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?
: 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?
: 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?
: 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.


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?
: 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?
: 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?
: 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.


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.”


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.


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

Heathers: The Musical: the first production of Hart House’s 2018–2019 season

The cult classic tackles themes of rape culture, eating disorders, teen suicide, and gun violence

<i>Heathers: The Musical</i>: the first production of Hart House’s 2018–2019 season

From September 21 to October 6, the dark teen comedy Heathers: The Musical will be performed in Hart House. Heathers celebrates its 30th anniversary this year; when it was first released in 1988, it was groundbreaking with its discourse surrounding contemporary topics.

The Varsity sat down with Justan Myers and Emma Sangalli to discuss character development, gun violence, and performing in the historic Hart House.

The Varsity: For both of you, this is your first time working at Hart House Theatre ­­— what is that like? It’s a historic space; how has the process been?

Justan Myers: Working in this space is incredible. I’ve been mostly in Toronto working in smaller blackbox­-esque theatres, so it’s great to have this wide open space. There’s so many different ways to use it, and with our incredible set, just finding so many cool ways to bring the audience into the world has been really fun.

Emma Sangalli: It feels like a real established theatre. It’s old, you can feel the history, and that’s beautiful ­­ just knowing there have been so many passionate artists in this building doing what we’re doing. And our director has been using it very creatively.

Justan Myers: It’s really cool to have that juxtaposition of how old and how experienced the space is versus how many emerging artists are in this production —­­ kind of that combination of youth and freshness, but then also this foundation.

TV: Can you tell us a little bit about the characters you’re playing?

JM: So, I play Jason “JD” Dean. He’s the typical social outcast —­­ he’s moved schools a lot and he doesn’t have any friends, so Veronica sort of captures his attention. Little does she know that he has a lot of unresolved problems from both his childhood and the way he’s grown up that leads him to influence her into some bad decisions later on in the show.

ES: Yeah, Veronica is not popular at the start of the show —­­ she’s kind of dorky, very smart, a little bit of an old soul. She ends up becoming popular and her whole story is kind of discovering the cost of popularity, I would say, and realizing it’s not worth it.


TV: This play is based on a film, the 1988 cult classic, Heathers, which many people say played a role in defining its generation. Are you looking to the movie, or past productions, to inform your rehearsal process?

JM: Yes and no. The characters are so much more fleshed out in the musical that it’s really its own work in a sense. I know my character changed a lot, because in the movie he’s a little 2D. ­They don’t give him a lot of super relatable moments. In the musical, they gave him more backstory, something for the audience to grab onto. So, in a sense, yes, because there’s so many of those iconic lines they took from the movie that you want to nail because the audience just knows them, but the character work itself had to come more from our own basis.

ES: At the end of the day, the part of you that’s an actor and the part of the character that you find through research just sort of come together, and you’re able to find the thread. It’s a little difficult, because the movie was quite a bit different from the musical in terms of, I would say, undertone. In the movie, there’s a little bit of ambiguity on whether [Veronica] is a good guy or a bad guy until closer to the end. Whereas in the musical, she’s kind of the belle of the show, as our director likes to say. ­­It’s pretty clear that she’s got a strong moral compass from the beginning. So definitely we had to look at as much source material as we could find, but you also have to dive into the text that the writers of the musical give you and flesh out the characters on the page, because it really is quite a bit different from the movie.

TV: Was there any moment during rehearsals when you had to really step out of your comfort zone or do something you’d never done?

ES: One of the most famous songs in the show is “Dead Girl Walking.” For me in terms of comfort it was definitely a step, because I have never played a romantic role and it’s basically a full, simulated sex scene onstage. So, it’s very much like, we had to come into rehearsal with all our guards down ­­— throw those fears out the window, be a professional actor, and just do it. But it’s so nice working with Justan, because I’m so comfortable with him.


TV: This show deals with a lot of really pressing contemporary issues like bullying and suicide —­­ who do you hope sees this show? What would you want them to take away from it?

