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The Fuzz Kings Interview with “Fat” Dave Johnston

© Marc J Chalifoux

Sometimes you need a band that’s just fun to listen to, not necessarily pop music or anything, but just something to make you feel like the world sucks a little bit less, and The Fuzz Kings may just be the ticket.  Equal parts traditional western twang, surf and fuzzy blues it’s hard not to smile when you listen to this music, sprawling reverb drenched guitar teeming with some sweet slide work and an airtight rhythm section to create intoxicatingly catchy tunes.  There’s just something about The Fuzz Kings, a slight hop in their step that’s infectious and undeniable, and by the time the first song on their new album ReTurn Of The Century is finished I guarantee your toe’ll be tapping.  This is the kind of album you put on when you’re kicking back with a couple of buddies shooting the shit about what you’ve all been up to, how long it’s been since you’ve seen each other, and how life’s kicking your ass and you’ve been having a hell of a time the whole time!  That’s not to say this is background music, anything but, it does however sound very much like a soundtrack to a better life that I’ve been living in my head for years, too afraid or too dumb to act on in real life.  It’s rare I find music that can put me in a good place like this can, it’s the true definition of party music to me and it’s a pleasure to be able to share a nice in-depth piece with another one of Canada’s well kept secrets as well.  So, grab a cold one out of the fridge and let me know what you think when you’re finished kids…
Listen while you read:

Who’s in The Fuzz Kings right now?  Is this the original lineup or have there been any changes made to the lineup?

Well…  Both.  We started out as a three piece with Nathan Ouellete on drums, Alex Thurgood on bass, and me on guitar and vocals, and then during the recording of our latest release ReTurn of The Century we took on a fourth member; Tom Kerr, who engineered our first EP as well ReTurn Of The Century.  We all got along great, so Tom learned up a bunch of songs and joined us on tour last summer.

Do any of you have any other bands or side projects going on at this point?  Have you released anything with anyone in the past?  If so, can you tell us about that?

I’ve been doing some solo acoustic performances, and will likely be releasing something with that.  Tom and Alex have another band they’re getting going with another songwriter.  Nathan plays a lot, he’s involved with the local jazz scene and plays with a number of great players, but he gets his “smash” on with us.  We’ve all been playing in bands and travelling around the countryside since the mid-nineties.

How old are you and where are you originally from? 

We’re all in our early thirties…  I’m from Edmonton originally, but I’m the only one.  We were all born in different parts of the continent.

What was the local music scene like where you grew up?  Were you very involved in the local scene there at all?  Did you see a lot of shows there when you were younger?  Do you feel like the local scene played an important role in shaping your musical tastes or the way that you perform today?

The local scene here has seen some good times and some bad times, but we’ve all been a part of it every step of the way.  The local music has definitely shaped things for me.  It made me want to dig deep and find where their sound came from.  Seeing a band live is a very special thing that a lot of kids don’t get to do anymore, but in Edmonton there are a lot of bands here that have accomplished a lot on a national level, which is really easy for people to get excited about.

What about your household when you were a child?  Were either your parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely involved or interested in music when you were growing up?

There was always music in the house growing up, but nobody ever took it as far as I did.  None of them ever started bands or made records or anything like that.  They always had pretty good taste in music too though, which is fortunate.

What do you consider to be your first real exposure to music?

Hard to say.  When I was a kid, we had a couple of cassettes in the car at all times.  One was The Best of Buddy Holly, and the other was The Beach Boys Greatest Hits.  Thinking back on it now, it must have triggered something in my brain.  I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s not even knowing about groups like New Kids On The Block.  I mean, I’d heard of Michael Jackson, Madonna, etcetera but I really didn’t know how big of a deal they were until way later on in life.  I was sheltered in all the best ways.

If you were to pick a moment, a moment that seemed to change everything and opened your eyes to the infinite possibilities of music, what would it be?

