For 15 years, Toronto hardcore vets Career Suicide have built a career based on the classic punk adage "our way or the highway." Retaining a fiercely independent and DIY approach, they now sit alongside the Viletones, Nomeansno, Teenage Head, Pointed Sticks, DOA, and SNFU as one of Canada's best punk bands. They are certainly the greatest to have taken the fast and furious sounds of 80s hardcore and made it their own.
Led by original members, vocalist Martin Farkas and guitarist Jonah Falco—who also plays in punk band Fucked Up—the band has released several albums and singles on various international labels and completed multiple tours of North America, Europe, and Japan. It's been almost a decade since the band's 2008 release Cherry Beach EP after 2006's classic Attempted Suicide. But last week, the band self-released an EP called Machine Response and in February will release the Machine Response LP on Deranged / Static Shock.
Listen to the track "Suffocate" from the LP and read a lengthy chat we had with Martin.
Noisey: What was the first Career Suicide show like?
Martin Farkas: The first show with the lineup that went on to record the first Career Suicide releases was at a run down diner and watering-hole, next door to a homeless shelter. We played between a row of banquet seats at the back of the Q-Bar, as it was called at the time, to a fairly rowdy crowd of 20 or 30 people. I remember it felt like the gig of a lifetime to get to open for Step Sister who included members of Nine Shocks Terror, Gordon Solie Motherfuckers and the H-100s.
The nature of hardcore is often to start a band, play shows, release an EP or two, then move on. What do you put your longevity down to?
Quite simply, we play the music that we most want to hear. I'm fortunate to be surrounded by surprisingly talented musicians who share my terrible taste in music. It's a perfect recipe for getting the songs out of our heads and onto a record.
A 2007 'Best of Punk' piece in Exclaim magazine had you topping a list over Pissed Jeans, Black Lips, Against Me!, Lifetime, and some band called The St. Alvia Cartel. Some of those bands went on to bigger things. Were you given opportunity or situation to become bigger?
We've always been a very DIY band. We book our own tours, design our own records and merch, and we release records with whoever we choose to. Everything is based on a hand-shake. Every once in a while a larger label will show up and suggest working together, which we are happy to entertain and Career Suicide is always available to be wined and dined.
The challenge for these bigger labels is that there doesn't seem much that they can offer us that we don't already do for ourselves. Even if it's not huge, we are incredibly lucky to have a really dedicated following pretty much all over the world. It allows us the opportunity to get places we'd never imagined otherwise. The thought of slogging along as an opening act for some semi-famous band in the hopes that some new people might discover our band really holds no appeal relative to how we operate now. That's about all any bigger label has managed to come up with for us as part of their 'If you want to take things to the next level' spiel.
How has the rise and success of Fucked Up impacted the band?
I'm not sure how to quantify it. Certainly the attention Fucked Up has received in the last decade or so has cast some light on us and turned people onto Career Suicide. That said, their music is so different from what it was when we played together regularly ten years ago, when I would have characterized us truly sibling bands. I don't know how much cross-over of fans there are anymore.
You and Jonah have remained a constant in the band but you've churned through a lot of members. Is there a "welcome to the band" spiel at first jam?
Hah, no, but maybe there should be. We've always played with friends of ours, most that we've known for years, so I suppose they know the drill long before they ever play in the band. Over the years we've learned some lessons about what does and doesn't work for the band, but we have been pretty good at inviting like-minded people that are easy to get along with, so the band really functions well without ever having to lay down the law.
You've had a strong following/affinity with Japanese audience. Why is that?
I can't be sure, but we are so grateful for the warm reception that we've always received in Japan. I will forever remember our first gig in Tokyo as one of the proudest and greatest moments of my life. It was just unfathomable that a crammed room full of rabid maniacs would greet us so enthusiastically in a place so far away and sing every word.
A great part of our following must be attributed to the endorsement from our good friends in Forward, who invited us to Japan originally. Since then we have enjoyed a really close relationship. In fact, their guitarist Souichi recorded a guitar lead for one of the songs on our new LP. So we can brag that members of Forward, Insane Youth AD, and now GISM have played on a Career Suicide record!
You've maintained an 80s sound. Have you ever considered mixing it up with anything else. Any grind or grime?
