Rebecca Northcott Photography
Iconic singer Simone Denny has had one of the most varied careers in the history of Canadian music. In the mid-late 90s she became a house music legend from her Juno-winning work with the group Love Inc. She’s also the voice of the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy theme, which ended up being played repeatedly during a memorable episode of South Park.
Most recently the Love Inc. hit “You’re A Superstar” closed the first season finale of Canada’s Drag Race, something that Denny was unaware of until it was happening.
“It was a surprise, I had no idea it was gonna happen” she says.
“I had been watching a few episodes and thinking, ‘it’s so strange, how come they’re not using any Love Inc. tracks? It’s Canadian, what’s happening?’ I didn’t get to watch the finale until my phone started blowing up. I jumped out of my seat and watched it. It was awesome, it was just a beautiful moment to witness, and to be remembered.”
On the other side of the musical spectrum, her 2015 collaboration with former Monster Voodoo Machine frontman Adam Sewell produced the alternative R&B solo album, The Stereo Dynamite Sessions Vol. 1. It’s a side of her sound that Denny intends to explore further, and she views it as an essential part of her musical identity.
“By no means is that done,” she says with conviction.
“I think a lot of people tend to forget that I was first and foremost a musician, and that I come out of live music. That’s where I got my start. I loved doing Stereo Dynamite, I enjoyed every minute of it. To be able to play with a band and have that camaraderie. To work with Adam and (co-writer) Justin (McWilliams) was a beautiful thing. The album was a little bit darker, but it’s exactly where I was at in my journey emotionally. So it was perfect for me.”
Sewell was introduced to Denny in the mid-90s by his wife, who was working for the label BMG, and he knew immediately that he wanted to work with her.
“It's such a weird pairing of people, but we get along so well, and we've done some incredible recordings and performances together,” he says.
“Standing next to her while she's singing at full strength is as close to a religious moment as I'm capable of having. One day Canada is going to look back and regret not supporting her the way she deserves.”
Jahlen Barnes Photography
While Denny has certainly had a fair amount of acclaim, Sewell’s statement rings true. For someone who has had such a prolific career, her name recognition at home is not at the level of some of her collaborators. To this day she continues to grind harder than others with less hits behind their belts, something she attributes to the mainstream music industry demanding a level of compromise that to her, just isn’t worth it.
“I still feel like I have to hustle,” she says carefully.
“How can I say this respectfully? There are things that I’m not willing to do that others in the industry are. I’m not saying that to take away from anyone. Mine may be the longer route, but I’m good with it. I like to be with the right people in the right place in the right time. I’m not just gonna dive in with whoever, just to say I’m a part of something. Do I have more hits in me? Absolutely! That’s a given.”
Aside from further collaborations with Sewell, long-time friend Shawn Desman, and other more secretive projects, Denny has been busy during quarantine showcasing some of her other talents. Most notably she’s hosting a series every Sunday on Instagram Live, where she interviews entertainers and artists, many of whom like herself, are both notable but underappreciated. It’s an outlet that she hopes will bring her closer to her fans, as she is admittedly quite a private person.
“I meet incredible people as I go through my career,” she says.
“I wanted to show the world, (there are) some people you know, and some people you may not know, but that you need to know because they are incredible artists. There’s a personal side to them, and you get to experience the essence of who they are. I see it as me opening myself up a little bit more, ‘cause I’m generally very closed off with that. I am a person who likes to be very private. Now this has turned into something where I get to connect with people. That’s not something I’m able to do usually, when I’m on the move as much as I have been. (I’m) taking some steps to open up myself and my personality to my fans and they can get to know me on another level.”
Last year Denny spent 10 months on the road, so she’s used most of her quarantine time to reconnect with her parents and her sister. The Instagram Live series has also had the pleasant side effect of allowing her to catch up with her industry friends who she normally only gets to see in passing backstage somewhere. But quarantine has also been accompanied by a deluge of news about racial injustice, and it’s caused Denny to reflect on her own experiences of being a recognizable woman of colour.
“When it all first kicked in I had quite a few of my white friends call and check on me and they’re like ‘Are you ok?’” she says, sounding slightly amused.
