Overlooked: Sleeping at Last

Composer Ryan O’Neal’s household recognition begins and ends in the credits

Overlooked: Sleeping at Last

Ryan O’Neal has found great success in his relatively short career by creating music for the concepts of other artists. However, his own musical side projects are undervalued by comparison.

His scores can be found in motion pictures, car commercials, and music videos alike. Each one is unique, yet unified stylistically with a fondness of narrative and an emo tinge.

He wields his musical tools masterfully, carefully curating his music and lyrics for each project. These tools never appear predictably within his albums; they are as diverse as the topics he chooses to muse upon.

Every note, chord, and rest is specifically written to elicit a particular emotion or experience from the listener.

Precise and careful, yet eloquent and efficient, the Sleeping at Last project exemplifies everything music should do for its audience. Through beauty, and the expert use of the mechanics of song, Sleeping at Last seeks only to provide fundamentally universal experiences that everybody can learn from. Though his goal seems lofty, O’Neal achieves it splendidly.

You find yourself so comfortable in the worlds he creates that sometimes you forget the one you’re actually in.

He is captivating in the simplest sense.

His albums, aptly dubbed ‘atlases,’ begin describing our entire universe at its most basic level — light and dark — and move through increasing levels of complexity. His current project seeks to tackle the human psyche through the Enneagram of Personality.

Even though he has spent the better part of the last three years serenading objects from throughout the solar system and beyond, beauty is the string that ties his separate works together into a cohesive whole. His music allows the audience to discover, and constantly rediscover, the beauty in all things.

O’Neal asks you to feel the joy that simple sunlight shining through curtains brings; to exonerate the regret that comes from the “reckless and honest words” leaving our mouths. And at his request, on clear nights, you should take the time to look at the moon as if you had never seen it before.

O’Neal writes only for others. His music exists simply to gift others the beauty of the unknown.

For what greater gift can there be than to allow us to feel wonder for wonder’s sake?

No longer just in the background or periphery, O’Neal deserves every last ounce of recognition for his tireless, incredible work. And you, dear reader, deserve to see the beauty in everything, and possibly even yourself.

At last.

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 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. 

BTS’ Love Yourself inspired me to love myself

I lost my voice singing along to my favourite boy band

BTS’ Love Yourself inspired me to love myself

Three weeks into my first year at U of T, I attended a concert for the first time. My friend invited me to the BTS Highlight Tour in Toronto with her when last-minute general admission tickets went on sale. Her enthusiasm, combined with my inability to say no to people, as well as my greed for not missing out on good deals, led me to agree. Though my knowledge of BTS’ music was limited to their title songs, I decided that it would be a highlight if I went to my first concert in my first month at university.

Seventy dollars, seven hours spent camping outside Phoenix Concert Theatre, and several screams at the seven men entering the building later, my friend and I entered the venue at around 7:00 pm.

We exited the venue an hour and half later with blistered feet, zero footage of the event — the company managing the tour had a zero-recording policy — and a shared wish that BTS would return to Canada with a proper concert soon. They had only performed four songs in this poorly managed tour, in front of a partly-broken screen, but to a fully enthralled audience.

Three years later — three weeks into my fourth year at U of T, and with $311 from my budget, I attended my second BTS concert, Love Yourself. It had taken BTS seven comebacks, three world tours, two Billboard Awards, and one American Music Award performance to finally return to Ontario.

BTS announced the world tour dates and venues on April 26. I bought the tickets the day they went on sale on May 7, with much difficulty, but it wasn’t until a security guard scanned my ticket and ushered me into the FirstOntario Centre on Sunday, September 23 that I realized that I was going to see BTS live.

I could finally smile back at the faces that had smiled at me from my phone and laptop screens for the past three years — except this time, I didn’t need to worry if people thought I was deranged!

I could finally sing along to the the melodies and harmonies that had soothed me during bad days and hyped me up on good ones — sans the fear of getting the lyrics wrong or sounding off-key.

I could finally return the confession of love to the group who had taught me what it was — even if I lost my voice in the crowd of 16,000 people.

And lose my voice I did.

The concert started at 6:00 pm. Doors opened at 3:30 pm, and I was in my seat by 4:00 pm. The two giant screens in the venue were playing BTS’ music videos in chronological order.

