Map out of Moncton: An Interview With The Motorleague’s Don Levandier

March 22nd, 2016 by  |  Published in Interviews



David Haddad talks with The Motorleague frontman in advance of their House of Targ show

Having grown up and lived in Moncton, New Brunswick my whole life up until 2014, I spent a lot of my teen years going to all-ages shows there. They happened pretty frequently and were vital in the developmental years of my music tastes.

From some of my earliest memories of going to shows, The Motorleague were there.

They were the type of band that always seemed to be doing something. All the members (changing several times over the years) were heavily involved in the local scene and there was always a large sense of hometown pride in their performances, but also a determination, or maybe hunger for bigger things.

Frontman Don Levandier spent his teen years in punk bands like The Ditch Pigs, putting on all ages shows just to have a place to play. That tenacity and determined forwardness is a trait that has seemed to been woven into The Motorleague’s material, helping them make great strides in the last few years.

On March 23rd, The Motorleague will be returning to Ottawa for the first time since they released their album Holding Patterns in 2015, to play at House of Targ as part of their current North American tour.
This week, I spoke to Don about life on the road and how it’s changed since joining a label.

You’ve been touring and releasing music for years. Since signing with Sonic Records, what are some of the major differences you’ve noticed in shows and touring now compared to, say, 2006?

It’s better in every way. It’s made it actually possible to do. I think that if we hadn’t gotten picked up, we wouldn’t still be doing it right now. Real life would’ve kicked in. You can’t keep breaking your back in a van and going into debt because you’re not making any money. That’s how it was before, and now it’s like we’re going out and playing shows, and maybe they aren’t necessarily the places we would have played before, but we’re getting paid better. But, sometimes we can’t play places we want to play. Like if there’s a certain club and our agent doesn’t work with them, then we can’t play there even if we want to. So there’s stuff like that. It’s just different. I guess it’s a way to legitimize everything. It makes being in a shitty rock ‘n’ roll band kind of legitimate, in a sense that you could do it and get away with it and not just financially go in the hole, but at the same time, I miss the DIY.

Is that DIY, ‘roughin’ it’ road life still attached to it all? Or do you have hotels that are taken care of for you through the label or something like that?

No, it’s not taken care of. We pay for all that stuff. Even if we can’t afford it, we do it. We’ve done the van thing for too many years. I don’t want to have the flu. There are a few comforts where you’ve just gotta be like “You know what? We’re going to lose money to get a hotel tonight, but fuck it, we’re getting a hotel tonight.” And we’ve all molded our lives around the band too, so like our bass player, Shawn, works for a major hotel chain so that we an get affordable hotels on the road. That’s kind of the thing, you know? You shape your life around making the band easier.

Your first major release, Acknowledge, Acknowledge, showcased something you’re very good at, which are anthemic and hooky group singalongs. This is a trait you’ve had in earlier work, and that you’ve carried over onto your latest album, Holding Patterns. Would you say you’ve made any stylistic changes between the two albums?

Acknowledge took us like three years to make, and it’s not even the same lineup through out the whole record. There are different members on different songs. So, because it took us so long to make, it does go a little more all over the map, stylistically. You can hear some stuff that is really over the top poppy on there, and those are the songs that were tacked on at the end, and there was stuff we cut that was just way too heavy and didn’t end up fitting. So, I don’t think we really had a style picked out for that record, we just had a bunch of songs we thought were concise enough to make a record, so we said “let’s do it.”

Holding Patterns was completely the opposite. We wrote 32 songs for it and then the label and producer narrowed it down to 11. Again, there were some heavier, kind of left field songs in there, but I think that the stuff that got picked was the stuff more so in the middle, and was more viably commercial. We went into this record making a rock record. We kind of had a talk at one point to decide whether we were doing the sort of pop punk influenced thing or like a rock band. So we wanted to go full rock band and make something that we could put on the radio.

What’s it like working with a producer now versus years ago when you were just doing it all yourself?

It makes you want to kick yourself for not working with one years ago. They explain to you why they think they need to cut an intro down or how the bridge isn’t good enough or whatever, and you go back and listen to your old stuff and think man, I wish I had this mindset then, you know? Every time I listen to our old stuff I’m just constantly producing it in my head, making decisions I think they would make.

Does that inform your writing process outside of the studio?

100% It’s hard not to write without a producer in my head. I don’t think it’s possible now. It effects every single solitary thing you write. I think when we first started, everything was in rotations of four. If we did an intro, we’d do it four times. We’d never do an intro four times now. It’s kind of drilled into my head that that’s stupid.

