Since bursting onto the Canadian indie scene in 2009 with their debut album Record In A Bag, Ottawa’s Hollerado has been widely embraced for their irresistible pop-rock sound, along with their highly creative visual style. Between unforgettable videos and projects such as 111 Songs—for which they wrote customized tracks for specific fans—Hollerado’s rabid following has always been eager to find out what they’ve got up their collective sleeve.
However, for a band that seemingly adheres to the old adage of “have a good time all the time,” even their sunniest tracks sometimes contain dark undertones. They did little to hide that fact when they recently released “Don’t Shake,” the latest anthemic focus track from their third official full-length album Born Yesterday, released April 14 on Royal Mountain Records. The song was written by guitarist Nixon Boyd as a means of coping with being diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Thankfully, Boyd has been cancer-free since undergoing surgery, and that has allowed Hollerado to resume a full touring schedule to support Born Yesterday. Having just returned from a European jaunt with Sum 41, the band will appear at Canadian Music Week’s awards gala, the Indies, on April 19 at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre before a run of dates from Ontario to the west coast throughout May and June. Boyd and bassist Dean Baxter got us caught up on all of this, as well as a few of the band’s legendary exploits. For more details, you can go to hollerado.com.
What makes Born Yesterday stand apart from your previous records?
Nixon Boyd: It was mainly in the writing process. Instead of throwing a bunch of ideas at the wall and seeing what stuck, we were deliberate in choosing what to write about and how each song should sound. We had a lot of personal stories we wanted to share, and opinions we wanted to make known, so it was important to decide exactly how to write about them. But one way in which this album is similar to our other ones is that every song had to feel good playing it in a room together.
Obviously “Don't Shake” is one of the most personal songs you've done. How are you doing, Nixon, and how did your illness affect the band overall?
Nixon Boyd: I wrote “Don't Shake” before I even told anyone about my testicular cancer diagnosis. In a way it was a means to share my fear and uncertainty with my friends and family without actually telling anyone. Of course, I did share the news eventually, and the meaning behind the song became clear to everyone. Luckily I am fine now. I had surgery to remove the affected testicle, and since then I have had an MRI and continue to get tested for any signs of cancer, of which there have been none. I can't say for certain how it has affected the whole band, but my guess is they feel the same as me, which is to say grateful for the outcome, and for continuing to be able to play music together.
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
Dean Baxter: I grew up watching Home Alone very often as a child. It didn't matter if it was Christmas or not—except watching it around Christmas always made it better. WhenHome Alone 2 came out and he had that Talkboy [cassette recorder] with him in New York, I loved it so much I got one for Christmas. I would record all my favourite songs that came on the radio and play them back over and over. One song I was particularly fond of as child during the time of the Talkboy was Joan Osborne's "One Of Us." I really loved that song and found it to be incredibly elusive whenever I had my Talkboy handy. But one muggy summer day, in the backseat of my best friend's grandmother's car, it came on the radio and I captured it—finally!
Later that day I went to listen to it, but instead heard the squeaky pubescent voice of my friend's older brother singing the chorus. I've never experienced rage like I did in that moment. I smashed the Talkboy to bits screaming, "You did this!" and cried for the rest of the afternoon. I'm realizing now this is not a fond memory.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
Dean Baxter: Our first ever performance as Hollerado wasn't so much a show as it was a favour. A friend of ours had just started working at a restaurant in Montreal and was tasked with bringing in some entertainment for an evening. We had been writing songs and practising for a few months when he asked if we wanted to play at this restaurant. This was a mistake. At our best, we are inappropriate for a dining atmosphere, and when we played our very first ever show, we were downright apocalyptic. The restaurant drained completely, very quickly. We felt so bad for our friend that we started packing up our gear after two or three songs. Still, our friend told us we wouldn't be paid unless we played our full set. Back then, getting paid amounted to two beers per band member, so without saying anything we all began to unpack our gear, and got on with the show.
What's your best tour story?
Dean Baxter: We were playing a small festival in Winnipeg and the programmers had agreed to provide us with everything we needed to perform the show, as we couldn't bring any of it on the plane to get there. So we showed up and, as per the agreement, all was provided—guitars, drums, amps, and even a playful dog we used to request on our rider. The show went great and spirits were high until our agent asked us how the prep for our second show was going. We had no idea there would be a second show, so it meant that either we had hired a complete lunatic as our booking agent or we had totally forgotten we were supposed to play a smaller club show later that evening.
It turned out our agent was of sound mind, and we needed to be off to the next one. The only problem was that we had no gear, and the venue had no gear. We were the only band on the bill, which meant we couldn't borrow from another band either. We had to think of something quick, and while the four of us stood outside the venue racking our brains, our attention was drawn to a couple of biplanes flying overhead as part of the festival's Air Show. That went it hit us, we’ll put on an “air show”, and the most elaborate air show Winnipeg has ever seen.
About an hour before we were supposed to go on, the four of us walked down the street as if we were in our van. We carefully "parked" and took 20 minutes to air load into the venue, carrying every piece of non-existent gear into the venue and onto the stage. Then we popped our CD in and “air banded” our entire album front to back. It was a flawless show! At the end of the night, we tracked down the promoter to grab our pay and head to the airport. The promoter said "no problem," reached into his pocket and pulled out an air cheque.