On Single Mothers' sophomore release Our Pleasure frontman Drew Thomson acknowledges that self-reflection doesn't always lead to self-improvement. The singer's lyrics touch on relationships, poverty, and ambition with a blunt poetry that would seem voyeuristic if it weren't so relatable. What happens when you reach a point in your life where you know the right thing to do but keep doing the wrong thing anyways? How long can you keep making shit in rented rooms trying to convince someone that it's worth something? Thomson shout-sings these questions with a pitch-perfect balance of sincere vulnerability and tongue-in-cheek egotism, backed by his band's blend of post-hardcore. As a fan, his lyrics have always been what drew me to the music. As a writer, it's frustrating to hear someone articulate your feelings better than you could yourself.
Despite the critical praise of the band's 2014 debut Negative Qualities, along with opening spots for The Hold Steady and a handful of high-profile gigs on the festival circuit, Single Mothers second release barely came together. The band was short a guitarist and a bass player and Thomson was half drowning in box wine when he got a call from an employee at Jukasa, a recording studio located on the Ohsweken reserve 45 mins outside of Hamilton. "I assumed the studio was in a slump and trying to bring in some business but I was also in a slump so I called up Brandon (our drummer) and checked it out," explains Thomson. "We got in, took the tour, and immediately booked the time for Single Mothers next record. We didn't have any songs or enough members and no money but going into recording, we never really have. It was a familiar mess and we welcomed it."
Thomson reached out to Justis Krar—Single Mothers on again/off again guitar player since 2011—and after some hassling convinced him to join up. Justis brought along bassist Ross Miller to the lineup, and just like that this incarnation [the band have been through over sixteen different members since they formed] of Single Mothers was born. For the recording session, Wade MacNeil of Alexisonfire was brought in as a producer after approaching the band via Twitter. The session birthed Our Pleasure, a ten song mix match of melodic and caustic tracks that progresses the Single Mothers' sound without losing the band's signature fuck it attitude.
Nevertheless, we talked with Drew Thomson about the new album, his writing, and the blossoming Toronto Punk scene along with premiering "Undercover" the band's first track from their forthcoming album Our Pleasure. Listen and read below.
NOISEY: On the second track of Our Pleasure you yell the words, "Here's my pledge of allegiance to the kids I can already hear making fun of this...whatever happened to Single Mothers?" Do you feel like you're criticizing yourself before others can criticize you?
Drew Thomson: I could be pre-emptively blocking criticism but I haven't put that much thought into it. We're not trying to re-invent the wheel with Single Mothers. I do what I do, we play what we play. As members change and we all grow up a little, the sound will develop on its own. That line I wrote really early on as the songs started coming together and I could tell the band had grown a bit since Negative Qualities. I know we won't please everyone and to be honest that's the last thing I want to do. I can think of a handful of people I specifically don't want to please right now.
What do you get out of self-referencing?
I thought self-referencing would be a very snarky/cocky thing to do and it also made me laugh. I think a lot of my lyrics are funny but I don't think I've made them funny enough for other people to always think they're funny. Lot's of lines are little inside jokes with myself. I get criticized for putting my own name in songs by people who call me a narcissist so if I am trying to get out of criticism it's not working. I also criticize myself more than anyone else is going to and I know that.
The subject matter on Our Pleasure deals with poverty, artistic stagnation, and struggling relationships. How much does that have to do with your real life?
I was very very broke for a while after taking on the band full time. There was a summer I was living in my minivan parked behind a bar in London. I'd wake up to guys trying to break into it all the time. I had a sleeping bag and a pillow and taped clothes up against the windows to keep out the sun but I'd still wake up in a sweaty mess. I took out all the seats so I could lay flat. I didn't have insurance either and I'm pretty sure my license was expired. Tony, who owned the bar eventually said I couldn't stay there anymore because he was getting complaints from the neighbours. I parked across the street at the GoodLife for a while after that. I'd go to the library and try to sneak into movies or get free popcorn, from the theatre that was down the street. I didn't care at the time, I was on an adventure and as long as the battery didn't die in the van and I could find somewhere to shit and shower - I was free. I was also very drunk and now that I've been sober for close to a year, the rosy tint I'd given those memories has faded a bit.
Rock and roll is a sacrifice.
I gave up everything for the band—at the time, we all did—but I never expected it to go well, so I didn't mind being homeless and broke. It seemed like the natural path. I wrote a lot in those summers, especially when we first started touring and everything was so new and exciting - I referenced those notebooks before going into the studio. It's a new line-up on this record and I felt a familiar excitement watching the record come together. The experience was very do or die. It seemed like if Single Mothers didn't do the record now then we never would. Like most things that happen in the band the plans were thrown together fast and I was just hoping it would work out. I think it did. We still don't make any money in the band but I don't live in the van anymore
Your band along with a handful of others—PUP, The Dirty Nil, METZ—have been starting to gain the attention of media in and outside of Canada. Do you feel like there is a scene here?
I guess, but I haven't really thought about it in that way, maybe because I'm involved in it. We've toured with The Nil and Luke/Dave have both filled in for Single Mothers tours off and on since 2013. I think most of these bands probably gained attention outside of Canada before Canada decided to show up. PUP seem to be on a whole other level now. They're nice guys. If they'd return my calls, that would be great.
The new album almost didn't happen and being in Single Mothers has left you homeless at points. Do you feel like it's been worth it?
I don't know how to judge success with regards to art. Any other job I've had success was just financial. The band is much more than the little money that comes with it. I'm a lot happier now than I have been, though. If no one buys the record I still made what I wanted with the people I wanted to make it with and that is good enough for me. I think the rest of the band feel the same. Everything we've put out has started as a mess and has its own story but this one I feel is more special, to me at least. I quit drinking half-way through recording this and that has had a huge impact in my life. I could pick back up the bottle I guess but I haven't yet. The band used to be the reason I drank and somehow it became the reason I sobered up. It's been a wild ride.
That's something to be proud of. Moving forward how do you want to gauge your band's success?
Meh. If the Pup guys would call me back that'd be great.
Our Pleasure is out June 16th via Dine Alone Records and Big Scary Monsters
Graham Isador is a writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.