At one point, I’d heard that one of my favorite bands The Murder City Devils singer worked at a gas station when he wasn’t on the road.  That may not even be true, but it helped me realize that these monsters of rock and roll, these charismatic entities were regular, everyday people who you might not look twice at.  They’re not the biggest band in the world by any stretch, but a great band, and an influential band on the roster during the golden years of SUB-POP.  Suddenly, it all seemed so attainable.

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and or performing your own music and what brought that decision about for you?

When I started learning how to play some of the pop-rock songs on the radio in the mid-90’s.  They came so easy to me.  Three or four chords…  Seemed like no big deal.  I just figured it would make more sense if I sang a song about my girlfriend and my struggles instead of someone else’s.

What was your first instrument?  When and how did you get it?

1962 Fender Telecaster – Japanese reissue.  I got it in 1994 and I still have it, and still tour with it.  It cost me nine months of delivering flyers in my neighborhood.

How and when did you all originally meet?

We’d all been bashing around the Edmonton music scene as teenagers, but we became friends when we all started working together.  Three out of the four of us work at Long & McQuade, which is a nation-wide Canadian Musical Instrument retailer.  Nathan, our drummer, runs his own drum shop, but his wife used to work at Long & McQuade interestingly enough.

What led to the formation of The Fuzz Kings and when would that have been?

Mid 2012, things were winding down a bit from an alt-country band I was playing in called Jake Ian & The Haymakers.  That was a band where I had very little involvement in the songwriting and I’d taken the gig to cleanse my pallet a bit and learn something new, which was great because before that I was feeling a little uninspired.  But when I came back to writing I had a bunch of new songs and inspiration, and I had to get back at it.  I was just fortunate to find some people who were looking to do something new at the time.

The name seems to be pretty self-explanatory to me, and I love it, but I might be missing something.  What does the name The Fuzz Kings mean or refer to?  Who came up with the name and how did you all go about choosing it?

We wanted a band name that sounded like it had been around for a long time.  We went through several different sorts of “The ___ Kings” names before finding one that hadn’t been used, so we seized it.  Ironically enough, the first release had no fuzz guitar on it at all.  The fuzz pedals came later.

Is there any sort of shared creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares or lives by?

We just try to make our songs ‘stupid’ and fun enough.  If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Where are The Fuzz Kings located at these days?

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

How would you describe the local music scene where you all are at right now?

It feels like it’s going to explode.  There’re really a lot of great things happening right now and I can’t wait to see what happens.

Do you feel like you’re very involved in the local scene?  Do you book or attend a lot of local shows?

Not as involved as I used to be.  I get out when I can to see what I can see, but making music has definitely slowed down the amount of music see.  I’m also a dad and an old car enthusiast, and there’re only so many days in the week.  Tom’s an avid supporter of local bands, as is Alex.

Are you involved in recording or releasing any local music?  If so, can you tell us about that briefly here?

We release our own music at this point, which keeps us busy.  We’re interested in split releases, compilations, and helping other bands release their music but we haven’t gotten into that at this point.  Perhaps we will.

Do you feel like the local scene there has played a large or integral part in the sound, history or evolution of The Fuzz Kings or do you feel like you all could be doing what you are, and sound like you do, regardless of your location or surroundings?

We’re very Edmonton-proud and Alberta-proud, but we set out to differentiate ourselves from what’s happening in Edmonton, just for variety’s sake.  There’s a lot of country and blues in our sound which reaches people in various walks of life.  We might sound kinda the same if we lived somewhere else, but the attitude would be different.

How would you describe The Fuzz Kings’ sound to our readers who might not have heard you all before in your own words?

Buddy Holly meets Social Distortion.

I’m curious to hear who you’d claim as your major musical influences?  What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?

We come from all over the map musically, but we see eye-to-eye on the bands and artists that gripped us in our formative years…  Bands like Operation Ivy, The Replacements, Rancid, Tom Waits, Rocket From The Crypt…

What’s the songwriting process like for The Fuzz Kings?  Is there one of you who usually come to the rest of you with a riff or more finished idea for a song to work out with you all?  Or do you all do a lot of jamming and kind of kick ideas back and forth until you kind of work out a song?