The concert hall had not even filled up completely and the audience’s singing had drowned out the speakers. When I sat down, I was met with BTS’ 2014 “Danger” music video, which was oddly fitting. “Danger” was the first BTS music video I had ever watched.

“Danger” faded into “War of Hormones,” which gave way to the music videos from BTS’ The Most Beautiful Moment in Life trilogy, followed by the “Wings” series, and finally their Love Yourself trilogy.

By the time “Fake Love” ended, the audience’s singing was deafening, my vocal cords were weakening, and the concert hadn’t even started yet. Unfortunately for my vocal cords, the moment the lights went out, the familiar beats of “Idol” reverberated through the venue, and BTS stepped onstage.

I screamed.

From that point onward, I alternated between gasping, chanting, screeching, shout-singing, and screaming, but I was never silent. I would later regret this, not because it hurt to swallow for a week after, but because it rendered all my videos of the concert unshareable. Though I tried to blame most of the shouted off-key singing in the background on my sister, I knew that I wasn’t without blame.

Despite having already performed the show twice in front of Canadian audiences, BTS gave us a perfect show. Every costume change was stunning — literally, because many of their costumes involved sequins. All the transitions between songs were smooth, and the choreography was splendidly synchronized.

With every strobing of stage-lights, every colour change of the Bluetooth-controlled ARMY bombs, and every moment of fanservice BTS bestowed on us, I fell deeper in love with them. Ironic, considering the name of the concert was “Love Yourself.”

BTS told us that we were their 10th show of this tour and made for a “perfect 10” concerts in North America. They gifted us with their logo reshaped into the Canadian flag. They said that they loved Canada and would love to come back. And I love them back.

‘Love.’ No other word could have expressed my adoration, adulation, and admiration for this group who have helped me — and many of my peers — love ourselves through these taxing, tumultuous, and tear-stained university years.

BTS’ success and growth both astonish me and delight me. The boys I saw three years ago performing in front of a broken screen have become superstars. Now, the only thing broken behind them is new ground. They are reaching heights that few foreign artists, Korean or otherwise, have reached before.

Their long list of accomplishments in three short years is evidence of their dedication, drive, and decision to love themselves — something I am determined to emulate.

I’m learning how to love myself thanks to BTS.

Where’s the old Kanye?

The idea that you need to be unstable to be a successful artist is damaging and dangerous

Where’s the old Kanye?

In late October 2016, my best friend and I dished out over $150 for Kanye West tickets. I was out of the country at the end of August when he first brought the Saint Pablo tour to Toronto, so I was determined to see him in December. Of course, that never happened, because on November 19 in Sacramento, California, Kanye started his concert an hour and a half late, performed for 15 minutes, and then gave a half-hour rant before running off stage. The tour was immediately cancelled and Kanye was hospitalized and placed on psychiatric hold. 

Kanye left the public eye for a while, and from his few appearances, it seemed as though he was getting better, healthier. Then, this spring, Kanye resurfaced, more controversial than ever. He pledged his support for Trump, louder than he had in 2016, sporting that signature garish red hat with the white script. 

Those of us who follow Kanye’s social media — and had heard quiet murmurings that a new project was on its way — hoped that this was just a publicity stunt to reemerge into public consciousness. In the age of streaming, when curiosity-clicks on YouTube and Spotify generate legitimate revenue, any form of attention is promotion. 

And Kanye knows a thing or two about controversial promotions. 

Some of Kanye’s previous albums have been directly preceded by some controversy or petty feud, usually sequestered in the Hollywood-sphere. Before Graduation’s release in 2007, Kanye was in a public rivalry with 50 Cent; he even moved his album’s release date to the same day as 50 Cent’s to heighten the sense of competition. Kanye’s infamous intervention in Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs and the subsequent fallout probably helped in the conception of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, released in 2010. The Life of Pablo was released after three very public re-namings in 2016, and was concurrent with part two of his Taylor Swift drama, in which he and Swift had a falling out over lyrics in his single “Famous.”

Kanye has always used the public’s gaze to his advantage: luring admirers and critics in with whatever drama he has managed to stir up, only to deliver thoughtful, experimental, and groundbreaking music. 

Kanye’s Trump love last spring therefore had me crossing my fingers and hoping that this was just his latest approach to promotion. After all, it doesn’t make sense for Kanye to support someone like Trump.

