Interview by Mike Aylward
This Toronto band is known for continually mowing down audiences with unabashed high energy rock. Affectionately dubbed "The Bag" by fans, the band openly shows influences of classic rock as well as the new school of heavy guitar based music. Bag fans cited the band's no nonsense approach to playing rock music as the reason for the groupâ€™s growing popularity. Principle songwriter Eric Bridenbaker has spent a great deal of time crafting songs that let his offbeat personality and considerable guitar skills fuse within them. All the members of Plastic Bag are veteran rockers with Dylan Parker from The Lowest of the Low (bass), Mitch Cruickshank (drums) of the Toronto area band Shortfall and Cam Bull (guitar) having played various instruments in both Starkicker and By Divine Right.
Hard, loud and fast, without losing a sense of melody, this is serious rock music by a serious rock band. As a band, they are "for those who like to rockâ€?.
The band just released its new cd, Chemical, on March 11th. You can preview songs from Chemical by going here, and you can check out the bandâ€™s website here, You can also download a few sample MP3s by going here.
Mike Aylward spoke with principal songwriter Eric Bridenbaker of Plastic Bag:
Mike: How would you define your sound to a newcomer to your music?
Eric: The one word that best describes what we do is ROCK. We're rather hard and loud as a band, throwing out a lot of sweat, spit and energy. We play with the same intensity that metal and punk bands do, really, but there is also very strong sensibility of songwriting and melodic hook to the music. As much as we like our Marshalls, crashing drums and screaming, we are all into writing good songs. If you listen to the album, or come to see the Bag live you should expect an infusion of rock juice, and you might end up singing to a few of the lyrics as well.
Mike: What types of music and which musicians/groups influenced you growing up?
Eric: Well, personally I've been really lucky, my dad used to DJ and has a HUGE collection of vinyl. Growing up, it was like having a record store in the house. Everything was there. Rock, Classical, Jazz, Folk, Blues, World, Electronic... the list goes on and I listened to most of it. Started playing guitar around age nine or ten, the first tune I learned was Yellow Submarine. Black Sabbath's Paranoid album and Queen's News of the World were on my turntable a lot around then. So was Fleetwood Mac's Rumors.
But it kept getting heavier after that. Around fourteen it was all the Metal bands: Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Dio, Def Leppard, Van Halen. Once Metallica's Ride the Lightning came out, it was all over. Bands like Anthrax, Slayer, Kreator, Venom, Voivod, DRI, COC soon followed and I started going to a these types of shows. The vibe was more hardcore, very intense. It turns out that our bass player Dylan saw a lot of these same concerts as well, but it would still be a while until we would meet.
Cam, our guitar player loves the metal, but also is a HUGE fan of classic rock; Stones, Kiss, Beatles, Thin Lizzy, Springsteen, he also has a record store at home. He is the founder of Cam Classic Radio.
The list is pretty much all over the map. We've all grown up listening to a wide variety of music. When we're all in the van together, the stereo might be playing ZZ Top, or Black Sabbath, or Willie Nelson, or Fugazi, or CCR, or ....I think all of us agree that AC/DC may be the best rock band EVER.
Mike: What groups have really inspired you?
Eric: Different artists can be inspirational in different ways, take for instance the live energy of a band like AC/DC, or the songwriting of the Beatles. Check out the musicianship going on in a jazz performance, the sonic textures on a Pink Floyd album. The intense rip ride of a Slayer record. So everyone has something different to offer, an area of strength, which is the source of inspiration. The Bag mostly draws inspiration from those bands that have both great songs and energy. We all are inspired by that.
Mike: Where do you find inspiration for your songwriting?
Eric: Mostly by playing. Every now and then, an idea comes out that seems really good. We tend to work with the music for a while, trying to understand the flow, the mood... what it's essentially saying.
When enough of the right music comes together, then I usually do the lyrics.. Some of the melodies are already there, at least mentally if not already implied by the instrumental parts. The job now is to find words that fit the melody, and compliment the feel of the music. This is where it gets interesting. The lyrics can take the song to unexpected places.
Mike: How did growing up in Toronto influence your music?
Eric: All of us have lived in T.O. for over ten years now. The urban environment is a definite influence - partially because of the hustle and bustle, but mostly because of the increased exposure to music. There are thousands of musicians playing here every night. There's always someone with a different take on things around the corner. Just being a part of it will enhance the music you make.
Mike: Which do you prefer, writing/recording or live performance?
Eric: When we made "Chemical" we knew that the band's strength was in the live performance. So with the help of Ian Blurton, who produced the record, we set up our gear live in the studio and recorded that way. On the record, you're hearing the band playing in a room, with the absolute minimum amount of overdubbing and layering. We can go out now and deliver a show that sounds like the record, which is pretty cool.
