Truckin’ Through Canada And Way Beyond
An Interview With Jeremy Widerman Of Monster Truck
With the release of their sophomore album Sittin’ Heavy on February 19, Monster Truck decided to celebrate the occasion by bringing their music to the people. They are in the early days of a multi-date tour that will see them play across Canada, Europe, and too many parts of the United States to mention. It was a wonderful opportunity on behalf of Spill Magazine to spend a few minutes on the phone with Jeremy Widerman, the lead guitarist and vocalist of Monster Truck. We spoke about the album, the good old hockey game, and all things toolbox-related.
There wasn’t much to say about the tour so far, having only played two shows, but Jeremy did share his master plan for the remaining dates. “We’ll try to eat well. Get lots of sleep, and do our best not to drink too much.”
There are also some ongoing plans for the fall as well, but now is not the time for any breaking stories or surprise announcements. Monster Truck is focused on the tour ahead, which will keep them occupied for quite a while.
The New Album
Sittin’ Heavy has been very much anticipated by their fans and its recent release begs the natural question of how the recording process differs in any way from Furiosity. “Thankfully, we didn’t have to record it twice! That was huge. It was a big mistake on the Furiosity recording,” Jeremy explained. “We had to record it twice because the first one was scrapped.” He added, “in terms of the second recording and Sittin’ Heavy, there are a lot more similarities than differences. We used the same producer, and we were very comfortable with a lot of the same methods to make the new album.”
Eric Ratz, the Juno Award-winning recording engineer, was once again called upon to oversee the new recording. He has done incredible things with Billy Talent, Cancer Bats, and Three Days Grace. As a producer and recording engineer he seems to strive for the best sound possible.
“He is probably one of the biggest names in Canadian Rock production,” Jeremy explained. “He is someone we love to work with. He is a friend of ours, but more importantly, he is someone who works really hard, and that energy shines through in his efforts.”
Ian Fletcher Thornley, of Big Wreck, makes a guest appearance on “For the People.” Jeremy explained, “in the construction of that song, my brain was hearing a slide guitar solo and I’m not a slide guitar player.” He added that they were familiar with Thornley through the Canadian music scene, and it certainly helped that he happens to be friends with Ratz, who of course has worked with Big Wreck in the past.
“It was an easy phone call,” he said. “Ian loved the idea. Being such an amazing and professional musician that he is, he was able to come in and bang it out in about a half an hour.”
In case you are not familiar with the new album (and you really should rectify this travesty as soon as possible before it ruins your life), it contains eleven tracks. The album boasts an image of the front of a jean jacket, with the patches Monster Truck and Sittin’ Heavy below each shoulder. The back of the album contains more patches, representing each of the recorded tracks. This is very creative. It presents the opportunity for fans to sport their favourite song, or collect them all. Jeremy mentioned that this was the brain child of keyboardist and vocalist Brandon Bliss, and bassist and vocalist Jon Harvey.
“They thought it would be a great idea to use imagery as an extension of the music,” he commented. “This is also something that we thought we could merchandise. Putting it together as a package for fans to have was a no brainer, and people have really embraced it. It has been a lot of fun. It serves as an extension of our creativity. It certainly makes our merch-table unique.”
The Good ‘ole Hockey Game
If you follow the Monster Truck live broadcasts on Facebook, or have seen social media images of them in various hockey sweaters, you know that they love Canada’s game (no not Lacrosse). I was curious to find out how often and in what context hockey comes up as they travel the world.
“We get asked, but in a very non-serious way,” Jeremy explained. “‘So, you guys must like hockey because you’re Canadian?’ We certainly get that a lot. ‘We are making fun of you because you are Canadian and you love hockey,'” he added. “In Canada, it is different. Here we’ll get asked what we think about the Dion Phaneuf trade to Ottawa and our opinion on the draft picks that were involved. You don’t get that kind of detail abroad.”
What about the Enforcer? Is this a song about anyone in particular? “It is an anthem for everyone who ever had a good scuffle,” he said. “It is our salute to the sport and a general goodtime song.” The song was featured in a montage for Hockey Night in Canada and Don Cherry not only loved the video edit, but he really loved the music. Jeremy mentioned that because this developed much earlier in the year, Don Cherry didn’t have an opportunity to hear any of the other tracks.
“We met him a while before any CBC stuff happened,” he said. “We were in a line with a bunch of other people. We were just standing around going through the motions. We have to do that sometimes too, when we do a meet and greet with the fans. I’m not sure if we saw him today, that he would remember he met us at that time. He only found out about Monster Truck after the fact. We are looking forward to hopefully meeting him again. It would be great to get a chance to speak to him. He is a huge inspiration and we are big fans of his.”
So who is the best enforcer? “Bob Probert,” Jeremy said without hesitation. “He had very unique abilities and was also a very skilled player on the ice.” (Lets hope Tie Domi is not reading this interview feature).
Our Human Family
Every band has a very unique set of individual parts. Some of those parts met in university, while finishing their doctorate degrees, like Queen. Others sell drugs out of their apartment while playing the Whiskey, like Guns ‘N Roses. Monster Truck is a Canadian gift. They are unique not only in their refreshing return to the ear-bleeding, soul-piercing, big stage rock music, but also in their uncomplicated familial friendship. Somewhere in the great melodies and foot-stomping riffs there is a key to staying close and maintaining a genuine friendship.
“I think the key to our friendship is giving each other space both on the road, and at home,” Jeremy explained. “It is important to find the time to be by yourself. That time is important because you do spend a lot of time on the bus, and you ultimately have to come together for dinner or this or that meeting. Time apart allows us to stay focused, and is important to that sense of renewed friendship. We never want to feel like we are simply stuck together.”