Because if we do as musicians generally expect us to do — take their lyrics as an extension of their thoughts and beliefs — we get a picture of Kanye who, for all intents and purposes, would not be backing Trump. In the first verse of “New Day,” Kanye raps: “I mean I might even make [my son] be a Republican so everybody knows he love white people.” In “Two Words,” he references police racially profiling Black men. 

In “Murder to Excellence,” Kanye manages the most jarring lyric on the track: “Three hundred and fourteen soldiers died in Iraq, five hundred and nine died in Chicago.” Violence in Kanye’s hometown of Chicago is a recurrent theme both in his lyricism and public activism. In “New Slaves,” he raps about racism and the prison-industrial complex.  

Kanye has always been progressive. In 2009, he criticized the hip hop industry for its attitude toward gay people. In 2005, he shocked millions when, during a relief concert for Hurricane Katrina, he ad-libbed the now famous quip, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” 

Kanye was contrarian, but more importantly, he was logically sound and presented nuanced ideas and thoughts — granted, usually in less-than-ideal circumstances. So, I, like many of his other fans, had hoped that this unabashed political outspokenness was a new approach to promotion. Alas, it proved to be something much more. 

This controversial era is unlike his others — primarily because his statements stand polar opposite to the person Kanye used to be. Nowadays, it seems like Kanye is being contrarian simply for the sake of being contrarian. By his own admission, Kanye admires Trump because Trump is doubted: it is as if Kanye is looking to be ostracized. And it’s left many of us scratching our heads, wondering how and why. We can get into a heated discussion about what fuels Kanye’s Trump endorsement — is it dissonance, ego-fuelled self-promotion, or a genuine personal investment? 

And then, just as quickly and suddenly as it had begun, Kanye’s Trump love ended: a few weeks after his White House meeting with the president, Kanye donated over $120,000 USD to Democratic Chicoagan mayoral candidate Amara Enyia. A couple of weeks after that, he tweeted that he felt he was being used: “My eyes are now wide open and now realize that I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in.” For the time being, it seems that Kanye is distancing himself from politics. 

My intention is not to condemn or defend Kanye’s recent political outbursts: politics is just one small fragment of Kanye’s unique presence in pop culture. Rather, this is meant to spotlight his slow and bizarre descent into martyring himself as a tortured artist. 

Can suffering be inspirational? Motivational? A combination of the two? Our understanding of art history is plagued with figures who are as tortured as they are talented: the starving artist, the poète maudit, the quixotic writer. Drug addiction and substance abuse; sexual repression and frustration; narcissism, self-loathing, and anti-sociality — these are all things we expect to find when we dig into the biographies of auteurs. 

It’s been hammered into our heads that creativity stems from adversity. Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear, Sylvia Plath was clinically depressed, Oscar Wilde was jailed for his homosexuality, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was exiled to a labour camp, and historians believe that Edgar Allan Poe suffered from bipolar disorder.  

 It seems that the message we are pedaling as a society is that to create good art, you must suffer. Take Damien Chazelle’s 2014 film Whiplash, or even this year’s A Star is Born for more contemporary examples. The problem with this belief is that not all dives into addiction and mental illness come with brighter days afterward: all of the aforementioned artists ended with unfortunate deaths. 

Our adherence to the mythos that anguish and misery is conducive to creativity is incredibly dangerous, it is alarming, and clashes with today’s overall attitude toward mental illness. To suggest that a writer writes best when manic, or that an artist paints better when depressed, dismisses the importance of their overall health and stability. 

This is where we return to Kanye’s diagnosis. On October 1, Kanye sat down with TMZ for an interview in which he mentioned that he was off his medication. Link this to his song “Yikes, in which he calls his bipolar disorder a “superpower,” and you get a very disturbing picture of Kanye’s mindset right now. Considering that the psychology community has long debated whether or not bipolar disorder has a direct link to creativity, and maybe Kanye’s mindset is not all his doing. 

For an individual who takes art and the creative process extremely seriously, it should surprise no one that Kanye puts his ability to create above his health. When we prioritize achievements and success over everything else, what other outcome could there be? 

