By Carl Begai
Ground zero for this interview was the southern German pork-shoulder-and-beer town of Fürth, prior to a gig The Creepshow bassist / founder Sean McNab says was one of the hottest shows the band had ever played. It was loud, everything was sweating – band, audience, instruments, walls, floor, bar staff – air was at a minimum, and the 100 or so attendees left the hotbox venue happy with asses kicked. Just one of many stops on The Creepshow’s second European tour in less than a year, it was a testament to how a Canadian band with a decent but far from loud enough buzz at home has been able to take other parts of the world by storm over the course of their 10 year career.
“When we first started touring we weren’t really known anywhere,” says McNab. “We started by playing Toronto, London, St. Catharines, Hamilton, and built those areas up. When we ended up in the situation of making some money, about every three months or so, we’d just put it in a pot so we’d have enough to go and play somewhere. Now we’re in a position where we can actually afford to tour. If we were on the road full time this would be my day job, especially me since I’ve been touring probably a decade longer than the rest of the guys, but after three weeks on the road I need that cut off and go home for a while. We’re really busy. This year was supposed to be chill but it’s probably the busiest year we’ve ever had (laughs). We’re all really tired but we’re still having fun.”
It seems to be a trait of Canadian music that some artists make their mark at home and nowhere else, while others garner international attention as Canada offers up warm albeit grudging acceptance outside the fanbase. The Creepshow have followed in Toronto rockers Danko Jones’ footsteps after a fashion, doing headline tours across Europe and playing festivals with wide-ranging line-ups that don’t cater specifically to the band’s trademark psychobilly sound.
“When we first started coming to Europe we’d do these psychobilly festivals, which was fine, but after a few years we were looking at playing other things like punk festivals. We did this one called Serengeti where Skindred played, Gogol Bordello, a bunch of ska bands, hardcore bands, and it was amazing. It was what we needed because most of those people had never heard of us and they’re generally open to new stuff. We’ve noticed that when we do stuff like that and then go back to that area with our own show, more people show up.”
“We’ll play anywhere, I don’t care,” McNab adds. “I’ll play in this closet because it’s fun, but we’re always amazed by the contrast of going from playing to 200 people one night to 30 the next night. These small gigs can be ridiculous but they’re a great time.”
“I find there’s a much bigger appreciation for live music in Europe. You walk down Queen Street in Toronto and you’ll see a sign at the Bovine that says Band From Germany Playing Tonight – $5.00, most people say ‘Five bucks?! Naaah!’ and walk down to the next club. In Europe people hear about a band from Canada playing for 5 euros and the people think ‘Hey, cool! Let’s check it out even though we’ve never heard of them.’ At home we worry about the fact that the cover means one less beer compared to going to a place with no cover.”
The Creepshow made the move from the rehearsal room to the public eye thanks to McNab hooking up with an unlikely Toronto-based fan, Adam “Doom” Sewell. Known first and foremost on the Canadian metal scene in the ’90s as the frontman for Monster Voodoo Machine, Sewell was also responsible for launching Stereo Dynamite Recordings and gave The Creepshow their first shot.
“My old band Jersey was signed to EMI, and I met Adam through his wife when I was hanging at the EMI office bugging everybody for promo CDs,” McNab laughs. “I became friends with them and I guess Tracey mentioned to Adam I was starting this new psychobilly thing. He was putting on a festival at the Bovine and really wanted us to play, but at that point we had just two songs. I told him we weren’t ready but he said ‘I don’t care, play just two songs!’ I said we wouldn’t play until we were completely ready, but Adam kept bugging me. When we finally had enough songs he signed us, gave us enough money to buy a van so we could tour. I never expected to get anything more than beer money with this band because when we started this 10 years ago I just wanted to do it for fun. People just started bugging us to play here and there… and here we are (laughs).”
Sewell (pictured below) elaborated on the rise of The Creepshow in an interview conducted a few weeks after I caught up with McNab.
