The boys from Philoceraptor are having fun again!
Left to right: Justin "I only wear white" Penney, Phil "I put the Phil
in Philoceraptor" Jette and the maniacal Steve Mann.
Philoceraptor is invading the Vancouver music scene with the dedication of a missionary.
Hello folks and Happy 2012!
This year, for !earshot online, I am going to give the campus community radio community the chance to get to know some of Vancouver’s most awesome bands.
This month, we play a little game of “How Well Do You Know Your Wife?” with Vancouver upstarts Philoceraptor. I asked the band’s three members (Steve, Justin and Phil) to answer the same questions individually while they were each sealed in a soundproof hyperbaric chamber.
Now let’s compare their results!
Scott Wood: “Philoceraptor”... What is the story behind the name?
Steve Mann: Justin told me that one day his fiancée, Emma, just blurted it out to him. Moments later he had texted it to me, and I decreed it to be the name of a band that did not yet exist.
Justin Penney: No story really... my fiancée sometimes mumbles in her sleep or just as she's falling asleep, and I often don't notice she's asleep and I'll ask her a question or tell her a story. One night I was saying something and she was half asleep and mumbled "like a Philoceraptor". I immediately sent Steve a text message to the effect of "Let's start a band called Philoceraptor". So the name existed before the band. We were also completely ignorant of the existence of the popular "Philosoraptor" internet meme.
Phil Jette: We had actually never heard of the internet meme sharing the same name, so while it's difficult to convince people of this now, we actually didn't name our band after a meme. Basically, we started jamming and needed a name, then one night Emma just blurted out "Philoceraptor" while half-asleep. Justin immediately suggested the name to Steve and I, and we were immediately like "that's the one", so we just went with it.
Scott Wood: We were originally supposed to do this interview at Xmas time 2011, but you were missing member Phil. If Phil is the “Phil” in “Philoceraptor,” what do the Steve and Justin add to the mix?
Steve Mann: If we're gonna play anagrams then I've got the edge with “ET” over Justin's “T.”
Justin definitely brings the energy and the confidence. He can produce lyrics like he has a million monkeys at a million typewriters, but they all have Masters' degrees and resent their current circumstances. I endeavour to bring the twist; while I think we wear our influences on our sleeve, I want to make sure that a riff, or the way a chord is played, or the way the song is structured is something I (at least) haven't heard/done before.
Justin Penney: Hmm. I was born in Toronto, so that's the TOR. Steve hates RAP. And OCE is a brand of wide format printer. Steve and I work for a Sign Supply company that sells HP wide format printers and Oce is a competing (and inferior) brand.
Phil Jette: Phil is definitely not the “Phil” in “Philoceraptor,” or at least if he is, he doesn't realize it. If he somehow did come to this realization, it's likely that his ego would grow so large as to compel him to pursue a drums-only solo career destined to fail while in the process destroying the band.
Seriously though, Steve and Justin add pretty much everything to the mix. Most songs are at the very least sketched out by either of them before we actually rock them out as a band, plus they share lyric-writing duties. That makes up for about 85% of each song, the other 15% being accounted for by a mix of hitting things and drinking Cariboo.
Scott Wood: Can you tell me the quick and dirty origin story of Philoceraptor? How did you guys get together?
Steve Mann: Justin and I met in university when we noticed we both had guitars and beer in our dorm rooms. That night we had a Colt 45 chugging contest and we've been pals ever since. We also played in 2 cover bands. It was fun, we graduated. Justin met Phil in cubical land and jammed in another band. I moved to Vancouver, we all agreed loud noises and cheap beer were the best, Philoceraptor formed, we didn't suck and HOOORAY!
Justin Penney: Steve and I met at Bishop's University in 2002 and proceeded to play a bunch of drunken covers together on our own or in Morning Wood and Rosebud, the best cover band in Lennoxville, QC.
When I moved to Vancouver in 2007 I started working for a finance company and Phil worked there too. The two of us started playing in a band called the Bach Social. We didn't really didn't like the Bach Social and wanted to play louder music, and my "Philoceraptor" text to Steve prompted a jam that produced "Grammar" (our first song).
Phil Jette: Justin and I worked together and one day I bought a drum set at lunch. Just a basic cheap Tama (actually I still play the same kit). Anyway so we started jamming regularly, but then when it came time to start a band, we figured we needed another guitarist. Right around this time, I started hearing mythical tales of a particular gentleman named Steve Mann, whom had played in a couple
bands back at Bishop's University with Justin. Justin and Steve were very close friends, and as it turns out Steve was moving out to Vancouver, so pretty much as soon as he arrived, we met up and started making some noise. Our first jam we wrote “Grammar” (which ended up on our first EP), and that was that!