“I’m like, ‘I’m fine!’ (laughs) and then they’re like ‘Are you sure?’ I’m a woman of colour 24/7, 365. This is nothing new. I’m sure for many, when we’re in our tracks suits or our loungewear, you walk in a store and you still get looked at or followed. I’ve had it happen to me when people (then realize) who I am and it’s very disgusting. They come to up to me and they’re ‘Oh you’re… oh!’ That shouldn’t matter. I don’t want to experience what George Floyd or any of those people experienced. I don’t want my friends or anyone out there to have to experience that. I don’t wanna get too deep, but in the year that we’re in, in the world we’re living in, it’s absurd. We tend to feel that it doesn’t happen here. But I’m quickly learning that it does.”
Rebecca Northcott Photography
Denny says her next release will most likely be house music or dance-pop. Given the upbeat nature of those genres I had to ask if that’s something she can balance with this state of social negativity that we currently find ourselves in.
“I can definitely weave the two together,” she says excitedly.
“I’m by nature a very positive person, at least I try to be. Doesn’t mean I don’t have hard days! I think that if you stay in the negative, then that’s all that’s gonna keep coming at you. You must, someway, somehow, lift yourself out of it by choice. You have to choose to find the good in every situation. I feel a responsibility to continue to deliver that to people, to give them that release.”
Denny is musically adaptable, but regardless of what style she’s performing, she maintains a consistent image; that of the consummate professional artist. Her talent is what’s on display, while other aspects of her personality are usually kept away from the stage. As she said, it does make the journey longer, but if she was any different then the music would probably not be same. The blessing in disguise that’s come out of quarantine, is that Denny has found a way to show other sides of her personality in a way that suits her.
“I don’t like to follow things that other people are doing,” she says.
“That’s just me. I’ve never felt the need to display everything all the time. These other people who can do that, I’m in awe. That’s really gutsy! (laughs) I’m gutsy on other levels. They’ll see me on stage, and that’s good. That’s why I’m there, I’m there to sing. That’s probably why I don’t sing on Instagram. You guys already know I sing, so let me show you other capabilities that I have.”
Watch Simone Denny every Sunday at 5pm EST on her Instagram Live. This Sunday (October 18th) she’ll be speaking to Juno-winning R&B star Sean Jones.
You can also listen to Love Inc’s classic 1998 self-titled debut album on Spotify, and you can stream The Stereo Dynamite Sessions Vol. 1 in full below.
Photo by Andrew Craig
“You should see this, you are in the War Room after all,” says Panzerfaust guitarist/vocalist Brock “Kaizer” Van Dijk as he hands me a human skull.
I’m standing with the band in their jam room/bar/living quarters, decorated by the spoils from 15 years of being Toronto’s black metal workhorse. From humble beginnings playing suburban sports bars in full corpse-paint, to artful and impactful performances on international stages, the band has amassed an interesting collection of memorabilia. But let’s come back to that.
When Panzerfaust started, like most bands, they were a bit rough. It was the support of the local metal scene, and near-constant gigging, that helped them cut their teeth as musicians and form the foundation of what would become their current sound and image.
“We’ve been around for quite some time so, we’ve had to go through the experience of doing shit that you may find embarrassing if you look back on it today” says Van Dijk, smirking.
“You make all the critical errors, the elementary mistakes you make when you’re a band starting out. It’s important to mention this; we were teenagers when we started the band. A teenager knows, sweet fuck all about what they’re writing. Find me one and I’ll tell ya, ‘try again later.’”
Panzerfaust 2020 features founding members Van Dijk and vocalist Goliath, along with bassist Thomas Gervais and drummer Alex Kartashov, both of whom have been on board since last year. The band’s early work was steeped in old-school, raw black metal. It’s since changed into an intricate and progressive take on the genre, while still showing their roots in the origins of the sound. Naturally, their live shows have evolved along with their music. A hooded and menacing Goliath towers over the audience from a pulpit in the middle of stage, accentuated by the band’s layered sonic barrage. These changes have led to increased exposure internationally, and even a few more fans at home. Looking back, Van Dijk credits perseverance and practice for leading the band to their present incarnation.
“(It was) probably about 10 years into it,” he says after some thought.
“I’m a pretty firm believer that, any kind of practitioner of any kind of trade, it takes about 10 years to really figure out what it is you’re doing. Especially when it pertains to creative work. I think before we released The Lucifer Principle EP (in 2016), that’s when I think the proverbial ‘click’ in my mind happened.”
