4. Interviews

Ben archive BUTTON  interviews

One of the more exciting parts of this project is actually getting a chance to interview the members of the bands that will be featured on the website.  This month I had the opportunity to interview one of Og Music’s founders, Gerard Van Herk about Deja Voodoo and Og Music.  I have been able to find other interviews with Gerard during my research on the band, and I have included links to them in the Sources section of the website.

BG = Ben Griffiths

GVH= Gerard Van Herk

 

BG: Let’s start from the beginning, how did you meet Tony?

GVH: We worked together on the student paper in CEGEP… punk came along and we and some other people from the paper started going to shows. Eventually we said “we can do this”… I bought a guitar, we started jamming, on borrowed equipment at first. We then got rehearsal space in a unused factory in Little Burgundy. We jammed with a guy named James Findlay for a while. He could actually play. He brought in a friend of his named Jimmy Levesque, and we started putting songs together. James stopped playing with us (I think he thought I was full of shit), and Jimmy, Tony, and I did a few gigs as The Halftones, opening for real bands, in the summer and fall of 1981.

 BG: I actually share a rehearsal space in an unused factory space, the Fattal Complex in Saint-Henri, with the two bands I’m playing in.  I guess some things never change.

BG: How did Deja Voodoo get started? Can you tell me about the first gig you ever played together?

GVH: The Halftones played on a multiple-band bill at the Polish Hall on Prince Arthur, and somebody threw cherry bombs… at us or the dance floor, I’m not sure which. JImmy didn’t want to do gigs where people tried to injure us, so he quit. Tony and I then spent some time trying to figure out how to get a big sound from two people. That’s when I ditched the two skinny strings on my guitar and Tony got rid of his cymbals. Plus I had to figure out how to “sing” and play at the same time!

GVH: We did our first gig in November ’81 at a rented loft space called Studio Altaire. We organized the gig ourselves. If I remember right, Action Men on Assignment headlined, and I think there may have been another band that I’ve forgotten. The person we hired to tend bar didn’t show up, so I ended up tending bar part of the evening. Plus Tony had a family dinner or something that he had to go to first, so basically partway into the evening this guy comes in from a party and starts playing drums, and the bartender picks up a guitar and starts singing. I remember being scared shitless.

BG: It seems like from the beginning, there was a real Do It Yourself mentality at play with Deja Voodoo.  Want to play a show? organize it yourself.  Need a band? Start one.  There are several bands and labels in Montreal right now that take it upon themselves to organize and promote shows, and put out their own music. But there are few that have had the kind of lasting impression that Og Music has had.  What was the ‘independent’ music scene like in Montreal when you started out?

GVH: We started out in a gap between a fairly active punk scene (79-80) and a more active scene with multiple styles (hardcore, arty, dance-y). There was still quite a bit of arty-dancy music around, some of which was being released. Venues came and went fairly fast. We played some really strange places the first couple of years. Lots of gigs at a tiny place called the Cat’s Paw (Ontario just east of St-Laurent… I think maybe Just For Laughs is there now?), but also odd places, like people’s houses or coke-head bars on Crescent… I remember doing a live after-midnight broadcast on CJAD (!!) once.

BG: Was there a larger community of bands that you knew of who were putting on their own shows and releasing their own music?

GVH: Putting on their own shows, yes. Releasing music, not so much. That picked up in, uh, 84 or so. Hardcore bands started releasing their own stuff, and some record stores and distributors established labels. That left us sort of in between, because we released our own stuff, but also other people’s. (Actually there might have been hardcore bands doing that, too… I didn’t know that scene very well.)

BG: That actually leads into to my next question: What prompted you to start releasing your own band’s music, and eventually other bands’ music, under the name Og Music?

GVH: Well, for one thing, nobody else was going to release it. We did the first single (Monsters in my Garage) on our own label (“Deja Voodoo Records”), then when we decided to put out a cassette, we got a much better price by buying a lot, so we decided to release a cassette by Condition as well. We had *no* idea what we were doing… we bought a book called “How to Record and Sell Your Own Record” (I think), which was mostly aimed at folk people, and tried to follow the instructions in it.

GVH: One thing that I think non-Montrealers don’t really realize about how the local scene worked in those days is that bands would release stuff on multiple labels. So Ray Condo did some stuff for us, but mostly for Pipeline, and the Gruesomes did releases on Primitive.

BG: Right.  I think its still fairly common for bands to release their music on different independent labels, mostly because there aren’t any legally binding agreements made, it’s usually about distribution and helping cut down the production costs.  It is a labor of love.  It’s just to get the music out there. 

 BG: You mentioned that you released a cassette by Condition to help cut the cost of buying cassettes.  Was this a big motivating factor for releasing other bands’ albums when Og Music was getting started? to help you cut the costs of your own records as well as putting out music that you thought was interesting?   

GVH: Yes. Once we got past about the third or the fourth release, though, it was definitely more about putting out music than about sharing costs.

 BG: Since you were releasing lesser known bands, how did you manage to raise the money necessary for Og releases, especially it came to vinyl releases?

GVH: For most of the early years, we put the money we made doing voodoo shows back into the band or the label. Many of the releases broke even on sales alone. A lot of others could have, but we really tried to keep the whole catalogue in print, so you’d sell out of (say) a pressing of 2000, then you’d press another 500 or 1000 and sell only 50 to 100 a year.