JM: I think it is very important for teens to see this show, especially with increasing gun violence and hate crimes and things like that. It’s so easy to become desensitized to that because of media and everything, so to just get a real —­­ I mean, ‘real,’ it’s a musical —­­ but [it’s] a more grounded perspective of what these issues are.

ES: It’s funny because when you think about Heathers, you wouldn’t think of words like ‘solution’ and ‘hope,’ but that was something I really took from the writers’ notes of the musical ­­— that’s really what it’s about, solutions and hope, and it really tries to answer all of the problems that it brings up. I think it’s important for anyone to see this show. There are people that maybe shouldn’t see this show, because there’s a lot of heavy stuff in it, but it is cushioned by humour and by good-­heartedness. I think it’s an important story for this day and age, and for this city specifically. For Toronto in the last year, a lot of stuff has happened and because of social media we all know about it right away. It’s hard when you go on social media and all you see is another shooting, another truck driver. We all care, and want to do something, but sometimes we don’t know what to do ­.­

JM: It feels bigger than us.

ES: I think the beauty of this show is that it boils it down to a very simple solution:­­ be kind to the person next to you, offer them a hand, and include them. That’s a big one in this show. Be a friend, you know? That’s something very tangible, that we can all do every day, that will hopefully help change the amount of bad things we see happening. So, in that case, I do think it’s really important for anyone who can handle this type of subject matter to come see it, because it really does give you some inspiration, and also some tools to go out into the world and make it beautiful.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Declassifying Classified

The Canadian rapper talks community healing, patriotism, and mumble rap

Declassifying Classified

While many may recognise the catchy tunes and the witty rhymes of Classified’s most popular hits, “Inner Ninja” and “Oh…Canada,” few are truly aware of the Canadian rapper’s lengthy discography.

Hailing from Enfield, Nova Scotia, Classified has been writing music since high school, releasing his first LP, Time’s Up, Kid, in 1995.

Classified is still producing music 23 years after his first LP, with three new singles already in 2018. The Varsity caught up with the rapper to learn more about his approach to music.

The Varsity: I’d like to start by congratulating you on your latest releases, “Powerless,” “Changes,” and most recently, “She Ain’t Got To Do Much.” In your career, you’ve released an album, on average, every one or two years. What do you think allows you to remain consistent in your releases?

Classified: I think I just enjoy making music, you know what I mean? It’s not like, ‘I gotta go make an album,’ and I go get into the studio for two months to make an album. I go to the studio to make some beats, mess around with stuff. It’s still like a hobby to me; it’s how it started when I was a teenager. It’s still kind of the same thing, I’m just chilling, I’ll go mess around and make some music.

TV: Is music producing now the same as it was when you released your first album in 1995?

C: Different tools, I guess. Back in those days it was a 4-track with a sampler and four seconds of sample time. Now, you got a computer. You have hundreds of tracks, crazy samplers. It’s the same thing, just different tools, different instruments.

TV: As someone who has been in the music industry for over two decades, how has hip hop and rap changed since Time’s Up, Kid in 1995?

C: It’s all trap beats, it’s all I hear. I think that getting older with age I notice things being very, very similar. But at the same time, it was kind of the same way coming up in the ’90s. Everything was Boom-Bap. That’s what I came up in, that’s what I was used to.

I think the young people dictate where it’s going to be in the mainstream, which is the way it’s always been. But, it’s still kind of the same thing — still comes from the streets originally. There is definitely a lot more suburban kids kind of into the music stuff.

The biggest thing now though is just — you know, when I came up, you had to write your own shit, you had to write about life. Now people can write about anybody else’s life. You have suburban kids going around with guns, acting like they’re from the hood. It’s accepted now. Before that, shit was laughed at and forgotten.

TV: What’s your opinion on the dichotomy between the popularized mumble rap from artists such as Migos and Future versus the more charismatic rappers such as Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and J Cole?

C: The mumble rap — it is what it is. It’s not really my thing, but I won’t shut someone down for liking something else. But I almost compare mumble rap to R&B. To me, there’s no one spitting that; there’s melody and everybody’s little verses. To me, it sounds more like an R. Kelly record, than a Jay-Z, or an Eminem, or a Nas record. No one’s really spitting. I almost think it’s its own genre, just like country and rock. Yeah, they’ve all got guitars, they’ve all got drums, but what’s coming out is completely different.


