We spoke to Cynical Sons’ lead vocalist, Shawn, and their bassist, JS, about releasing their newest album, having its virtual launch show from a bike shop, and the realities of making music amid a pandemic.
This Ottawa, self-described, party-rock band has been mentioned in Classic Rock magazine as one of the top bands to watch out for in 2020 while accumulating over thirty thousand streams across Spotify and YouTube.
The Curve: You released your album earlier last June and the week later, on the 12th, had a virtual launch. How did that come about?
JS: Well, we’ve been wanting to do the album for a long time. It was originally supposed to be released in the fall of 2020 but with the pandemic and everything it kind of complicated things. we ended up releasing a couple of the tracks early, however, when we met up with Gabe, the owner of the Artillery Music Group, our label out in Florida, we managed to fix the album for a June release. Essentially, the album consists of eight songs and it’s called ‘One Life’. We wanted to find a little pattern about life in general, there are these different situations we all go through like depression, mental health, friendship, relationships, you know, all these things that one will have to face at some point during their life, that’s kind of the message behind the album.
And about the virtual release show: that was just fun. We live on the provincial border between Ontario and Quebec, so the Covid regulations are different between the two at first, we scheduled for a venue in Ottawa since we were allowed to do it with a crowd. When the Covid cases went up, they decided to shut everything back down like a week before our virtual show had to be recorded so we moved it to the Quebec side where things were open, however, all the bars had already bands booked. At this point, we were a week away and I have a buddy in a motorcycle garage, CAD motorsport, and it’s a bike shop with this big, big garage so we set up a TV studio in a bike shop and ended up doing it there, it was pretty cool.
TC: Did it feel weird filming and performing without an audience, and obviously in a bike shop?
Shawn: Personally, last year we did ‘rock the quarantine’ with a few bands from the area in a radio station and for me, it was the first time performing just in front of the cameras instead of real people. It was pretty weird having to talk to a camera without a response instead of talking to a crowd. You usually get your energy right from the crowd and since the same energy wasn’t there, we had to make up for it by giving 250%. So, when the second one came up, I wasn’t too psyched about it. I just didn’t want to redo it in front of a camera, speaking to no one in front of me, but it went very well, and it was pre-recorded instead of live, so we had the chance to fool around with it and make it nice for when it came out, but it being weird… it was!
JS: I found it no problem. I dedicated one of the songs to my Grandfather, who had passed away just the week before we shot that video and I was just wondering, you know, when it comes to the crowd, I find it easier to be more emotional because you got somebody that’s actually there and you can communicate with. I wasn’t too sure how I was going to react without it, but I liked it, you can still get in that little emotional state with the cameras, I think. But like Shawn said it’s kind of weird, we’re an interactive band so we need that crowd interaction, we are a party-rock band, and, for example, we do with the cover shots and we turn off the lights and throw out 300 glow sticks in the crowd and then all you see are little glow sticks that look kind of like mini rave. When we play that song live it’s so much fun, but you can’t do that with cameras in a recorded show, you know.
TC: Let’s talk about the process of making the album, how did that work with lockdown?
JS: It was like half and a half; the recording process was all done during the pandemic itself and we had set up a multitrack drum set up at my drummer’s house just before, he recorded the drums on his own and we come up with riffs here and there, but it was definitely different for sure. I feel like it took a lot more time, I did most of the mix and mastering for it, all the guys would send me their vocal tracks and then I’d tell them what we needed to change. I think it’s more the communication part, we just started jamming again and it just feels more natural to be together in a room and be able to communicate, not have to interpret text messages, you know. I always feel like this is kind of like a relationship with four other guys, except now it’s like a long-distance relationship where we can’t really see each other, which complicates things a lot for sure, but I think that in the end, we’re pretty proud of the album and we’re looking forward to the writing process for the next one for sure and it will be completely different!
TC: So, what is your favourite track on the album?
S: I would say ‘Do It Again’. In the beginning, I wasn’t too down with it but then when we started writing the vocals and the harmonies and then the bridge, which was the only one where our guitarist went to the drummer’s place and they wrote it together so you can hear that it’s different and more creative. That’s what we’re excited to do the next album, to work together face to face instead of like JS said by text messages or phone calls so yeah, my favourite is ‘Do It Again’ because I love the result.
