just made for their graduate students.

I think they started to realize that there’s wide variety in graduate student mentorship. You can luck into having a great mentor who will sit down and work with you all the time and you can also have a mentor who basically abandons you and you never see them again.

Even if you have a good mentor, there’s a lot of different perspectives. I have some ideas of what it means to be a great graduate student I know it works for me and I believe it works for my students.

Obviously, you want different perspectives, to have a resource where various people can put ideas out and start debating and talking about them, and I felt there was a gap to be filled.

TV: How do you think the digital age has redefined mentorship? Do you believe that social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter are a valuable platform for mentorship?

WC: I generally believe, maybe it’s because I’m old, that the best form of mentorship is one-on-one where you really understand the person’s unique situation. I worry a little bit about a lot of the advice that gets put to social media it’s very unfiltered. It’s very angry a lot of the time, and oftentimes very pessimistic.

One thing I’ve noticed especially in the academic world is that the more time you spend on Twitter, the more you’re convinced you should never get a PhD, you should never bother, everything is stacked against you, and that life is just a giant pile of misfortune, whereas, that’s really not the case.

Most people who work hard and want some type of academic job, at least in psychology, will get it. I feel like sometimes this Twitter world of setting up this massive feeling of pessimism is not helping anyone.

Someone once told me that the best way of succeeding is having unrealistic optimism, because if you fall short of your overly optimistic goal, you still massively succeed.

I think that the goal of this column is to try to frame things in ways that are going to be more optimistic.

TV: What are unique pressures today’s young scientists face and what needs to change in graduate and postgraduate education to counteract these cultural problems in science?

WC: There has been a change in expectation over time. When I went to graduate school in the 1990s, people didn’t think they were all going to get jobs at Harvard.

I never anticipated I would end up in a place like the University of Toronto. I think that a lot of people, like when I went to graduate school, had more realistic ideas about where they were going to end up.

It’s really important for people to know that the other end of it isn’t guaranteed. If everyone is trying to be the best person on the market, that means everyone but the best person… on the market feels like a failure.

The other end of it also comes from the internet, that I think it allows a lot more social comparison. It really comes down to expectations and social comparison. I believe people set themselves up for seeing anything other than one version as failure, as opposed to seeing a myriad of types of success. 

TV: What would you say to someone who is unsure of pursuing science if they don’t feel like they will fit in?

WC: Someone might think they want to be in psychology but they realize they wanted to do cellular biology. Why take five years to figure that out, when you can do one year and say, ‘Look, I still want to be a scientist but I didn’t realize psychology was this kind of science,’ or ‘I didn’t realize that chemistry was just going to be beakers.’

Here’s strange advice about fitting in. You never want to feel excluded.

The concern about graduate school for many is that they are unsure what they will get in five years and whether graduate school is a stepping stone to the next stage of an individual’s career path. It’s not a lifetime commitment. Sometimes you might make sacrifices to make the short-term end.

Regardless, the most important aspect of graduate school is your relationship with the advisor. If someone gets along with the advisor interpersonally and they have a good dynamic, that will help out in so many other places. I feel like, out of all the things, that’s the one you should be monitoring the most.

TV: What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?

WC: I wish I had tried to seek out more tractable things early on such as building toward  larger goals and specializing in one or two phenomena.  I think  I was all over the place, as opposed to really diving deeply on one thing. I ended up being a jack of all trades, which I enjoyed, but I think I suffered from it a bit later in my career.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In conversation with municipal candidates for Mississauga’s Ward 8

Spotlight on affordable housing, public transit, job opportunities

In conversation with municipal candidates for Mississauga’s Ward 8

On October 22, Mississauga will elect its mayor, councillors, and school board trustees. In advance of the fall date, The Varsity spoke to four of the six candidates running for council in Ward 8, which contains the UTM campus.

The candidates spoke about student issues ranging from affordable and safe housing to public transit.

Candidates Abdul Azeem Baig and Amadeus Blazys could not be reached for an interview.

PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT MAHONEY

Matt Mahoney

Mahoney is the incumbent councillor for Ward 8, a seat he’s held since 2014, and one which his mother, Katie Mahoney, previously held for 23 years. Speaking to The Varsity, he said that he’s very “proud” of his track record in community projects.

“We’ve created… community-based facilities that UTM students can access, whether it’s multi-use courts, whether it’s new park land, whether it’s transit investment,” said Mahoney.