Absolutely not. While we are all obsessive about music of many genres, Career Suicide exists purely as an outlet for us to release exactly the kind of hardcore punk that we long most to hear. I really do appreciate very diverse styles of music, but despite that, I am the most closed-minded, stubborn asshole when it comes to punk. I like my punk, punk and any deviation is totally irrelevant to my tastes. Three to five chords, played fast, with hooks, what could you possibly do to improve that?
The style of music you play is probably more suited to the seven-inch or EP format. How do you approach writing and recording a full LP?
I suppose it's all relative. To some bands, an LP might involved 40-minutes of music. A Career Suicide LP is not going to be much more than 25-minutes. That said, the approach is always the same. We don't write music just for the sake of having another song, every single track is poured over painstakingly and if it's not up to par we don't use it. So if there happen to be ten songs then we put out an LP, if there are only three to four, then it becomes an EP.
I was recently having a conversation about famous bands and what a let down it is when a band has a great single, so you pick up the record, only to find that every non-single track is totally forgettable and bares no resemblance to what made their hit(s) so good. I suppose I've never played in a band with any likelihood for success, but regardless I couldn't imagine spending all the time and effort in the studio, and attaching my name, to a bunch of songs that I didn't think were great.
You cover Meccalissa's obscure "Kill the Warden"? How did you find this rager?
Fucked Up were in Australia earlier this year and Damian and Jonah were introduced to the EP by someone at a shop. Somehow they managed not to kill each other over the lone copy and introduced the rest of us to the song. I can't believe I'd never come across this before, let alone even heard of the band. I've been a massive fan of early Australian punk for a long time, and 1979 was maybe the pinnacle for Aussie releases, so how this track had evaded being included on a bloodstains/KBD/Back to Front/Murder Punk comp is baffling.
Not Dead Yet Festival highlights how strong the Toronto punk and hardcore scene is at the moment. What are the biggest changes you have seen over the last ten years?
There's been a few really dramatic shifts that we've been lucky to witness and be part of. I feel that in the last decade the constant has been the regular stream of great bands that the city has produced. Certainly the attendance at punk/DIY shows has increased dramatically since our band first played to 30 people, but also the demographics of the crowds have changed a lot. In the last years especially, thanks to the vast hard work of many members of our scene, we rarely have been without an all-ages venue, people of all walks are very represented and (I hope) feel welcome. The Toronto punk scene, at least as I perceive it, is the least divisive I've ever known it to be in the about 20 years I've been attending gigs, and it really is thanks to members of the scene actively working to foster this environment.
Your artwork is distinctive. From the logo to album art they all have a real clean look that harkens back to the 80s HC aesthetic and design.
I've never had formal training in art/design, but the graphics of Career Suicide have always been very important to me, and something I could never hand off the responsibilities of. There are a core of art/photo books that have always been the basis of where we steal all of our inspirations from. For the first time, partially as an experiment, I loosened the reigns a little and handed off the task to others. Ryan Tong (singer of S.H.I.T.) helped us finish the artwork for the Machine Response LP. Julie MacKinnon designed the layout of the Machine Response EP, with some lettering from our old friend (who was intentionally incorrectly credited as the drummer for our SARS EP) Boris Kupesic. In both cases, we brought our usual inspirations to give them an idea of what we wanted and let them take it from there. I'm not sure that I can forever take my hands off wheel when it comes to our artwork, but I am really pleased with the results of the new records.
Damian from Fucked Up and Mark from Wasted Time are credited on the Machine Response EP. How did they get involved?
We recorded it in a two-day fury this October. Because there was no song on the LP called "Machine Response," we figured it would be fun to write that song and put it out as it's own single. The process had to be expedited for a number of reasons. Chiefly because Jonah was moving to England, but also because we wanted to have it out for our upcoming UK/European tour. Jonah was back briefly in Toronto during Not Dead Yet festival this year and our good friend Mark Shubert happened to be in town playing with Aggression Pact. As I mentioned, Damian helped to introduce us to the song "Kill the Warden," so we invited him to be part of the recording of the cover. Damian had invited me to sing on a Nubs cover that Fucked Up recorded many years ago, and now we've completed the full circle of having him on one of our records too. Damian actually happened to be recording a session of his podcast, Turned Out a Punk, with Jonah and Mark the day that we were in the studio, so we brought them all in and they ended up doing back up vocals on most of the EP.
The 'Machine Response' EP is available now through the band. The 'Machine Response' LP will be available in Feb through Deranged/Static Shock.