TV: Through the lyrics of many of your songs, specifically “Oh…Canada,” you illustrate a strong patriotism for Canada. In what ways has your hometown of Enfield, Nova Scotia — as well as the East Coast — helped you cultivate such a strong sense of pride, more than, say, someone born in Toronto or Montréal?

C: I don’t know if it’s more than [their pride]. I think it’s just the fact that not many people come from [Enfield], so you don’t hear about our identity as much. When it comes out, it comes out a lot prouder and a lot louder because we’re hidden away in the corner of Canada. I think it’s just the fact that we’re hidden, the fact that when someone says, ‘We’re going to Canada,’ they’re thinking of Toronto, Montréal, or Vancouver. That’s kind of the norm. I think it’s just the fact that we’re hidden — a little bit more of a secret. It makes us yell a little louder.

TV: Despite this pride for Canada, your song “Powerless” tackles many issues that surround the Indigenous community. What do these issues mean to you?

C: These are just common sense things. I’m not a big political person, but with the Indigenous thing, I have a lot of friends who are Native. My school was half-white, half-Native. We’ve all heard of residential schools, and what happened, and how they were treated, and then even with the missing girls now. This is something I think is really important, and with my connection it really made me want to write something about that — talk about that and really just keep that conversation going.

TV: In your experience, how have traditional-cultural and modern forms of music been able to draw attention to injustice, and act as vehicles to promote personal and community healing?

C: I think just bringing light to it… the amount of people that have texted me and [said], ‘You being a white guy talking about this, talking about our people,’ makes them feel like somebody cares. That’s kind of the feedback I’ve been getting from people that are reaching out and messaging me.

When I’m alone and I write songs, that’s where I really pull to talk about those things I wouldn’t normally talk about. Whether it is the Indigenous thing or more personal stuff, whatever it is, I think just having someone else to relate to [helps]. When you hear someone talking about it in a song or music, it makes it relatable. It makes it real. It makes it seem like, ‘I’m not the only one going through this.’

TV: In one of your latest releases, “Changes,” you talk about a fan who reached out to say that you’ve saved their life. Many of your fans, as well as other listeners, have found refuge through your music and lyrics. Was that ever a specific goal of yours or was it a positive surprise?

C: No, it definitely wasn’t one of the things that I was hoping [for]… It was really, you know, hanging out with friends, writing raps, and trying to come out with clever things. I think the first song I wrote that I noticed really hitting somebody was a song called “All About You” probably about 12 years ago.

It was a song about saying don’t worry about other people, be happy on your own standards; you’ll never make everyone happy. Twelve years later, I still get people that message me about that song, going, ‘I heard that song, it changed my day, changed my life.’ Just seeing that a song can pick somebody up or calm them down opened my eyes to a whole different side of music that was like, ‘Okay, shit. I didn’t realize music can do this.’ It’s pretty powerful stuff.

TV: As a result of that realization 12 years ago, has that become a hidden motive?

C: Totally. Not on a whole album, because I’m not trying to write a whole album on stuff like that. But, every album I have, I’ll have at least one or two tracks that really hit on something specific; something is usually a little bit more different, a little bit more serious, something that people talk about. Yeah, I definitely consciously make an effort to get a song or two on every release.

Classified’s The Days Things Change tour starts October 11, 2018. He will be performing in Toronto on November 16.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

In conversation with grandson

A year in review: accomplishments, firsts, and the road ahead

In conversation with grandson

In June 2017, The Varsity sat down with up-and-coming Toronto artist, grandson. A year later, The Varsity caught up with grandson to discuss the major changes that had occurred in the last year, including a new label, new mentors, and new projects.

The Varsity: It’s been exactly year since we sat down to have our first interview, and in this time, you’ve been able to achieve a lot of success.

grandson: Has it been exactly a year?

TV: A year minus a few days.

g: That’s amazing.

