Saturday, September 12, 2020

Which Way Am I? An Interview with Jarrett Samson of Tough Age & Show # 846 & 844

Describing their music as “culmination rock" fusing elements of surf, garage, punk and indie pop, Toronto’s Tough Age released their fourth full-length album Which Way Am I? on Mint Records in August 2020. Originally from Vancouver, but located in Toronto since 2015, Tough Age have released what many feel is their strongest album to date. Tough Age is made up of singer/guitarist Jarrett Samson, Penny Clark on bass/vocals and Jesse Locke on drums. Musically the album draws from the sonic textures of indie bands such as The Clean, The Chills, The Bats and other early New Zealand bands on the Flying Nun record label. In addition to this there are other musical signifiers such as Sonic Youth, Television and The Feelies. Lyrically, the songs are very introspective, that often question and contradict at the same time.

“Self-Confidence” opens Which Way Am I? With scratchy guitars, driving bass and steady, yet explosive drum patterns, this song opens with the question many people in the arts find themselves in “Here we are back on track/Anyone still looking?” The song questions being a band in the modern age of Internet streaming with Samson’s own sense of wit and humour. Other lines such as “Work hard and lose it all/Isn’t that depressing?” and “Life fades gold to salt with excellent timing,” starts off the album with a series of thoughts that everyone can identify with. “Penny Current Suppression Ring” comes in as track two on Which Way Am I? Sung by bassist Penny Clark, this song with lyrics such as “I didn’t feel like no one/And if you can’t be like anyone/You can’t be like me then/You can’t be like anyone” pokes fun at Samson’s obsession with New Zealand Flying Nun bands. The song thrives with energy and influences of bands such as Eddy Current Suppression Ring (who are from Australia, not New Zealand). Like many of the songs on this album, more than one thought runs through it. This song also poses the question what success would mean in order to be happy. “Desire?” arrives next with stop and start guitar/bass riffs, keyboards and laid back drums that propel this song forward. Lyrically, the song questions the patterns, change and limitations of life.

The jangly “Consequences” features lyrics such as “Where do you go when the consequences start to matter and all your friends are letting you down but all your friends have been let down by you?” that finds Samson at an emotional impasse. In between the intense, but brief scruffy influence of The Clean, The Verlaines and other Flying Nun Records goodness, “Consequences” deals with forgiveness, accountability and how we don’t always get where we need to be when trying to deal with these two things. “My Life’s A Joke & I’m Throwing It Away” is filled with tongue in cheek wit as it pushes forward with an undeniable energy and excitement, despite the songs subject matter. Tough Age launches into the punky “Anti-Anxiety Exercises” next. The song features bassist Penny Clark on vocal duties as she vents her anxieties throughout the song. Musically it features a lot of space as guitar jumps in and out, while the bass and drums hold down the foundation of this track. This also ends side one of Which Way Am I? The album thematically is separated into two disparate sonic halves. The first half seems to be more up-tempo with a fight against acceptance, while the second half is more mellow and accepting.

“Repose” begins side two as Penny Clark once again takes the lead vocal that channels a Cate Le Bon aesthetic. This track features a combination of jangly and arpeggiated guitar parts mixed in with the contemplative drums and bass. Drawing comparisons to The Velvet Underground, The Clean and The Chills musically, lyrics such as “Meanwhile I’m trying” reflect a calming presence and enthusiasm. The next track is an instrumental song titled “Mathers Avenue”. This song dates back to being one of the first songs Samson ever wrote. Originally called “Sperling Avenue” it has since evolved, much like the sound of Tough Age, as it pulls in a lethargic Sonic Youth mentality. It provides the album with a moment of space that goes with the flow of the record nicely. “Possession” is a reverb driven, airy track. As the drums crash in time, Clark’s bass climbs to a melodic intensity throughout. This character driven song is woven from the same lyrical fabric of the song “Castigation” from 2017’s Shame. "Possession" also features the presence of a flute, which floats throughout this track, played by Claire Paquet. While the flute part in this song may have been influenced by the twee-pop of Look Go Blue Purple, the vocals evoke the haunting quality of The Chills “Pink Frost”.

