Generation Wise: Julie Doiron and Adam Sturgeon

GENERATION WISE: JULIE DOIRON AND ADAM STURGEON

By: Jesse Locke | Art by: Laura Stanley

There are some people you can just tell are lifers. Even if they step away from music for a while, it’s obvious that they’ll never stop writing, performing, and recording, while finding ways to support their community at every step of the way. Whether they’re working with bigger labels or taking the DIT route, the song remains the same. Julie Doiron and Adam Sturgeon are two lifers born in different times and places, making them ideal subjects for the first edition of New Feeling’s intergenerational interview series, Generation Wise. 

Julie requires no introduction, but I’ll give her one anyway. She began making music as a teenager in Moncton, New Brunswick, linking up with skateboarders Rick White, Chris Thompson, and record store clerk Mark Gaudet as Eric’s Trip, the first Canadian band signed to Sub Pop in the early 1990s. This led to the tastemaking Seattle label releasing Julie’s early solo albums, launching her on to a prolific trajectory that has included collaborations with Phil Elverum, Gord Downie, and the Wooden Stars, among countless others. Julie recently returned with the solo album I Thought of You, her first since 2012, and an upcoming bilingual duo release with Dany Placard. The cracks and quivers in her voice now sound like they contain entire valleys.

I first encountered Adam’s music in the early 2010s. As he has explained, the earliest releases from his band WHOOP-Szo on the small label Out of Sound Records were directly inspired by Eric’s Trip and the members’ ongoing adventures in home recording. Drummer Mark Gaudet’s powerhouse fills have remained an enduring influence on him. After years of touring and grassroots community-building, Adam signed to You’ve Changed Records (also the home of Julie’s new solo album) and changed his band’s name to Status/Non-Status as they continue to unleash supercharged psychedelic rock. In his latest collaboration, Adam connected with fellow Anishinaabe artist Daniel Monkman (Zoon) to co-found the band OMBIIGIZI, whose dazzling debut, Sewn Back Together, was released by Arts & Crafts last month.

Connecting in conversation over Zoom, Julie and Adam share their insights into working with labels of various sizes, discuss the lore of Eric’s Trip, and maybe even manifest a reunion. (This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

Jesse Locke: Adam, you’ve told me that Eric’s Trip is your favourite band of all time. How did you first discover them?

Adam Sturgeon: It was the Squirtgun compilation [More of Our Stupid Noise]. I heard all the other bands before I even knew who was in Eric’s Trip. I think my favourite song on that record was your song, Julie.

Julie Doiron: “So Fast”? Is that what it was?

AS: Yeah!

JD: No way!

AS: All that music blew my mind. I remember Chris’s song, the Elevator To Hell song, and your song all stood out. I also really loved Orange Glass, which is another band with a close association [to Eric’s Trip]. I became obsessed with that CanCon lo-fi stuff. I was living in the U.S. at that time, so it felt like a connection to a totally different life than the one I was living.

JL: Why do you think that music spoke to you in the way that it did?

AS: I think it’s the classic punk rock attitude. I felt like I could do it, and I was doing it! At that time I was into Lou Barlow and Sebadoh stuff. He was bouncing cassettes on his stereo at home, and that was all I had. My first kind of foray into a guitar amp was an old shitty hi-fi that I blew the speakers in immediately. I haven’t been able to find that tone ever since! [laughs] Obviously you guys were doing that too, and it was just amazing. It still is.

JD: Back then, it was a similar thing for us. We discovered Lou Barlow in the same way. Prior to that we thought you had to go into a studio and pay someone else this much money per day. The Moncton high school [Rick and Chris] had gone to had a cassette four-track in their music department, for some reason. Those guys weren’t even in school anymore, but they somehow got to borrow it. When we realized that we could do it all in our bedrooms, it was really liberating. 

JL: It’s cool that it all goes back to Lou Barlow. He coined the term ‘indie rock,’ right?

AS: Isn’t that a bothersome Cliff Note? The Sebadoh song “Gimme Indie Rock” was kind of their first big one, and indie rock now is pretty tame. I don’t even know how to describe it. Just that middle music sort of vibe, you know? Everyone is an indie singer-songwriter or whatever.

JD: It seems to me that the idea of being indie now just means that you’re not on a major label. I guess it meant the same thing back then, but it seemed to imply a sound or a genre when Lou was singing about it.

AS: He should have called it “four-track.” [laughs] You guys started calling yourselves “noise-pop” pretty early on, right?

JD: Yeah, that rings a bell. A lot of people called us grunge, but we didn’t feel like we fit into that because we were influenced by things like Neil Young, folk music, and melodic singing. We liked the noise aspect of it, though—the chaos you can make from using distortion pedals and turning up really loud. Our friend Eddie Vaughan was the original drummer for the first year and a half, but when we got Mark [Gaudet] as our drummer, it became really fast and intense. There was a whole mélange of sounds we were using. 

