The Town Heroes are a two piece band from a tiny island (Cape Breton) in Nova Scotia, Canada. They’re self-described as “the most noise two Cape Bretoners can make,” and they certainly deliver on that. By listening to their albums, Please, Everyone is their newest, you’d never know that it’s only two guys – Mike Ryan (vocals and guitar) and Bruce Gillis (drums). I got to chat with Mike about the challenges of being a musician from a small town, the alt-rock band’s newest album and its influences. Like the music he creates, he shows a lot of passion and love for what the Town Heroes do.
Creative Control: How long have you guys been playing together?
The Town Heroes: This band has been playing together since 2010. The two of us have been playing music together in various other bands for the past dozen years.
CC: How did “The Town Heroes” start?
TTH: We played in multiple bands together before The Town Heroes. After the end of a previous band, we were living together and jamming every day. We initially were looking for additional musicians to join us but soon decided we wanted to try this out as a duo. We rehearsed every day for over a year, all the while writing, recording and figuring out how to make our songs work with just two people. In 2010 we played our first show in Cape Breton.
CC: Describe your sound.
TTH: Generally, we’re an alternative rock band. We both grew up in the 90’s and were influenced by the grunge rock era, Big Shiny Tunes albums, Jerry Deveaux’s spoon playing and Ma’s fresh baked biscuits with butter melted on top.
CC: You’re from the same tiny Canadian island as me, Cape Breton. While I’m familiar with it, most aren’t, so tell me a little bit about CB and the advantages/disadvantages that come with being a musician from there.
TTH: Cape Breton is the most beautiful place in the world. In addition to having the Cabot Trail, the most amazing sunsets you’ve ever seen, and the top golf courses in Canada, Inverness – my hometown – is famous for having the world’s largest Chase the Ace jackpot and creating the worldwide phenomenon that the card game enthralled the world with. Cape Breton is a very musical place. A lot of the island is known for its Celtic music traditions and we certainly have some of the best in the world. I grew up in a town that had a lot more rock music than anything. Some great bands have come out of there since the ‘70s and certainly influenced me a lot. While CB is a very musical place, when I was growing up there were no opportunities to take music lessons. We didn’t have music in school, or a lot of opportunities. That created a lot of harsh learning curves that I wish I could have avoided, but also forced me to learn in my own way and rely on my gut more than anything. Cape Breton is an inspiring place and I think that one thing consistent with all the artists out of there is that they’re truly passionate about what they do.
CC: You’ve been touring quite a bit, was there a point in your career where you were just like, “wow, we’re not in Cape Breton anymore”?
TTH: I remember being on stage in a town in Finland that I couldn’t even pronounce the name of. We were further from home than we’ve ever been, in the midst of a 2 week Finnish tour. There was a great crowd and incredible energy in the room. I remember looking out into the audience and someone in the crowd was chanting for “Hit Potential”, which is one of our songs about Cape Breton. Tears were streaming down his face and he said that our passion inspired him. It was a surreal moment in a number of ways.
CC: Do you remember the first “real” gig you played? Where/when was it and can you describe how it felt?
TTH: The first gig I ever played was at a variety concert at my high-school in grade 9. I was nervous and stiff as a board. We played a Neil Young song and a song we wrote. It was amazing hearing people clap and cheer for us. I was mesmerized. I wanted to feel it again and again.
CC: I’ve seen you perform in a number of capacities; including in the freezing cold on top of a radio station’s parade float, what type of show is your favourite to play and why?
TTH: Any show where people legitimately care about listening to your music is all that matters. If it’s in front of a few thousand people or ten, when they’re actually interested in what you’re doing, what you’ve created and what you want to showcase to them, that’s all that matters. I’d rather play to 3 people who are attentive than a stadium where you’re background noise.
CC: What do you hope people take away from one of your shows?
TTH: An album and a t-shirt! No… we just want people to have a good time. We put as much energy as we possibly can into our live shows, we sing songs with a positive message – hopefully our songs can inspire people in a positive way. Ultimately, between our music, videos, blogs, and whatever else, we just want people to be a bit happier than they were before. If we can brighten a person’s day even a little bit, it’s a victory for us.
CC: You’re pretty active on social media, why is that aspect of the industry important to you?
TTH: We don’t value it over any other aspect of the industry, but we certainly hold it in the same regard. You can only reach so many people playing show to show, social media gives you the opportunity to reach a wider audience and connect with people in a personal way. The world is so connected these days, people are constantly looking for some type of engagement from you. The old model of releasing an album, touring it, then going into hiding to write your next album doesn’t work anymore. You have to be reaching out in as many ways as you can to stay relevant. And besides, we really enjoy the social media side of things. Videos, blogs, contests, etc… are all fun to us. We have a laugh doing them, and at the end of the day, most people seem to enjoy that side of us. It’s who we are, there’s no point in hiding it.
CC: Your latest album, Please, Everyone, was just released in November. What was the process of writing and producing that like?
TTH: We’re always writing so we always have a fairly large backlog of songs. Before the actual studio sessions, we did a lot of pre-production – rehearsing and demoing every day for about 6 months. We brought on a producer (Jon Landry) for the album. We had never worked with anyone else in the studio so it was nice to have an unbiased and trusted opinion. We wanted to put together the best possible recording we could, so we made sure we were prepared before the studio.
CC: Are there any underlying themes in the album? If so, what influenced those themes?
TTH: Thematically, Please, Everyone exists on a multitude of levels. It points out a number of things that some may consider to be wrong with society in the modern age. With multiple references to George Orwell’s 1984, the album acts as a wakeup call for people to become aware of what’s happening both to themselves and the world around them. Although these issues exist, the album ultimately reiterates on a positive note that, no matter what, we can get through it all – there’s always hope.
The title track, “Please, Everyone” is meant to be taken 2 ways: The first being, listen up, as in – “listen, everyone” and then goes on to point out problems with society and the world we live in. People in the modern world have become slaves to technology, to trends, to the media. It’s as if they’re all trying to mold us into the ideal beings. This is essentially a wakeup call for people to become aware of what’s happening in the present. The second being that no matter what, we can never actually please everyone.
There are a number of ideas tied in with George Orwell’s novel 1984. In the novel, the government, the Inner Party, tries to force people into being a certain way. They want them to dress a certain way, act a certain way, believe what they tell you, etc… “Thought Police” is a direct reference to this. It highlights that we can’t let others – whether it be the government, society, or just other people – ever change who you are. “Outer Space” reiterates this. No matter what happens, no matter how bad things potentially get, don’t let it get you down.
The album points out all these issues, and while it overall has these themes throughout, the main thing to be taken away from it is that no matter what, we can get through it all. The final two songs on the album show this. No matter what, there’s always hope, and that can get you through anything. We can be who we’re supposed to be, we don’t have to conform to what it is others want from us.
CC: I know you’re only a two man show, but if you could add ANY musician (alive or dead) to your duo, who would it be and why?
TTH: Jimi Hendrix would be fun to have in the band. ‘Cause well… he’s Jimi Hendrix