USS Came to Guelph, And We Talked About Subs

Monday, December 8, 2014


Written by Jaimee-Lisa Cotter

The general breakdown of most interviews with bands: Their touring manager lets you in the building, you stand awkwardly in the front hall for a few minutes, and you head to the rider to pound out your questions in your ten minute time slot.

An interview with Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker: Sure their touring manager Dan lets you in the building, but then you just hang out for a bit because on what must have been one of the windiest days of the year, the guys went to go play Frisbee.

Anyone that has listened to their music, seen a live show, or ever had the pleasure of meeting Ash and Jay will note that this is so eloquently USS-esque.

With the recent release of their new album Advanced Basics, USS took the stage to open for Mother Mother, a fellow Canadian band touring from coast to coast to promote their own new album. I wasted no precious moment of my ten minute time slot and drove straight to the hard, artistic questions.

CAN: I wanted to ask you guys about the cardboard cutouts, and “celebrity personas” you bring out on stage. A few years ago I saw you at the Burlington Sound of Music Festival and you brought out this Santa Clause in the middle of June. How do you guys decide on who you’re going to bring out on stage with you?

JAY: We haven’t done a cardboard cutout in like 3 or 4 years now. Those were definitely our earlier days.

ASH: My dad found that Santa Claus at a garage sale on the way to Burlington Sound of Music, so we just threw a USS tank top on it. Then I put a jar of olives inside its head, and took the head off and ate the olives during the show. During that show it was actually father’s day, so I brought my dad out on stage and said it was ‘Take Your Parents to Work’ day.  Which they should totally have, so your parents can know what you’re actually doing.

CAN: Yeah, my parents know I have this job and they were really proud of me but I don’t think they have any idea what I really do.

ASH: See? They should totally have that. Your mom could be sitting right here with us, and she could say “Hey can I have a sub from Mother Mother’s rider?” And we’d be like “Hey, that’s your call”.

CAN: Now that you mention food, I guess this is a good time to ask. I’ve seen you perform a bunch of times before, and I’ve always wondered about the making of smoothies and drinking of orange juice during your performances. How did that come to be?

ASH: Well, we haven’t made a smoothie in a while…

JAY: Two years.

ASH: Yeah, two years, because I went to Singapore and got electrocuted while making a smoothie on stage. But once you open up a door—a door of possibility—the door always remains open. Just don’t be afraid to keep opening up new doors. You can always go through those doors you’ve already opened. The smoothie deal just came out of me being late for work and wanting to have a smoothie after. So I just brought everything with me on stage and made a smoothie while I was playing.

CAN: I’ve heard this rumour on multiple occasions that one of you has been completing your masters on the road while you guys tour all over the place. Who’s the genius?

ASH: That might have been linked to Jay’s former education?

JAY: The only person I know that does school on the road is Lights. She was doing like a computer tech course while she was on the road. But one of us doing our masters, no. Quite the compliment though. Maybe a masters in abnormal psychology, which Ash has had his doctorate in it since birth.

ASH: Writing my own biography?

CAN: On the topic of writing, how do you guys do that? What’s your favourite process for coming up with new lyrics?

ASH: Just being petrified. That’s kind of what it comes down to.

JAY: Picking through Ash’s catalogue.

ASH: Trying to learn how to be more and more brave. Trying to put yourself on the line; to put yourself out there. Just because any type of ‘art/music’ that has any impact is because of the emotional ability to relate, almost like a melodic empathy. When you’re presenting things to others, you’re putting yourself on the line because it’s not even that you’re just being judged on the melodic structure of something, you’re being judged on the experiences of your life. So there’s this weird crossover: you have to be connected while simultaneously being disconnected. That’s why you get a sold out show like tonight. You have a room full of people that melodically empathize. And vibrationally empathize. It almost creates its own being in the room; its own life form. Made up of the vibrations of everyone’s individual vibrational empathy and vibrational relation and I think that’s really what going to a show is. We’ve been so fortunate—and grateful—to be a part of creating so many experiences of performances. It’s like a voltron of melodic empathy. We’re just out here to continue to have no idea what’s going on, but we just have fun doing it.

