Eight and a Half
The Power of Three
Off a well-lit alleyway just north of Wellington Street, Spin Galactic‘s redesigned historic space is equally appealing as the highlighted items on the social club’s snack menu. Between the beaming pillars of the cement floored loft, sit a dozen top-lit ping pong tables and a few die hard players — pints in hand — leisurely moving about the room. Behind a semi-private, bleached panel-wood partition, opened enough for discreet speculation from onlookers, you’ll find an Olympic size table, sofa space for 10, and a handful of paddles reserved for the next big match. A gentle voice heard in the background — programmed perfectly to the occasion — bellows comfort and carries the spring of local acumen. Affirming not only Spin’s hospitable touch, but is the perfect soundtrack to watch her (sometimes) colleague, waltz down the stairs and quietly find his place at the bar.
For Toronto-born drummer Justin Peroff, calling King West “The Dubai of Toronto” is no stretch of the imagination, let alone insult to its culture. The streets are littered with fashion-forward professional types, magnetized to booth service and car dealerships, and young money whose concerns can be measured by the size of their pets or questionable savvy when it comes to the disposal of their four-legged friends ‘fury’ so to speak. Enclaved by “hip town” (Queen West), “905 Haven” (Toronto’s club district), and “No Man’s Land” (tomorrow’s East Liberty Village), advertising pedlars, investment junkies, and life sci grads from the country, are the typical residents of this bricks and mordar built neighbourhood. It’s a nightlife lost and found for GTA limo drivers and is thinly scaved by only a handful of homicides; locals here are loyal to Jimmy’s coffee, and everyone has an in at the Spoke Club. Some of the city’s most gorgeous residential architecture hides beyond the alleys, only discoverable by foot though. And monuments like Spice Route or Cheval are slighted only by high-brow entertainment professionals on visit from Berlin. But, provided you’ll pay for it, world class DJs are spinning just about any day of the week around here and in general, it’s a pretty hot crowd you’d be fortunate to rub shoulders with.
Over the last few years solo projects have become an increasingly popular way for Canadian talent to explore their artistic potential (Alexisonfire, The Dears, Tragically Hip), although for Eight and a Half, ‘collective creation’ is the bonding ingredient freshening each member’s artistic careers. And regardless of the (no longer) pending release from The Stills and the release of Forgiveness Rock Record last year, Eight and a Half committed themselves to the band’s self-titled debut long before anyone really knew of tangible meaning behind it.
Before announcing The Stills break up in 2011, and before the two ex-Stills relocated, Toronto was just another creative destination for Dave Hamelin and Liam O’Neil to reach together. In 2003, the late Montreal pop-rock outfit released ‘Logic Will Break Your Heart’ and with that momentum the band landed a deal with Vice Records and released ‘Without Feathers’ on the label in 2006. For a number of years thereafter, Hamelin and O’Neil spent a significant amount of time on the road together, including multiple tours accompanying Kings of Leon internationally. Signing to Arts & Crafts in 2008, the band was awarded two Junos the following year for ‘Oceans Will Rise’ and Hamelin and O’Neil were hardly working apart. But between recording sessions with Broken Social Scene in Chicago, BSS drummer Justin Peroff made for a few trips to Montreal and the three were pleased to create a handful of songs together. Many of which would later become the bulk of Eight and a Half’s debut. Over the course of many months, the three musicians continued to exchange material via email, realizing that following through with this project was just “something they had to do,” says Peroff:
“The first time I was there I was playing in a punk rock band called Secret Agent. I was 17 and I stayed in the plateau. I had been to Europe by that point in time and it really felt like a European city in North America. I’ve since gone on to dub it as Canada’s New Orleans because you have very European type lifestyle in regards to even how the people dress, the food, and the French language.”
“I call this neighbourhood the Dubai of Toronto. It’s entirely manmade and almost as if people feel priviledged to just exist in this neighbourhood. Not to mention it grew really, really fast. It’s like you walk down the street and people just literally throw money in the air. Toronto will always be home for me though. I wouldn’t live in Montreal. That’s just the way it is. I like being close to my family too. My parents live in Markham and my sister lives in Stoufville. It’s nice to know that they’re always only an hour away tops.”
“Dave and Liam started a myspace page under Eight and a Half when myspace was relevant and for no particular reason, but maybe under the casual idea of eventually playing music under that name one day. Then the whole idea went silent for many years and after a conversation a few summers ago, I took a trip to Montreal and we just decided to jam and see what happened. We were pretty happy with the product and just continued to build. When it came time to make the name of the band, that MySpace page was brought up again.”
The Recording Process
“You can actually hear that the songs that are more lively and have more live instrumentation are the songs that we wrote in a room together. Whereas the more electronically tinged songs were made because Liam and Dave were living in Montreal and I was recording in Chicago. So we weren’t really together very often during that time and were sending tracks through email.”
“I actually made a list of people that I would create with and then by process of elimination I ended up with these two guys. They’re some of my closest friends. Dave and I met at SXSW 9 years ago so when we ended up playing together this year, it was kind of like our 9 year anniversary.”
The Learning Curve
“It’s funny, I never really thought about that until we were developing a plan for Eight and a Half. For instance there’s a certain type of strategy towards designing a tour. What markets we should play and why. What support slots we should play – whether it’s an opener for us of who we’re opening for. So in my experience there were definitely weeks and months of touring that weren’t entirely necessary. You exhaust yourself and you come home maybe breaking even, maybe losing money, and you have to stop and think ‘why did I do that?’ And sometimes it’s necessary and your team can help you understand the reasoning. Basically with Social Scene I grew up with that band. I was a younger guy and now I at least pretend to be an adult. But we’re all on the same page when it comes to the decision making process and how our past ties into this project.”
Pick up Eight & A Half’s self-titled debut here.
Photo Credit: Rohan Ramsay