Multi-armed Minotaurs mine politics for grooves
People might be drawn to the Minotaurs for the band’s propulsive, horn-goosed, groove-heavy songs, but ask leader Nathan Lawr what he hopes will impact listeners most and he’ll tell you straight up it’s the message. To Lawr, agitprop – especially of the left-leaning musical variety - is not a dirty word.
On the blower from his Guelph, ON base, the disarmingly witty singer/songwriter and drummer behind the so-called “Indie Afrobeat Pranksters” is happy to field questions and compliments about the Minotaurs’ just-released New Believers disc which boasts a guest appearance by singer Sarah Harmer and enough skronking sax, trombone, trumpet and percussion to alight the night sky.
The disc is also a battle-cry against intransigent government and its intractable policies, to name two bones of contention check-listed. And that places the multi-membered Minotaurs at the crossroads of folk sensibilities and ska-rock sound.
As the group prepares to unleash New Believers – including a show January 26 at Toronto’s Tranzac Club – Lawr chats with MSN about the trouble with club cover charges and why Stephen Harper should have his ears boxed.
What kind of songwriter are you: the guy with the notebook in the back pocket at all times, or the guy who woodsheds when it’s time to write a new record?
Somewhere in between; it’s a very esoteric process. But I do manage the lion’s share of songwriting.
I guess with so many band members it would be hard to uphold a songwriting democracy?
Yes, call us an enlightened dictatorship [Laughs].
Your lyrics often speak to current events. Is there a fine line between music as commentary and music as entertainment?
Not necessarily. There’s no reason why you can’t have a song that’s about something also be entertaining. They’re not mutually exclusive. Songs about dancing and love aren’t the only things that can be entertaining.
People could come to your music because it’s upbeat and has horns and is fun to dance to but be deaf to your message. That OK with you?
I am OK with that. I always thought the groove was a Trojan horse for the message, that people will get the rhythms and the grooves first and the message after. I mean, to some extent I am a folk singer. I don’t sing quote-unquote folks songs and I’m not a folkie in the strictest definition. I do have commercial ambitions. But I feel like I am in the same vein as Pete Seeger; the intention of our music is the same even if the delivery is different.
Touring must be outrageously expensive for a band like yours.
Yes. The cover charge for a rock show hasn’t changed in a decade. In fact people complain about high cover charges. I mean, you’re paying $8 for a three-band bill and people think that’s too much. I remember paying that to see shows, like, 15 years ago. Taking an eight- or nine-piece band on the road, that barely pays for the gas. It’s pretty hard. There are grants available from the Canada Council for the Arts but you basically have to be on the road – and sometimes losing thousands of dollars – in order to access them.
Have you looked to international markets?
Yes but it’s tough – I have a family and a job in academic publishing. There are only so many hours in a day.
How did Sarah Harmer end up on the record?
We’ve known each other for quite a few years. My old band, Royal City, did a tour opening for her and that’s how I met her. With that song in particular (“Open the Doors,” the first single and based on the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto), I suspected she’d get the point of it and I really thought her voice would bring it to another level.
OK so you’re political. Let’s suppose you find yourself seated next to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on an airplane…
Seriously, what would you talk to him about?
I doubt he’d want to hear anything I have to say based on how he conducts himself in general. He seems disinterested in any viewpoint besides his own. Actually what I would really love to know is: do his policies stem from a sincere desire to make this country good for everyone. Because if it is, we’re together on that point though I have to ask: why do you do what you do? Honestly I have fantasized about meeting him; my hatred for the man is thick.
On a lighter note, what fundraiser would you drop everything to play?
Impeach Stephen Harper? Actually, I just recently did quite a bit of volunteer work for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association; we did a fundraiser at Lee’s Palace. That’s something I feel strongly about and the organization is working to secure the civil liberties and rights of all Canadians. That’s pretty central and hard to argue with. Even (Conservative media personality) Ezra Levant can’t argue with that [Laughs].