“My wife Tracey had signed Sean’s previous band Jersey to Virgin / EMI. After Jersey had broken up, Sean told me about this new band he had put together, and it sounded like something that I’d really like. So, I continuously pressured and pestered him to hurry up and finish some songs, and to get a live set together so they could play at a small festival I was putting together. They never did play the festival, but the two song demo that they finally sent to me was absolutely fantastic. Stereo Dynamite Recordings had just launched, and even though they only had a handful of songs at the time I knew that I wanted The Creepshow’s debut album to be our first release. Things worked out, and a short time later Sell Your Soul became Stereo Dynamite Recordings #SDR001.”
There was no serious psychobilly trend to speak of when The Creepshow got off the ground but it most certainly grew as they were finding their footing. These days The Creepshow are one of the more popular name bands on the scene.
“Our timing was really good,” McNab confirms. “I remember when we started writing songs and thinking there wasn’t a lot of psychobilly in Canada, and that if it became a scene it would be pretty good. It seemed like when we were a couple years into touring that people were wondering what the heck it was all about. The shows seemed to get bigger for us, and then there was this weird twist where people decided they didn’t like the psychobilly scene because it was getting popular. That happens with any genre that becomes popular. We toured with Reverend Horton Heat and they’ve been out there for 25 or 30 years, and I’ve seen them play in 10 different sized venues because the scene’s popularity goes up and down.”
The Creepshow’s popularity grew to such a degree early on that Sewell was forced to part ways with the band.
“He did the first record but at some point Adam told us that we outgrew his plans for us,” says McNab, “so he just signed us off and said we were free to go. That was really, really nice of him.”
“Sadly, the label started at exactly the wrong time to start a small indie punk rock label, especially in Canada. By 2006 retail CD sales were falling off at an alarming rate, and I had to look for a way to redirect / expand Stereo Dynamite’s business just to keep afloat. Fortunately, we moved into management (Riot Rock Management) by taking on Italy’s Lacuna Coil – who we still manage to this day- and things have worked out. However, it meant that at the time that The Creepshow were really starting blow up, and getting ready to make their second album, I just knew that we wouldn’t be able to do a solid job for them based on where we were at financially. I think the world of those guys, and it was a no-brainer to want to see good people succeed, so I let them out of their contract. It hurt at the time but in the long run it was definitely the best thing for everyone.”
The Creepshow in 2015 features vocalist/guitarist Kenda Legaspi front and center, having replaced Sarah Blackwood in July 2012. A high pressure situation considering the band hit their stride with Blackwood in the spotlight, a position she inherited from her sister Jen only one album into The Creepshow’s career. Anyone that has seen Legaspi in action is hard pressed to justify carving her efforts, as she hits hard and fast when she hits the stage. McNab remembers, however, that her debut wasn’t the raging success she and the band had hoped for.
“Kenda had never really been in a band before joining The Creepshow, and we didn’t have a lot of time,” he says of bringing Legaspi into the band when Blackwood left to join Canadian rock / ska act Walk Off The Earth. “She had four or five months to learn all her guitar parts, and that first show with her was the worst. A lot of people were excited, a lot of people were curious, it was our home town, it was packed, and Kenda shows up with no voice. We practiced too long the night before just to make sure we were ready and she blew her vocal chords right out. I was like… ‘Oh. My. God.’ She couldn’t make a sound except for a squeak and all I kept thinking about was the footage that would end up on YouTube. She could sing low, but anything high and her voice would go. It was the worst thing that could have happened. We tuned down so she wouldn’t have to sing too high. The show was okay, but it definitely wasn’t the ‘Check us out!’ show that we wanted.”
“Some people did post videos on YouTube and the feedback wasn’t that great, but things were definitely better after that. A lot of people were all ‘meh…’ towards Kenda at the beginning, but the more we played the more we changed their minds. She gained a lot of confidence just going out and doing those shows.”