TV: A year ago, you had four publicly released songs with a combined 3.5 million plays on Spotify. Now, before the release of your first EP you have eight released singles. Do you want to try guessing how many plays you have now?

g: I don’t know man, let’s go with fucking 20 million?

TV: More than double that: almost 50 million plays on Spotify. What has this massive growth in support meant to you?

g: While it’s awesome, I think of it as an affirmation that what I’m doing here is providing the sort of support and is meaning something to some people. It’s a reminder that we have a lot more to do. It’s definitely an achievement that I’m proud of, to have accumulated this sort of engagement in the music that I’m making. It is really reflective of the people or else maybe I got lucky with playlisting: there are a lot of factors that contribute to numbers. So, I’m not really too caught up in the numbers game. What I’m really caught up in is how do those numbers translate into people really giving a shit. What it means to me is people giving a shit and that’s exciting, and I hope that I can get more people to give even more.

TV: Two of your most successful songs, “Blood // Water” and “thoughts and prayers” have racked up nearly 20 million plays on Spotify alone. Yet these two songs are both seen as political anthems for environmental protection and gun reform, respectively. What do you think your job is as a musician to support political movements?

g: That’s a good question. I’m trying to tell stories that are true to people listening. I am very proud of the sorts of feedback I’ve gotten. I’m also proud, more so particularly with “thoughts and prayers,” that we’ve been able to raise thousands of dollars through selling limited edition merch to support the Youth for Safety and Justice Fund… They have taken these poems and this song that I wrote and turned that into concrete resources for activists. I think that is something I’m really proud of, but what can you say? Hopefully of those 20 million plays, you get a handful of people that are inspired to have difficult conversations, be it with their parents or the responsibilities of government, about transparency, about progressivism, about the future of these sorts of issues. That might be the biggest change I can possibly make — injecting into some kid a seedling for change.

TV: Last time we talked, you named a couple of your musical inspirations such as Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain, and John Lennon. How have they and how has their history in music helped motivate your political activism?

g: Well, I think they really exemplified that sort of relationship that I want to have with culture at the particular time that they were making music. They’ve had an impact on me when it gets exhausting. I’ve spoken to a lot of other musicians and activists about a certain fatigue that can set in when trying to make change or when talking about big stuff: these things take time and they move slowly because it requires the active participation of millions of people. Sometimes I can get a little discouraged along the way. I think that’s human. I try not to be too hard on myself for it.

TV: On April 4, 2018, you were signed to the record label Fueled by Ramen, the same label that supports Twenty One Pilots, Panic! at the Disco, and All Time Low, to name a few. How has Fueled by Ramen been able to support you as an artist?

g: They’ve been awesome. It was really important to me when it became time to expand the team around me. We were able to maintain flexibility beautifully. It was important to me what the growth and success of this project might look like, because through the process of finding our team I found that a lot of people can see potential in something on any vision, but you have to have an aligned vision. I was really grateful to have a team that’s not committed to changing what’s happening here, but rather just pouring gasoline on it and giving me more resources at my disposable to play with.

TV: I want to talk about something that is definitely an amazing opportunity you’ve had, but unfortunately it stems from tragedy. On July 20, 2017 Chester Bennington of Linkin Park passed away from suicide. You tweeted about his legacy and your dream of one day opening for the band. On May 24, 2018, you were featured on a song with Chester’s bandmate, Mike Shonida. What does it mean for you to be able to live out your dream in a different way, but essentially being part of something bigger?

g: When talking about mental health and advocacy, I think that for someone who lived a life as hugely impactful as Chester, I can’t imagine trying to get into words of what that loss meant to so many people. I am constantly in awe and admire Mike’s capacity to take all of that confusion, grief, and frustration and channel it creatively — to make this really raw, confessional project. That’s pretty cool to me. It pushes me as an artist to kind of go, ‘wow’; it really inspires me to have that relationship with my fans and to be that sort of open book. I think he’s done that throughout his career with Linkin Park and Fort Minor and what it means for me to be able to work with someone who’s pioneered so many movements of how to fuse rock and hip hop and pop and electronic music. I think that I can confidently say that I would not be doing what I am doing if Mike and that band didn’t pave the way.