CAN: So when I was in high school, we had an assignment where we had to pick a really challenging song to analyze. I brought in Hollowpoint Sniper Hyperbole and no one had any clue what to do with it. Even my teacher went “Wow, I can’t even begin to try and unpack this”. Then a couple of years ago when I saw you at Burlington Sound of Music Festival, you announced to the crowd that the song was about falling in love in a mental asylum on the east coast. Without going into too much detail, what’s it actually about?

ASH: Falling in love in a mental asylum on the east coast.

CAN: Wait, actually? Did one of you go through that?

JAY: You know when you’re in high school and you have a high school crush—especially if you’re a man—and you were to put together a collage, of all the things that are important and cool and niche to the female in question that you have a crush on and you gave it to her? That’s what Hollowpoint sounds like to me, what Ash was trying to accomplish lyrically. He was putting together a collage of excitement and love and I’s-the-boy-Canadiana.

ASH: It isn’t just a bunch of words together. Like schizophrenics can’t follow a pendulum, so “I can’t seem to follow a pendulum” is just a direct reference to not being able to follow a pattern, not being able to focus

Here the interview is briefly interrupted by a sudden thought and a scribble of sharpie.

ASH: Here Jay, can you sign this card for Ryan?

When I first walked into the interview, Jay was trying to find a spot to plug in his phone and Ash was writing a birthday card on a subway napkin. They then informed me that it was Ryan Gouldings —lead singer of Mother Mother—birthday and that they were gifting him a USS sweater wrapped up in an LCBO bag. This interview took place on November 24, which consequently is also my birthday, so although I didn’t get a sweater I did get two very large hugs upon disclosing that Ryan and I apparently shared a birth date.

CAN: How has touring with Mother Mother been?

ASH: It’s just been amazing. It’s been like Valentine’s day on Christmas on mother’s day.

ASH: It’s concentric rings of excitement. Like when you drop something in the water and it goes out but goes back in at the same time. And there’s another one dropping over here. Because it’s us dropping here and them dropping there and our rings are all overlapping and absorbing each other.

JAY: It’s amazing because we’re such a complimentary one-two punch. We’re all energy and yeah there’s a lot of quirk, but like we’re a high energy band, at times bordering on punk-rock electronic, just in how we carry ourselves whereas Mother Mother’s energy is really dark and moody and intense. And they really build that well, and it’s how they play off of each other. It’s so serious, but it’s still silly. It’s been surprising how well that has worked out. We’re more of a family with every day that passes.

ASH: Our sandpaper is turning into silk. It’s like silky sandpaper.

JAY: We’re both alternative rock bands on the same format, the same radio stations, we have the same brine, so it’s very relaxing. The comradery is something else.

ASH: Jay and I have been gifted by the universe with a lot of energy. We need to channel it into something or we basically just annoy everyone around us. Bottom line is that our process of individual maturity has been taking a spectrum and figuring out how to turn it into a laser beam. It’s the same way that you squeeze icing. You can have a big bowl of icing, and it’s just this pile of sweetness that isn’t really focused on anything, but then you put it into an icing bag and squeeze the icing into something.

CAN: That’s a delicious analogy.

ASH: Our society, for the most part anyway, the way that North America is, we have to be so contained. So it’s nice to be a part of that release. That collective open hearted just let it all go, just let it ride, and just be who you are. We feel like we’re a nice petrie dish to allow that experiment to occur. If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’, the way the jocks and the ravers and the punks, they all love him. And that’s what we kind of experience. Everyone from the cliques at your high school all come to a USS show and have a great time.

CAN: Well thank you so much for your time and for agreeing to do this interview, and it was awesome to get a chance to chat with you guys again. I’m going to cut this off before Dan kicks me out!

ASH: Before he throws a sub at you from Mother Mother’s rider!

(Seriously, you should have seen this sub platter. It was pretty tempting.)

ASH: We would like to thank you for doing what you do: for helping cast the seeds. The original meaning of broadcast was a farmer casting the seeds, and we appreciate what you do in order to help us cast our seeds. To reach people and stuff.  

DAN: Why is there a fucking baby carrot in my production case?


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