This musical progression has now led to their new album, The Suns of Perdition II: Render Unto Eden, out tomorrow, Friday August 28th on German label Eisenwald. Musically, the album is undoubtedly their most creative and varied, exploring different levels of sound and intensity across 5 sprawling tracks. It’s neither the clean bombast of popular black metal, nor the wall of noise that’s come to represent so many modern acts. Instead, Panzerfaust have established their own sound.
“This (album) is probably the most, for lack of a better word, experimental,” says Van Dijk.
“I think there’s a lot more dimensions involved with the writing of the music. We just realized the range of what we could do was so much more vast than anything we’d ever done before. For what reason that is I’m not sure. I think I’d probably attribute that partly to the fact that we have a new lineup, a more engaged lineup. There’s a lot more fleshing out of ideas. Sometimes nothing happens, but sometimes everything happens. The only real crime as a creative person is to be insincere. Everything else is arbitrary. Everyone can have disagreements or agreements about their appreciation of the material, or lack thereof. As long as you do it with sincerity and conviction, everything is out of your control. Black metal shouldn’t be restricted by the sound of it so much, as it is kind of a spirit. It’s an approach to music. It’s supposed to not be immediately digestible.”
Render Unto Eden is the second of a four-part historical album series following War, Horrid War in 2019. Generally speaking when playing extreme metal, it can be difficult to get a message across. In terms of writing about history, I wondered what Van Dijk’s expectations are for the audience to interpret the lyrics outside of experiencing the music.
“You’re not writing it for anybody else,” he says bluntly.
“But surely it’s nice when someone takes the time to read through it. In this band we’re all readers of books. You read a book a second time you get a lot more out of it. Imagine you do that a third and fourth time, you’re going to get more and more. You shouldn’t expect everyone to understand every nuance or subtlety of anything they’re listening to or reading. You just hope that maybe people will read it and it will make them think, and maybe think differently. For me personally, I like words. I like reading, I like seeing the words on the page.”
L to R: Thomas Gervais (bass), Goliath (vocals), Brock "Kaizer" Van Dijk (guitar/vocals)
Photo by Andrew Craig
In some of my previous At Home interviews, I’ve spoken about how many of our most talented homegrown artists have much larger followings outside of Canada. I would say that this goes double for underground metal bands, and in the last decade many of the most notable acts have been from Toronto. Bands like Skull Fist, Crimson Shadows, and Operus have all gained significant international fanbases. Panzerfaust have already toured the U.S, and appeared at Norway’s most famous heavy gathering, the Inferno Metal Festival. As far as Canadian black metal goes, it’s difficult to argue that they’ve become our biggest representative.
“I think the sphere we were operating in was kind of hindering our ability to expand in the direction that we probably should have long before,” says Van Dijk.
“You go to Europe there’s just more of a foundation for metal support. I think (metal) is more ‘artistically accepted’ there as a legitimate form of expression. It’s hard to put the United States in just one compartment, cause it’s such a big country and every city is so different. It’s not just one monolithic block. California is not Kentucky, and Oregon is not Florida, and Texas is not Rhode Island, right? Of course we’d like to play everywhere. You see festivals happening in Indonesia or India, for example. Which I think is great. It’s fantastic that music of this kind is opening up to areas of the world where it may not have been socially acceptable to have it played.”
Panzerfaust has returned to the U.S. as recently as 2018, and so Van Dijk’s observations about the cultural differences across the country come from first hand experience. Their 2014 American tour was particularly memorable for their well-documented photo-op, pissing on the headquarters of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church.
“All of the most nefarious parts of the American spirit have taken over,” he says.
“I’ve travelled the United States extensively, and I’ve met some of the best people. It’s one of the most fascinating countries in the world. You go across the American frontier it’s just an amazing place. A lot of these southern states, who are what you’d call your Trump-base, I’ve met many people there who couldn’t be nicer. Here’s the thing; you’re at someone’s polite dinner, and someone just drops a racial remark out of the blue. It’s very bizarre but the smile stays on their face. It makes most thinking people feel uncomfortable.”