JS: I would have to agree 100%. It’s funny because I feel like it’s one of the songs that people listen to don’t necessarily stick to. However, the bass and guitar are pretty challenging to do, and the vocals are pretty high since it’s a high-speed track and, as Shawn said, is the last one we wrote for the album, so Martin and our drummer were able to get together and fix up some parts to make it really stand out. So that one and ‘I’m free’ are probably my favourites. I think for the writing process we’re really leaning towards that style for the future, although we are always going to keep a little ballad on hand like ‘Father Can You Hear Me’ somewhere on our album.
TC: How would you describe your music style?
JS: Well, Shawn and I go back a long time, and I come from a more punk rock background, but I discovered Mötley Crüe just before I met Shawn. I watched that ‘the dirt’ movie and I was like “how come I never listen to this crap?” it’s like metal but with that punk energy and with Shawn’s voice I think that’s exactly where we want to go with it. We all have different influences too like our lead guitar players really has more of an Iron Maiden vibe, he’s insane on guitar, and our drummer is into heavier stuff like the double bass stuff, obviously, I don’t want to speak for them, but we come from different backgrounds. I think that’s what makes our sound kind of unique as well, we consider all the ideas from each guy so not one person is writing the music, we’re doing it all together. I think the goal is something like ‘I’m free’ and ‘Do It Again’. We’re going for that 80s style and I like to say that we are modernising it. I found how they recorded back then kind of flat, but I really love how the last ‘As I Lay Dying’ album was recorded and how the guitars and the drums crunch, and I know we’re not that heavy, but I think we can adapt the sound in the recordings. I feel like that’s where we want to go, we want to do like that 80s Mötley Crüe vibe but modernised a bit.
TC: You said that you guys have known each other for a long time, but the band formed 2019, hoe you did you decide to get together and make music?
JS: Well, I’m like the old guy of the band, I recorded Shawn when he was like 17 or 18
S: Yeah, 17, when I was in punk rock/metal band
JS: Yeah, I recorded him back then and in 2017/2018, I had another folk project that wasn’t doing too well. We had a show where Shawn works, and he was our server. At the time, I started writing for more rock heavier stuff we decided to meet up again, that’s where Cynical Sons were born. It was just me and Shawn for the first three songs and we released our first mini-EP on Spotify that had ‘Feen for me’, ‘Until the Morning’ and ‘Use Me’ and then Classic Rock Magazine kind of picked us up and we had this little feature at in the magazine. We started getting a bit of hype and decided to form an actual band. Nick, the rhythm guitar, played in my last band and then I had a buddy who really liked our songs and played them for Mart, the lead guitar player, so he hopped on and he knew a drummer and we started jamming with him too. I think we’re happy with how it’s going, the fact that we’re older too, I find we get along very well, we can communicate better, like if there are any issues, we are able to talk to one another. I don’t want to be one of those bands with lots of conflicts, I want it to be smooth even though it’s not always easy.
TC: So, you got signed earlier this year in January, did that change the way make music or how it’s distributed?
JS: I’d say it hasn’t changed much, I’m kind of a control freak regardless. It does help though that’s for sure, with covid and stuff l we can’t really go anywhere but we’re getting distribution outside the country and they are definitely helping out with the pressing, but like I need to have my foot in there. I feel like an independent label like that still allows me to have my little control freak thing going.
TC: Is there anything you’d like to plug other than your newest album?
JS: Yeah! We got our YouTube channel that’s up and growing and you can check out our website http://www.cynicalsons.com where we got a bunch of merch in our web store that’s really insane, I got a buddy who does all our designs so if you’re looking really slick swag or whatever that’s great. Also, in October I think it’s reopening here so we got some shows lining up, but we still can’t confirm 100% yet. Also, we’re trying really hard to be able to go down in Europe for next summer, we got a couple opportunities down there, but I think that’s where the market for us is heading, there’s a lot of good bands that are coming out of Europe and I think our style’s kinda made for that area.
You can follow Cynical Sons’ journey here