We glorify and romanticize artists who have suffered throughout history, arguing passionately that their success came from strife. In the twenty-first century, the tortured artist is scrutinized by fans, ostracized by the media, and laughed at by society as a whole. 

Is Kanye under the impression that channeling his mental illness will help him create better music? Are all these bizarre public outbursts just a side effect? Can we blame him if they are? We love tales of suffering disguised as underdog stories, ones that conveniently leave out tragic and unfortunate endings. Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, but it’s not something to indulge either. “I hate being Bi-Polar its awesome,” reads the cover of Ye. 

This is not to say that we should give Kanye a free pass. However, we do need to be patient and allow Kanye to return to form, to the Kanye who approache drug-dealing in impoverished neighbourhoods with nuance in “We Don’t Care” and criticized excess in celebrity life in “So Appalled.”

The fact that Kanye paints his disorder as a superpower should ring alarm bells. The fact that there are real communities that believe that not taking medication results in heightened creativity should worry us. 

Our perception of mental illness is skewed and harmful, and we have to start a dialogue about what kind of messages we — the readers of newspapers, listeners of Spotify, viewers of cable — retain and promote.

There’s a lot of things to unpack here: both the endurance of the tortured artist trope, and the lack of serious conversations surrounding mental illness, particularly for Black men. We need to reassess our attitude toward art and creativity.

You should not have to have a public meltdown, or cut off your ear, to make good art or be considered a gifted artist. 

Hopefully, someone lets Kanye know that. 

There’s nothing deader than a Halloween haunt with bad music

Pick this playlist for your party to get in the mood for a spooky season

There’s nothing deader than a Halloween haunt with bad music

Whether you’re a goblin or a ghoul, every creature that dwells in the darkness loves to get down and freaky at a good dance party. Halloween is upon us once again — there will be pumpkins, monsters, but also parties popping up to scare you at every street corner in the country.

If you choose to host a party, or if you just want to get into the Halloween groove, here are my top 10 Halloween songs to help you become a frightfully good party host and get all your monster homies into the Halloween spirit!

“Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, 1962

This song has withstood the test of time. The lyrics of this iconic song allude to monsters such as Wolfman, Frankenstein, and Dracula all enjoying a spooktastic dance party. It is truly a graveyard smash with its catchy beat and addictive lyrics.

“Thriller” by Michael Jackson, 1982

The music video for this song is almost as famous as the song itself. Who can resist hordes of zombies dancing in unison? As a bonus, no mere mortal can resist the legendary Vincent Price doing a stellar voice over.

“It’s Almost Halloween” by Panic! At the Disco, 2008

In the middle of the dark woods, there is a party in a clearing. Are those mummies, vampires, and werewolves partying? Nope! It is the American pop punk band in full costume! Although it’s one of the newer songs on this playlist, Panic!’s “It’s Almost Halloween” might just be the best in the genre when it comes to explaining just what Halloween is really all about. Check out the music video for the full picture.

“I Put A Spell on You” by Jalacy “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins, 1956

This song has risen in popularity through its many covers and is also featured in the classic 1993 Halloween film Hocus Pocus. The original singer of this song was frightful in his own right, because Screamin’ Jay usually pulled voodoo aspects into his performances. It’s a great one and definitely worth a listen!

“Addams Family Theme Song” by Vic Mizzy, 1964

They’re spooky and they’re kooky! In the 1960s, there was a fondness for the unconventional, yet still relatable, child-friendly world of the monsters. Not only was The Addams Family a result of this trend, but it also produced The Munsters and Bewitched.

“Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr, 1984

Just like many other songs on this playlist, this is a track to a cult classic Halloween film. Ghostbusters has a sequel and a feminist revival too, leading to more alternative renditions by artists like Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliot.

“Calling All the Monsters” by China Anne McClain, 2011

“Calling All the Monsters” makes appearances on numerous Disney television shows. The lyrics are about facing your fears. Compare that with the monster-filled dance party in the music video. What more is there to say? Give it a play.

“Spooky Scary Skeletons” by Andrew Gold, 1996

There’s just something about those darn skeletons which keep bringing the spirit of Halloween year after year! This song became popular after a video of a pumpkin-masked, black leotard-clothed man did his fangtastic dance on YouTube. Give it a watch. I dare you.