As mentioned, at the time of this interview the band was in the middle of a European tour and gearing up for a North American run with Reverend Horton Heat. Barring any lucrative offers to stay on the road, McNab and his bandmates will be heading to the studio to record a new album next year.
“We were hoping to record in April of this year but we kept getting offers for tours, and of course we can’t say no to that. So, we’re doing this run with Reverend Horton Heat in the US, we come and we’re supposed to record in October. We don’t know what we’re going to do exactly as far as recording yet. It’s up in the air right now. In November it’ll be two years since the last one. We had that argument in the van the other day because it seems that every two years we have an album out, and Rev pointed out how long it’s been since we released the last one. I was like, ‘Didn’t we just put it out last November?’ (laughs). In Canada we’re with Stomp Records, which is distributed through Warner, and in Europe we’re kind of in limbo because we’ve finished our four album contract with the label over there, but we’re not really worried about it. We’re at the point now where we can put music out ourselves because when we get the sales statements it’s 90% digital. We don’t know what we’re going to do but we’re not worried, because when we see the numbers we have now we realize we might actually make some money doing this (laughs).”
And Legaspi is more than just a pretty, sweaty face on stage…
“She was fully involved in writing on the last record, so she’ll be totally involved in the new one,” emphasises McNab. “When she auditioned she called me and said she had a song that she’d written ten years ago, she’d never do anything with it, even if I’m not in the band you guys can have it. It was really good, we fucked around with it, and it (‘The Devil’s Son’) became the first single for the last record.”
McNab admits that even now, he’s surprised by The Creepshow’s international appeal.
“Like I said, we originally started this in the interest of making beer money. There was a European booking agent that contacted me on MySpace when we were still a yound band saying that he wanted to book us a tour in Europe, and I thought he was fucking mental (laughs). He told us to book the flights, he’d book the shows, we probably wouldn’t make any money, but it was really cool. It’s always surprising, The first time we played in Germany was a show in Heilbronn and it was packed. It was Halloween, everyone was singing the songs, and I was like ‘What the fuck..?’ (laughs). It was crazy.”
“The first time we played Russia was in Moscow, and I wondered how many Canadian bands had actually done that and if anyone would even be at the show,” he continues. “I didn’t know anything about Russia, I’d never gotten an email from anyone from Russia, and when we got there the promoter introduced us to our photographer. He took us sightseeing and on the Moscow subway some girl asked us if we were The Creepshow. I was thinking ‘What?!’ We went to see the Kremlin, there were some guys walking by that asked us if we were The Creepshow, and I couldn’t figure out what the fuck was going on (laughs). I thought ‘Why can’t my dad be here right now to see this?’ We played the show, it was rammed to the tits, people went crazy. It was amazing.”
Asked if The Creepshow plan to do anything special for their 10th Anniversary, McNab said they probably would have if the weren’t on the road so much. Fans will have to settle for seeing the band live, where The Creepshow are using Plan B.
“We’ve got GoPros out the wazoo, so we’re taking shitloads of footage on this tour. At some point we’ll take all of it off the hard drive and put it out there. We wanted to do all that celebration shit but we just keep playing shows (laughs).”
In closing, Sewell offers his thoughts on how far The Creepshow have come a decade into their career. Their achievements are noteworthy considering the band started when the music industry was just beginning to go to hell, and they’re now in the thick of the slaughter with illegal downloading et al essentially destroying an important source of income needed to continue making music.
“It’s fantastic to see that they’ve become a headline act worldwide, and that such great songs have connected with so many people all over the globe,” says Sewell. “I wish they were bigger in Canada, though. More famous, more recognized, more respected here at home. But it’s hard to complain when I know that they’re out there doing what a million local bands will only ever be able to dream about.”
“I went to see them a year ago, and it was the first time that I’d seen them with Kenda singing. She was great and the band was on fire. Bands aren’t supposed to be able to survive when they’re on their third vocalist, but they seem to keep getting stronger, which is a true testament to how good they really are. They could become a legacy band. I hope they go for it.”
For information and updates on The Creepshow go to this location.