We Spoke to the Toronto Graphic Artists Who Started a Punk Band

How much different is your life when you create funny drawings versus when you spend your time making music?

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Apr 7 2014, 4:54pm

Toronto’s comic and graphic novel scene has gone through a renaissance. Powered by an influx of young talented artists and hoisted by The Beguiling, the Toronto Comics Art Festival, and recently established publishers like Koyama Press, some local yocals have found high praise internationally. Two of the city’s flagship creators are Michael DeForge and Patrick Kyle, the former, creator of the broodish Lose series, Ant Colony and a designer on Adventure Time, the latter responsible for the abstract Distance Mover series and Black Mass. But last night, the two graphic artists were playing punk rock in the back of a sushi restaurant.

With Kyle on drums and DeForge on guitar and vocals, their new outfit is called Creep Highway. It's a rough and raw noise catapult, a palpable difference from the duo's regularly well curated medium. At the release for their self-titled cassette, recorded by Hooded Fang’s Daniel Lee (for whom Kyle created album art), we spoke with the two about where rock and roll fits into the pen and ink lifestyle, playing sloppy and if DeForge is still big on Elvis conspiracies.

Noisey: Were either of you in any bands before you began cartooning?
Patrick Kyle:
I was, just in a punk band in high school.
Michael DeForge: I was not.

What did you call yourselves? What did you sound like?
Kyle: We were called Atrophy. We were kind of like Leftover Crack, that kind of thing. We used to play at this bar in Oshawa called The Dungeon a lot, and then we played a lot at the Polish Hall with some grindcore bands.
DeForge: I didn’t play, much. I didn’t play in any bands or anything.

Did you play any instruments?
DeForge: Yeah, I played guitar growing up.

At what point did you two decide to play music together?
DeForge: Well, we were in a garage band together. We didn’t want to play in that band as much anymore.

Greasy Skeletons?
DeForge: Yeah, it was a lot of fun though.
Kyle: A lot of those band practices just descended into me and Michael fucking around trying to play noise, pissing off our band mates. We kept Greasy Skeletons going but we were practicing together as well. At some point it was clear that we weren’t ‘playing’ in The Greasy Skeletons anymore. We didn’t officially quit the band, we just stopped practicing.

Zach Worton is in that band too right?
DeForge: Zach’s always been playing music. Me and Zach and Krystal (Tabujara) have a lot of overlapping musical tastes, and I guess because we’re good friends we just thought we should get the four of us together...
Kyle: Zach kind of made us do it.
DeForge: It wasn’t, like, four cartoonist friends. It was four friends who were all cartoonists. We weren’t going out of our way to start an all-cartoonist band.

What kind of music do you listen to on your own time?
Kyle: Mostly black metal, 90s Norway and current American stuff. I also like things Zach Hill and Mick Barr work on.
DeForge: I like a lot of rap, punk, Prince.

Do you still read up on Elvis is alive conspiracies?
DeForge: Sort of, I had an Elvis conspiracy phase but I’ve eased up on that.

Do you think all those comic festival karaoke after-parties helped with your musical pursuits?
Kyle: Maybe a little. We’re actually going to play some Sheryl Crow tonight. I wonder if anyone will notice. (Sort of. No one pointed out anything during their performance, but between two songs one of their friends, in anticipation, screamed out “SHERYL CROW”)

Does it feel creatively different to work on music instead of comics?
Kyle: We don’t really think about it too much. I don’t think of the band, really, at all, outside of our practices and our shows. Certainly it felt like more of a thing when we made this cassette tape, and I had to think about making it, making the labels, making the artwork for it. It’s kind of like a very cathartic thing. We do it like you would go to the gym.

Do you go to the gym?
Kyle: I don’t. Michael does.
DeForge: It’s different than the way I approach my comics. Our band is kind of sloppy, which I like. My comics are not that at all.

They’re more surgical.
DeForge: I get to be much more anal retentive with that thing, drawing, where this is much looser. It’s a nice thing, to get to be looser.
Kyle: Comics and illustration is our career, and obviously this is just fucking around.

So why take fucking around to another level with a release?
DeForge: It’s been a pretty low commitment. These didn’t cost us a lot to make, but we like what we’ve done.
Kyle: I kind of just wanted to make a cassette, mostly, to make the artwork for it. We’re both really busy right now, we wanted to make a zine and all this stuff with it but we didn’t end up doing that. It only ended up as more of a music thing.

So is this the ceiling for the band?
Kyle: I don’t know, I guess because we’re cartoonists a lot of people have been asking us about it. It just comes up a lot now. We’ll be playing in Chicago after the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, and we might be playing a comic book launch in New York in June. It’s giving us these weird opportunities where maybe if we weren’t cartoonists, our band would just be slumming.
DeForge: I just want to keep playing. We’re not super proactive about things. We just want to keep playing and playing with friends.

So you don’t care about the music being associated with you as cartoonists?
DeForge: No, it’s fine.
Kyle: Yeah, it doesn’t bother me. We’re not the first cartoonists to start a band.

Are you only going to continue releasing cassettes just to make the art for them?
Kyle: Yeah, probably. We make songs pretty quickly, and we recorded it all in an afternoon. It cost $40 to do that. Everything we do in a band is really low stakes. It’s fun to have something to sell and make artwork for.

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Michael DeForge and Patrick Kyle are playing on April 24th alongside Phèdre.

Zack Kotzer is a writer living in Toronto