“This Is Halloween” by Marilyn Manson, 1993

Marilyn Manson is scary. Now imagine him creating a song about the scariest day of the year. Terrifying, right? This song rose to popularity when it was featured on the soundtrack of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s a classic and you should pop it on your party playlist ASAP.

“Modern Monster Mash” by Key of Awesome, 2014

This one is a little different from the rest. Instead of being a song on a CD, this Halloween hit is actually a YouTube viral sensation. Creative YouTubers Key of Awesome updated “Monster Mash” by changing the lyrics to include newer horror film icons. You’ll find Freddy Krueger from The Nightmare on Elm Street series, Michael Myers from The Halloween series, Jigsaw from Saw, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, and many more.

Revisiting the sparse genre of Halloween music: Nightmare Revisited

Halloween is a better holiday than Christmas #hottake

Revisiting the sparse genre of Halloween music: <i>Nightmare Revisited</i>

I subscribe to the school of thought that the Halloween season should be as widely appreciated as the Christmas season. Every October 1, I immediately bust out all my creepy clown decorations, pour over my horror movie collection, and start saving up for my Halloween costume.

By Thanksgiving, my mantelpiece is littered with jack-o’-lanterns, witch paraphernalia, and a tasteful rhinestone-encrusted skeleton head. It seems that the only thing missing from this otherwise robust holiday season, at least vis-à-vis Christmas, is the music.

Halloween music is a genre that proves frightfully sparse. Aside from a few classics, there’s not much to pick from — and there are only so many times you can play “Monster Mash” before you start doubting whether it would really be a “smash” in any graveyard.

Enter the musical genius of Danny Elfman. Perhaps the greatest Halloween CD of all time, The Nightmare Before Christmas never fails to get me in the Halloween spirit. But with only one 1993 CD in my Halloween music arsenal, I, much like Jack in “Jack’s Lament,” “have grown so tired of the same old thing.”

From this need for even more Nightmare music, the brilliant cover CD Nightmare Revisited emerges. It offers a second album for your Halloween playlist, as well as a much-needed intersection between emo culture and the world of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The album’s standout is Marilyn Manson’s glorious heavy metal rendition of “This is Halloween.” Other tracks seem less intuitive, yet offer the same vitality; Rodrigo y Gabriela perform an enchanting instrumental cover of the iconic “Oogie Boogie’s Song,” featuring an ensemble of intricate acoustic guitars in which even the throaty percussion is provided by drumming on guitar bodies.

The beauty of this cover is that it doesn’t try to compete with the wildly entertaining original — unlike Tiger Army’s slightly off-putting attempt at remaking Oogie Boogie’s anthem — instead offering something entirely new. In contrast, Amy Lee’s rendition of “Sally’s Song” is indisputably better than Catherine O’Hara’s weak original, and her sultry vocals make this track perhaps the most worthwhile one on the album.

The standout on the 1993 CD is arguably the Christmas classic “What’s This.” Though nothing can beat Danny Elfman’s version, alternative metal band Flyleaf delivers a dream-like rendition, heaviness dripping from each note. The song begins with a panoply of instrumentation, featuring slow guitars and crashing drums blending with languid, fluid vocals. Tying it all together to make pure rock-and-roll psychedelia, Flyleaf’s “What’s This” ends in a surprising minor key, offering the song a haunting tone that makes it perfect for when you’ve been listening to the original on repeat for several hours and need something slightly new — but only slightly.

Alternatively, Fall Out Boy offers another take on “What’s This,” overlaying tinkling piano with electric guitar and drawing listeners in with a breathtaking opening note loaded with melisma and melody.

Other tracks that shouldn’t be missed include Korn’s nu-metal spin on “Kidnap the Sandy Claws,” as well as The All-American Reject’s impressively angsty “Jack’s Lament.” Rise Against lends the already frenetic “Making Christmas” a punk rock sound with fast heavy guitars, distorted instrumentation, and spitting vocals.

The lesser-known “Town Meeting Song” is revamped by The Polyphonic Spree as an epic rock opera reminiscent of Rocky Horror, transforming a three-minute plot-driven song into a goliath nine-minute masterpiece.

So if you’ve been decking the halls with pumpkins and cobwebs, but you can’t seem to find the right Halloween tunes to tie together the spooky ambience, give Nightmare Revisited a try for a twist on your favourite holiday classics.

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.