Scott Wood: You guys are new to the city, but have invaded the local scene with a dedication of missionary. What’s it like to be the “new guys” in town?
Steve Mann: At first it was a hard because we literally didn't know anybody or anything about the Vancouver scene. But once you start meeting people who make music, you immediately have something to talk about and experiences you can share.
Fact: Musicians like talking about music, which leads to talking about themselves, which leads to all other subjects of conversation. The best thing we did to get into things was record our first EP "Four Songs" without even gigging because we had a solid representation of our music to toss out in the wilds of the interweb and people would backtrack and contact us from there.
Justin Penney: "Invaded the local scene with the dedication of a missionary". I like that a lot, and it really sums up the experience. I believe that you get what you give, and that a good music scene exists when people put on shows and attend shows and reach out and network and collaborate. Nothing's going to just "happen", you need to get out and do it. That means going out, supporting other bands, making friends... and not just doing it in a way that reeks of self-promotion. You can spot a phony a mile away. I'm genuinely interested in the Vancouver music scene, and making this scene interesting.
Phil Jette: It's been great mostly because we've met so many great people. We never really had a hard time finding gigs once we decided to start playing them, but a lot of that is due to the fact that Steve and Justin started making friends and going to tons of shows real fast. I'm a bit more of a hermit so I don't get out to shows a whole lot to be honest, but every time I do, it's good attitudes and good times all around. And really great music too for that matter.
Scott Wood: What is one easy tip for a “new band in town” to make music scene friends fast?
Steve Mann: Go drinking on weeknights.
Justin Penney: Be into it. Be sincere. Be nice. and never hesitate to tap someone on the shoulder and say "Hi I'm Justin from Philoceraptor and I really (insert sincere compliment or anecdote)" to break the ice.
Phil Jette: Get out and go to as many shows as possible. Hang out with people and enjoy yourself, and soon enough the shows will come.
Scott Wood: What has been the best and worst of Vancouver, so far, for you guys?
Steve Mann: The best is rocking a house party—it's Thunderdome in there and, for our set, we run Barter Town. The worst is having a gig on a night where there are 3 or 4 awesome gigs and drawing the short stick, because you didn't draw a crowd AND you missed some sweet shows.
Justin Penney: The best has to be the music scene and how easy it's been to make friends. I used to live in Montreal and the music scene was very, very pretentious and closed off and fractured across genre lines like high school cliques. Like if you weren't at Arcade Fire's first show in so-and-so's living room then you don't deserve anyone's attention. Vancouver is also great because it doesn't get as cold as Montreal.
The worst? Loading in at the Railway Club. I don't understand how a music club has remained so successful for so long when bands have to struggle to find parking and then lug all their shit through narrow doors and up a long flight of stairs. So yeah the worst really isn't that bad. It also rains a lot and rent is expensive, but whatever...
Phil Jette: Definitely the music scene has been awesome. There are many great bands around here so that's been great. Whenever I see a band like Oh No! Yoko play live it makes me want to go back to the jam space immediately and rock out. As far as bad things go, honestly that's a tough one. Vancouver has been really amazing for me personally, and I think just as good for us as a band. People have been very welcoming and we've had the opportunity to record some music and play a lot of fun shows in cool venues, so yeah... not to be cheesy but for me at least so far it's all positive.
Scott Wood: Ok, it’s time to mention the elephant in the room! You guys are a trio of two guitars and a drum set. This makes you a little unique. What lead you to this set up?
Steve Mann: It's what we started with one faithful night, and it seemed to work. I have enjoyed the form because it really guides the songwriting choices we make, so we tread on the unconventional. Plus, I think a bass would slow us down.
Justin Penney: I was always a bass player, but I really can't sing while I play bass, and I wanted to sing and play guitar. So did Steve. Not having a bass player limits what we can do, but it gives a bit of focus to the music and the songwriting. We’re not interested in adding anyone to the band, since the three of us are best friends and the dynamic would probably be strange if someone else was added.
Phil Jette: Well, we just kind of went with it. Right from the start, we decided on 2 guitars and we pretty much decided against ever bringing in a bass. I think we wanted the arrangement possibilities you get from having 2 guitarists, but on the other hand we didn't want to bring anyone else into the band, simply because the 3 of us got along well and we were on the same page regarding the type of sound we wanted. So we ended up with Justin splitting his guitar signal to both a guitar amp and a bass amp to give us some low end.