Another thing that’s really impressive to me about Mike is his commitment to music fandom and his commitment to discovering new talent and finding the other young upcoming artists that are kind of following in his legacy. He actually reached out to me first; he just followed me on Instagram one day, having heard my music on Spotify. The whole thing was pretty surreal. I shot him a message thanking him for everything that he’d done. I really didn’t come at him with any particular agenda. My intentions were not that. It really was just mainly, ‘maybe he could be a mentor. Maybe he could be a friend.’ With everything going on with the label situation and the expansion of what grandson is, I knew that I wanted some more mentors around me. I think it’s important, no matter what your condition is or your profession in life.

One day, I wrote the song on the spot, my contribution to it. I played him some ideas, he played me some ideas. I wanted to hear what the rest of the album sounded like, so he played me the beginning of “Running From My Shadow.” He didn’t really have the end flushed out. He didn’t really have the structure where he wanted it. I asked for his blessing to take a stab at it — then it came out a couple of weeks later.

TV: So far in your career, your music has come out as singles. Your first EP, a modern tragedy volume 1, released on June 15, 2018 as your first multi-song release. How has this project been different than your others?

g: In some ways it’s an extension of what I was already doing, which is just trying to tell a story, one song at a time. But it’s also been really exciting to look at this first body of work. Keep in mind this is only volume one. But to begin to kind of lay out a more cohesive ‘Magnum Opus’ of sorts… this is where it’s at. It’s a reflection of where I stand as a young, disenfranchised poet in the twenty-first century, politically and societally.

TV: Last year you mentioned sitting on over 30 unreleased songs. You only chose five songs to put on EP. How did each song find its way onto it?

g: Well, part of that was having a team around me that helped me kind of establish where my songs were at and trying to figure out how and when we can get more music out. This felt like a very natural evolution from the singles I was putting out. I wanted to continue to build creatively and find that cohesion and these five songs tie together in some ways as being very reflective of these past couple of years for me as a songwriter. This is my first EP. I have eight singles — that’s only four songs more than this time last year. We’ve got a lot more ahead of us than we have behind us.

TV: Going into the summer, you’ve released your first EP, you’re playing festivals, you’re going on tours with Hobo Johnson, Joy Wave, and Nothing but Thieves. Where do you see yourself a year from now and what is your goal?

g: If I tried telling you last year where I’d be in a year, I wouldn’t even know where to start. So, I wouldn’t have the audacity to claim that [I know], but I know I’m going to write some big songs. We’re going to continue to make controversial pieces of art that can give people like me a sense of understanding and belonging. We’re going to find more ways to take these messages embedded in these songs off of Spotify and onto the pavement. We’re going to roll out some more ways for people to be able to latch on to their identity as a ‘grandkid,’ be that through what they wear, and through other ways in which they can point to someone else and say, ‘you believe in the same things I believe in. You understand me.’ I just want to be able to provide that forum and that sort of community engagement. And we’re going to rock the fuck out. We’re going to be playing some bad-ass shows, making some bad-ass music. It’s serious, but it’s also a good time — it’s fun.


grandson’s EP, a modern tragedy vol. 1, came out June 15.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Drumroll, please, for Our Lady Peace

In conversation with drummer Jason Pierce on the band's new album and tour

Drumroll, please, for Our Lady Peace

In 1991, U of T criminology student Michael Maida, now known as Raine, put out an ad to find musicians for his band. Now, 27 years later, that band, Our Lady Peace, is still touring Canada and releasing new music.

On February 23, Our Lady Peace released its ninth studio album, Somethingness, before heading on a cross Canada tour. Their newest band member, drummer Jason Pierce, spoke with The Varsity about joining the band, his personal career, and what to expect at the band’s two Toronto shows.

The Varsity: How is this album different than others that Our Lady Peace has released in the past?

Jason Pierce: Well, this will be the first record that I have any involvement in playing on and writing, the first record that has been released since I joined the band.

TV: You’ve been on tour with the band and you’ve played songs off of previous albums. Are there any differences between this record and those before?