I don’t even know what I was doing back then. We were just doing it, you know what I mean? We didn’t realize then how our band would be influential, but I know now! I would be lying if I said I didn’t understand that it was important to a lot of people, because people have told me. At the time we were just jamming in Chris’s parents’ basement, as loud as we were playing on stage. They were letting us do that two nights a week for six years. We never had a jam space! [laughs]

AS: Was that right in town?

JD: Yeah, in the west end of Moncton. There were neighbours very close by. 

AS: It was a different day and age. The other thing I think about is that I always got a small-town vibe from the music. There’s an innocence to it that I found relatable because I was also from a small town. No one else was liking that music except for me. I was kind of late to the scene and maybe just a couple of years too young. I did get to see the first reunion, but I didn’t get to see you guys [back] in the day.

JD: The small town vibe that Adam mentioned is key because I don’t think it would have been the same if we were in a big city. No offense to big cities… I’ve lived in them and enjoyed that! [laughs] But I think that particular band at that time happened because we were in Moncton. There weren’t any distractions. Rick and Chris were really into skateboarding, so they would do that and then we would jam. We would go to the mall sometimes, but there wasn’t much else to do. We were really just friends playing together. 

Early on with Eric’s Trip, nobody drank or smoked. We were straight-edge for the first few years, so there was that energy too. It was a really good way to start a band. I don’t know when that changed, but I remember when I had my first beer. We were on tour in Calgary. Chris bet me a loonie that I couldn’t drink a whole one. I had just turned 21, so it was a big event! I think it was something strong like an Extra Old Stock. We were already signed to Sub Pop, and I was drinking my first beer! [laughs]

JL: Another reason why I wanted to connect you two is that you’ve both been signed to bigger record labels. What has that experience been like for both of you?

JD: When we got signed to Sub Pop, it was pretty mind-blowing. We actually turned down their first contract because they wanted us to go into a studio. We were so into having 100 percent creative control that we weren’t willing to give up what we wanted to do. It’s crazy to think now that these kids from Moncton could say no to that offer, but we just wanted to record ourselves. We had upgraded to an eight-track reel-to-reel with quarter-inch tape at that point, so we were moving up a bit with our technological capabilities. 

Sub Pop still let us play at this festival they had invited us to do in Vermont. [Sub Pop founders] Jonathan [Poneman] and Bruce [Pavitt] were there, so they saw us in person. It was another A&R person named Joyce Linehan who had tried to sign us. They really liked us, so they offered us what we wanted, which was full creative control. They gave us a bit more money to sweeten the deal and let us do whatever we wanted to do. They knew we weren’t going to tour a lot, so they let us do the bare minimum. They also let us record at home and do all the art and videos ourselves. 

It was a great time to be on Sub Pop. They had just come into financial freedom because of a deal they made with Warner, so they started giving us a monthly stipend to pay our rent. It wasn’t a lot, but I think we each got $400 a month during the time we were on the label, for a year or two years. We had a really good experience. They really liked what we did and were fans. They also signed me as a solo artist and put out my first few records. They dropped me after Loneliest in the Morning because there was some turmoil within the label, but they kept Elevator, so I don’t really know what happened with them after that. Up until the troubles they experienced on their end, it was great. I have no complaints.

AS: Now you’re working with You’ve Changed.

JD: I also love them! I’ve wanted to work with them for years, but I didn’t have a record to put out yet. My new album came out with them at the end of November, and I’m super happy. I prefer working with them because I think I’d get lost if I was on a major.

AS: It seems like more people get cogged between the artist and your label contacts. That can be really complicated but also nice depending on what kind of deal you strike. By today’s standards, you kind of have to do it all yourself in a lot of ways. Maybe that was different with a label like Sub Pop back in the day when they asked you to go into a specific studio.

JL: What has your experience with Arts & Crafts been like so far? 

AS: I kind of see it through two different lenses. You’ve Changed is very self-directed and run by a smaller group of people, so we have to pull up our bootstraps and do a lot more. I guess I’m used to that, so I really appreciate it. At the same time, I’m a parent now and I have more work responsibilities, so working with Arts & Crafts has been nice because there’s a whole team. The way the whole mechanism works is really different, so I’m still evaluating that, but really enjoying both aspects of it. 

The music industry is so complicated and strange, you know? I like the people I’m working with, but there’s no HR or anything like that. When you get into business as a musician, there are a lot of things you have to learn on your own. Like doing taxes as a musician? Oh my god… I feel like I’ve been doing music for a really long time, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. Even when we connected with You’ve Changed, there was a big learning curve. Putting codes on songs and tracking them—we didn’t do any of that before. 

Basically there’s all of this secretive stuff, and I haven’t experienced a lot of knowledge-sharing. But since we’ve started working with You’ve Changed, it feels like there’s a support network there. It’s really nice when the head of your label will say something like, “No, don’t do that thing that you thought you had to do.”

JL: Steve Lambke, the co-founder of You’ve Changed, was also signed to Sub Pop with his band the Constantines, so he’s been there.

AS: Arts & Crafts too! [laughs] Steve is an amazing humble guy. He’s become a great friend to me. 