The American and European touring has paid off for the band. Their live show is undeniably memorable, and perhaps the most significant aspect of that is Goliath. The band doesn’t really have a “frontman.” Goliath shares vocal duties with Van Dijk, and the audience isn’t addressed. With his face covered, Goliath’s echoing bellows take on what can only be described as a nightmarish quality. His development as a vocalist was fueled early on by a high school music teacher who bristled at his metal aspirations.
“He was very ‘by the book,’” says Goliath with a wry smile.
“I think with us, our mentality is, there are no boundaries. Creativity is all over the place, and that’s how it is. There’s no ‘you have to follow this rule to write this song, or you have to follow this rule to sing this way.’ With the attitude that I had, I wasn’t interested in learning theory in music at that point, and I wasn’t interested in learning classical compositions. I wanted to learn how to develop what I wanted to be as an artist. That was definitely a drive for a long time, still kind of is. Looking back, there’s still a part of me, if I could see some of those people, I would love to see the look on their faces.”
Photo by Samantha Carcasole
But let’s go back to the human skull for a moment. It sits on a shelf accompanied by trophies from the band’s penchant for what one might call, “shenanigans.” What I’m saying is that their personalities couldn’t be farther from the intensity of their music. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more fun-loving bunch on tour. For the most part, they keep their antics completely separate from their image as a band. The major exception is when they attracted criticism for their tour/t-shirt slogan, “This Is Not a Fucking Safe Space,” admittedly some of it from myself. I felt it was artistically distracting from their music, and gave more of a voice to the same people they were making fun of. Ultimately it didn’t seem to represent who they are as a band, or as people, and it’s something we still argue about at times.
“I’m actually still quite proud of that to be honest with you,” says Van Dijk.
“Our music isn’t supposed to be safe, it’s not even necessarily meant to be liberating. (But) we would never sanction the physical harm of any person for voicing an opinion, ever. Quite to the contrary.”
“If it ever came down to something like that, we would get involved,” says Goliath severely. Van Dijk nods emphatically and resumes speaking.
“I think all free-thinking people should be anti-fascist by definition,” he says.
“No one wants to see some dickless moron spouting off ridiculous things in their place of business, I can totally understand that. I’d kick them out myself if it were my business. We do have the street cred of… kickin’ a few Nazi heads in! (everyone laughs) I just can’t concern myself with the sensitivities of people who may or may not be bothered by (the slogan). I see things that offend me every single day. Don’t you think you’re offended by someone being killed by a police officer? I’m offended when I see something like that. I’m offended when an act of terrorism happens in whatever stripe it is. That offends me. I don’t like the word ‘offensive,’ I think it’s a stupid word. But if everyone else is allowed to be offended, I think it gives me a little bit of right to say it offends me when I see unpardonable offences to human rights.”
Despite our differences of opinion on some issues, I’ve always found Panzerfaust to be a breath of fresh air in a genre often dominated by polarizing personalities with extreme beliefs. For me, their music is about examining both their sound and subject matter from different angles, and as such, they are on pace to set a new standard in Canadian black metal. But with what’s arguably their best work dropping amidst a global pandemic, I asked Van Dijk if this is going to affect their forward momentum. Turns out that for Panzerfaust, the shutdown has only given them more time to write new music, and they’re already looking to the future.
“In terms of the creative allowance we’ve been given, with being able to sit in this room and just make more music, we have something of an ambitious project we’ve embarked on,” he says smiling.
Panzerfaust’s new album, The Suns of Perdition II: Render Unto Eden is out tomorrow, Friday August 28th on Eisenwald. You can order your own copy here, and you can also stream the album in full below.
Photo by Joerg Baumgarten
This interview was originally filmed in September of 2019 with the intention of releasing it to coincide with Agnostic Front’s 2020 spring North American tour. The tour was first postponed to late summer, and now to spring of 2021. Looking at such a long wait, it seemed right to release the interview with no further delay.
This was shot while the band was on tour for the 35th anniversary of their full-length debut Victim In Pain, ahead of the release of their latest album GET LOUD!
You can get your own copy of GET LOUD! from Nuclear Blast here, and you can watch the video for “I Remember” below. In Canada, you can watch the Agnostic Front documentary The Godfathers of Hardcore on Crave here.
