While most Canadian’s know The Reason by their 2010 hit “The Longest Highway Home,” few realize they’ve been grinding it out as a band on the road for the better part of a decade. Formed by frontman Adam White and vocalist and guitarist James Nelan in Hamilton back in 2003, The Reason have five studio releases and a Top 5 Billboard charting single under their belts. They’ve also shared the stage with the likes of the Headstones, Big Wreck and The Tragically Hip along the way.
Rock and roll has always been real sexy from the outside, but as we’ve seen the industry go to shit in recent years, so to has the ability of many bands to live off of their music. Despite the many accolades they’ve amassed over the years, even The Reason fall in to the latter category. While the commonplace notion that bands that receive regular radio play are rolling in dough continues to exist, as we found out while talking to Adam White, most Canadian musicians still have shitty day jobs just like the rest of us.
It’s certainly a far cry from those superfluous days when bands flew private jets, checked in to penthouse suites and ordered their club sandwiches with a side of blow. It’s pretty dismal. And in case you were unsure about just how gapping the divide between artist and industry really is, I direct you to the above admission—surely there was a time when publicly announcing you still had a shitty day job would have tarnished your rock star image and got you in trouble with your label.
Never the less, The Reason has persisted. Last year they toured across Canada on a train and crashed their van twice nearly killing themselves in the process. They bounced back and launched a successful PledgeMusic campaign and have been busy producing a documentary that sheds light on the ups and downs of the band’s decade long story. Oh yeah, and Adam White’s been listening to the new J. Cole album, a lot.
Noisey: You and James started The Reason back in 2003, which is over a decade ago now. Music has obviously changed a lot over the past 10 years, particularly with regards to technology, and it seems that we are now seeing a shift back to a singles market with a lot more bands releasing EP’s over full-length albums. You guys released your last full-length, Fools, back in 2010 but opted to release your Hollow Tree EP early last year. Any particular reason you decided to take the EP route again?
Adam White: Well, for us, we spent three years working on our album Fools. Between writing, recording and mixing it over and over again, we felt like it was the best thing we’d ever done. Unfortunately, with the way things are nowadays, I don’t think anyone really got to hear the whole album and everyone of those songs was really important to us.
I mean it’s almost four yeas later and The Edge is still playing our song “Longest Highway” twice a day. That’s really cool, but we did write other songs. I mean I totally appreciate it, but why did I go to North Carolina for a month and bleed my soul out on that record? So that everyone could just hear the one fucking song? We just decided EP’s were a better way to go.
These days it’s like ‘you gotta put out new stuff all the time.’ Well, okay then let’s put out five or six songs at a time and be done with it. It’s less about technology and more about people’s attention spans these days––they just can’t digest a whole album anymore.
Last year you guys actually toured across Canada by train and teamed up with various radio stations to play a number of house parties for small groups of fans in each city. You guys also brought someone along to film the experience as it unfolded. How did that all come together and what was it like?
Well, the whole idea came about because we said: ‘oh, it’s our ten year anniversary so we should play a big show in Hamilton,’ that was honestly it. The thing was, we also had the EP out so our label said: ‘you should drive across the country and do a promotional tour where you visit radio stations and try and get them to play your songs.’ To which we said: ‘that’s a nightmare because it’s February and why would we do that?’ They came back with ‘well what if we can get everything paid for?’ To which we said ‘good luck with that!’
Somehow a week later they came back with: ‘VIA Rail is going to give you a free train trip across the country, feed you every day and let you sleep on the train. Also Steam Whistle is going to give you all this free beer, Converse is going to give you all these shoes and we’re going to do these house parties at people’s homes.’ We were just like ‘holy shit.’
Once we heard, we thought: ‘you know what, we should really film this trip because it’s going to be crazy getting to see Canada on a train, not to mention that all these shows are going to be in people’s basements and garages,’ so we did. We brought someone along to film it and then about half way through we realized that all we were talking about was how long we’ve been a band and all these stories that no one had ever really heard before. It started to occur to us that no one knew anything about us––even people who had been there from the start––and that’s when we decided ‘maybe we should turn this into a documentary.’
Releasing a documentary at the ten-year mark couldn’t be better timing. I can’t imagine the shit you guys have probably seen over the course of ten years as a band.
Yeah exactly, and we just feel like we really do have this unique story and a lot of the time when people see documentaries about bands its always like: ‘hey we wrote this song and won this contest then all of a sudden we were huge forever.’ We’ve never been huge and every time we’ve had something good happen we’ve had ten shitty things happen—no one ever get’s to hear about that side of things.
