The more times you see Eamon McGrath, the more you like him. His live shows are exhilarating, his new album, Peace Maker, near perfect and off stage he's chatty and gracious, if not modest to a fault.
But the biggest reason to like him is for how terrifying he is.
Not that he's threatening, nor is he an asshole. He's reckless and relentless, yet smart, focused and driven. For all the flattering—if somewhat lazy—comparisons he's garnered to Tom Waits or Neil Young, he's already realized his potential for himself—one that has outgrown Edmonton—and has unapologetically moved to Toronto to put off "the inevitable," as he puts it. Simply put, he's punk as fuck. And he's only 21 years old.
Not that you would guess. In our interview over the phone he talks a mile a minute, but he's mature, articulate and gets right to the point every time. Like his songwriting, he speaks in a way that forces you to sit up and take notice; you'd hate to ask "what's that song about," because it would simply show you obviously weren't listening.
McGrath's show Saturday will be his first in Edmonton since releasing Peace Maker in July. For fans of his previous album, 13 Songs of Whiskey and Light, Peace Maker sees McGrath at a loud, punkier, grittier, raw end of his musical spectrum—more Crazy Horse, for those requiring comparisons—than the last few acoustic appearances he made in Edmonton before touring Europe in the Spring.
Having spent his last term at university booking the tour instead of going to classes, "the inevitable" move to Toronto was more his own writing on the wall than fate.
"I ended up booking 27 dates [in Europe] and at the end of it decided, instead of flying home with $19 in my pocket, to stay put here [in Toronto]," he explains. "It ended up being a real spur-of-the-moment decision and I think it's turned out to be a real smart one, to be honest.
"This is a city where you can really balance your life outside of your art, and one supports the other rather than having to sacrifice one part of what you do at the expense of the other. Everybody is here for a reason, and people come here to do what they love. So because of that it's a breeding ground for really supportive and like-minded people."
McGrath points out the feasibility of touring and the ability to support himself as an artist, combined with Toronto's music industry infrastructure that makes it possible to actually pay the bills making music. "And talking to a lot of people here, they came here with a lot less than I did, financially or even in terms of having a name for themselves," he adds modestly. "I moved here already being established, so it's been a different story for me. A lot of people have really worked up from the bottom in this city, and I've had the luxury of moving into it."
So the last three months have been spent building up support for Peace Maker while making inroads into T-dot's punk-rock community, he explains. He's held a weekly residency at the Dakota Lounge, a regular hang-out for Toronto's who's who in independent music, while trying to build an angle around Peace Maker's "hardcore punk sound."
"Our shows in Europe and Canada have been exclusively influenced by hard-core punk," he points out. "The plan was to really focus on being really bombastic and intense. In Europe we called the backing band Grave Lines, the songs were twice as fast, the sets were just bloody and the band was really tight and, by the end, really sober," he enthuses. "And a lot of audiences were shocked by the sound of the band. We played some of the craziest punk shows to people that came expecting a chilled, acoustic set, and then by the end everyone's drenched in sweat in a circle pit. It was just really great.
"I think that was appropriate for Peace Maker because the songs weren't originally written like that, but that's where my head was at when that record was made—resentful and pissed off towards a lot of people and kinda pissed off towards myself—so I think I channeled that towards a really aggressive sound and aggressive attitude."
Having recorded Peace Maker with Dave Carswell of the Evaporators and John Collins of the New Pornographers, it's the first time McGrath, who's well known for his prolific home recordings, has worked collaboratively with producers in a professional studio.
"I think it was needed on this record. It's what I wanted," McGrath explains. "I asked them to work with me because of their experience—they've both been playing in punk bands so I knew they'd understand where I was coming from.
"They're really quiet guys and a lot of the communication between them, because they've known each other for so long, was just glances, so it was hard to pick up on their communication," he continues. "But [after a take] they'd pretty much say to me, '[Do it] again' or 'Outrageous.' That was what John would say, and it was one or the other, which was good because he was honest … he would tell me if I sounded like shit or not."
Having such a strong, trusting relationship with producers can be a difficult balance to achieve, especially given that Peace Maker was recorded and mixed in only six days. But their combined vision has produced an incredibly cohesive, raw and relentless record.
"People are always trying to convince me to get quieter, and that's fine, but the way that people think about being quiet is like cutting off your nuts," McGrath confides. "The thing about those guys [Carswell and Collins] is even with their suggestions to tone down the record, they know that rock 'n' roll needs balls. They're not trying to gentrify the sound, because they love punk rock and they play in punk bands. They really were trying to look out for the spirit and the message of the music I was trying to send," he extols. "In the core of the music there's this really punk-rock spirit, and those guys were really out to protect it."
Ironically, though, the next album—which is already written—will be exactly that: "a really quiet album," as McGrath puts it.
"It's an intentional decision that we've been making at the label and within the band. We're gonna totally do a 180 degree turn, just really shock some people; most people are gonna come to the show expecting us to be loud and we'll be quiet," he notes with a chuckle, before adding, "The last few months have been me moving away from that [loud punk rock], so it's just me pulling a big prank on everyone. And it's worked so far." V
Sat, Aug 28 (8 pm)
With Dojo Workhorse, the Mohawk Lodge, Falklands