The Motorleague, if nothing else, could definitely be called a proud Canadian band. You’ve done a lot of Canadian-centric stuff with songs like “North America,” “Every Man Needs a Cape Breton,” as well as all the “Heritage Moments”-influenced videos you put out. Would you say that’s a conscious decision you’ve made to be a “Canadian Band” and to show some patriotism, or is it just something that happens naturally with how you guys are?

I honestly don’t think we have the scope to be like a “Canadian Band.” All of those things were really spread out. We’ve been a band for a long time so those things didn’t necessarily happen close to each other. They were more inspired by moments. The song Cape Breton was just inspired by us going there and playing and absolutely loving it, and the people there and the spirit of independence. The Heritage Moments were just me being an idiot with a video camera.

I don’t think there was a grander scheme of us trying to be overtly Canadian, but only for the reason that I don’t think we ever really thought of it. Like I said, maybe if we had a bit more scope, it might have been like “maybe there’s a whole franchise in this.” One of the members said one time “Are we a band or are we a skit comedy troupe?” So, there’s always that element of not taking it too far. Cause it does get a little campy.

I was wondering about that, because you guys do a lot of extra little things, like videos or the RPG game you made, and that definitely helps establish a more intimate connection with your fan base. Is that something you consider important to do, or is it just something that’s part of it for you?

A lot of that is being bored on the road for 8 hour drives with no internet connection. We start talking about making an RPG game, and then it’s like “Let’s see if this something we can actually do.” I’ve definitely had people say “Oh, you can’t do this, you can’t do that” but then it’s like, well, now I am going to do that. With all of that though, the game and the videos, I always think of them as more of inside jokes, you know? Like, our friends will get a chuckle out of it, but beyond our group back home, or Cape Breton or Halifax or something, I don’t know that people are really going to appreciate or get the joke. The game was never meant to have a wide scope. I figured anyone in Atlantic Canada would appreciate it, but if you’re not deeply invested in that band world, it might not be for you. It’s more of a massive inside joke.

Going back to the Canadian thing, where in North America is your favourite city/venue to play?

We’ve always really had an affinity for the Bovine in Toronto, but a lot of our favourite places to play are really related to where we have a bunch of friends, where the food’s really good—eating is a huge part of touring for us. The Bovine is high up there because there are some really great food spots next to it. House of Targ was phenomenal last time we were there. We’ve only been once, but I’m hoping to fix that. That’s high up there. There’s always something weird and magical about Sydney. And St. John’s, Newfoundland would be up there for us too. St John’s is like a whole other country. You don’t even feel like you’re Canada anymore when you’re there.

You mentioned food, and that was something I wanted to ask you. Anyone who knows you guys or follows you on any social media knows you love finding food when you’re touring. What are some of the best things you’ve eaten on tour, as well as some of the worst or weirdest.

Coolest is definitely Banh-Mi sandwiches. They’re these Vietnamese sandwiches on crusty bread and they’re incredible. There’s a place in Toronto called Banh-Mi Boys that does fusion Banh-Mi and I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s amazing. And Shawn and I are always looking for shawarma places. There are like no real places home that have shawarma like Ontario. And one-off burrito chains are always great. Peanut butter pad thai was bad. One time we were in Thunder Bay, and like, Thunder Bay is small and maybe there aren’t a ton of people who would know what authentic Thai food is, but we got pad thai and it was like macaroni and peanut butter. Melted Kraft peanut butter and wet macaroni.

In keeping with the food theme, you mentioned some of the differences between the food in Ontario and your home in Moncton, New Brunswick. If you had to explain to an Ontarian what a real donair was, how would you do that? Some places have them here, but they definitely aren’t the same.

I think there should be a national campaign to really push for donairs. But, when you’re talking donairs you gotta get into ingredients. It’s all about combining really spicy but also savoury meat with really tangy and sweet garlic sauce. You gotta start with the sauce. It’s condensed milk, vinegar and garlic. It’s really sweet but has a zip to it. So that mixed with the beef with like, tomato and raw onion on a pita is how you do it, but it’s all about the sauce.

So, what kind of show can the crowd expect at Targ on the 23rd?

We were just in Ottawa not too long ago touring the new record, but for this one we just put our first 2009 album out on vinyl, completely remixed and remastered and we’ve got it with us. We haven’t really told anybody that that’s happening yet, but we’re going to play some old stuff off that which is exciting for us, and try to play all the songs off the new record we didn’t get to last time. But same as always. Just sweaty, East Coast band, jumping around. It’ll be a colourful, sweaty show.


Comments are closed.