Chewing Bubblegum and Kicking Ass: An Interview With The Bicycles

Published on July 30th, 2008 in: Canadian Content, Current Faves, Interviews, Issues, Music, The Summer |

Interviewed by Less Lee Moore

I saw The Bicycles play on my first trip to Toronto, in 2002. Impressed, I waited for news of a CD release. And waited and waited, along with the rest of their fans.

2006’s The Good, The Bad, and The Cuddly was truly worth waiting for. It’s full of sweet—yet cheeky—infectious pop. After all, when a band wears matching T-shirts sporting the letter B, one could expect nothing less.

the bicycles by graham kennedy
The Bicycles
Photo © Graham Kennedy

But don’t confuse The Bicycles’ brand of bubblegum with that of today’s Top 40 artists. Instead of autotuned vocals and cookie-cutter lyrics, they employ strings, horns, handclaps, and real-live harmonies, evoking both the wit and whimsy of The Monkees and Nilsson (both of whom they cover flawlessly) without being derivative of either.

Their music is the perfect antidote to a too-hot summer day, so I spoke with them about the band’s history and upcoming release, their favorite warm weather activities, and the highs and lows of summer camp.

Popshifter: Although I’ve seen you play a bunch of times, I don’t actually know the origins of the band, and how you met. What was it that made you decide you wanted to be in a band together?

Matt Beckett: Drew and I went to public school and high school together, although we didn’t hang out.

Drew Smith: Bit of an attitude.

Matt laughs.

Drew Smith: It prevented me from wanting to know you. It’s true.

Andrew Scott: Truth hurts, man. Drew, what made you want to start knowing him?

Drew Smith: Music. . . the joys of music. First year of university, I started a band called the Yum Yums with Randy Lee. And we started making tapes. And then we decided that the Yum Yums was a horrible name.

Matt cracks up.

Dana Snell: And when I met them it was pretty much just Matt and Drew, so they were kind of a two-man show. Which is why they’re called the Bicycles. They wanted a band and they found a bass player in the halls of OCAD. . . right?

Drew Smith: Yep.

Dana Snell: They knew that I played drums so. . . that’s how I joined. I was kind of like a friend of a friend. So I was recruited for drumming. And then. . . Andrew?

Andrew Scott: I’m trying to remember.

andrew bicycles by graham kennedy
Andrew Scott
Photo © Graham Kennedy

Drew Smith: Randy used to think you looked like Donovan.

Andrew Scott: Yeah, I had a Donovan hat.

Drew Smith: And you made up fruity songs.

Andrew Scott: First you guys played at the CD release party for the Meligrove Band’s Let It Grow album. And then, like two weeks later, they called and said, “We have a show tonight. Do you want to come play?”

Popshifter: And that’s how they sucked you in?

Andrew Scott: Pretty much.

Drew Smith: And then seven years later. . . ! (laughs)

Andrew Scott: Seven years later? That was like, six years ago, so you’re projecting in one more year we’re gonna be rich!

Everyone laughs.

Popshifter: So you’re a big part of the bands in the Toronto indie scene. It seems like a kind of family of bands that play with each other: they collaborate and play live shows and switch members and things like that. What do you like best about that atmosphere?

Dana Snell: I like how we’re tightly knit. If one band is starting to write then the other band will get excited about writing; if one band is recording then the other band will get excited about recording. It’s kind of like, we keep each other motivated and interested in making good music.

dana bicycles by graham kennedy
Dana Snell
Photo © Graham Kennedy

Popshifter: What’s currently inspiring your music? I know you’re recording right now—

Dana Snell: We’re mixing actually.

Popshifter: What prompted the new set of songs?

Andrew Scott: Boredom of our old ones.

Matt Beckett: Our crappy lives. (laughs)

Drew Smith: Oh yeah, totally.

Matt Beckett: No, that’s not true.

Andrew Scott: Yeah, Dana’s life is pretty good.

Drew Smith: Her song is upbeat.

Dana Snell: It’s not that upbeat. (laughs)

Drew Smith: Well, it’s a higher beat than ours.

Dana Snell: So what inspired these songs. . . I guess it depends on which song. Matt, why don’t you tell her about the theme?

Popshifter: Oh, there’s a theme?

matt bicycles by graham kennedy
Matt Beckett
Photo © Graham Kennedy

Matt Beckett: Yeah. Our crappy lives. (Everyone laughs.) The theme is, well, they’re all romantic songs.

Andrew Scott: It’s sort of split down the middle. Well, maybe not exactly, but there is definitely a bummer romance song and then a positive romance song.

Drew Smith: It’s just where we’re at now.

Dana Snell: Or rather a year ago.

Andrew Scott: That’s kind of the weird thing, too: the songs have a ups and downs, like how life has its ups and downs? And ironically enough, I think our lives have changed a little maybe even since then.

Matt Beckett: I think now that basically the rule is that an album will always be one relationship behind.

Andrew Scott: Yeah.

Dana laughs.

Matt Beckett: But you never, well, you don’t want to catch up.

Andrew Scott: I think there are a few relationships built into it, too.

