Stephane Senecal-Tremblay could be living halfway around the world, and he’d still find a way to play in Pet Sun. For the group’s lead singer and guitarist, it’s all about prolonging a quest for good times that recognizes no borders and knows no bounds. Pet Sun is vintage denim jackets soaked in beer and bong water, and cherry-red Stratocasters covered in blood and sweat. Pet Sun is all-night drives across frozen stretches of Highway 401, and daring retreats into the woodlands of rural Ontario to get lost, get drunk, and make music. Pet Sun is an unruly cocktail of roach clips, fuzz pedals, long hair, grip tape and extra-large t-shirts, designed to get you out of your seat and off your head the moment you push play or hear the opening riff.
The Hamilton four-piece (including drummer Parth Jain, guitarist Sam Rashid and bassist Nic Arbour) recently released their second EP Feel Like I’m Going Away on Toronto’s Sleepless Records, and the band is currently gearing up for their first real taste of life on the road. With a reputation for chaotic live shows and a growing international profile, we caught up with Pet Sun ahead of their first-ever American show.
Noisey: You went to Westdale Secondary School in Hamilton, which has a fairly deep history in rock and roll. Did you tap into any of that history while initially learning how to play?
Stephane Senecal-Tremblay: A little bit. They have this funny Wall of Fame at Westdale, and there’s a photo of Gord Lewis from Teenage Head playing guitar. So we knew about that. Sam grew up next to Gord, so he had tapped into that whole Teenage Head thing at a pretty young age. But I didn’t as much.
Who were some of the first local bands you gravitated toward, or would you say that most of your musical influences came from outside Hamilton?
We weren’t going to shows that much until we were 15 or 16, and even then we were usually playing the shows. The Abbreviations and The Dirty Nil would have been local bands that we were playing with at the time or seeing live. But outside of Hamilton, I don’t even know. Not that many bands. When we were kids, we were really just listening to a lot of Nirvana, The Vines and The White Stripes, that kind of stuff. A lot of Led Zeppelin—Parth and I were huge Led Zeppelin fans. We were always wearing that clichéd “Stairway to Heaven” t-shirt.
Tell me about the night of “heavy riffing and beer drinking” that led to the initial formation of Pet Sun.
Parth and I had been jamming and playing what became Pet Sun songs for quite a while. And then at one point we got Nic and Sam into the room, and we were playing and just getting really drunk in Parth’s basement, and it all just fell into place.
Did you have a clear goal in mind, in terms of what you wanted the band to sound like or feel like? Or did you just want to play and have fun?
We all have similar taste in music, but I think we always just wanted to play shows. Growing up listening to stuff like The Vines, I was always looking at their videos on YouTube because they never really toured that much. I remember thinking, like, “whoa, these guys are insane live, and Craig is a maniac.” I remember always thinking that I wanted to play like that. In terms of our influences, we like sounding like the stuff we listen to. So we only really listen to heavy stuff, but with melodic harmonies. That was always the goal, I guess, to just play power chords.
Your first show took place at Barfly in Montréal, which you previously described as a “bloodbath.” What happened at the show?
Yeah, that was last June. It was disgusting. We got a little bit too drunk, and I dropped my pick during one of the first songs in our set. The pick just flew out of my hand, and I kept playing. I had a hangnail or something, and my finger just exploded. It was bleeding all over my guitar, and it was getting all over this white pickguard and my pickups, to the point where it was blocking out the sound. You couldn’t hear through it, or something, so the sound kept cutting in and out. My strings were also getting really out of tune, and it just sounded like shit. That was our first show, and we had never thought about getting tuning pedals. So for the rest of the set, my guitar just sounded like ass. It was pretty bad.
During the initial days of the band, you had members based in Hamilton, Toronto and Montréal. How did you keep the momentum going?
I was in Montréal for school, and Sam and Parth were in Toronto. We had a private Facebook group to keep all of our secrets, and we would organize everything through that. It was like a never-ending tour. I was always taking a Megabus back for band practices on weekends, and so I’d be in Montréal for five days and then I’d be in Hamilton for two, or like, skip a couple days of school to be there for a little bit longer. We always wanted to be together, which is easier now that I’ve moved back to Hamilton. The end was in sight as of 2013, when I was going to be finishing up my degree.