On affordable and safe housing, Mahoney believes that U of T and other universities should improve their current situation, especially due to their growing numbers.

“This year at UTM was the highest [intake of] first-year students that the university has ever had, and yet they didn’t expand their housing on campus,” he noted. “I 100 per cent support and have been encouraging the university to invest more money in housing to make sure that local students as well as foreign students have a safe and quality place to live.”

On public transit, Mahoney said that his office has met with Mayor Bonnie Crombie, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, and the university administration to discuss collaborating with other municipalities, including Brampton, to have “one pass with one fee that the students can access.”

On job opportunities for students, Mahoney claimed that Mississauga regularly attracts Fortune 500 companies, and said that the city is an essential base of human capital due to its large student presence.

“We’ve got economic development promoting the University of Toronto Mississauga and vice versa to ensure that students have a quality job,” he said. “What we want is the students who come from outside of Mississauga or outside of the country to stay in Mississauga.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF TARIQ SHAH

Tariq Shah

Shah believes that affordable housing has become a “rising concern” for many communities in Mississauga.

In order to solve this issue, he is committed to meeting with MPs, MPPs, and other members of local government “to ensure that we all have a safe place for ourselves, our families, our students, and our communities.”

For public transit, Shah conceded that, although students have access to a U-Pass, commuting could be expensive for those taking other systems like the GO train. He put forward the idea of having shuttles from different stations in Mississauga.

When it comes to job opportunities, Shah said that he’ll reach out to big companies to encourage them to take in UTM co-op students instead of students from other universities.

“I will make sure that they will give preference to the students who [are in] UTM, and this is my main concern right now,” said Shah.

PHOTO BY AOUS POULES

Adam Etwell

Etwell is a political newcomer who criticized the current members of city council who “appear satisfied to maintain the status quo.”

“I don’t have previous elected experience, which I would say is a feature of my record that speaks to my propensity for success,” he noted. “Because if you turn to the track record of the current council, we’ve had the same problems getting worse and worse.”

Etwell emphasized that the need for affordable and safe housing is one of his main priorities. “We can’t just keep refurbishing old developments that are 50 or 60 years old,” said Etwell. “We need to pay for new developments.”

When asked about public transit, Etwell said that, although Metrolinx covers the GO system instead of the City of Mississauga, the local government could offer riders increased frequency.

“I would say maintain open communication with organizations like Metrolinx, making sure that we’re doing everything we can to foster that partnership to make things [as] affordable as possible,” he said.

Regarding job opportunities, Etwell said that it’s important to turn to students as a burgeoning part of the workforce. “I would rather us foster in-house talent so that we can retain assets,” he explained. “What better way to foster assets than to turn to… universities and colleges where people who are extremely talented are coming out of various programs that can be relevant to the city.”

Grzegorz Nowacki

Nowacki told The Varsity that he is a “strong believer in higher education,” and that his platform is “pro-business.”

“Education creates innovation and prosperity, and I’m very proactive in fighting for a better Mississauga,” he said.

“We will turn Mississauga into a twenty-first century city.”

On affordable housing, Nowacki said that Mississauga needs to construct taller buildings due to a lack of space, and pledged to work with U of T, the government, and private companies on this.

“This will somehow resolve the housing problem for not only students but other residents,” he asserted. “More houses will be available, prices will be lower, fees will be lower.”

Nowacki also wants to create a unified transit system across the GTA and pledged to work with the province on it.

“I will see if there is a possibility that the provincial government will agree to make one transit,” he said. “So for students, in this case, if they have Mississauga transit, Mississauga pass, they will have a GTA pass, which will allow them to travel not only to Mississauga, but all over the GTA.”

When it comes to job opportunities, Nowacki wants international businesses to go to Mississauga. “This will require some changing and planning in urban development, because we need to create and plan some areas where we can dedicate it to commercial businesses,” he said.

Students in Mississauga can take part in advance voting from October 5–6 at Mississauga Civic Centre, and October 13–14 at all community centres and elementary and secondary schools in the Ward 8 area.

On Election Day, UTM students will have access to various voting locations near campus. St. Mark Separate School, South Common Community Centre, Holy Name of Mary College School, Erindale Secondary School, Oakridge Public School, St. Margaret of Scotland Elementary School, and St. Clare Separate School in Mississauga all offer polling booths close to their classrooms.

— With files from Ann Marie Elpa and Silas Le Blanc