Dana Snell: It’s not as removed as the first one because the first one took so long. Everybody was on to new relationships. Well, not everybody: mine’s still the same.

Drew Smith: Not to be rude, but how many girlfriends? (laughs) You counted.

Matt Beckett: Well, when the first record came out it was maybe like, two girlfriends behind.

Dana Snell: Maybe you’ve increased your pace of girlfriends. (laughs)

Popshifter: Do you ever find yourselves inspired by anything non-life-related? Movies?

Andrew Scott: Oh, movies for sure.

umbrellas of cherbourg1
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Matt Beckett: You know that movie The Umbrellas of Cherbourg? We got really into that movie and the director [Jacques Demy], who made a bunch of other movies that are awesome.

Andrew Scott: A girl at my work today was singing some Bob Fosse. . . garbage. And I told her to see that movie. I thought I hated musicals until I saw that movie.

Matt Beckett: Demy’s movies are so real.

Andrew Scott: It’s not strictly musically reflective, but. . .

Drew Smith: One song is named after a character in a Jacques Demy movie.

Andrew Scott: . . . The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has a pretty bummer ending. It was just sort of a realization—not in the strictest sense but sort of a parallel—our first album was super-poppy and had sort of a happy ending, so to speak. But that movie taught us that we don’t have to have a happy ending.

Drew Smith: Well, it’s not that sad of a record.

Andrew Scott: That’s what I mean about a roller-coaster, though. Depending on how we sequence the songs it could very well have a happy ending.

Drew Smith: Or it could go down and down and down. . .

Andrew Scott: (laughs) Or we could start high and get worse.

Matt Beckett: Well, there’s a whimsy to it that appeals to us. Like a romantic. . . but not a romantic comedy.

Dana Snell: Comedic romance.

Matt Beckett: Even if it’s a bummer—and I think that’s one of the lessons you learn—even if it’s a bummer, it’s still a joy to be in love and to watch people in love.

Andrew Scott: We talked early on in the process about how this is a very personal pronoun-y record.

Drew Smith: We rhymed the word “I” a lot.

Dana Snell: (laughs) Frequently.

Andrew Scott: “Me” works well; you can rhyme “me” with a lot.

Dana Snell: I think in my song, in the chorus, each line begins with the word “I.” We’re turned inward.

Andrew Scott: Yeah, we definitely turned inward. I think we turn outward at the end, though.

Popshifter: What kind of feedback did you get from your board game? I was at the release party and it was really cool. I assume you were all fans of the Nightmare game? Or maybe not?

nightmare board game
The Gatekeeper: “MAGGOTS!!”

Dana Snell: It was definitely inspiration for our game. I played it; did you guys play it?

Andrew Scott: Well, we were there, but that doesn’t mean I was a fan.

Dana laughs.

Matt Beckett: I like when he yells at the oldest person.

Andrew Scott: We totally ripped that off.

Dana Snell: It’s hard to play it at our age because you have to roll your age on the dice, but they don’t give you enough time! (laughs) You know, when you’re in your late twenties.

Andrew Scott: You need a couple of twenty-sided die.

Dana Snell: You’re supposed to be like, 15.

Andrew Scott: Dana just totally pulled an age crime right there.

drew bicycles by graham kennedy
Drew Smith
Photo © Graham Kennedy

Drew Smith: You just lied about your age!

Dana Snell: Well, when we played it we were in our late twenties.

Drew Smith: No, you weren’t.

Everyone laughs.

Andrew Scott: Dana, you were never in your late twenties.

Dana Snell: Anyway. . .

Drew Smith: You know how when someone’s dead, you say the “late ___”? Well, for Dana the twenties are truly late. . . no longer with us.

Matt cracks up.

Andrew Scott: So. . . to answer the question. . . what was the feedback we got from that?

Drew Smith: Confusion? “Um, I have your game but I haven’t played it yet. I don’t have three friends.”

Andrew Scott: Getting feedback requires, uh. . . (whispers) selling it. I think we gave them away that first night. No, we sold some the other day, actually.

Drew Smith: By “some” you mean “one.”

Matt Beckett: I’m so proud of it, it was fun.

Andrew Scott: I think it’s the sort of thing that in a couple of years it’ll be a neat treat when people find it.

Drew Smith: When people take a look at our body of work.

Andrew Scott: Yeah! They’ll be like, “What?”

Everyone laughs.

meligrove band and bicycles
The Meligrove Band and The Bicycles
Lee’s Palace, Toronto
Photo from The Meligrove Band on MySpace

Andrew Scott: “What, you guys are still a band?”

Popshifter: So since this interview is for our summer issue, do you have any likes or dislikes about summer?

Drew Smith: It’s island time.

Andrew Scott: Yeah, outdoors. You were talking earlier about being friends with other bands. I think initially it felt like we were friends with other bands, but now it just feels like we are friends with people who just happen to be in other bands. So that’s the coolest part of the summer, our friends. It’s fun to sit inside and. . . play interactive board games. We have a pretty close relationship with those same people and we do a lot of summer-ish things.

Matt Beckett: There are definitely “band hangs” that weren’t there before.

Dana Snell: The worst thing about the summer is that. . .

