Saturday, June 12, 2021

Baby Giant 2: Shawn McDonald Interview & Shows # 886 & 885

2 is the second album by Baby Giant. From London, Ontario, Baby Giant is made up of musicians Shawn McDonald and Tim McDonald. The band started out around 2017 to record a collection of reworked/reimagined songs in commemoration of an earlier band that the McDonald’s had been in called Grassy Knoll & The Magic Bullit (that album is called Grassy Magic). Being in numerous bands such as The Fine Print, Dragsville, Hurricane & Able and many others Shawn McDonald really showcases his songwriting abilities on 2, both on his own and in collaboration with Tim McDonald. The album was recorded by Tim McDonald (credited as King Woobs) and released in 2018. 
“She Don’t Want To Fall In Love” starts off 2. With its syrupy melodies and nostalgic feeling it evokes the sunny melancholy of The Vaselines and 80s Flying Nun bands such as The Clean. With lyrics such as “I don’t want to fall in love/I just want your candy” and “Everyday is Halloween/That’s what she told me/I’m just atmosphere,” this song is an effective character driven tale. “Wyoming,” stirs up 60s fuzzy melodies as one of several songs on 2 that focus on different places (the others being “Minnesota” and “Japan”). The enduringly existential and catchy chorus of “Wyoming” utilizes the first part of this US Western states name as it poses the question of “Why.” The acoustic jangle of “Nobody Loves You” drums up an early rock n’ roll aesthetic while lyrically the person in this song is haunted by an unrequited love, “Sky Writer” is one of the highlights of 2. A jangly Byrds track pulling influence from early 60s concept albums/songs by The Who and The Pretty Things, the song tells the tale of a skywriter blurring the line between duty, heroism and the mundaneness of everyday life. “High Tide” is a surf song with psychedelic undercurrents, while “Minnesota” brings in nostalgic keyboards and hooky bassline and guitar lines that juxtapose with the lyrics. Dominated by what sounds like drums from an 808 drum machine and low-fi effect laden guitars, the words “Take a look at me and tell me are you real/Or are you imagination/Behind the steering wheel that night” and “Nobody was really sure if they would win the fight that night/On the streets of Minnesota” drive home potent surreal lyrics. 
“Do What You Want” rattles with a 60s R&B rave up sound combining ramshackle acoustic grooves with blues guitar licks and slides, while lyrically it swaggers with a story about an aloof character that seems proud of having a detachment from his surroundings. “Wall To Wall” features what sounds like synth bass with steady drumbeats and trippy surf guitar sounds and lyrics such as “I was looking at you/You were looking at me/That’s what they say,” “It’s wall to wall,” that features characters surrounded in a cozy confusion of emotions. “Japan” picks up the tempo with driving drums and fuzzy guitars. With lyrics such as “I guess I’ll have to try to understand/My baby’s gonna move off to Japan” and “I can’t believe that she loves me/I can’t believe that she’s so free” this song is an evocative, yet complex mixture of emotions and thoughts. 2 ends with “Legs Won’t Stop,” a restless instrumental track that is full of mood, lethargy and a contemplative atmosphere. Throughout 2, the music displays a bedroom recording aesthetic contrasted with 60s melodies, lo-fi and rock and roll sounds. The songs found on 2 stir up something in the listener. They have a depth to them and prove to be more than just atmosphere.  

Continue reading for an interview that Revolution Rock did with musician Shawn McDonald.  He talks about some of the bands he has played/recorded with and what he is currently working on.
RR: You played in a band called Grassy Knoll & The Magic Bullit. When did this band form/with who and what do you remember of the recording/time period of the lost album Hollandays that was recently put out online?

SM: Grassy formed in late 2000 I think. Me on Electric Guitar, Noel [Greaves] on acoustic guitar and my brother Tim [McDonald] on drums. Over the next two years we went through I think 4 bass players. We did a live to air on CHRW [94.9 FM Radio Western in London, ON] which we released as our first album and just kept playing and playing. By the time we got to the Hollandays sessions in which was supposed to be our first “studio” album two things were happening, we were about as tight and fun as we could get and my brother got married and was thrown out of the band because we needed absolute commitment! The Hollandays album was so named because it was recorded by a guy named Jason Hollander. What I remember most about the sessions is we recorded them after hours in an office Hollander’s Mom owned. I also remember we teased my brother mercilessly because he was wearing some sort of collarless black mandarin shirt the whole time. We kept calling him Morpheus or Neo.

RR: Some of the songs on Hollandays are also on She Woke Up In A Frantic, which was another album that Grassy Knoll released. When was this one recorded and how do you feel it differs from Hollandays?

