PRESS: Interview with Cactus Vella

April 11, 2013

Posted by Wednesday, April 11, 2013

You’ve been playing in Toronto punk bands since I first started playing with Pogs…
What are some of your best memories from the 90’s punk scene in Toronto?

I was lucky enough to get into the Toronto punk scene at such a great time. There was amazing bands like Blundermen, Hockey Teeth, One Blood, Wad, The Satanatras, Problem Children, Mudfish, and so many more. There was an awesome place called Project X. Every Sunday afternoon there would be great all-ages shows for the kids. The scene was a lot of fun. It was also a lot tougher. There was violence, but there was comfort in knowing that people had your back. You really did pay your dues back then…. We had “The Hardcore Hotline”, great stores like the Record Peddler, which was loaded with local music. Lots of punks on Yonge Street back then. Rotate This used to have bands play in the back room sometimes. That was really cool. The ARA was in full effect. There was great punk radio shows from the colleges and universities, fanzines everywhere. The Elmo, The Sibony, Who’s Emma, Classic Studios, The Edge Water, The Silver Shack, The Generator and so many other great venues. Damn, I could go on for ever. But the funny thing is there’s people that can tell you all about Toronto in the 80’s. I play with those guys in The Class Assassins. They were there in the beginning! I’ve always considered myself a student of the game. I love hearing stories from before my time. Back in the day, and so on.

How has it changed, what’s different today?
It’s changed big time! But we don’t compare apples and oranges. Today’s scene is great!  Everyone’s a punk! lol.
You’ve played with Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), Eddy Spaghetti (Supersuckers) and Tommy Ramone, you must have some good stories about those guys!? DISH! 
No dirt on those guys. Glen was a true gentlemen. Easily the nicest Sex Pistol of the bunch. Eddy was really cool, it was an honor to play with him. and Tommy Ramone was a really nice dude as well. I’ve opened up for some awesome bands like Bad Religion, The Bronx, NoMeansNo, DOA, Agnostic Front, GBH, The Business, The Queers, Jello Biafra, The Dropkicks and many many more.
I spent a week on tour with Leatherface and that was a blast! Those guys have had the biggest influence on me as a musician, and getting to spend so much time with them was amazing! We had some great jam sessions and partied pretty hard as well.  Playing with the people who influenced you is a big part of why we do this. I sang my song “Rhythm & The Rebel” to Frankie Stubbs from Leatherface and he said it made him cry. He absolutely loved it. It doesn’t get much better than that!
What do you think about the whole punk rock goes country resurgence  lately with Chuck Ragan and all those guys, The Revival Tour, etc?
Are they too legit to quit or just used to be legit, but are now unlegit and should quit? 
I love it! It adds a whole new dimension to the genre. Totally legit! It’s a very natural progression.
I remember getting really excited when a band I liked would release an acoustic version of a song. Getting my hands on those largely-ignored Bad Religion acoustic tracks from the 80’s was a blast. As for Revival, I would kill to get on that tour.
Did any of that shit inspire you to go solo? 
Not at all, I actually began playing solo back in 1998. At that time there wasn’t very many punk acoustic acts that I was aware of. My band at the time, Bombshelter, had just broken up and I didn’t want to stop performing. So I put together a solo set, moved to the city, and started taking bookings anywhere I could. I mostly played punk and hardcore shows. Eventually I landed a residency at Rancho Relaxo and started booking like minded musicians.
I took a break from the solo thing for a few years to focus on my bands. Now I’m back at it.
Who is Anxiety Attack Recordings?  
Anxiety Attack Recordings is me. I funded and released a Class Assassins CD a couple of years ago. I figured if I’m going to release albums I might as well have a label. I put out my solo CD “Sailin’ On” earlier this year. I’m now working on a compilation. I also run a graphic design company called Anxiety Attack Designs. Graphic Design pays my bills. It’s my other passion. That’s where the ‘Anxiety Attack’ comes from. I’m hoping to slowly take over everything.
 “A voice that sounds like he’s singing through his beard” …I love it, who came up with that?
Chris MacDonald said it recently when we were recording the Whiskey Hearts 7″. We all had a good laugh about it. Meanwhile I was thinking how awesome that line would be for my bio. Always thinking….    Chris is a pretty funny guy. He usually has a Cactus joke up his sleeve at all times. And he’s one of the best Tattoo artists in the city.