BG: When I talked to Guy Lavoie at Cheap Thrills (A record shop in Montreal) about It Came From Canada, he told me that you used to have these big annual bbq shows to help raise money for the label.  Can you tell me more about these shows?

GVH: They were more about promoting the bands than making money, at least at first. But the last couple did make a pretty good profit (although we had to spend a lot of the last one’s profit to pay for damages to the church hall in which it was held).

GVH: They were one-nighters with five to seven bands. We did them each year that we released an It Came From Canada album, so… 1985 to 1989? The smallest one drew about 500 people, the largest about 1400. Most years, they were only in Montreal, but we did one in Ottawa (at Carleton U) and I think two in Toronto (promoted by Gary Topp of the 2 Garys). They used to run from about 7:00 to about 1:00. We’d have free food when the doors opened, for about 400 people, so that would get the place filled up early so that the first couple of bands were still able to play to a large crowd. And we’d usually put the biggest draw on second-last, so that people from the outer reaches could get home on transit, while downtowners could stick around until the wee hours. What else… we’d have a merch table, we’d sell beer… our friends and girlfriends would do the door and sell the beer (I remember one year my girlfriend’s brother’s ex-girlfriend ran the beer table, and she was really good at it!). I know the admission price for the early ones was $3, but I don’t remember whether it went up to $5 in later years. I think it probably stayed cheap, because a lot of street kids used to come, and I don’t know how much money they’d be able to come up with.

GVH: I’ve heard from lots of people in the intervening years who tell me that a barbecue was the first non-mainstream show they ever went to. Maybe because they were all 16 at the time and we didn’t exactly scrutinize ID.

BG: It sounds like you had quite the organization! You’d need to be really organized to get food enough for 400, let alone enough beer for a crowd like that!  

GVH: Well, we did work in restaurants… although we did the bbq cooking at home. The beer was delivered by the nearest depanneur. We just had to arrange it with the brewery.

BG: Was it a collaboration with the bands and your friends to get these shows together? Was it mostly Tony and yourself that ran Og Music and the bbq’s?

GVH: The bands would help out when and where they could, but it was mostly Tony and me. Luckily we were early adopters of computers, so that made it a lot easier to mail promotional stuff out (by the end of the label, we were up to 1100 names on our mailing list).

BG: Where did the idea come from to do a Canadian band compilation?  

GVH: I’m honestly not sure. I think once we started touring, we began to hear and see more and more good bands from across the country.

BG: That touches on something that is of interest to me.

BG: As a musician myself, I see bands from all over Canada making great albums that seem to fall on deaf ears.  These bands eventually break up, whether its because they start new bands, pursue other careers, finish school, or lose interest in the music they’ve been making with their band or label.  It made me wonder how much great music is sitting in flea markets, artist’s basements, and the record collections of a small group of people that knew the artists.  I don’t really understand why this music isn’t more accessible despite the incredible sharing power of the internet.

GVH: I actually got an email a few years back from a guy who had found “Swamp of Love” at a flea market in New Orleans and couldn’t believe such a band could have existed. But yeah, there must be a ton of good stuff out there. Also a ton of self-indulgent unimaginative shit.

BG: Man, that’s really cool that someone found your record in a flea market in New Orleans and contacted you about it.  That’s kind of a surreal experience.

GVH: It ended up with me and Bloodshot playing a gig at the guy’s tiki bar in NYC during a Zombie Walk.

BG: That’s even more surreal!  After I bought ICFC Vol. I, I came home and googled Og Music.  The first thing I found was a wikipedia page devoted to Og Music.  The page stated that:

“The label was retired when the band members of Deja Voodoo turned 30 and left the music business to pursue other careers.”    

This statement struck a cord with ideas I have about the seemingly inevitable fate of independent artists to move on to more stable careers in other fields after their twenties. Starting a label at 22, and ending it at 30 to get “real jobs” seemed to be a humorous reinforcement of these ideas I have.

GVH: We had actually promised in a very early fanzine interview that we’d stop when we were 30, based on not wanting to turn into one of those bands who never know when to stop. But we actually went through with it… which makes me feel like something of a hypocrite when I do shows nowadays.

BG: Have you done any reunion type shows since 1990?

GVH: Nope! Because it would suck. At least if I suck under my own name, I’m not disappointing anyone.

BG: After eight and a half years, why did you and Tony decide to stop releasing music under Og Music?

GVH: Running a label was way less fun than being in a band, and the band and label sort of went together, so when we stopped the band, it made sense to stop the label.

BG: You mentioned that you and Tony worked in restaurants and went to school together, and I know that you are now a professor of Linguistics at Memorial University. Did you feel pressure to pursue a more lucrative (literally all of my professors have made jokes about how “lucrative” academic careers are) career?

GVH: I think some profs joke about the non-lucrativeness of professorin’ because they compare it to other options they may have had available to them, maybe in the private sector. I, on the other hand, grew up well below the poverty line, so professor salary seems like a shitload of cash to me.

BG: Did it just feel like time to do something else?  

GVH: Or, at the least, to not keep doing the same thing.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Thanks again to Gerard Van Herk for the interview!  Check back in the coming weeks for an interview with the other half of Og Music, Tony Dewald.

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