Alexisonfire, St. Alvia and Jersey alums Jordan Hastings, Adam Michael and Michael Zane have formed rock trio Say Yes and are releasing their debut album, co-produced by Eric Ratz (Billy Talent, Big Wreck) and Billy Talent guitarist Ian D’Sa.
Southern Ontario musicians Jordan Hastings (Alexisonfire, Jersey), Adam Michael (Saint Alvia) and Michael Zane have pooled their talents and varied musical backgrounds to form Say Yes, a great band about to release their debut LP this Friday.
Co-produced by Eric Ratz (Billy Talent, Big Wreck) and Billy Talent guitarist Ian D’Sa, Real Life Trash Mag wastes no time, kicking off with powerful first single “Once Forward, Twice Back”. The album is described as centering on three degenerate characters – an arsonist, an alcoholic, and a sex addict. Immediately taken with the first single and curious to find out more about these characters and the three songwriters behind them, I chatted with Hastings this week.
Tell me a bit about how you, Michael and Adam first connected and decided to form this project. It seems like there’s a bit of history there – was Say Yes a long time coming?
“Adam and I have been best friends since high school, which is going back almost 20 years. After the demise of Alexisonfire I was lacking a creative outlet. I really love writing and creating songs and arrangements and things like that. So I picked up my guitar and my bass and just went at it. I wrote a couple of tunes and threw them by Adam one night when we were hanging out. He really dug them and from there we just decided to write a few more…and then we thought “maybe this is something we can record and play and use to do some shows”.
“Initially we were toying with the idea of being a two-piece. But I think you need that bottom end of a bass – him being an incredible guitar player, we wanted an incredible bass player. So then the hunt began for the ultimate bassist, and that’s where Mike came along. We were out seeing a friend play at an acoustic show, just at a local pub – it might have even been an open mic type thing. And then this guy gets up there and he’s got really long hair and he’s covering Led Zeppelin songs at the top of his lungs. And we thought “Holy sh*t, who is this guy?” It turned out we had some mutual friends so we hit him up and brought him out to a jam. We gave him a few songs that we had demos for…he learned them and came in and nailed them like he had been playing them the whole time.”
“So then we started writing with him a bit and he had great ideas. This was all during that first session and it was working really well. Right from there we threw him into it and started recording our first EP about a week or two after that. We’ve been going pretty solid ever since.”
You’ve all had experience playing in different music scenes – did it take a while to “find that groove”? It sounds like it was more of an instant click between you.
“Well, there is that difficulty. Luckily Adam and I, having been in so many projects together back in the day, are familiar with each other’s writing styles. And we’ve been so close over the last two decades…we’d make time for each other when we were home from our other projects and would try to hang out as much as possible and record. He’s done a lot of solo work in his career so if I had a couple of days off I’d go record drums on his rock stuff, or even some country/folk stuff that he’s done. And vice versa – if I had a song or an idea, we’d get together and hash it out.”
“But then we’d go back on the road and split up for however many years. So after Alexis and Saint Alvia broke up, we had enough time to sit down and really make it something.”
“I think that’s what made it a little bit easier to figure out what we’re supposed to sound like. But at the same time, we don’t really think about what it’s going to sound like at the end. It’s just the way it comes out after spending so much time on it. What comes of it is what comes of it and that’s what’s exciting about it too. The next record could be completely different from this – we really don’t know. But we’ll see where the ball drops when it does.”
I’m intrigued by the album’s theme, which features these so-called “fictitious deviant characters”…tell me more about that and if there’s anything autobiographical about them!
“No, there’s definitely no autobiographical information there! None of us are arsonists or anything like that. We like to have a couple of drinks here and there, but that’s pretty much as far as that goes!”
“Adam is an amazing lyricist and probably one of the nicest, jovial guys you’ll ever meet. But when it comes to writing lyrics, his content can be somewhat dark at times. The whole thing came about because when we were writing the album, a lot of times it would be about these dark kind of characters. The whole “concept album” thing came around a couple of times and we thought “well, it’s not a concept album, it’s just that these characters keep popping up…so why not tie them all in in some regard.”
“So that’s essentially what ended up happening. It was the brainchild of Adam Michael – he’s just such an amazing creative lyricist.”
What was it like working with Eric Ratz and Ian D’Sa – and particularly Ian, this time on a production level?
“Ian has been a good friend of mine and Adam’s for years. Billy Talent and Alexisonfire have travelled the world together, a few times, and we’ve been fortunate enough to stay quite close over the years.”
“I think it just came over having beers one night. I mentioned to Ian that I was doing this project and told him that we were hoping to get Eric Ratz on board for production. He said ‘you know what, I’ve been really wanting to do a co-production thing with Eric…maybe I can do a couple of tunes with you guys’. I told him that would be amazing and that we’d absolutely love that.”
“We had about thirteen or fourteen songs at that point. Really rough demos – the quality of the audio was not the greatest. Half of them were on a cellphone. But we sent him everything we had and Ian came back with four that he really wanted to work on. Then we started the process of just hanging with him for 6-8 weeks. He’d come to our jam space in Burlington from Toronto, which was also very nice of him. And we’d just jam – play the tunes and throw a few ideas back and forth. I think that was the most fun part of this whole project; that’s how it started, Adam and I just throwing ideas around and then Mikey came into the mix and Ian as well. And Ian is such a talented songwriter. So it was a lot of fun to throw ideas back and forth and really mold the songs.”
“And then those sessions with Ian led to doing about a week’s worth of pre-production with Eric for the remainder of the songs before we actually hit the studio. We wanted to do it somewhat live off the floor so we had to have everything laid out and be very tight as musicians. After pre-production we hit the studio. It was an intense process but you see why it’s so intense when you hear the final product.”
You toured a fair bit after the release of the EP and I know you have a gig at Fred Perry coming up. Is there anything you can say about other tour plans for this summer?
“Yeah, there’s some stuff in the works still, stuff that we aren’t quite able to talk about yet. But what I can talk about is the Fred Perry date, which is May 5. That show’s at 1p.m. and we’ll be doing acoustic versions of our tunes and then just hanging out. And then on May 6, for anyone in the Hamilton area, we’re playing at Club Absinthe for our hometown LP release party. Adam’s other band, Rules, is opening up that one and they’re a lot of fun. So keep our website in mind and we’ll have tour dates up there as soon as they’re solidified.”
You were relatively young when you found success with Alexisonfire. Now going into this project with others who have “been there, done that” in the music industry, how have you found the process?
“The funny part is that Adam’s 35, I’m 34 and Mikey is 27 or 28, so he’s the young one. And it’s a lot of fun. Maybe it’s a bad thing for Adam and me, but we kind of feel like we’re still the little kids who met each other in high school, you know what I mean? Actually that’s pretty much any man that I know! Even my buddies who are in their 40s now. They’re like “Nope, I’m still a child – I’m still 20 in my mind…I might have a bit more of a beer gut and kids and a wife and stuff, but I’m still a kid”. You’re just more of an adult baby, where you have to pay your mortgage and taxes and all that…but I think staying young at heart is important for anybody.”