Those that are literate and make the effort to take a closer look at the lyrics will realize the band is very humanitarian. They write about people and the struggles they face in their daily lives. Songs like “Power of the People,” “For the People,” or “Another Man’s Shoes” pine for unity and understanding. Where does that sense of being and connection come from? How does it manifest itself?
“I think this is who we are,” Jeremy explained. “We are just ordinary people if you meet us outside the band experience. We all have a sense of consciousness. We know that the world is in a bit of a tough place right now. There are many different issues; there is the environment, political strife, and social concerns. There are a lot of people that are frightened, and there are a lot of people that are impoverished. This is all simply a part of us, and is never too far away from our minds. We are doing a million things a day, and we have to constantly remind ourselves that what we do is nothing more than rock ‘n’ roll. There are a lot more important issues and struggles outside the recording studio, our bus, or the venue.”
“We are not trying to get up on a soap box and push any one agenda,” he said. “Other than the fact that we try to make people aware that they are not the centre of the universe. There are many people out there just as valuable and just as important as you are. There are lots of reasons to enjoy your life. It is important to not allow people to bring you down. It is crucial to fight those moments of negativity that seem to drag good people down. If our music can, in a small little way, bring joy to your life, no matter who you are, and if you can enjoy whatever you have, no matter if you’re important or feel insignificant, that is why we do what we do.”
Home Sweet Home
Along with their friendship and their deep sense of humanity, what is also very admirable about Monster Truck is their sense of reverence for the city of Hamilton. They seem drawn and connected to their city in a very deep way. Jeremy reflected for a moment on the question before answering and didn’t think it was a matter of being drawn to Hamilton. He thought it was simply a matter of where he grew up.
“I think that this alone will give you a certain sense of importance,” he explained. “You are obviously going to have a positive feeling of where you are from.”
He paused for another moment and changed direction. “Maybe it is not obvious,” he reflected. “We never think about it because we grew up there. We spent a lot of time there. This is where we cut our teeth with the band. That is where we got a lot of our inspiration for everything.”
“Hamilton has gone through a rejuvenation of late,” he continued. “It has been fun to bear witness to the changes over the last few years. No matter what, we will always have a special feeling for our hometown. That being said, it is not the end all, be all, of our existence. There are many amazing places around the world that we have visited, and may end up moving to one day, if we ever get the time or the money to do it. But no matter what, Hamilton will always have a special place in our heart.”
How to make it big in Music Industry in 3 easy steps
Jeremy Widerman is living his dream, and finds himself sometimes in utter unbelief that he can earn a living doing what many talented musicians cannot. There were no clear signs along the way to follow, no star of Bethlehem, even when he dabbled in music at school. “I took music in school but I didn’t do so well,” he joked. “I think if my teacher found out what I was doing now, she would have a massive, massive shock.”
Many aspiring musicians read Spill Magazine and are hungry for insightful advice that will make a difference in their path. As a writer, I try to end most interviews with them in mind. I always want to know how a young musician, who is pushing and pulling, grinding and battling, finally makes it through. What do they need to know?
“I would tell them first and foremost that they shouldn’t sit down and make their music a career,” Jeremy explained. “That should not be the goal, especially in today’s climate. The fact that we make a living playing our music is a mind-blowing aspect of our lives. We never intended to do that. I think that if you start from that place, if you sit and think you’re going to focus on music as a means of making money, I think you are starting from a tough place.”
“Not that it’s impossible,” he added. “I think you are starting from a very weird place. At the end of the day you may not find what you are looking for. You may miss what you hope to achieve, or worse you will economically indebt yourself with a very low return.”
“You need to find a place where you can be who you are,” he added. “A place where you get music from your soul. It has to be fun. If you do that, and stay honest to the music and yourself, you have a higher chance of turning that into something you will be able to earn a living from.”
“People want to hear something that you love, something that resonates with you. They are not interested in you trying to placate them with something you think they are going to enjoy. They want to hear what makes you inspired. They want to hear what moves you. Once you start from that place, it is a lot easier to have other people jump on board and be enamored with your work. You need to say, I am going to write a song for me, and hope that it will be contagious.”
The Difference, Dave, and the Toolbox
Circling back to the tour, I asked Jeremy about Monster Truck fans. Is there a noticeable difference between fans in North America and their European counterparts?
“The most noticeable difference is the reaction at the live shows,” Jeremy explained. “When you are in Europe or the U.K., people don’t hold up their phones in the air and try to film every minute of the show. They don’t post every photo on Instagram. They are just there to dance and sing. They come out to enjoy themselves. In North America, we are constantly seeing a sea of cell phones in the air, making horrible content for God knows what reason. There is indeed a noticeable difference, and it is refreshing to play there.”
While prepping for the interview I asked my friends and colleagues that I know are fans of the band, if they had any pressing questions or quips. Dave has followed the band since their 2010 HTZ FM RockSearch. He was dying to know the origins of the Toolbox which graces the stage at every show.
“It started out of necessity,” Jeremy mentioned. “It has been in our lives since the very beginning, going back to our early rehearsal space. Jon wanted to have one foot off the ground to help his diaphragm. The way he stands, the toolbox helps with his singing and playing.”
“When we were heading out to our first show, Jon joked and wondered what he was going to do since he couldn’t bring the tool box. We said, why the hell not? That is fucking awesome! He decided to do it, and it caught on. Now, of course, we can’t live without it.”
The Canadian leg of the tour continues for Monster Truck. Time marches on. Soon, they will be in your hometown and we sincerely hope you have a chance to see them. Do us a favour though, keep your damn phone in your pocket. Come on people! If you’re going to raise anything, let it be a nice cold pint of beer.