Fucking Canada gives out grant money like a whore. That’s the one thing I managed to really pull from my recent interview with Caila Thompson-Hannant from Shapes and Sizes. You’ll read that the band wasn’t fortunate enough to get approved for the grant they requested, but still went ahead and branded their latest album Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner (Asthmatic Kitty) with the Canada Factor logo. This feature was originally intended for publication in the September 11th edition of NEWSWEEK, but due to my inability to pass a standard urine screening, I was subsequently denied by the publishers. The interview took place while Shapes And Sizes was on a tour stop at the Miller Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this past July 2007.
So is everyone in the band roughly the same age?
Caila Thompson-Hannant: Yeah. Actually there’s a ten year difference, in all and all. I’m twenty two, and Nathan is thirty two, Rory’s twenty three almost, and Jon is thirty.
Have you ever seen Laverne and Shirley?
That show was originally set in the Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee.
Yeah, the opening of the show, the intro-clip montage was all shot at the actual assembly line.
Yeah, it’s a pretty monumental place.
How long was the tour of the brewery?
It was an hour, it was pretty bad actually. It was free so, I don’t know if they put their all into it? It was pretty much just sort of a promotional thing, but you got free beer at the end of it, so that was alright.
Who else was in the tour group with you, or was it a private Shapes and Sizes affair?
No, it was a bunch of us. We’re touring with another band right now called, They Shoot Horses Don’t They? There’s nine of us in the van and then we got a trailer.
Damn. What kind of van is it? That’s gotta be some kind of supped-up van right?
Yeah, it’s a fifteen-seater, like Ford or something? It’s not ours, it’s the Horses' van.
So you guys must look like some sort of weird church youth group or something?
A weird church group?
Yeah, church youth groups usually have those really long vans like that ya know?
Yeah, and I always wonder when we like, go to things, like what do people think we are? I mean, I’m the only girl, so if it was all guys, ya know maybe they might think, “Oh, maybe it’s a sports team, or maybe it’s like, a math group? Or a youth group?” But just with the one girl, I dunno? I think people maybe get confused a lot.
With all the gear and mileage that a tour can cost these days, is the amount of gear you take out on the road and the amount of people you bring along all factor into the amount of money the band will have to pay towards gas?
Yeah, gas is the number one expense on tour for sure. The reason why we got the trailer is because we wanted to minimize gas. Because the trailer doesn’t actually add a whole lot of gas, umm, to the whole thing, but having two vans is like way more expensive than having one. So just sharing the van between two bands, is pretty economic I think? But it’s still, I mean it’s like, the number one expense on tour and most of the time we break even.
So are you guys co-headlining this tour with They Shoot Horses Don’t They?
Yeah, we’re switching off for the most part. Actually, in Canada, the Horses mostly headlined. They’ve done a lot more touring in Canada than we have. They’ve got some real, real, I dunno, “Gun-Ho” fans? Who put a lot of effort into getting to shows, and being good participant audiences. So they headlined most of the Canadian dates, and we’ve been doing most of the American dates so far. Just cuz’ we were just here, so, I don’t know if it makes much of a difference really?
I noticed a shout out to the Canadian Arts Grant Program in the liner notes.
Yeah, (laughing) funny you should mention that, because we actually had applied for a grant. Canada does have quite a bit of money to be dispersed to artists who have no money. It also varies from Province to Province. If you’re a Quebec resident, you can get a lot of Arts grants. Some of them are for living expenses so you can have time to do your own stuff, some of them are for materials or recording or whatever. But we didn’t actually end up getting that grant. Yeah, we were in this tough situation where it was like okay, we applied for this grant, we have a good chance of getting it, the record’s already recorded, which was not legit as far the application process went, we weren’t supposed to have the record recorded already. But we had already started recording it and we wanted to just get it going, so once it came down to pressing the record, it was like, okay we haven’t heard back, what would be the worst situation? If we didn’t have the Factor logo and we did get the grant? Or if we did have the Factor logo and we didn’t get the grant? So we went for the latter. But I dunno? That’s a long story and it probably didn’t answer the question that you wanted to ask?
That was actually very informative and quite funny. I wasn’t aware of the different types of grants and that they vary from Province to Province. I’m gonna call that segment a, “Laugh and Learn.”
Canada does have the best health care system in the world, has anyone in the band ever had to use their Canadian health care while on tour here in the states?
Actually, yeah there have been a couple of instances where we’ve had to use the American system on tour. You’re covered by a travel insurance, it’s like, through you national insurance, so it’ll be through Canadian health care. But you actually have to buy travel insurance when you’re leaving the country. Yeah, two us have had instances where we’ve gone through the American health system; briefly, nothing major. But yeah, the Canadian system is really good, it’s really good. I know there are a lot of problems in it, it’s a huge sort of bureaucratic mess, where it’s just sort of like this hierarchal matrix of people that need to be paid. And a lot of funds that are not really dealt with; they’re not used to their best. It’s an issue getting doctors and nurses who are willing to work under such strenuous situations in a hospital or whatever. And we’re moving towards a two-tier system where there are private clinics and surgeons, ya know? There are long nine month, 1-2 year waiting list for lots of surgeries, particularly common things like hip replacements and stuff, ya know? And that’s sort of where the two tier thing is starting to move in I think for the most part; in those really long-wait kind of surgeries. It’s good, it’s really good. You can walk into a clinic anywhere and not pay, if you’ve got your health card you don’t pay.
