If you've heard the name of Association Area mentioned, chances are:
a) you've heard the CoC staff mention the name;
b) you read some bad graffiti on the bathroom wall in a truck
stop somewhere in Detroit;
or c) you were lucky enough to come in contact with Kevin
Stewart-Panko's glorious zine Doomhauled during its brief
but truly memorable existence, and saw it mentioned there.
The zine, a mixture of off-beat humour and well-written band interviews/reviews and essays, is a definite landmark in the zine world, no doubt up on the pedestal with The Grimoire of Exalted Deeds when it comes to crazy-ass ideas and downright rude 'n' crude humour. In short, Doomhauled will never be duplicated and that is a good thing. Neither will the music of Association Area, hopefully, 'cause one of these fine messes is enough for all of us music freaks to digest.
The hardest thing about Association Area (other than some of the monstrous wallops they dish out for us) is the task of trying to pinpoint who or what they sound like (see Stewart-Panko's description below). The spirited free form, noisy numbers come off like algebraic formulas of riffs and vocals screams, sandwiched between a killer rhythm section and jazz-filled beats. This is music that'll leave your stomach in knots, but have your brain going off in an ecstatic frenzy.
The man on the end of the line is Kevin Stewart-Panko, guitarist for the Toronto band Association Area and writer for England's Terrorizer magazine. He's got a busy schedule, but Chronicles of Chaos was lucky enough to drag him away from a busy night of washing dishing and porn to chat it up with and get down to business. Throughout the interview, we discuss their debut for Swedish label Lunasound Recordings (titled _Loathsome Deco_) and what inspires them to play music. Mr. Stewart-Panko gives us the lowdown...
"I'll tell you something, I don't know what the motivations for anyone else in the band are to create music, but music is something I have always been interested in. I have always done something regarding music. Ever since I was like nine years old, I have been playing some form of instrument. I like all types of music and just playing", says Stewart-Panko. "Even tapping beats on a table gets me happy about doing this. Some people get excited about movies and all that; music is just that for me. I like the idea of being in a band."
He continues, "Being in a band is not just about being in a band. It is also about traveling around and meeting people. It is a huge learning process. You have to learn about yourself in a social sense, how to manage your money and how to manage your time, in regards to touring and managing your work and relationships. You learn a lot on the road. You learn who you can put up with and who your true friends really are."
Along with the rest of the band -- drummer Chris Gramlich, singer Craig Young and bassist Matt Daley --, Stewart-Panko has made an extra effort to get noticed and keeps the sound of AA alive and well throughout the years of molding and honing in on their sound. Throughout the years the band has released a 7" (titled _Tundra_) and a debut CD titled _Stop Motion Has Been_. These accomplishments not only please Stewart-Panko, but have allowed him and the rest of the band to see how they have grown as musicians and just where they are headed.
"In the beginning, I was always very strong in believing that I wanted to take my time with this band when it came to making music. I wanted to write good solid songs, as opposed to just rushing through and recording whatever came out and sticking with that. When we went in to make music, I wanted it to be as good as it was going to be when we went in to record. I didn't want to sit around and write the perfect song, but I didn't want to go in half-assed either."
"You always want to do your best when it comes to music and that is what keeps you going at this and constantly trying to top yourself or just do something different. But there is also something said for taking your time", he notes. "As free-form as things are with us, there is some degree of planning involved."
Why should people listen to AA? Stewart-Panko laughs out loud. "I dunno... I think it depends on who you are. If you are young and getting into heavy music by way of what you see on Much Music [Canada's superior version of MTV -- Adrian] and nu-metal then it is good for them to know that there is more than just mainstream music to sample. There is life outside of the seven string guitar riffs and just listening to some guy scream his head off. It allows them to explore and try new things and just see what else is out there. As for older music fans and why they should check us out? If people have had it with the scene and you're sick with all of the bands sounding the same and just not doing much, I think we offer a bit more of an involved sound to really listen to. We give people who are really jaded maybe something a bit different to latch onto. I think older fans will hear some older music influences in our music, just presented in a different manner. It is not that we play original music, it is just the way we put it together and try doing it a different way. I think people will take note of that and maybe give us a listen."
I ask Stewart-Panko to describe the sound of AA in one sentence or a grouping of adjectives. After numerous failed attempts to concoct a sentence of ideas, he lets loose: "Okay... how about this? "Canada's Most Dyslexic BTO Cover Band", or "Constipated Mass Rock for the Masses". Wait! This sounds good: "A 35-Minute Roller-Coaster Ride of Algebraic Noise Concoctions Created in a Post-Punk World by Post-Modernist Anti-Artistic New Age Explorers". I dunno... <laughs> something like that."
So does he think their abstract and sometimes odd sound helps or hampers them as a band? "I think a little of both. It hurts in the sense of when we try to book our shows and some DIY hardcore kid thinks we are not hardcore enough to play on that bill. We have encountered that quite a bit. But it also helps, because it draws people in who want more from music. It is a personal challenge to just write any type of music that doesn't sound like anything else out there. I think our music really helps us stand out. It is a slower road for us, because we don't really fit in and we have to play lots of small shows and lots of really weird places to get noticed. I think we are attracting the real music fan, as opposed to just the really trendy scenesters."
And what about reviews of the forthcoming record? Is Stewart-Panko expecting a lot of album bashing? What has the response been like so far? He states, "I am actually surprised how positive it has really been for the reviews with this album. From the beginning I have been prepared for the bad reviews. You just know that not everyone is going to like what you do. You have to be ready for it. I am ready for people to say the music is shit and I am a real bad guitar player. I don't care. I actually take perverse pleasure in really bad reviews, because I like to see what people don't like and I find it funny."
While Stewart-Panko and the AA crew have a lot of initiative going for them and their music, it is the support of Stuart Ness (Lunasound Recordings owner) that will hopefully make a name for them. At least this fan (and guitarist) hopes so.
"We never really planned to hook up with a label overseas, it just happened that way. The funny thing is we sent out all of our demos to many labels and friends out there to see what they think and maybe somebody would take interest in what we were doing. Stuart was the only one who really came out and told us that he really liked us and the music we played. We've had friends in bands tell us we were good and some labels saying good things, but Lunasound really showed interest. We had some interest from Roadrunner Records a few years back when our 7" came out. But nothing came from that -- thank God! <laughs> Stuart was the only guy who wanted to work with us."
"Sure it is an upstart new label", explains Stewart-Panko, "but I did some research on the guy and I asked around. I asked a lot of people in England and overseas, "Who is this guy?" I had never heard of him and his story seemed good. I asked my friends at Terrorizer and some other people and they said to me, "If there is a guy who can do a lot of good for you and break you in Europe, then this is the guy." He knows his shit and he has tons of contacts and..."
"...And he likes porn", I jut in.
"Yeah, whatever. <laughs> The bottom line is he liked the stuff, he wanted to work with us and that was good enough for me. It didn't matter to me that it is just him and his wife working the label. He is very professional on how he does things and I can't complain. This guy believes in us. At least someone does. <laughs>"