Typically, I show up with a song and we bang it out in fifteen minutes.  Then it gradually takes shape as we flesh it out over a few rehearsals, but that’s been changing a bit lately since Tom joined.  It’s a lot more collaborative, which is really interesting and fun.  Everybody puts their mark on every song, and since the common goal is doing what’s right for the song, the recipe’s been working well.

What’s recording like for The Fuzz Kings?  I think that most musicians can obviously appreciate the end result of all the time, hard work and effort that goes into making an album when you’re holding the final product in your hands.  Getting to that point though, that’s another story, and doing that as a band can be extremely difficult to say the least.  What’s it like for The Fuzz Kings?

We keep it really fun and light-hearted.  We believe that fun vibe carries itself through to the finished product.  Songs are usually all worked out before-hand, and we trust each other to play to the best of our ability, so there’s really nothing to fight about.

Do you all head into the studio to record or do you take a more DIY approach to things and prefer to handle every aspect of the recording yourselves?

We used to record with Tom…  But now Tom’s in the band, so it’s definitely DIY – in Tom’s studio.  We all pull our weight as best we can so Tom doesn’t feel overwhelmed, but we all always feel like we could do more to help.

Is there a lot of time and preparation that goes into a recording session for The Fuzz Kings where you all spend a lot of time working out every nook and cranny of a song, and know exactly how it’s going to play out before you ever set foot in the studio?  Or do you all kind of get a good idea of what a song’s going to sound like and then leave it some room to live and breathe on it’s own and evolve a little bit during recording if necessary?

Most of the nooks and crannies of the songs get worked out over time rehearsing and playing shows.  A song should definitely breathe, but we try to make as much progress with that before hitting the studio as we can.  Typically, we have at least the drums and bass recorded in one day.  But if we had a bigger budget we’d probably take more time.

Your first release that I know of was the Accentuate Everything 12” in 2013 which is limited to only 250 colored vinyl copies.  What was the recording of Accentuate Everything like?  Was that a fun, pleasurable experience for you all?  Who recorded that material?  When and where would that have been?  What kind of equipment was used?

Accentuate Everything was recorded by Tom before he joined the band.  It was done at his house and it was pretty fun.  The original intent was to have some demos to use for grant applications, but when we didn’t get any grants, we just put it out ourselves.  The whole thing was recorded on a Sunday afternoon in the fall of 2012.

You followed up Accentuate Everything with the “I’m Your Goon” b/w “Guilty Conscience” single for Record Store day back in April of this year (2014).  Were those tracks written or recorded specifically for that single or were they tracks you’d had sitting around for a bit looking for a home?  If they were recorded for the single can you tell us about that?

“I’m Your Goon” was a left-over track from the recording of ReTurn Of The Century and “Guilty Conscience” was a one-off that we did in another studio.  They were both going to be ‘rainy day’ songs that we’d wanted to use for compilations or split 7”s with other bands, but this Record Store Day opportunity came up so we went for it.  Neither of them really fit in with the overall vibe of ReTurn Of The Century the way we’d hoped they would…  The original plan was to have twelve songs on that album but “I’m Your Goon” was too edgy for the overall feel, and “Guilty Conscience” was recorded in a drastically different way so we saved them.  Since we’ve been writing and recording so many songs, we figured, “Why wait?” and went with the RSD release idea.

As well as the “I’m Your Goon” single you also released your brand new full-length ReTurn Of The Century not too long ago.  What can listeners expect from the new album?  Did you all try anything radically new or different when it came to the songwriting or recording of ReTurn Of The Century?

The songs are a lot more developed, and have more punch to them than Accentuate Everything.  A lot more thought and preparation went into these songs, because we started recording ReTurn of The Century one week before releasing Accentuate Everything, so we’ve been ahead of the game for quite a while.  Similarly, we’ve already begun work on a release for 2015.

Was the recording of the material for ReTurn Of The Century very different than your earlier material?  Do you feel like you’ve learned a lot since the recording of Accentuate Everything?  When was ReTurn Of The Century recorded?  Where was that at and who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used this time around?

