How to survive the sleazy beast

For 32 years Victoria jazz-punks NoMeansNo have lived apart from the sleazy beast known as the music industry. Now that the rest of the world has also turned its back on this ever-diminishing creature, don’t expect any grudging admiration for the fallen enemy from drummer John Wright.

“From the very beginning we’ve essentially just been doing this for ourselves. We didn’t aspire to get a record contract and to be part of the music industry. The music industry just sort of grew around us.
Obviously we couldn’t have been a band like this without having support from [independent] labels like Alternative Tentacles, but it wasn’t about how to approach it as a business. Our successes came from writing music that interested us and performing it in a way that impressed audiences.”

The largest bastion of fans is still in Europe, where the band (which includes brother Rob Wright on bass/vocals and Tom Holliston on guitar/vocals) will be heading for a month-long tour, culminating in playing an All Tomorrow’s Parties event, “Nightmare Before Christmas,” curated by Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

With regard to their ongoing popularity in the old world Wright says, “Europeans have a different attitude towards music, especially North American music. They have a huge attraction to American rock ’n’ roll.
They have a bit of an inferiority complex in a way, in that they don’t see their own bands as being as good. It’s a cultural thing, but in the last 20 years Europe has been a much more outward looking part of the world.”

As if to kick the industry in extremis Wright adds, “Our most successful year was 2007; that was the most money I ever made in one year from this band.” However, despite having been a successful working musician (rapidly becoming some of an anachronism) since the early ’90s, Wright’s band still feels the impact of these times:

“We were just in the States and definitely the numbers are down. Every gig, whatever I expected, there were 50 people less than that. The economic situation is way worse down there then it is Canada, though people up here don’t realize that. The entertainment dollar has never been stretched so thin as it is right now. Not only because people aren’t selling records anymore but because every band and their grandparents [are] getting together and hitting the road because they realize their income is drying up. Then on top of that, people who might’ve gone to see three or four shows a month can now afford to see one. So if you’re not the one, then they’re not showing up.”

Still, it seems that Wright has found that living well might the best revenge against an exploitative industry that long ago shunned innovation: “Hey, we’ve managed to survive. I’m not a rich man, but I’m not washing dishes.”