Andrew Scott: It ends.

Dana Snell: Yeah, but it’s also like the clock is ticking.

Andrew Scott: The worst part is when it gets close to September and you see all the advertising for “Back To School” and you get this like, weird sense of fear.

back to school

Drew Smith: That’s when our record will come out!

Andrew Scott: You get that feeling like, “Oh God, school’s starting again!” and you forget that you haven’t gone to school in ten years and you’re not going to. But you still get this anxiety. That always freaks me out and I always have those “my homework’s not done” dreams in late August.

Drew Smith: Oh, God, I forgot about that. Fucking brutal.

Andrew Scott: I know, it’s annoying!

Drew Smith: Like that you’ll get picked on? And all that shit?

Dana Snell: Awww.

Drew Smith: Do you have those dreams about anxiety in the shower?

Dana Snell: (laughing) So horrible.

Andrew Scott: I have dreams about hating Matt Beckett. (laughs)

Popshifter: Did any of you have to go to summer camp?

sleepaway camp
Sleepaway Camp

Dana Snell: Drew and I were both camp counselors at different camps for the mentally challenged. I think we had more of the experience that it was hard work and not so much fun.

Andrew Scott: I was a camp counselor during March Break.

Popshifter: People have camp during March Break?

Andrew Scott: Yeah, people do not like their children. Not to say that’s why you send your kids to camp, but people do want to send their kids away. . .

Dana Snell: I went to a really scary camp: Camp Bolton.

Andrew laughs.

Dana Snell: And they had this “Legend of Old Man Bolton.”

Andrew laughs again.

Popshifter: Scary!

Dana Snell: It was really scary! Like, we were pretty young.

Andrew Scott: I think that’s the idea.

Dana Snell: I don’t know; they went too far. They had an actual cabin where Old Man Bolton had tied up his family and hacked them to pieces in front of each other and then hung himself. . . and they had a fucking noose in a tree.

Popshifter: Oh my god!

Drew Smith: That’s pretty intense!

Dana Snell: And they made us camp. . . sorry, it’s all just flooding out of me! (laughs) And we all had to camp down the hill from Old Man Bolton’s cabin, so we could like, see the noose swinging in the breeze?

Andrew Scott: Yeah?

Dana Snell: And they were like, “If it rains, we’re gonna have to stay in Old Man Bolton’s cabin.” So we were all up all night, like praying that it wouldn’t rain.

Popshifter: Oh, that’s really disturbing.

Dana Snell: Yeah, it was really disturbing.

Andrew Scott: That’s a pretty horrible thing to do to mentally challenged kids.

Drew cracks up.

wet hot american summer poster

Dana Snell: Oh, that was the camp I actually went to as a camper.

Andrew Scott: Oh, right.

Popshifter: I went to a camp when I was in junior high and on the way to the camp there was a sign that said, “Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers” because apparently on the way there was a prison for the criminally insane or something.

Dana Snell: (laughs) It was on the way; it was just down the bend.

Drew Smith: Maybe the prisoners feel like they’re at camp.

Andrew Scott: Yeah, totally. They camp out at Old Man Bolton’s.

Popshifter: Are there any summer blockbusters you like, or movies about summer camp?

Dana Snell: Wet Hot American Summer.

Andrew Scott: Wet Hot American Summer.

Drew Smith: Daddy Daycare.

Drew and Matt laugh.

Dana Snell: Meatballs.

Drew Smith: Summer Girls, Summer Not. (laughs)

Andrew Scott: Sleepaway Camp, one through four.

Popshifter: I’ve only seen the first one, but it’s really good.

Andrew Scott: It is really good.

Drew Smith: I’m going to see the new Rolling Stones documentary tomorrow at the Bloor. It’s the one directed by Martin Scorcese.

indiana jones

Popshifter: Has anyone seen the new Indiana Jones movie?

Andrew Scott: I watched the first half hour on the computer.

Popshifter: How was it?

Dana Snell: I thought it was good.

Andrew Scott: It was a lot of like, computer animated gophers. They were really cute.

Dana Snell: No, that was the good thing about it. It was like, it avoided computer animation and it was all soundstages and stuff.

Andrew Scott: It looked so obviously soundstaged—

Dana Snell: That’s cool though—

Andrew Scott: Well, it’s better than Star Wars which is all CGI.

Popshifter: Do you have any plans for this summer other than hanging out with your friends and mixing your new record?

Andrew Scott: Go see Indiana Jones based on Dana’s recommendation.

Matt Beckett: Go see the Rolling Stones movie.

Drew Smith: Think of more jokes?

Andrew Scott: Work on our interview techniques.

Additional Resources:

The Bicycles play on August 1 in Sackville, NB at the Sappy Fest and on August 2 in Charlottetown, PEI. For upcoming shows and album release updates, please visit their MySpace page.

One Response to “Chewing Bubblegum and Kicking Ass: An Interview With The Bicycles”

  1. Popshifter » The Bicycles, Oh No, It’s Love:
    January 31st, 2009 at 12:08 am

    […] Chewing Bubblegum And Kicking Ass: An Interview With The Bicycles, Popshifter July/August 2008 Issue […]

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