If you cut your beard do you think you’d sound different? 
Most definitely.
Who else is in Whiskey Hearts with you? 
Whiskey Hearts is myself, Chris MacDonald, Scoop Trumbull, and Matt Asselstine. We also have people that come and go. For out last 4 gigs we were joined by Lionel Stanley who plays lap steel and mandolin. Also Meg Tilston joins us sometimes with additional vocals. In fact we have three Megan’s who join us on stage sometimes. We play at The Press Club in Toronto on the first Saturday every month.
Stereo Dynamite Recordings will be releasing our debut 7″ this June. Also, we just filmed a music video with a great director by the name of Brendan Coutts. He was in the band The Heatskores. I just watched the rough cut and it looks awesome! It should be out in a week or two.
I’m sure you enjoy each for a different reason, but if you had to choose… which do you enjoy the MOST? Performing in a punk band like The Class Assassins, a softer folkier band like Whiskey Hearts or doing your very own solo acoustic songs? 
That question is a tough one. The Class Assassins is such a tight band. I get this wicked feeling when we play. It’s the kind of punk rock I wanted to make when I was 16 years old. I’m a big fan of what we do. So is my father. He really likes the Class Assassins.
Whiskey Hearts on the other hand is the music that current day Cactus dreams of making. I love the fact that we don’t consider ourselves a band. we don’t practice regularly and we improv a lot of our set. Whiskey Hearts is a different animal from anything else I’ve even done.
Playing solo is my biggest thrill. I love doing my own thing. When I’m solo I’m usually carefree and at peace.
What’s Ian Blurton like in real life? Once he said I was cool over Twitter and I crapped my pants I was so flattered… 
He said you were cool? That’s nicer than anything he’s ever said to me!  Ian’s a really good guy, I’ve known him for years. We’ve had many conversations about Husker Du, Black Flag and NoMeansNo. I used to run a boozecan, and Ian was the guy who slowly destroyed the place. We all got out of hand there.
Ian produced the latest Sinkin’ Ships CD that we’ll eventually release. It was very cool working with him. He has awesome ideas about sounds and layers. Ian and I spent a good 11 hours one day recording all my guitar parts. He worked me damn hard. When Ian is in work mode he’s quite serious and very professional. As soon as the work is done he’s a party dude and wants to let loose. Buy him shots of Jager, he’ll be your best friend.
How’d you shoot the video for “Touch The Ground” … what are you on? Not drug wise unless you want to go there, but in the scene when you’re outside… 
Oh, the scene when I appear to be floating or something outside? That’s a little camera trickery. Basically I’m holding the camera tripod against my body forcing the camera to be locked in tight on me. Also I think it was shot in double time, then slowed down down the edit. I was totally wasted….  on coffee and Timbits. we shot that scene at 4:20.
The video was directed by my good friend Dominique Girouard. He’s known for directing “The Prince Edward Island Encyclopedia” web series.  He also works on the award-winning series “Leaf’s Beefs”. He had some cool ideas for a video for me. I’m really happy with it! Dom is the man!
You have a pretty guitar. That’s not a question or anything, just really wanted to tell you. 
Thanks! Her name is Miss Elizabeth.  I bought her back in ’97 and she sounds better today than the day I brought her home.
Have you ever horked up a loogie only to find that your voice was no longer raspy and you couldn’t sing the way you sing anymore? 
That’s nice.
Are you a hopeless romantic? 
Romantic, yes. Hopeless, no.

A true believer? 
My favorite Bouncing Souls song. Yes I am.

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