Photo via TheTyee
It's hard to find a more prolific musical polymath in Vancouver than Chris Van Der Laan. Within the past few years, the multi-instrumentalist has released music under a dizzying array of banners: he raps in the hip-hop collective Too High Crew, handles synths and production in the electro-pop duo Heavy Steps, plays drums in the indie rock outfit Slim Fathers, crafts black metal drones as Hurricane Ripped My Jacket, mans the bass in punk act the Greater Wall, fronted the (now-defunct) pop-rock combo Animal Names, and drummed on a one-off hardcore 12-inch with Miss Black America. Perhaps the best of his many endeavours is Wars, a pop-punk band that he leads as singer and guitarist. The group’s two previous albums—Pacey from Mighty Ducks and Neville Say Never, both released in 2012—brimmed with both hooks and humour, as Van Der Laan tossed off instantly-infectious choruses with seeming nonchalance. Now, Wars are back, this time shifting their focus to hardcore on the bizarrely titled new effort FaceTime: Return to Mushroom Island, We Will Smoke Again.
Speaking on the phone during his lunch break from work, Van Der Laan explains that the blisteringly loud album was composed off-the-cuff during a recording session with collaborators Steve Matheson (bass and vocals), Chase Brenneman (guitar) and Tyler Schwindt (drums). “We probably spent no more than five hours making up the songs and learning them and recording them,” the frontman estimates. “We would work on a couple of songs and then record them, and then go outside and take a break. Some people would smoke and I would make up the next batch and then we would go and do it again.” The result is ten songs that race by in just 11 minutes of larynx-abusing screams and juggernaut punk fury. The music is so punishingly loud that Van Der Laan visited the doctor twice with vocal damage. “I found it very difficult and lost my voice a couple of times. I pulled a muscle, or muscles, in my chest and it was quite painful,” he remembers. Finally, he mustered up the strength to finish his parts with help from guest screamers Sean Hawryluk (Baptists), Giles Roy (Woolworm), Jon Redditt (War Baby) and Zoë Verkuylen (Baby Control).
FaceTime’s angsty sound and lack of pop hooks make it a departure from previous Wars releases, although Van Der Laan points out that the album is similarly filled with jokes. “There’s still Drake lyrics in there and funny things about our friends—you just can’t really hear what we’re saying this time around,” he reveals with a chuckle. The band’s sense of humour emerges on “Stairway to Evan,” a nod to Van Der Laan’s brother Evan that blatantly cribs the opening riff from—you guessed it—“Stairway to Heaven.” As with most of the albums that Van Der Laan issues on his own Boat Dreams from the Hill label, FaceTime is available on cassette; the format that best suits Van Der Laan’s insanely prolific output. He’s able to make tapes cheaply and in small runs, which is ideal given the lack of time he spends on promotion. “It just makes the most sense for bands like mine that don’t really have a fanbase that we still put stuff out, even just for us to look at,” he explains. Van Der Laan recently became a father to twins, so his output has slowed in recent months, but he’s already eyeing a heap of new releases (including, but not limited to, two Wars albums that are near completion). Without tour plans or a publicist, he knows that these forthcoming albums are unlikely to get any traction with the masses, but he nonchalantly says, “I don’t really care, because the whole point of it was just to make it.”
Photo via Wars' Bandcamp page
Noisey: Do you write songs with a specific project in mind?
Chris Van Der Laan: Yes. I don’t really make a song and then figure out what it would fit with. I don’t just make up songs for Wars, it’s always a plan: we’re going to make an album, so let’s do it. It’s not like I have a catalogue of songs that I’m going to look at or anything like that. I make up the songs for the projects as we decide we need them.
The new release is so different from previous Wars albums. Why not release it under a new name?
Van Der Laan: I suppose we could have just made it a new project, but I feel like I have so many projects on the go that I didn’t want to come with a name for a new project. It was everyone from Wars, except for Melissa [Gregerson]. We do call ourselves “Spooky Boys” on the cover. That was a joke as we were making up the songs—because it was kind of scary music, we should call ourselves something different. So the official billing is “Wars as Spooky Boys.”
Your press release mentioned that you had to go to the doctor twice because you hurt yourself so badly doing the vocals.
Van Der Laan: I did. I was pretty sure that it was because of trying to scream, but I wanted to get it checked out, so I went in to the drop-in clinic near my work. The first time, I was explaining it to the doctor and he didn’t quite know what it was, and then I told him that I was trying to record screaming and he said, ‘Oh, maybe that’s it.’ The next time I went, he told me I need to not be doing that. [laughs]
What’s the story behind the title, FaceTime: Return to Mushroom Island, We Will Smoke Again?
Van Der Laan: All of it was things we were saying to each other during our breaks while recording. Return to Mushroom Island—it doesn’t make sense because we didn’t record this album on an island, but we did record Neville Say Never on an island [Ladysmith, BC, on Vancouver Island), and we called it Mushroom Island for no particular reason, just because we thought it was funny. And We Will Smoke Again just because there’s always going to be another smoke break to take. And we still make jokes about trying to record an album via FaceTime. I didn’t even know what FaceTime was when those guys first said it. I thought it was just taking a selfie and sending it to your friends, so I sent mine to them and they sent their pictures to me. I learned shortly after that’s not actually what FaceTime is, but that was the impetus.
It’s a pretty funny moment when you steal the riff from “Stairway to Heaven.” Van Der Laan: Yes, that’s right, “Stairway to Evan.” Evan is my brother. I have actually made up a few songs in my time where I take anything with “Heaven” in the title and I change it to “Evan.” I also have the song “South of Evan,” which has the riff from “South of Heaven” in it. It’s by Slayer. So there’s stuff like that I go back to.
“Evan Is a Place on Earth”?
Van Der Laan:“Evan Is a Place on Earth,” that’s right. He is a place on Earth. That could be the next one.
Alex Hudson's favourite TV show is 7th Evan - @chippedhip