“Patience of Mind” is a mellow, dreamy song. Drawing on Jim O’Rourke-era Sonic Youth and elements of Television, this song expands Tough Age’s sound while the lyrics contemplate with the words “You want to be amazed/You want it to feel like the old days.”  “In A Dessert” ends Which Way Am I? This instrumental track is also the shortest song on this album and features an almost marching drumbeat provided by Jesse Locke and a shimmering sound that juxtaposes itself with the song’s title. Recorded once again with producer Peter Woodford (TOPS, Moss Lime, Homeshake, Tess Roby) at The Bottle Garden in Montreal and mixed by Jay Arner, Which Way Am I? is just one of those albums that you can’t really describe why it affects you so much. The way that this three piece plays together on this album projects an energy and mesmerizing cohesion. Maybe that’s it? Whatever it is, Which Way Am I? creates its own sonic landscape that swirls with different lyrical and musical textures that are intense at times, but also thrilling and addictive.

Listen to an interview that Revolution Rock did with Jarrett Samson of Tough Age here:

Show 846 Playlist (Originally Aired On September 12th, 2020) (Tough Age Interview):

1. Beat Happening - Cat Walk
2. King Khan - Loving Ain't My Business
3. The Orange - What's In A Name
4. The Clean - Thumbs Off
5. Apollo Ghosts - What Are Your Influences?
6. Protruders - Hydrophytol
7. Tough Age - Me In Glue
8. Tough Age - Self Confidence

Jarrett Samson (of Tough Age) Interview Part One

9. Tough Age - Repose
10. Tough Age - Electric Chair
11. Tough Age - Warm Hair
12. Tough Age - Possession

Jarrett Samson (of Tough Age) Interview Part Two

13. Tough Age - Unclean
14. Nap Eyes - Snake Oil
15. Run Coyote - Night Rider
16. The Microphones - The Microphones in 2020 (extract)
17. Metz - Hail Taxi
18. Eric's Trip - This Way Out
19. Silver Apples - Oscillations
20. Amyl & The Sniffers - Gacked On Anger
21. Amyl & The Sniffers - I Got You

To hear this program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and click the September 12 file to download/stream the episode.

Show 844 (Originally Aired On August 29th, 2020)(Walter Lure (Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, The Blessed, The Heroes, The Ramones, The Waldos), Blanks, Cindy Lee, Pony, Orville Peck):

1.  The Original Dukes - Ain't About To Lose My Cool 
2.  The Pirates - Cuttin' Out
3.  The Threads of Fybre - Believe Me
4.  The Haunted - I Can Only Give You Everything
5.  The Diodes - That Was The Way It Was (Eastern Sound Demo 1979)
6.  The Rolling Stones - Lies
7.  Titus Andronicus - Tulmult Around the World 
8.  Blanks - Red Tide
9.  Blanks - Looking For
10. The Heartbreakers - Flight (1976 SBS Demos)
11. Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers - One Track Mind
12. The Blessed - American Bandstand
13. The Heroes - Seven Day Weekend
14. Walter Lure & Ramones - Street Fighting Man
15. The Waldos - Golden Days
16. Cindy Lee - I Want You To Suffer
17. Cindy Lee - As I'm Steeping Thru The Gates
18. Orville Peck - Summertime
19. Bill Callahan - Cowboy
20. Nilsson - Mr. Tinker
21. Love Language - Design
22. Sweet Dave - Future Dirt
23. Heavy Trash - Mr. K.I.A.
24. The Old 97's - The Belmont Hotel
25. PONY - Web MD
26. PONY - Somebody Kill Me Please
27. Bully - Every Tradition
28. PJ Harvey - Missed
29. Angel Olsen - Whole New Mess
30. Tough Age - Consequences 

To hear this program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and click the August 29 file to download/stream the episode.

For those keeping track, show #845 was an encore of a previous episode that originally aired in September 2019 (show #791).  Download that show here and find the playlist here.