The Western Canadian Music Alliance announced long-time Canadian punk rock band NoMeansNo as inductee to the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame for 2015. The group originally hails from Victoria; the location for this year’s BreakOut West Festival, conference and Western Canadian Music Awards, Sept. 17 to 20.
John and Rob Wright, who started the band in their parents’ basement in 1978, were inspired to play punk rock after seeing DOA perform at UVic in early 1979. The group has released 12 studio albums, 10 EPs, four singles, four live albums and numerous compilations, both on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label, and on the band’s self-started Wrong Records. The Wright brother duo makes up the base of the group though guitarist and sometime-vocalist Andy Kerr was a member from 1983-1992, including the 1989 release of the band’s seminal album Wrong. From 1993 to 1997, Ken Kempster joined the group as second drummer for live concerts and some recordings. In 1993, guitarist and vocalist Tom Holliston joined the band, forming the NoMeansNo of today. The three are also members of NoMeansNo’s touring side project The Hanson Brothers, a “puck rock” group of hockey playing goons, modeled from the cult classic 1977 film Slap Shot.
“NoMeansNo is one of Western Canada’s greatest music exports,” said Alberta Music Executive Director, WCMA board member and Captain Tractor frontman Chris Wynters. “Their smart and edgy songs, along with their pioneering DIY ethic, influenced many and paved the way for Canada’s indie revolution in the ’90s. I think I saw them play about a hundred times as a kid in Victoria in the ‘80s, and they always blew the roof off the venue! I can’t think of a more deserving and fitting inductee into the WCMA Hall of Fame.”
Living up to their rebellious reputation, NoMeansNo refused an in-person or phone interview, agreeing only to answer a few questions via email – then missing our print deadline by days.
However, Holliston did make an effort to be somewhat revealing in his answers, including a hint at a forthcoming book.
Monday Magazine: NoMeansNo really brought punk to Victoria. Tell Monday about your punk awakening.
Tom Holliston: Actually, there were a few people already listening to ‘punk rock’ before NMN even came into being. Rob and John were playing in a band called Castle, doing Sultans Of Swing and Honky Tonk Woman. Burning ’em up at the Legions. Maybe there were other, unseen and unknown or unknowable people listening, too. Some stay-at- homes, perhaps, as those really into music often are.
To me, in 1977, the Ramones sounded good in the same way Brian Eno and Dave Edmunds and early Rolling Stones records did. Different and good. They were just one more thing that made me say, ‘Wow.’
If anyone brought punk to Victoria it would have been Eric Lowe and Scott Henderson and some other people who probably lost buckets of money putting shows on at the OAP hall.
Eric did Black Flag shows when he was 15 or 16. Great guy.
Scott Henderson had Richard’s Records which was, for me, revelatory. I found so much fabulous ‘what the fuck is this?’ stuff there. Wonderous is the word I am looking for. New music played with passion; fast or slow.
As far as getting into punk rock, well, I never did. There were some good records and bad records. And some weird ones! Hooray!
Strange 45’s like Thomas Leer side by side The Rotter’s Sit On My Face Stevie Nicks. Roy Loney from the Flamin’ Groovies was making records again. Exciting discoveries all the time.
If the Eagles and others of that ilk had not been so fucking dire, I might never have checked it out.
A lot of early good new bands were on major labels … you could hear them, especially Talking Heads, on mainstream FM then.
Then one day I woke up and looked out the window and there were people dressed in uniforms they called punk rock clothing.
MM: How did early audiences react?
TH: I did not go to all the shows, of course. In 1977, I remember looking around the room and seeing who was there. If I knew anybody amongst the 25 to 30 in the room – perhaps one or two.
Maybe stuff happened before that.
Like all other forms of live music and entertainment … people eventually began bringing six packs with them to dull the ache of another night gone unlaid.
Then police cars would arrive.
Then other, equally politically motivated, types showed up and soon it was considered not the done thing to pretend one was mentally ill or a beach ball and … the slow process of radically motivated ‘shush-ing’ began.
MM: How did your association with Jello Biafra affected your sound?
TH: Biafra has never affected our sound, as such. That’s why A.T. is such a good label. He’ll make suggestions, often, but in the end he’ll stick by the artists decisions.
Songs were never written by rote for his label in order to slake some asshole’s longing for some sort of much music video vision.
MM: You tour around the world. Where is your most enthusiastic fan base?
TH: Oh, geez. There have been good shows everywhere. A couple of countries are tough nuts to crack. … Germany and Poland and, lately – and rather surprisingly – England are good for us.
MM: What’s your best “it happened on tour” story?
TH: You’ll have to read the book to find that out.
MM: To what do you attribute your longevity in the music industry?
TH: Being involved in the professional music industry as little as possible.
MM: After a lifetime of essentially eschewing the mainstream, how does it feel to be inducted into the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame?
TH: To be honest I had no idea such a thing as this hall of fame existed until I was contacted about the whole business. I think my first thought was, ‘Let’s make sure they give us decent hotel rooms and hopefully we’ll get fed.’ Geez. I wish I could say it feels like a huge honour. I suppose it does but my overriding sensation is one of bemusement. What the – ?
I’m honoured. It’s nice when someone acknowledges something you’ve done. But it’s odd.
Someone told me that if you get the Order Of Canada you don’t really have to pay taxes anymore. No kidding?
I’d like to get the chance to find out.
I’d accept a free bus pass.
MM: You’ll be playing at the event on Sept. 20 – do you know what you’ll be playing? How are you anticipating that?
TH: We talked about playing a couple of songs.
What I want to know mostly is: Do they give you a plaque? Some sort of parchment? Then what do you do with it? Does everyone in the band get to hold onto it for a few days and do you have to then pass it back like the Stanley Cup?
If they give me something I can take home with me, I’ll gift it to the women working at the General Store in Lund, BC where I now live.
Will there be a lot of other bands playing and will any of them be really good? And, as the final moments of stage histrionics ebb away, are we all supposed to get up, rise as one, and sing a tune of hope and inspiration?
Or can I just accept my honour, say thank you and go home?
We’ll see what happens.
The 13th annual Western Canadian Music Awards will honour the excellence and achievements of western Canadian artists on Sunday, Sept. 20 at the McPherson Playhouse. Click here for tickets and more information.