SM: She Woke Up In A Frantic was Grassy 2.0. By that time Noel, Geez [Ryan O’Driscoll] (bass player on Hollandays) and I had moved to Toronto. We had met a bunch of bands from TO and had made the band a fantastic live act with Sean [McNabney] on drums and Tom Barnes on bass. We did a few of the old songs because we felt they never got the right treatment. We recorded this in I think 4 or 5 days with Andy Magoffin at the House of Miracles in London. I remember he was kind of pissed off at us because we put “produced by Andy Magoffin” on the Album. He told me he didn’t produce it, he recorded it. He said that the job of a producer was to accurately reflect what a band was on record and that all he did for us was to press record. I think he was used to bands agonizing over their albums, but for us, we had played everything so much that we knew exactly what the songs were. I think he found the ease of it unsettling. A couple of years later he apologized and said that actually, that’s what the band needed and he would accept the credit.

RR: I was wondering about a few of the songs with this band. What inspired the songs “Ground Under Your Feet,” “Such and Such,” “Canada Arm” and “Summer’s Almost Gone”?

SM: “Ground Under Your Feet” was a great example of Noel addressing the audience. When he was at his best he would write songs that spoke directly to the listener or the crowd. Musically, I think I was listening to a lot of John Lee Hooker.

“Such and Such” I stole the riff from the Fall. “Athlete Cure” off I Am Kurious Oranj. I realized later that they stole it from Spinal Tap, “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock you Tonight.” This is really fitting for me because as much as I wanted us to be like the Fall, we were definitely more like Spinal Tap. I wrote the lyrics in Budapest.

“Canada Arm” was an attempt to write a Kinks song from Something Else. I stole a little climb from “Susannah’s Still Alive.” My Grandfather had worked for Canadair and we were sitting around talking about that and how maybe he helped build the Canadarm. Noel turned it into a song about a loser that had great, underappreciated things inside him. Tom Barnes told me that he joined our band because he heard us play the song live, noticed the similarity to “Sussanah’s Still Alive” and thought it was a coincidence. When I told him I did it on purpose, he was in.

“Summer’s Almost Gone” reflects the sort of sweet Hippie underbelly that we had in the early days. Noel wrote great lyrics for it and I threw in a nice riff that I thought reminiscent of Jerry Garcia, even though none of us listened to the Dead. It was our last song of the night for a good long time.

RR: You played in a band called The Fine Print who had an EP called Standing Out. How did this band differ from other bands that you were in and where did you record this EP?

SM: The Fine Print was actually Tom Barnes’ band with his old buddy Dave Cavanaugh (they were in a band called Curiosity Shop back in the day.) The bass player was Phil [Glennie]. After Grassy disintegrated in TO I held on there for a bit and then moved back to London, probably a year later. When I got back Tom and Dave told me they had a 60’s Mod style band going and they wanted me to play lead on it. I really needed this because I hadn’t had a band in awhile and I was getting rusty. The main differences between Grassy and The Fine Print were Tom actually had a great singing voice! I was exclusively coming up with 60’s style riffs and having a blast. Around this time I was also in a band called the Psychodaisies. London Music Hall of famer Jack Whiteside was our leader and we played nothing but obscure shit from 63-66. These 2 bands really helped me learn how to be in a band without having to be like a founder member. And it taught me how to get Psych.

RR: Dragsville was a band with more country influences. They released Welcome To Dragsville in 2014. How did this group come together and what do you remember about your time with this band and this album?

SM: Dragsville started because I wanted to start a band with Jesse Whiteside, a bandmate from high school. He had recently moved back to London and we put this thing together with Dave from the Fine Print and Geez from Grassy. Jesse had previously been a member of Tacoma Hellfarm Tragedy. We wanted to be country but like Burrito Brothers country. Jesse had a Pedal steel so that was cool. We wrote some songs, played a bit but then the whole thing kind of petered out. The thing I remember most about this band was that I had to play bass, which didn’t really make a lot of sense.

RR: I wanted to ask you about Hurricane & Able. Weird Canada described your Last Temptation of H&A album as going “well with a broken heart, a day off, your comfy bed and a pack of cigarettes.” Do you think that is an accurate description of the songs? Maybe you could talk about about the dynamics of the music that you and Barry Weatherhead (of Hurricane & Able) made during that time.

SM: That quote from Weird Canada was almost embarrassing. It was just so dramatic but we took it as a compliment. I think the way I read that was that all those things are things that are evocative or that have feeling and I think that Barry and I did indeed find a lot of comfort doing those albums together. Writing songs together and then recording them was all we did together, aside from sitting around and talking about how we wrote the best songs around. And we really did have a musical and emotional connection and I suppose it shows in the work.

RR: I heard that you used Mr. Dress Up’s piano on one of the Hurricane & Able records. Could you describe this experience and how this came to be?

SM: Barry worked at Ryerson and when the kids went on holidays we would go into the studio there and record. It was amazing. Mr. Dressup’s piano just happens to be in there and when Barry told me the history of the piano I insisted that we use it. Problem was neither of use are competent piano players so we would sit beside each other, one guy playing the left hand with two hands and the other the right with two hands. Barry put it all together and it sounds like we know what we were doing.

RR: You’ve released two albums with Baby Giant. 2 was released in 2018 and has several songs on it that deal with different places (“Wyoming,” “Minnesota,” “Japan”). Maybe you could talk a bit about these songs and this album in general?