Where is everyone currently situated?
Nic lives in Ajax, and I’m living in Hamilton, but my dad just moved to Port Hope. We’re setting up a jam space in a bunch of school portables out there in the middle of a forest, so we’re going to be spending some time there. Parth lives in Toronto, and Sam has an apartment in Toronto but he’s currently resting up in Hamilton. We’re on the road right now.
What’s the deal with those portables in the woods? What exactly are you setting up?
They’re two school portables that have been built together. I think it’s something like 25 by 30 feet. We just went in during the last few weeks and gutted it. It’s in the middle of nowhere, so we can practice around the clock, and we don’t need to worry about neighbours. We’re putting all of our extra gear in there, so we can have a Port Hope escape.
Tell me about the making of your latest EP, Feel Like I’m Going Away. Where was it recorded, and why did you decide to self-produce?
Originally, before Sleepless Records picked us up, we were going to be releasing the album last winter. We produced the songs ourselves and we had demoed 10 or 11 songs in one day, and then we were like, “OK, which ones do we want to release soon?” We liked “Feel Like I’m Going Away” as a song, and I liked the dynamic between the soft and the loud choruses. We produced it ourselves, and then our manager, Scott, got us on the label. We decided we wanted to put some finishing touches on everything, so it sounded a little less like a basement demo. We recorded “Lutes” and “Brides” during NXNE at Dream House Studios. That was with Dave Plowman. He’s the man; he was awesome.
The album has an unmistakably fun garage rock sound, but it also feels dark and sinister in certain spots —like you’re pulling back the curtain and letting the listener in on a secret. Was it important for you to try and capture a variety of moods and textures on the new EP?
I don’t think we intended to capture any moods, necessarily. It just reflects where my head was at — kind of dark vibes, or whatever. We’re happy people, it’s just a style of music. It’s poppy but still kind of dark, and I think that’s our style of songwriting. We like catchy hooks and choruses, but we also like Springsteen. I don’t know; I like things that can be dark and scary at times.
I feel like so much of the band’s identity is linked to the trippy aesthetics in your music videos. Is it fair to call them psychedelic, or how would you describe their look and feel?
I think “psychedelic” is a term that gets tossed around loosely. We’ve been hearing that a lot, but we like the visuals that come with it. We like the cartoons, and it adds a nice aesthetic to the videos. Alex Gorodskoy, who made our video for “Feel Like I’m Going Away,” he showed us a bunch of samples of things he had already made and I was like, “all that stuff you do with markers is beautiful, we should do something with that.” It was mainly a choice driven by the fact that we liked Alex’s art, and it creates some nice action in the video. It’s almost like snowing chaos, or something. We don’t think our music is psychedelic, but the videos definitely have an element of that.
I know you were working on a brand new music video last week. What track is it for, and what is it going to look like?
Don’t expect cartoons this time. We were hanging out in a forest, because we like being out in nature and in the woods a lot. It’s for “Brides,” the last track. We’re just milking the EP for one more video, and then it’s on to other things. But yeah, expect some waterfalls, expect us looking lost in the woods, maybe some man-on-man hugs and kissing. You know, just bromance in the woods.
You guys are playing at Fat Baby in Manhattan on Oct. 23 as part of CMJ. Will this be your New York debut?
This will be our American debut. We’ve never played in the States before. We’re really just looking forward to going on the road and trying this out for the first time. Besides the six-hour drives between Hamilton and Montréal, we haven’t really done it too much. We just played our first show in London, Ont. and we’re excited about going over to the States without too much trouble at the border, and getting there and hanging out. The beer is really cheap, and we’re really stoked on that. You can get a 12-pack of Miller High Life, the champagne of beers, around the corner from where we’re staying for $7. You can’t get that in Canada.
Andrew Baulcomb is a freelance music writer. He’s on Twitter @abaulcomb