Since then, Justin has also added an octave pedal to give us even more low end when we need it. At the same time we were also into bands that have this type of non-traditional setup, like Japandroids and DFA1979, so it didn't seem so unorthodox for us to go this route.
Scott Wood: What do you say to those lovely music nerds who will say to you: "That song would be really dope with a bass line!"
Steve Mann: It's usually from a band we just played with so I smile, shrug, and sometimes discuss how we don't want to disrupt our three-piece democracy. I really don't understand this resistance in a post-White Stripes world. I think it does come from musical nerdery, but I am not well-versed, nor fixated, on the details of musical mixing, I just focus on making things rock. Justin did recently get an octave pedal to thicken our low end, so we can sonically punch people better.
Justin Penney: It's happened a few times. Sometimes it's people who are trying to join our band like "I should play bass for you!" and other times it's people who genuinely believe that our music would sound better with bass and they make somewhat patronizing comments like "you know, the low frequencies are what gets people dancing". Sometimes I even find myself thinking a song would sound better with bass, but then I remind myself and others that Philoceraptor doesn't have, or need, a bass player and that's one of the things that sets us apart.
Phil Jette: We do still have a good bit of low end from Justin's rig, so any parts which would normally be played by a bass are played by Justin, which makes it not all that different from having an actual bass player. I think it is a bit more difficult to get people moving though without that solid bass groove. Which is actually one of the reasons Justin picked up an octave pedal.
It's definitely happened a few times that people ask us "Hey have you guys ever thought of getting a bass player?" or "Why don't you get a bass player?" But we're really not interested. We'd rather try and work on our sound and get it to a point where that question just doesn't come up anymore.
Scott Wood: Is there anything else potential fans need to know about Philoceraptor?
Steve Mann: I just want potential fans to hear our music. I actually started to wonder if knowing us adds anything or if we should take more of a "the author is dead" approach to things. There's an article on Bluegrassish about what nice guys we are, which is awesome, but definitely in conflict with our “spite rock” narratives. Then again, the whole point is to basically “rock on” in spite of the abyss/the sad state of __________, and that's would be a rather hard sell if we were mopey or nihilistic.
Justin Penney: We really love fans. For serious! We started this band as a sort of pastime, an opportunity to get together, drink cheap beer, and make loud noises. We're not going after a record deal or national tour and we have no illusions of financial success. This band is not our life.
However, we do work hard at making the songs we make, and to see people at our shows and to see our music actually making a connection with someone is the most rewarding feeling.
From time to time I look through our "fans" on our Facebook page, and I marvel at the fact that I don't know more than 50% of the people on there. Like it's not just friends and family who "like" the band out of friendship or obligation, but there are some honest-to-goodness high school kids from California who are into us.
Or that a stranger from New York paid $10 for an EP on our "pay what you want" bandcamp page. That is really rewarding to me. I know that can seem a bit narcissistic but that's not the feeling at all... it's really a sense of awe that something we made exists out there on its own and is appreciated for the music it is.
Phil Jette: Not really except for the fact that we're really stoked to record a full-length this year, and we all collectively promise, it will knock your socks off.
Maybe one fact about each of us:
- Steve hates 3D movies
- Phil moved to Vancouver via Greyhound bus from Toronto
- Justin can tie a bow tie with his eyes closed
Scott Wood: Ups! I forgot to add in the obligatory dinosaur question! Ok... Dang it all. I can't think of a clever one right now... But I bet you get asked them all the time... The weirdest one?
Steve Mann: I think the weirdest one was to name the Jurassic Park references on our "Philosoraptor" EP, because there's only one, the song “Clever Girl.” When pressed though, I used my English Major skills to BS about half a dozen.
Justin Penney: I can't think of any offhand... one woman I know through work keeps asking me to make a Velociraptor sound, like in Jurassic Park. I have yet to oblige. I am embarrassed.
Phil Jette: Actually we haven't had that many. but, when we initially sent our last EP Philosoraptor to CiTR, I guess it was distributed around the station with a note saying we had "a bunch of Jurassic Park references", or something like that. Which is funny because we only really were aware of one.
Scott Wood: Hopefully by the end of this year, you will have been asked a lot more.
There you have it folks! Now it should be pretty easy to go up to any member of the band and chat them up at a show!
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