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Single Mothers: "We literally live show-to-show!"

Chaos plays a big part in the life of London, Ontario’s Single Mothers. Check out their Facebook page and it’ll tell you how the wordy, acerbic punks broke up in 2009—and have been playing shows ever since. At one point, after vocalist Drew Thomson sacked everyone, there were two versions of the band at the same time, because they kept going without him while he was recruiting other members. At one point during the fallout, Thomson headed to a town called Swastika for a short time to become a gold prospector. You really can’t make that stuff up.

It was only after their self-titled seven-inch—the first thing to be released on Secret Voice, the label run by Touché Amoré’s Jeremy Bolm—took off that the band (now completed by bassist Evan Redsky, guitarist Mike Peterson and drummer Brandon Jagersky) put aside their differences and gave the whole thing another go. Things, though, were apparently still as volatile as their renowned live shows—when they played New York in 2012, their manager told me he wasn’t sure they’d keep it together to actually record their first album. Thankfully, they managed, and their debut album Negative Qualities is out this week. Things still have a habit of going slightly awry though—when we arrive at the bar where we’re doing the interview, Thomson realises he’s left his ID some 15 blocks away in the band’s van. While he goes to retrieve it, Redsky holds the fort.

TeamRock: When I last saw your manager, about a year and half ago, he said, “I really hope they keep their shit together to get this album done.” He seemed really worried that you wouldn’t. But you you did.

**Evan Redsky: **Yeah. We pulled it off. I mean, the entire existence of this band has just been teetering on the edge of, like, “Is this going to work?” And for some reason, it has, despite all of us being literally at opposite ends of the province of Ontario. Drew’s still in London, our drummer lives in Niagara, and our guitar player and I have been in Toronto for just over a year. So yeah. A year ago, things were looking pretty bleak. I moved out of my place in London, Mike followed, and we just didn’t jam.

Is that the main reason? I always assumed it was more because of this reckless, hedonistic side that you guys have, that you weren’t keeping it together as people, and therefore a band.

Redsky: Well, it was logistics and it was, “Is this really what we want to do?” Like, is this fucking worth it? It’s fun when it’s fun, but when we’re not rolling, when we’re not riding the wave, it just seems fucking dead. Especially in Ontario—to be there and just a sedentary lifestyle, it just seemed like I should be doing something else.

How close did you come to doing something else?

Redsky: I mean, this will always pull me back in. At this point, now we actually have the record recorded, how you see things shape up, it’s like, “This is going to be fun.” At the end of the day, when you have a vision and you can see things through, it’s really exciting. But it’s just the bleakness of Ontario that drowns that out.

But at the same time, that must inspire you as well.

Redsky: Exactly. Especially for Drew, lyrically. He can expand on that, but he’s very good at articulating the ebb and flow of being in this band and, you know, existing in general. [Laughs]

You’re more than just existing now, though. For a while, it seemed like you were on the edge, like you said, but now the ball is rolling, the album’s almost out—how does it feel to have created this thing that’s actually coming out after all this time?

Redsky: I don’t want to sound cliché, but it’s pretty surreal. I honestly haven’t listened to the record since we listened to the last masters. I’m just trying to let it happen and just go in. I literally live show-to-show and I just fucking play. When the record comes out, we’ll see. We’ll see how that makes us all feel. I don’t think we try to overthink things. I think we have a problem overthinking a lot of the time. So when you put that on the backburner and you just think about the show and the tour and meeting people or whatever, that’s a lot more fun than thinking about all that stuff.

What was your biggest obstacle making this record? Because it was meant to come out last year…

Redsky: It’s so hard to say, because we were all in different places, figuratively and physically. We kind of fell out of our process years ago. This band’s been through so many members, we haven’t really been able to groove like we used to. We used to literally be a gang of friends that would just jam three days a week and fucking hang out and party. When that fell apart—because you eventually grow out of the college scene, you grow out of that lifestyle, you fall out of that rhythm—we managed to find our footing and the urgency of this whole situation.

Your Facebook page has that great line about how you broke up in 2009 and have been playing shows ever since…

Redsky: It’s funny, because it’s just been so fickle. And even now it’s still that way, us being everywhere. We’re just gigging. The last thing we put out was a long time ago and we’ve been playing shows ever since! But I think we want to do this. We all grew up wanting to be onstage and it’s actually happening now. We’ll do our best to make sure we can do it for as long as we can. We don’t know anything for certain, but you can just, kind of, fucking hold out. We’re really proud of what’s going on right now.

[At which point Drew Thomson returns]

How much did it help that Jeremy was the one who put out the self-titled record? If that hadn’t happened, where do you think you’d be now?