I find recording to be a important part of the writing process. You can simply hear the song back without having to play it. There is a certain objectivity in that. You can hear it the way an audience would. A few of the songs on Chemical were written in the studio. There is a definite art to recording. I see a record as a piece of art. Of course the best is live performance. It's the pinnacle of all the other stuff where you're connecting with the listeners for real.
Mike: What was your most interesting live performance and why?
Eric: Probably a gig we did in Niagara Falls, the club had this huge industrial BBQ spit with an entire pig and a leg of beef roasting on it. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, it was just the best meat we'd ever tasted. The owner wouldn't let us stop eating. Not that we would have been able to anyway. I guess that's maybe more interesting to us - but we still talk about it.
Mike: Whose music are you listening to right now?
Eric: This week: Deep Purple, Chris Knight, Miles Davis, Kronos Quartet, Herbie Hancock, Arvo Part, Quiet Riot, Link Wray, Santana, and Howard Shore's Soundtrack to The Two Towers. Been listening to a lot of Reggae too, Dub Syndicate, Dennis Brown, Culture, Big Youth...
I sat down last Saturday and did "Dark Side of the Moon" to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary. I also picked up a new recording of Sibelius' tone poems.
As far as newer rock music goes, it's been Soundtrack of Our Lives, and the last Coldplay record. I've gotten to work with a lot of good artists as a sound tech on their shows as well; Andy Stochansky, Sam Roberts, Constantines, Warsawpack, Tangiers, Memory Bank, Broken Social Scene. There's really a lot of great music going on in Canada right now.
Mike: What challenges have you faced as a indie musician?
Eric: Getting the music out to people is crucial when you're trying to make something of a band, and there's a whole infrastructure going on with that. It's harder to do it on your own, you have to build your own team, and do things on a smaller scale. But there is some positive in this scenario these days. It's all about finding an audience. The word "indie" can be a red herring. No band is an island.
Mike: How would you describe "Chemical"?
Eric: "Chemical" is a heavy hitter. Going through the tracks, you'll hear a song that is heavy, then one that is a hit, then one that is both heavy and a hit... On a more modest note, we think it's a great album. It represents a lot of work, a lot of fun and we're proud of it.
Mike: How do you think new technology has affected how you deliver your musical message to the world?
Eric: That's a great question, because we're still seeing just the tip of the iceberg on this. Now that digital technology became affordable, a lot of things have changed and we can't go back. The ability to produce quality media is now within everyone's reach. People are recording hit records in their basements. We just made a great looking video for "Turn It Up" without having to sell chocolate bars. It's wonderful, because it offers a freedom and power to the artist that never existed before.
The flipside of the coin is that the ability to copy the media is also within everyone's reach, in part explaining why record companies are having a tough go these days. This isn't a good thing for a musician. It means that bands get dropped or simply don't get signed in the first place. But I think that this is a temporary condition... there will definitely be some changes to the way things are done in the future. Maybe the movie industry will figure out what to do when everyone is ripping DVD's...
And of course there's the web, where the distribution of the media can be done by anyone. The lines are blurring. Pretty soon there won't be any difference between the radio, the TV, the VCR, the phone or the computer. It'll all be one unit with stations throughout the home. Digital convergence is an inevitable reality.
Mike: What is a musical goal that you would still like to achieve?
Eric: We want to keep trying to go farther as a band, with the writing, the playing, the recordings and the show. We've kept improving these things consistently throughout the four years we've been a band, and the best is yet to come for sure.
Mike: What do you think are the embodiments of good and evil in the music business, and in the world today?
Eric: I suppose that music isn't inherently good or evil, it's all in what you do with it. Music is used in so many ways, for expression, for art, to bring people together, for entertainment, for religious reasons, for propaganda, for advertisement, or just plain fun.
I would have to say the same thing about the music industry, it's all in why you do what you do. Some people genuinely love music, bands and that's why they work in the business. They like to help artists, to hang out with them, build their careers, see the shows, etc... This is embodiment of the good.
The true embodiment of evil would be someone that just doesn't give a fuck about anyone else. I suppose there are a few musicians in this category as well.
And the world, same thing. It's not all daisies and buttercups out there, but there is a definite line that gets crossed when we forget that we all have swim in the same tank. Our actions affect others, and ultimately ourselves as well, there really is no difference. If you throw a lot of crap out there, you're just doing it to yourself. That's Evil, and evil people don't really have any fun.
Mike: A hundred years from now, how would you like Plastic Bag to be remembered?
Eric: I'd like them to play it on Cam Classic Radio.