That is rad. Were you a fan of the Kids in The Hall while growing up in Canada?
Not when I was growing up, but I started watching a bit of them, maybe five years ago or something, and some of them (laughing) yeah, I like the Kids in the Hall. I think the Canadians have sort of an advantage and maybe a disadvantage as well, because we’ve got sort of rules about how much Canadian content needs to be played on radio stations and TV stations. And we have a lot of, as I said before, grants and a bit of funding; we’re trying to promote our Canadian culture, which is really nothing special for the most part. But at the same time you do kind of get these, sort of unassuming shows that maybe wouldn’t make the big cut if it was Americanized. But since they’re from Canada sometimes things slip through. So yeah, we have a bit of an edge possible on that because low budget things that are a little bit off kilter, sometimes can make an impact.
There seems to be a bit more nurturing in Canada.
Yeah, but I mean it’s also pretty few and far between I would say. There’s a lot of Canadian stuff that’s really, really sub par.
You take the good with the bad.
There’s a lot of instruments on Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner. How do you recreate some of those songs in your live set?
We have to omit unfortunately. A lot of the songs we kind of change quite a bit live. And I think that’s something we strive for, is to not just replicate exactly what’s on the record every night. Mostly for our own sanity, but yeah, the live show is quite different. It’s a lot more… Well the record’s pretty bombastic, but the live show is pretty driving and rocking. A little more sparse too sometimes.
Bombastic is a great way to describe this album. I like the way you guys manage to do the hard and soft tunes on the same record.
Yeah, well first we have three writers in the band, Rory, Nathan and I. Rory, Nathan and me, sorry, I’m a little grammar obsessive sometimes. Since we have three writers we try to blend some, otherwise we’d have to exclude somebody or two people or whatever? I think in some ways bands with more than one writer, they lose a certain, I dunno, focus maybe? And I would say that’s possibly true for us, it’s just something you have to work on constantly. It’s good as well, because you’re forced to sort of sit in these ideas and different textures and styles.
Are you going to college right now, or do you have all your chips in Shapes and Sizes?
Yeah, I’m gonna go back to school, I don’t really know right now? I mean, this band it doesn’t pay anything, but it’s been gaining a little momentum since the record was released, and I feel like we’re all really close, artistically and personally, so this is gonna be the full time thing for I think, all of us for the next year at least. And then I dunno exactly? But, yeah.
When do you think the band will start working on another album?
We’ll do some writing, and hopefully record. I don’t want to say definitely; but I think we should probably try to have another record recorded by the summer next year.
Does Shapes and Sizes have a message for the children?
The harder the better.
Shapes and Sizes latest album, Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner is out now on Asthmatic Kitty Records. For more scoop-poop-boogy on Rory, Nathan, Jon and Caila, check out shapesandsizes.ca or myspace.com/shapesandsizes.
Shapes and Sizes “STAY HARD!” 2007 September tour dates:
9/12: Montreal, Canada – Orange Divan w/ Magic Weapon, Anenomes
9/13: Rochester, New York – w/ Yeasayer
9/14: Alfred, Canada – Alfred U. w/ Yeasayer
9/15: Cleveland, Ohio – Beachland Tavern w/ Yeasayer
9/16: Pittsburgh, PA – Garfield Art Works w/ Yeasayer and Rahdunes
9/17: Athens, Ohio – Baker Union w/ Yeasayer and Nostra Nova
9/18: Bloomington, Indiana – Waldron Arts w/ Yeasayer and Vollmar
9/19: Grand Rapids, Michigan – Calvin College w/ Yeasayer
9/20: Chicago, Illinois – Schubas w/ Yeasayer and Birdnames
9/21: Richmond, Indiana – Comstock Room Runyan Center w/ Maserati
9/22: Champaign, Illinois – Pygmalion Music Festival / Canopy Club w/ Headlights, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Yeasayer, Bound Stems, Hypno Music **Corp
9/24: Durham, North Carolina – Duke University Coffee House w/ Yeasayer
9/25: Washington, DC – Black Cat w/ Yeasayer
9/26: Philadelphia, PA – The Khyber w/ Yeasayer and Papertrigger
9/27: New York City, New York – Cake Shop w/ Yeasayer
9/28: Providence, Rhode Island – as220 w/ Yeasayer and Birdcage Riot
9/29: Hanover, New Hampshire – Rocket Fuel Club w/ Cool Kids