**Thomson: **I think before Jeremy came along, we were calling it quits. I was moving away, Evan was going to school. You can only play London, Ontario so many times. You can only try and get into Toronto for so long. And then Jeremy came along and said he was starting this label and we were like, “Well, this might be the chance of a lifetime.” It reignited the flame and got us back on the same path and we started practicing again and I came back and we started playing shows. It really changed the course of the band, for sure. It was an old demo—those four songs that we put out on a seven-inch, they were recorded a year before they were ever put on a seven-inch.

**Redsky: **They were just out there, not doing anything on our Bandcamp.

**Thomson: **We never thought we’d have a vinyl. And then the wait between being told you’re going to have a vinyl and then having a vinyl, you’re in this weird limbo where it’s like, “Now what?” And then you hold the fucking thing and it’s like, “This is real now.” So we hit the road, left London for a five-week American tour and we kind of didn’t stop for a year.

Just jumping in at the deep end.

**Thomson: **Yeah. That’s when everybody quit their jobs and we just said, “OK!” We had a seven-inch, we had a chance that none of our friends, at the time, had and Mike convinced everyone that going to the States was the right idea. And yeah—everybody quit and jumped in a fucking mini-van. The mini-van was the worst part of the whole thing, but we jumped in, the mini-van broke down, we played a bunch of basements, had a great time.

Are you still all jobless?

**Thomson: **Yeah. So obviously it’s a hustle for everyone to get by. You can’t tour on a seven-inch for like nine fucking years.

**Redsky: **We’ve done four. I think that’s the limit.

That’s a song a year, that’s fine!

**Thomson: **You just do what you gotta do to get by. I think for everyone, it’s always been that even if you have a job, you go on tour and you quit that job and you hit the road on fucking $5 a day or something and get by. A per diem a day and if the venue gives you beer, that’s the lottery to me right now. I still own that mini-van. I don’t have an address, so sometimes for fun when I’m filling out stuff, I’ll put down my license plate for my postal code.

There is that line in Womb on the new album—“Rock and roll’s a sacrifice.” Do you feel you’ve sacrificed a lot for this band, and is it worth it?

**Thomson: **Are you asking me right now if it’s been worth it or if it’s going to be worth it?

Past, present, future—all of the above.

**Thomson: **It’s definitely been worth it. I wouldn’t have been able to travel. I’d have never been able to see NYC except for this band.

**Redsky: At least, it feels that way—**it’s created so many opportunities and amazing excuses to just get out there and do something interesting.

**Thomson: **And it’s nice to have friends everywhere. It’s really a community. All my friends are in bands, so if I wasn’t in a band, I wouldn’t have any of the community that I have now. A lot of my friends my age that are working a job, all their friends are in cubicles beside them. Hitting the road is a life-changing experience.

**Redsky: **Every time, too.

It reminds me of that great Make Do And Mend lyric: “All my friends are getting married with kids and I’m just stoked to play your basement.”

**Thomson: **[Laughs] There’s nothing wrong with being broke and being stoked! If you’re making too much money, you’re doing something wrong! I was a real estate agent and I quit and started Single Mothers in the same week. I was making a lot of money. I had a career at 23. I was building myself up as a brand, but I hated it. I was surrounded by people I didn’t like and I was doing things I didn’t like. Now, I’m broke as fuck, just scraping by like everybody else, but it’s more exciting to me than having money and being miserable but knowing that I could go to a movie or go to Crabby Joe’s for appetizers.

**Redsky: **I’d rather not have an appetizer and be really happy.

**Thomson: **And avoiding meeting my girlfriend’s parents for a long time. “So what do you do?” “Well, drugs, booze, I sing…”

With that in mind, you both seem really sweet and nice and intelligent yet you have this really rebellious, antagonistic, hedonistic reputation, and you are reckless and wild onstage. Is there a disconnect between who you are in the band and who you are in real life?

**Thomson: You’re going to accentuate the worst of yourself and you’re going to play on those characteristics. It doesn’t mean it’s not you, it’s just not you all the time. Single Mothers is an expression of maybe my darker side and the things I don’t love about myself, but you’re a normal person outside of that. There’s definitely a connection, but like anything else, it’s an examined look at that—**when you put all your emphasis into one side of your character, it can take a lot out of you. Sometimes I get to the point where it’s like, “Am I playing to be myself, or am I being myself and playing?” It’s hard to tell, but it weaves in and out.

So do you drink as much and get as fucked up as you seem to in your songs?

**Thomson: **Probably!

**Redsky: **We’re not Mötley Crüe, but we’re young and we like to have a good time.

**Thomson: **Drinking is something that’s been part of my life for a long time, and I’ve struggled with the balance of it becoming a problem and have it not become a problem, but I consciously try to make a decision of how much alcoholism is going to affect. It does affect me and it has affected me for a long time and I’m aware of it, but it’s a problem I’m willing to live with and willing to manage. It’s a balancing act. It’s fun and that’s it. One day, we’ll probably all stop doing what we’re doing, but until I’m 30, I’m just going to keep doing it.

Single Mothers’ Negative Qualities album is out now on HXC Recordings.