Photo By Sunny Adams
Library Voices might be cursed. Virtually all of the Canadian indie rock band’s albums have been marked by some kind of tragedy. In 2009, Vancouver thieves stole the band’s equipment out of their van, and then the following year a Regina flood destroyed their replacement gear. Other calamities include members being robbed at knifepoint and, in a separate incident, evicted due to an incriminating 2011 music video. The current lineup includes multi-instrument members Michael Dawson, Amanda Scandrett, Mike Thievin, Paul Gutheil, Brennan Ross and Carl Johnson.
In August, the group released a new single, “Oh Donna,” for their forthcoming LOVISH album set for release on November 6 with Nevado Music. This time around, misfortune struck frontman Carl Johnson, who got beat up so badly he suffered brain damage. Johnson was jumped two years ago by four or maybe six people in his home city Regina, Saskatchewan. He can’t exactly remember how many people attacked him because he was unconscious before he hit the downtown pavement. The motivation behind the assault was allegedly because Johnson was helping his inebriated friend and long-time bass player, Eoin Hickey-Cameron, walk. It was Hickey-Cameron’s bachelor party. The attackers thought the two men were gay. Someone struck Johnson’s head and the gang proceeded to beat the defenseless victims. Now, as a result of blood pooling on the front of his brain, Johnson can’t smell foul odors. Fortunately, after months of recovery, his capacity to create music was left intact. He went on to write seven songs for LOVISH, with Brennan Ross leading another four. I reached out to Johnson and Michael Dawson. We set up a Skype call, but true to Library Voices’ perpetual misfortune, the call failed and we resorted to an IM exchange. They wrote about the upcoming album, assault and possibility the new single breaches copyright.
Noisey: Tell me about LOVISH.
Carl Johnson: This one feels like a start, not an end.
Michael Dawson: For whatever reason, recording a record with seven stubborn and opinionated people can occasionally prove challenging. We've had moments in the studio in the past where it felt like everything was unravelling—but LOVISH seemed to make sense from start to finish.
Carl, can I ask about the assault?
Johnson: Honestly, it's hard to quantify things like a head bonk. I'm still coming to grips with the effects, but it's always strange talking about it because literally, as I'm typing this, a shit-tonne of people are going through equally or more fucked up things that are making their own lives fucked. I dunno. The details are vague. I was sober, walking our bassist at the time from one bar to another during his bachelor party. We came across four or five or six white or white-ish dudes and one female getting into a white Cadillac SUV right off Victoria Ave. in downtown Regina. I was holding up Eoin [Hickey-Cameron], as it was his bachelor party, helping him walk and I guess the small mob were of the opinion that we were a couple. It doesn't matter if we were or not. They started hurling every homophobic slur in the book—and I've heard them all because I grew up in Estevan, Saskatchewan—and we tried to just walk by, but they confronted us and sucker punched me from behind.
So this was a hate crime. Do you think of it in those terms?
Johnson: I do consider it a hate crime. Regina, Saskatchewan can be an unbelievably intolerant place, just like it can be hospitable and welcoming. Sometimes it only feels welcoming if you are wearing green on gameday. Maybe everywhere has a dichotomy like that, but the incident definitely made me more mindful of how marginalized certain people are where I live—First Nations, LGBT folks and women especially; I am more mindful and I try to be more considerate of what's around me now for sure. Not always successfully, but I guess I can definitely see now how the world is way more fucked up for a lot of people than I was aware of before.
My favorite part of the incident, which I don't remember because I was rendered unconscious before I hit the ground, was that while four of them are kicking me as I'm helpless on the ground, Eoin was getting punched by one of them and made sure to fall on me even in his inebriated state so that he would take most of the blows. Anyway, I guess after both of us got beaten for a while the lady with them started screaming for them to go and they got in their pimpin' ride and drove away. Eoin dragged me back to our local watering hole, O'Hanlon's, and then they took me to the hospital from there.
Were charges laid?
Johnson: No. They never caught any of them. The police here in town were very supportive, but I don't think there was a lot for them to go on.
Left to right: Michael Thievin, Brennan Ross, Amanda Scandrett, Virtute (cat), Michael Dawson, Carl Johnson, Paul Gutheil/Photo By Chris Graham
Michael, what was your and the band's reaction to all this?
Dawson: The honest truth is I didn't fully grasp the scope of the situation until later on. That sounds pretty insensitive, but I hadn't been around the city much when it happened and at this point in our friendship-I'm so used to Carl getting hurt that it took some time to sink in how serious it was this time around. Although now that I take a moment to think about it, I realize that every time we are set to record, something insane happens to Carl. On our first LP, Carl and Brennan were robbed at knife point. The next time we were in the studio, he got jumped in an alley for his Subway sandwich.
Johnson: And now with this LP, we had a Skype call that wouldn't work. Disaster is our companion.
The band was also robbed once in Vancouver in 2009 when your gear was stolen out of a van, and then the next year your equipment was destroyed in a Regina flood. Are you cursed?
Dawson: Nah. We're just a band. If you travel to enough places and put yourself in enough situations, I think all sorts of crazy things are bound to happen to you. We're just playing those odds.
Do think these weird happenings are becoming an image?
Johnson: I am worried that it's becoming our gimmick. But I guess I've been worried about that since we got our gear stolen and then again with the flood
Is it also true the video for “Generation Handclap” from the 2011 album Summer of Lust got you, Carl, kicked out of your apartment?
Johnson: Hahaha, oh yeah. That's entirely my own fault though. My landlady at the time, who's a pretty rad lady, heard about the video from friends and that was that. Regina's a small town. I mean, I incriminated myself.
Dawson: Well, you did let someone smash a television in your backyard and then urinate on it [in the video].
Michael, you have joked Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have spies watching you after penning the song “The Prime Minister’s Daughter.” Is there anything you would like to say to the Prime Minister?
Dawson: Don't worry. I've changed my phone number since. I'm not even sure. I'd probably have a few questions. Like, why don't you care about missing and murdered Aboriginal women?
Two questions about lyrics from the single “Oh Donna” off LOVISH: Who are your heroes and do you really think, “All of your heroes are assholes”? Have you ever been disillusioned by a hero?
Dawson: Have you ever followed someone on Twitter that you expected to be the most brilliant or hilarious person only to find out they are super obnoxious or desperate? There's a reason why people worship the dead. Everyone else is just too human. To be fair the whole lyric was, “All of your heroes are assholes, but that doesn't mean you should piss on your dream.” That was my strange attempt at writing something hopeful and encouraging.
Which classic rock song does “Oh Donna” remind me of during the chorus? It's like Okkervil River and then that classic rock riff comes in. Do you fear being sued?
Johnson: We're not really making money at this point, so it's not like we have anything to lose. “Crimson and Clover.” Don't tell anyone. [laughs]
Devin Pacholik is a writer and journalist based in Canada. Follow him on Twitter.