JD: Yeah, me too. I FaceTimed with him so much up until the lead-up of my new album. Sometimes I would be in tears or feeling all kinds of things. I was texting him the other day because I just got so used to checking in with him. Now the record is out, so I was wondering when we were going to FaceTime again! I really miss that. 

Part of having a friend who’s helping you with your music is that you’re not just talking to a business person. Ultimately, You’ve Changed are putting out records they want to put out, but you have to sell records if that’s the goal. It’s nice to be able to talk to someone who’s being honest. Like, they’re not going to lie to you about whether they like your music or not.

One of the things I wanted to touch on is how Adam mentioned that he’s a parent now. I was trying to do everything myself for a long time. When Elsie was born in 2013, I didn’t want to be touring or making records, so I didn’t need a manager. I was trying to do social media stuff on my own, but sometimes it takes me an hour just to make a random post. I had a super old phone that kept turning off and didn’t have room for the app.

My label in Spain was helping me do Facebook posts, but in the past year I started working with a management company with people I really trust. They send me little reminders so I don’t forget things. With all of the stuff that’s involved with promoting yourself and your music, I find it can be really easy to get lost in the vortex. I’ll go on social media to make a post, and then an hour later I’ll be watching Reels or whatever. I’m like, “How did I get in here? I just want to leave.” [laughs] I also have children, I have a dog, I want to play guitar, and I want to work on writing songs. 

It’s nice to have the team of a bigger label, but Steve is doing a great job at You’ve Changed. I can only speak about my personal experience for this specific record, but everyone who worked on it has done such a great job. I’m really happy.

JL: I read Jason Murray’s book about Eric’s Trip over the holidays, and I love thinking about Mark being this guy who worked at the record store in the mall and being a music god for all of these kids who really trusted his taste. Was it really like that?

AS: I was obsessed with him. On my first tour I went to visit him at the record store and bought an Elevator record. He was like, “I heard that band was on acid. No, actually, that record is on acid, man.” [laughs] His voice pops in my head a lot. 

JD: When I was a teenager, I was at some type of high school party and I heard a Bob Dylan record. At the time Mark was working at Sam the Record Man, so I went there. I was 15 and he would have been eight years older than me, so it was very intimidating. I had been to another party where I saw his band No Explanation play. The record store wasn’t in the mall then, it was on Champlain Street. You had to really make the effort to go there. 

Mark ordered the Bob Dylan record for me and that was my first time talking to him. I didn’t even know Rick yet. I was just a 15-year-old girl going to a French high school. Mark ended up ordering the wrong album for me, but after that I started going into Sam’s. That’s where I found my first My Bloody Valentine record. Rick and I found one of their early EPs. After we got to know Mark a bit better, we started going in there all the time to talk to him.

Eventually when we needed a new drummer, he said yes, but it was supposed to be an interim thing. He wasn’t planning on staying in the band and would just help us until we found someone else. If I recall, he suggested that we get Marc Doucet, another local drummer who was equally as good. Mark Gaudet was initially just going to fill in, but then he decided to stay, and that’s how we got the legendary record-store worker in the band. He was an amazing drummer from day one, since he was 10 years old.

AS: It’s been nice getting all of those Eric’s Trip reissues. I have a lot of that stuff already, but it’s great to get extras, the tidbits, and the stories. 

JD: Rick is doing such a good job with that. It’s really nice to see all of that stuff out there.

JL: Do you still talk to Rick?

JD: Yeah! I haven’t talked to him on the phone in a while, which is weird, but we send nice messages to each other. Usually we talk once or twice a year on the phone. I guess on birthdays, that’s the usual family way of reaching out. [laughs] We should probably talk more often. I know that someday we’ll work together again. I haven’t discussed this with anyone, but I feel that we should do it. There’s something in the air that’s making me feel like it wouldn’t be weird if we played together.

JL: That’s amazing! I really hope it happens.

JD: Over the last few years, I’ve had so many dreams about showing up for an Eric’s Trip reunion show. I would miss the soundcheck, show up late, and I couldn’t plug in my pedals. I only played two pedals in that band—my tuner and a distortion pedal. I didn’t even practice before the show. I had that dream a lot, but not recently. Maybe that’s why I feel ready.

AS: The first time I went to your house, I remember the Rickenbacker bass was in the front door. My bandmates were saying things like, “Oh, that’s the bass she played in Eric’s Trip.” I told them, “Don’t fucking touch it.” [laughs]

JD: You know what? I was just reunited with that bass two weeks ago. Chris borrowed it for a while, and he had some work done on it. We got it back because my partner Dany wanted to use it on a recording session. There wasn’t much signal, so we got it looked at by another friend, and now it works great. I’ve been playing it, and it feels amazing. Maybe I want to play with Eric’s Trip again so I can play that bass in that way—power chords and two strings. I love strumming it as if it’s a guitar, and I can really do that in that band. That bass is back in my presence, and I’m really happy to have it back. I think we’re manifesting a reunion right now.