We’re not trying to advertise that we have bad luck, but we do want to show what it’s really like these days as a musician. Just because you have two or three songs on the radio people think you’re big rock stars. It’s like ‘yeah well, fuck off cause I’m not.’ We all have shitty jobs and we all struggle just like anybody else––just like buddy who works down at the steel mill or buddy who just got his plumbers license. Everybody works hard to get to where they are and in order to be a musician these days you definitely have to make a lot of sacrifices. It’s not always like when the drummer from Nirvana starts a new band and they’re automatically famous. Even though the Foo Fights are a great band, watching the Sound City documentary made me want to make a real music documentary about a real band that went through some real shit, not just one that wrote a song a played Wembley Stadium.
The more I speak to musicians, the more I’m finding just how willing people are to be honest and upfront and say ‘hey, listen it’s fucking hard out there right now.’
Oh yeah, totally. And it’s funny because of course when we took our idea to the “powers that be” and said ‘we’re going to make a documentary about our band,’ they were just like ‘ahhh…’. Then we tried to get people to fund it and they had the same reaction. It was like ‘ahhh, you guys are old,’ or ‘ahhh, you guys aren’t attractive enough.’ We just kept being told ‘you don’t have a story.’ It’s like ‘yes we fucking do have a story.’ The story is that we’ve been a band for ten years and still haven’t fucking given up. Everyone else we knew is long gone.
So is that when you decided to launch the PledgeMusic campaign?
Yeah, after we kept being turned away we thought: ‘maybe our fans will help us make this movie.’ Within twenty-two days or something, we had raised $17,000. When that happened it was like: ‘okay, people definitely want to hear this story and people definitely want to helps us out.’
How far along are things at this point?
Now it’s just in the stages of editing the damn thing. I’m sure if we had a company working on it the thing would be done, but it’s literally just one guy in an apartment in Welland spending 18-hours a day staring at a screen and editing a feature-length film for the first time in his life. He’s used to editing three-minute music videos and he’s literally sacrificing his whole life but he’s doing an amazing job.
We just want people who have never heard of our band before to watch this documentary and at the end of it say ‘wow, that’s an interesting story.’ Like, Searching For Sugarman, I had never heard of that fucking dude but by the end of it I was crying like ‘oh my god, I love Rodriguez.’ We want to be able to do that for people. Obviously I wish it was out six months ago but we’re doing our best.
I want everything we do to be awesome so that we can listen back to it and be proud it. I don’t want to just put out songs for the sake of it.
You guys are originally from Hamilton. Any thoughts on this sort of newly burgeoning interest in the Hamilton rock scene or has that always kind of been there and perhaps people are just late to the game?
Yeah. It’s always been a great place to grow up and do music. It’s great that a lot of other people are finally trying to see Hamilton like that as well. You know bands like The Arkells kind of get to go around and put us on the map and we’re getting the Juno’s next year, so I feel like the music scene is finally doing what we’ve always wanted it to.
There are just so many new young bands that are full of life, energy and passion and it’s so good to see. It’s just this great community and you can’t help but be proud to say you’re from Hamilton. The good thing about it is that there are no gimmicks, no bells and whistles, the bands are just writing honest music that they can stand behind and are proud of–– there’s just something really real about it.
People are always saying ‘it’s cause you’re a working class town,’ and I don’t think it has anything to do with that. Hamilton is just a really strong community, every one has always supported each other, all the bands and venues in town help each other out and all the promoters help each other out too.
Can you pay it forward and recommend any other really great Canadian rock bands or other artists that you’re feeling right now?
When I see a band like The Dirty Nil from Hamilton who are doing their thing and getting recognition in other places, I always think ‘fucking right, that’s great.’ When I watch that band I think ‘why wasn’t this my band ten years ago,’ [laughs] you know? They are just one of those bands that if they had of come out ten years ago I would have loved them then and now that I’m in my thirties, they just remind me of all the piss and vinegar I used to have in high school. It’s like nostalgic but it’s still new and they just really grab you.
I’d also check out The Great Machine from Hamilton; they tare the roof off anywhere they play. Greg is just a really good songwriter and a young entertaining, frontman; I really hope for great things for The Great Machine. Another record I’m really getting into a lot, and this one’s probably been out for about a year or so, is J. Cole. You know the hip-hop guy? He’s just really great.
Juliette Jagger is a rock and roll journalist living in Toronto - @juliettejagger
We're giving away tickets to see The Reason in Toronto!
The Dirty Nil are opening, in case you want to catch up.
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