Protest The Hero 2020: (L to R) Luke Hoskin (guitar), Michael Ieradi (drums), Rody Walker (vocals), Tim MacMillar (guitar)
Photo by Wyatt Clough
By the mid-2000s, Protest The Hero had already gained a pretty serious following in Canada. It was a time when the underground heavy music scene couldn’t have been more divided. On the one side there were the old-school headbangers and the new crop of extreme metal-worshipping youngsters. On the other side were the metalcore kids, and despite their music having all the trappings of extreme metal, most of it was dismissed as somehow being too soft. Sure, the overly-saccharine screamo subgenre was a part of it, but bands like Despised Icon, The Red Chord, and their progressive cousins Between The Buried and Me were as heavy as any tech-death god. It was these bands who would eventually bridge the gap between the scenes.
Protest The Hero had a more hardcore punk take on the genre, with liberal doses of classic metal guitar and prog melodies, punctuated by vocalist Rody Walker’s operatic tremulo. It was their second album, 2008’s Fortress, that began to shift the band from metalcore scene darlings, to international headliners. It also arguably remains the heaviest album ever to hit Number One on the Canadian charts. Speaking to Walker from his home, he holds nothing back in describing the main drawback of that album’s success.
“A lot of people started listening to us on Fortress, and (the same people) are often very disappointed by the rest of our output because nothing we’ve done has been quite as Metallica as what we did on that second record,” says Walker laughing.
“When we write stuff I’m always kind of baffled when people harken back to Fortress, and reference it as like the most metallic thing. I think that Fortress was a lot of people’s first experience with us. First impressions are everything, and you never get to have that first impression again. So when people enjoyed that record, which I do appreciate, they find it hard to have that same experience again. It’s like heroin, you’re chasing the purple dragon and you never quite capture it again! (laughs) I think the evolution of our band has been really natural, and somewhat obvious. I think that’s also where some of the divide is. We sort of left the metalcore behind in my opinion, moved in a more progressive way for (2011’s) Scurrilous. But nothing that we’ve ever done is an extreme departure, and I don’t think there’s a crazy amount of diversity amongst our album catalogue.”
Putting out an album has now become a tough business decision to make these days. The band has just released Palimpest, their first full-length in seven years. It’s a sprawling historical epic that tackles various events in U.S. history, while giving you the most advanced version of their sound that they’ve ever produced.
“Releasing under quarantine is not ideal, people don’t really have money to spend,” says Walker.
“(It) will impact the release of this record and ultimately the amount of money we make. We had a discussion, we sat down and went ‘Do we care? How much do we care?’ We didn’t start this band for money, and as much as it is our career and our job, it’s gonna be fine! We are fortunate that we are not so reliant on touring to pay for our lives. So we just put the record out and bit the bullet.”
Most of the press related to the album has been regarding Walker’s lyrics on Palimpest, which were written in the wake of the 2016 U.S. election. While most of Walker’s lyrics have been personal in nature, this album finds him looking outward for the first time, and in my view it’s the most direct writing that he’s ever done.
“I know we’ve certainly had… (chuckles) lyricism that was more flowery and artsy, but I’ve always done my best to have people know what I’m talking about,” he says cautiously.
“(2013’s) Volition (had) a lot of that and some people were really not fond of just how specific I was. I know we’re not the first ever to do that ‘cause there’s a whole history of punk rock artists doing it. Punk rock has a long history of (people) saying exactly what they mean. That’s something about that genre specifically that I have always appreciated, like there’s no bullshit, and you see other artists who haven’t explored it before (who) are exploring it now.”
A big part of the recent press coverage has centered around a statement Walker made in another interview when he was asked if the new lyrics will alienate fans who don’t “align with (the band) politically and socially.” Although his answer specifically addressed the “super right-wing, alternative conservative element,” subsequent headlines have misconstrued his response as saying that anyone with any kind of conservative values shouldn’t listen to their music. It was a strange question to begin with, as Protest always seemed to have one of the more diverse audiences in heavy music.
“Obviously I’m not saying that anyone who votes conservative (shouldn’t be) listening to my music, I’m talking about the alt-right,” he says with some frustration.
