London, Ontario band Single Mothers are a highly curious case. Despite having not yet released a debut album, the band has already garnered a cult following, the support of international press as far reaching as Pitchfork, The New Yorker and BBC Radio 1, and secured deals with both Dine Alone Records here in Canada and XL Recordings abroad. Though they’ve been through a revolving cast of band members since forming in 2009, Single Mothers have managed to keep themselves on the road long enough to tour Canada, the US and the UK. Known for their explosive live show, unrelenting punk rock appeal and a palpable tension that seems to bleed into their music, this is a band with some serious brawn behind them.
On October 7th, they will finally release their much-anticipated debut, a thoroughly traveled album titled Negative Qualities. Produced by Joby J. Ford of The Bronx, the album almost didn’t see the light of day. Though it took two years to complete and was recorded in Los Angeles, Toronto, London, Ontario and New York City, Negative Qualities is an absolute behemoth that will aim to capitalize on the band's recent buzz. We caught up with frontman Drew Thomson to talk about how the band managed to go from small town obscurity to internationally known in just a few short years, and about the experiences that help to keep Single Mothers humble and hungry.
Noisey: You guys are about to release your much anticipated debut album, Negative Qualities via Dine Alone and XL Recordings, where are you guys at in terms of headspace right now?
Drew Thomson: Is it highly anticipated for you guys? [laughs] I think at this point it’s even more highly anticipated for us because it has been such a long time coming. We’re just really happy to finally be able to put it out there and hit the road with it and have people sing along to songs that we’re excited to play.
Have you begun to play new stuff while on the road and are you finding the crowds to be receptive?
Oh yeah totally, they’ve been pretty great. I mean some of the songs we’ve been playing for quite a while now but I’m always surprised to hear people picking up on certain songs and singing them.
You guys have garnered a huge amount of interest over the past little while both within the scene and amongst other bands, but also from the media. That is definitely a feat in light of the fact that you are just now releasing your first full-length album. How did you guys manage to do that?
Man I don’t even know, I guess we’ve just kept playing as much as we possibly can. We’ve toured on our 7” [S/T EP] for as long as we have because it’s all we have. We have been lucky to get on some tours, so we’ve really just tried to stay on the road until we couldn’t anymore.
Much of your early success has been attributed to the fact that you guys sold your belongings, bought a van, booked your own American tour and got out on the road. For some reason, be it financial or whatever, it seems that touring the old fashioned way and putting in that face time isn’t something that every band is out there doing any more. I’m wondering if you can speak to how necessary and feasible it still is to growing a band’s following because you guys are a great example of what can become of it.
Yeah for sure. I mean when we did our first tour, our guitar player booked it and we hadn’t really even played outside of Northern Ontario much, so we went straight to the States. Everything is just so much more accessible in America, you know? You can play 11 shows on the East Coast and everyone is only an hour’s drive, or you can play 7 shows in Canada and have toured the whole country. So, I think for us it’s really been a matter of getting ourselves out on the road and forcing people to pay attention to us.
The thing about doing the DIY tours is that when you spend seven weeks with five guys in a 1997 Chevy Venture mini van in the middle of the summer, and you’re sleeping in it in fucking Walmart parking lots, everything from then on is pretty much amazing. [laughs] We’ve done that so now sleeping in a McDonalds parking lot in a twelve-passenger van is like being in a hotel room.
Without that appreciation and without breaking up on those first tours, which we were so close to doing so many times, it really made us stronger and enabled us to appreciate what we do have now. We played a show two nights ago to like eleven people and made forty dollars and we still don’t mind doing that, even three years later, because we know that it has been worse. Those things really help to establish a foundation for your expectations.
Yeah, I guess those kinds of experiences really help to keep a band humble and keep your ego in check…
Oh yeah. And alcohol helps a lot too! [laughs]
I know you guys went through a whole slew of band members before actually finding a group that clicked and getting in to record your debut. Let’s talk a bit about putting the album together. You recorded in LA, London, Ontario (where you guys originally formed) as well as in Toronto and New York.
Yeah we went to LA first and we kind of showed up without anything written. We recorded ten songs but then lost our drummer Matt in the middle of it, which was a mutual thing––he wanted to go home, so he did. Afterwards, our guitar player Mike Peterson stepped in to play drums on it but we just didn’t have enough time to finish it because we were there for two weeks recording and then literally the next day we were supposed to fly to the UK. We tried to rush it but there just wasn’t any way we could extend things.
At that point we went to the UK and toured then flew back and did a seven-week North American tour right after that, so we were on the road for months. During that time we also got a new drummer so we decided well we’re not going to release this thing with it being only half the band now; everything we had recorded up until that point had different members on it. So, we said ‘fuck it, we’re going to re-record it.’ We went to our friend in London, Ontario who had recorded our 7”, asked to do it there with him, he said yes and we recorded for way cheaper. We did that there and then recorded a bit in Toronto and did some touchups in New York. It’s been pretty cool though; I mean it’s definitely a very traveled record.
The record was produced by Jobi Ford, is that who you guys worked with while you were in London, Ontario?
So Jobi is the guitar player of a band called The Bronx. We all love that band and he produced for us when we were in LA. Then when we left LA to tour in the UK, we went on the road with his band. But, when we record back in London, Jobi wasn’t there with us; we sort of just self-produced those songs a bit more. But, anything that we re-recorded during that time was pretty well kept the same so he really produced the record and he was great at it, he just wasn’t in the studio with us.
The album itself has this unrelenting and absolutely explosive punk rock quality, which to me seems to speak to both the kind of frustration that tends to brew in smaller towns but also that element of rawness that is missing from a lot of rock music right now. Is that on point?
I definitely think it’s a situational record. Being frustrated is something everyone can relate to and it’s good common ground. I think prior to this album, I’d never really tried to be honest before but this time I really made a conscious effort to protrude some sort of truthful rendition of what was going on at the time. A lot of the songs are a few years old now so I think the general timeline of being in London and then hitting the road and coming back and nothing changing, really had a lot to do with it; there is definitely a bell curve there in terms of having certain expectations and then seeing them dissipate so quickly.
You mentioned a bell curve…I think it’s fair to say that every band has their own set of circumstances they have to deal with, but as we know it’s a generally tough time right now. What has it been like for you guys to be an independent band, doing everything yourselves and right smack in the middle of all of that?
Oh, it’s super strange––it’s so hard to comment on though because it was already shitty when we started so for us it’s always been that way. I think we just missed the good times, but at the same time you just always learn to adapt. I mean if we didn’t want to be doing this we wouldn’t. I don’t think any band out there, at least the ones that we know, is touring for the fucking money or the fame and the glory or the three girls that show up, you do it because it’s all you want to do and if you don’t you’re going to work at call centre or something. It’s definitely a passion project but as little money as it is and as bad as it gets, for me and I think I can speak for the rest of my band, it’s still the greatest thing in the world to load in up ten flights of stairs just to play for nine kids. Even at the lowest shittiest point, it’s still my favourite thing to do. If I won the lottery tomorrow I’d still be playing in this band and drinking a Rolling Rock on the highway at 1pm in the afternoon.
Juliette Jagger is a rock n' roll critic living in Toronto - @juliettejagger