Jan. 24, 2013 - Issue #901: Children can’t choose
The defunct punks of Choke reunite for a second farewell
It wasn't the final show of Choke's existence that hit bassist Clay Shea the hardest. It was whole damn 20-date goodbye tour, each night inching the band closer to finality, that saw his emotions welling up again and again.
"I'm a pretty emotional guy, actually," he laughs. "There were many nights on that tour that hit me harder than that very last night. Every night somewhere, it was always a last: it was the last time we were going to do this here, last time we were going to see these people. And so in my head I just thought I was going to have a total meltdown, and—I know I shed some tears [here] and everywhere else—I remember it not being the blow that I thought it might be, having experienced some of the feelings we had leading up to some of the other shows."
That goodbye tour, finishing at the Starlite Room back in 2007, capped off 13 years and six albums for the technical punk band. During its bandlife, Choke—comprised of Shea, guitarists Jack Jaggard and Shawn Moncrieff, and drummer Stefan Levasseur—rallied up a fervour in songs that spanned the full punk spectrum: early on, Choke's sound swayed to the skate-punk side of things, but later the band found a better fit in a more matured frenzy of guitars and drums.
Among the reasons for dissolving the band—growing debt, growing weariness of touring and the call of other life pursuits—Shea notes that the four of them were aware of the difficulty of reaching the same level of (what became) the band's swan song, 2005's Slow Fade Or: How I Learned To Question Infinity.
"It just came out exactly how we envisioned it, or very, very close," he says. "When it was all done, it seemed to represent the idea, and [what our] initial expectations were for that record more than any one we had done before.
"And it was kind of [us] looking at things going, 'The amount of time we would need to do this, and make a record that would be as strong as this, that we believe in ... it just didn't seem feasible that we would ever have that kind of time to put in, to do it right again.'"
After Choke, its members scattered to various pursuits: Levasseur went to school, while Jaggard formed Team Building and Moncrieff and Shea banded together a new outfit, Passenger Action (Shea also puts in ample time with local sludge-rockers Black Mastiff these days.)
The idea of a reunion was triggered when Sled Island's former festival director, Lindsay Shedden approached Shea last minute about resurrecting Choke for a show. It couldn't quite come together on such short notice, but the offer got the band talking over the idea. Then the band lost what had been its longtime rehearsal space. Shea and company invited all the bands that had used the space to do a celebratory goodbye show, and, given Levasseur happened to be in town, they threw together a quick Choke set.
"Then, the realization of the amount of work that goes into rehearsing and learning all that music from so long ago that is quite fast and technical, we decided it would be a shame only to do the one show," Shea says, "So we decided to make a week out of it."
So Choke lives again, if only for eight shows: a pair of Edmonton dates, plus trips to Calgary, Winnipeg, Regina, Vancouver, Whistler and a slot at Canada Music Week in March.
Turns out that reanimating the old songs has proven more stimulating than Shea would've guessed, too.
"I have to admit, it's been really fun to revisit those songs that we wrote so long ago, some of them," he says. "More fun than I thought it'd be—not to say that I thought it'd be a drag, but I guess I found enjoyment in some of the songs, in the older stuff, that I didn't expect to. ... You know, there's imperfections in those recordings, and in your memory they seem to be so much bigger than they actually are when you go back and actually listen to it. It's like, 'Oh, man, I built this up.' This had become a different thing in my head than it actually is.
"I like them for what they are almost more," he says. "Not to toot our own horn, but you have a tendency to downplay and think you were worse, be hard on yourselves. And then you go back and it's like, 'Wow, I'm pretty proud of these songs. We're pretty proud of these, and it's neat we could put this together 16 – 17 years ago, some of them."
Sat, Jan 26 (8 pm)
With Fire Next Time, the Old Sins
Pawn Shop, sold out
Sat, Jan 27 (8 pm)
With 400 Strong
Pawn Shop, $20
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