“(Our audience) is diverse to a certain degree, but it is also predominantly white and predominantly male. I think we have a responsibility to acknowledge that, and speak up and support the black community. There are people who are coming to our shows, black people, people of colour, indigenous people, and they are surrounded by predominantly white males. So it’s not only our responsibility to attempt to inform the white males that are coming to our shows about how we feel. But it’s also our responsibility to make those people of colour feel more comfortable and less isolated when they’re coming to our shows and when they’re listening to our music, make them feel included.”
I mention to Walker that I think it's in part due to this diversity, that I have at times witnessed what I termed as “incidents of privilege” at Protest shows in the past; white audience members singling out people-of-colour in some way. For instance I remember seeing a drunk white fan walk up behind a black man with an afro, and begin petting his hair like he would an animal.
“In relation to the acts of privilege that we’ve seen, that we’ve perpetrated ourselves, I think now is a huge time for us as individuals and as artists with a platform to acknowledge the privilege that we have inside ourselves, and attempt to acknowledge the moments where we have expressed or ignored prejudice,” he says passionately.
“We have a platform to sort of promote that idea as well so people who listen to our music can also maybe look inward and try find their own moments of prejudice and privilege. The first step in order to expel your own privilege and prejudice is to fuckin’ acknowledge it. I think now is a really good time to fuckin’ do that, for all white people. “
Palimpest is also the first album for the band since Walker blew out his voice in 2018 on the tour for the 10th anniversary of Fortress. Recovery required a period where he couldn’t speak at all, and it forced Walker to prepare for the worst and confront the fact that he probably couldn’t continue with the band if the treatment didn’t work.
“It was about a week where I didn’t speak and I was on (anti-inflammatory medication) Prednisone,” he says with a note of self-consciousness.
“What choice do you have than to just like, go inward and wrap yourself in balls of anxiety? I got to a point where ‘If this doesn’t work, why would I continue to try and just ultimately injure myself?’ Thinking about singing a little lullaby to my son, or just speaking to my family… why would I jeopardize my actual speaking voice, cause that’s fuckin’ insane! (chuckling) Y’know you’re taking away one of your senses to be in an…. underground metal band! (bursts out laughing) I spent that week very much, sort of… fuckin’ panicking! But it is what it is. I found a way to get myself back and healthy in a way that doesn’t hurt. I worked my buns to the bone to get this (new album) sung.”
Walker has always been fun to talk to, as his penchant for serious topics is offset by his near-constant, often self-deprecating sense of humour. It’s amazing to see how family and fatherhood have become essential parts of his personality. He’s been spending his quarantine at home where he’s settled into a routine that includes lots of time hanging out with his 2-year-old son. Fortunately for Walker he hasn’t had to perform any homeschool duties yet.
“If I had to teach him anything other than dinosaur names I think I’d be fucked!” he exclaims.
“I’m scrolling through Facebook and y’know how they have those tricky math questions that people post like ‘Oh, post the answer in the fuckin’ comments!’ I try to do those every day and then I look in the comments and someone will have the same answer that I came up with and it’s always the wrong answer! But my quarantine life is pretty simple. I wake up with my boy every morning, and we goof around, eat breakfast then we head over to my parents’ house. My mom takes him for a walk and I lift weights with my dad. Just drinking a lot of booze and raising the next generation in isolation, and I often wonder and worry about the psychological damage that this will do to our children!” (laughs)
Protest The Hero were children themselves when they started the band. Between becoming a father, his vocal recovery, and spending a ton of time at home, the last couple of years have got Walker thinking about the early days of the band, and just how much pressure was on them at a very young age. As consumers we don’t always consider the effect that public attention can have on a young person, and how the desire to meet the expectations of others can eclipse their own well-being.
“When we were comin’ up we were young kids, and people were like flabbergasted by what we were doing,” he says.
“But with time as we’ve grown older and our skills have sort of, rounded at the edges, maybe I don’t see us being as successful as some other people might have viewed us. It’s really based on other people’s expectations, which is a really awful way to value or devalue yourself. Reflecting on what things were and what things could have been, I don’t know, sometimes when I look at it I feel as though we didn’t quite live up to our potential. But other times I look at it and I think ‘The sky’s the limit, we’re not fuckin’ done.’”
You can get your own copy of Palimpest in a whole bunch of different formats (including tie-dye cassette) here, and you can stream the full album below.