JP: I feel like there’s a more edgy element on the new record, specifically on tracks like “Head Down” and “Drop Me In The Water.” There is a more edgy, dirty guitar-driven sound on a few tracks, compared to the last few records.

TV: Our Lady Peace is one of the most successful Canadian bands, with their records going 12 times platinum and one-time diamond in Canada while releasing nine albums in over a quarter of a century. What do you think makes this band so successful?

JP: I feel like it has a lot to do with being honest and being true. None of the songs on any of the records, from what I’ve seen, are contrived. Everything is very much there for a reason and there because everybody wanted it to be there. It’s not there just to put a song on a record. What also makes the band, from my perspective, is the fans. The way they appreciate the band… they are the reason that we still get to do this.

TV: You’re working with Raine, and he is technically the only original member left. He went to the University of Toronto. What’s it like working with him?

JP: Incredible, just incredible. He’s got this built-in dynamic. Something incredible to see. I’ve got to learn a lot from watching him.

TV: How does the band carry themselves when writing new music, specifically now that it’s been 24 years since their first released album?

JP: Actually, I believe this record is done a little bit differently. Duncan [Coutts, the band’s bassist] and I get together a few times a week and we write together. So, we’ve been presenting songs for the new record to the rest of the guys. So, it is a pretty equal share of songs that Duncan and I have started and songs that the other guys have started. It’s really a collective on this record.

TV: You technically joined the band in 2014 on tour, and then officially in 2016. Before that, you toured with acts such as Paramore, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Justin Bieber. I was wondering what tour is most memorable to you, outside of Our Lady Peace.

JP: Outside of Our Lady Peace, it would probably be my first tour with Paramore. Just because it was the first time I got to play with a band of that scale and shows of that scale. We were over in Europe doing arenas and stadiums. It was incredible. It really opened my eyes to the fact that that level of touring still exists, especially in this day and age.

TV: You’ve played stadiums, arenas, and now you’re going to be playing in smaller venues. What do you prefer when you’re playing onstage? Is it looking out to see thousands of people, or is it when you have a smaller audience and feel more connected?

JP: It’s kind of a double-edged sword, because [at] the bigger venues, there’s this energy you just cannot get from a smaller venue. But like you said, it’s so much less connected once you get used to that. When you do start going back to the smaller venues again, it’s eye-opening how terrifying it is when you can actually see past the people in the first 10 rows. So, I don’t know which one I actually prefer. It’s a completely different skill set. As a musician, you play to the room, and playing to a smaller room is different than playing to a football stadium.

TV: Other than Raine, Our Lady Peace is a band that has seen their members change over time. Is it hard to join a band that’s already solidified their name, or is it easier knowing that the support is already there?

JP: Yeah, it’s great that the support is already there. I think one of the hardest things to do is to almost live up to people’s expectations of you, just because you’re filling the shoes of people who are already great. It’s just trying to do your own thing and still trying to stay at that level.

TV: You’re going to be playing two shows in Toronto. What’s it like knowing many, if not most, of your fans that are going to be out at the shows on this tour are not old enough to know the first records that were released by Our Lady Peace?

JP: I have never thought about that before. It’s kind of scary.

TV: I’m speaking from experience; I wasn’t born when the first two Our Lady Peace albums were released.

JP: That’s incredible that the band has been around for this long. I love that. And it’s going to be cool because then you get to actually play that old material and it’s new to them. That’s totally a plus.

TV: These fans both new and old, those who have been with the band since 1991 and those who are just picking it up from Somethingness — what can these fans expect on this tour?

JP: Expect a good amount of new material but also paying respect to the catalogue. We’re still playing the hits, but we’re incorporating different new material every night. We have songs that we pop in place of other songs. We’re playing a larger, more diverse collection of songs.

TV: Would you say that going to both shows in Toronto, you would experience two different shows?

JP: 100 per cent, there is no way we’ll play the same set.

TV: Does that exemplify how the band is staying true to itself? It’s not out there to play to the majority, it’s out there doing its own thing.

JP: Totally, totally man. You have to do that stuff that turns yourself on before you can try to present that to the masses.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Our Lady Peace will perform at Massey Hall on March 15 and at Rebel on March 16.