SM: Baby Giant is when my brother Tim and I finally got doing music together again. "Japan" was actually an old song from the Grassy days, it’s my take on the Buzzcocks or Sham 69. The other place songs like “Wyoming” and “Minnesota” were songs that were taken from our aborted USA 50 states tribute album. I think we got 10 states in before we realized it was just a stupid idea. I have also written a song called “Man Oh Manitoba” which I believe should be their provincial song.

RR: It is a longer song on 2, but the song “Sky Writer” has a jangly sound to it. What inspired this song and how did it come together?

SM: “Sky Writer” has that jangle because it’s played on an electric 12-string. I wanted to write a sort of early rock opera song like A Quick One or SF Sorrow. The skywriter just struck me as something sort of heroic but banal. Like he’s up there flying an old prop plane, doing all these maneuvers just to write Happy Anniversary. I stole the riff from The Kinks. In the middle 8 we tried to make my guitar sound like a dive-bombing plane. Pretty successfully I think.

RR: When was the last time you played with a live band. Do you remember the show at all and who was it with?

SM: The last gig I really remember was the David Bowie Birthday Bash. I’m in a Bowie tribute act called Hunger City and we threw a birthday party for the old guy at the Richmond January 4 2020. The place was packed, people were lined up down the street, the band was on fire and the night could not have gone any better. I hadn’t seen a night like that in a long time and it really is the kind of night that reminds you why you keep going.

RR: What is next for you musically? Are you working on anything else at this time?

SM: During the lockdown I started socially distantly writing songs with Dawn Redskye for some Home County Folk festival remote thing. She’s got a great voice and writes great songs, and I added some reverby Beach House/Cowboy Junkies/Mazzy Star licks. It ended up sounding really good so when we can we will probably write a bunch of tunes and make a record. I’ll send it to you when it’s done!

Check out some of the episodes below for music from bands featuring Shawn McDonald.

Show 886 (Originally Aired On June 12th, 2021)(Grassy Knoll & The Magic Bullit, Baby Giant, The Fine Print, Hurricane & Able, Modest Mouse, Nap Eyes, Century Egg, The Delmonas, Lungbutter)

1.  Packs - Hold My Hand
2.  Lou Barlow - Privatize
3.  Japanese Breakfast - Sit
4.  The Garrys - Get Thee To A Nunnery
5.  Treephones - Seeds
6.  Lincoln St. Exit - The Bummer
7.  Heavy Trash - That's What Your Love Gets
8.  Willie Dunn - I Pity The Country
9.  Karen Dalton - Reason To Believe
10. Grassy Knoll & The Magic Bullit - Such and Such
11. Grassy Knoll & The Magic Bullit - Canada Arm
12. Baby Giant - Sky Writer
13. Baby Giant - High Tide
14. The Fine Print - Tonight
15. Hurricane & Able - The Novel
16. Dragsville - That Girl
17. SpaceSlave - She Don't Need A Hero
18. Nap Eyes - Following A God Desire
19. Gruff Rhys - Can't Carry On
20. Modest Mouse - Poison The Well
21. Modest Mouse - We Are Between
22. The Pesticides - Jessy
23. Bad Buddy - Mind Control
24. The Delmonas - Chains
25. Century Egg - Do You Want To Dance?
26. Boy Wonder - Kinda Blue Too
27. Ducks Ltd. - Annie Forever
28. Cluttered - Don't Hold Your Breath
29. The Descendents - Baby Donca Know
30. Lungbutter - Bravo
31. Lungbutter - Jellyfish
32. Lungbutter - Solar

Show 885 (Originally Aired On June 5th, 2021)(X - Wild Gift 40th Anniversary, Dirtbombs - Ultraglide in Black 20th Anniversary, Reigning Sound, Juliana Hatfield, NOV3L):

1.  Reigning Sound - You Don't Know What You're Missing 
2.  Matt Sweeny & Bonnie Prince Billy - Hall of Death
3.  Tekke::Tekke - Barbara
4.  Needles//Pins - Back to the Bright 
5.  Easy Idiot Brainworms Power Games
6.  X - We're Desperate 
7.  X - I'm Coming Over 
8.  X - In This House That I Call Home Wild Gift
9. Grassy Knoll & The Magic Bullit - Ground Under Feet
10. Baby Giant - Minnesota 
11. Tough Age - Giuseppe Pizzeria
12. Paul Jacobs - The Boys Are Back
13. Run Coyote - Shadowlands 
14. Bachelor - Stay In The Car 
15. Juliana Hatfield - Gorgon 
16. The Beaches - Blow Up 
17. Julia Jacklin & RVG - Army of Me 
18. Black Midi - John L
19. Squid - Padding 
20. NOV3L - Stranger 
21. Delta 5 - Mind Your Own Business 
22. Gang of Four - Elevator (Demo) 
23. Print Head - All I Want 
24. Autogramm - Mantra 
25. Matt Ellis - I Don't Wanna Know 
26. Anxious Eaters - Suck 
27. The Dirtbombs - If You Can't Want 
28. The Dirtbombs - Ode To A Black Man 
29. The Dirtbombs - I'll Wait