Both albums were recorded in the same place, by the same engineer, and since we were happy with the results of Accentuate Everything, we went with a similar studio set-up.  That being said, guitar amps were different, we used more pedals, and there was more overdubbing, doubling up parts to make them thicker sounding…  Just to make it all punchier.

Do The Fuzz Kings have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a song that appeared a compilation or a single that I might not know about?

“Your Lipstick Only Gets In The Way” from Accentuate Everything was used on a Movember compilation that’s available on iTunes, and before the end of 2014 we should see a new Fuzz Kings song on a compilation that’s being put out by the university radio station as part of the annual fund drive.

With the release of Return Of The Century not too long ago at all, are there any other releases in the works or on the horizon for you all at this point?

We’ve started working on a follow-up album of eight songs that should see the light of day in early 2015.  Since we just released a 7” and a full length CD, there’s not much urgency to push it out the door, which makes for a much more relaxed approach to recording.

With the completely insane postage rate increases that don’t show any sign of letting up, I try and provide our readers with as many possible options for picking up stuff as I can.  Where’s the best place for our US readers to score you albums?

We’ve decided to keep things simple and do mail orders exclusively through our Bandcamp page where there are some combo deals available for anyone who wants more than one item.

What about our national and international readers?

Same site.  Keeping track of multiple sites and juggling inventory can get convoluted, so we’re keeping it easy.

And where’s the best place for our interested readers to keep up with the latest news like upcoming shows and album releases from The Fuzz Kings at? is the hub, but we do the Facebook and Twitter thing as well…

Are there any major plans or goals that The Fuzz Kings are looking to accomplish in the rest of 2014?

Just bigger and better shows really.  We’re gaining some notoriety in our home town, planning a western Canadian tour in August 2014.  It’d be nice to get some good physical distribution before the next album’s ready, but we take it all as it comes.

Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road touring?  Do you like being out on the road?  What’s touring like for The Fuzz Kings?

We love to tour, but don’t get to do it nearly as much as we’d like.  Hopefully we’ll be able to change that a bit.  It all comes down to money.  It’s a lot harder to roll the dice when you have a kid or a mortgage or a job that has a lot of responsibility attached to it, but when we get to go it’s that much more rewarding.  We travel pretty comfortably and so far it’s been pretty successful.

 © Gregrogy Hann
© Gregrogy Hann

What, if anything, do you all have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year (2014)?

We’re touring western Canada for two weeks in August.  Then we’ll nail down a few weekend trips here and there to keep up appearances in towns where the shows went really well.

Who are some of your favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with so far?

Forbidden Dimension, The Creepshow, Corb Lund, Jr. Gone Wild, Ten Second Epic.  All great bands, and hugely influential in our little corner of the continent, and it’s been an honor to play with all of them.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

I’ll say Social Distortion but I’m pretty sure Tom and Alex would say Rocket From The Crypt, which I can’t argue with.  That would rule.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to share here with our readers?

We rolled into Vancouver last year to play a well-known venue called The Railway Club.  When we got there the venue was clearly double-booked…  They were charging cover for two shows at one entrance, there was no signage or posters, everything was all wrong.  Not cool, but rather than bailing on a band that was twenty hours of highway driving from home, they set us and the other band up in this back conference room.  There was a small practice PA in there, it was a neat little room, but it was clearly going to be a shit-show.  So, we didn’t bother setting up cameras, something we’d been doing for the whole tour, which we should have, because it ended up being a pretty wild night.  Oh yes, and we drank a little more than we usually do because this show was screwed from the start.  A whole pile of people that were there for the other gig that was happening ended up crashing our little party, dancin’ and shakin’, partying the night away.  Since we’d been getting un-hinged and going super hard, our guitar player, Tom, decided to climb up on this little bar that ran along-side the stage area.  What he didn’t know was that the bar manager, in his excitement of how well our little show was doing, put a few extra pints on that bar for us.  Tom ended up crushing those pints, causing them to pour directly into the powered mixer that was suspended beneath the bar blowing the entire P.A. and causing blue sparks and flames to shoot out in the direction of our drummer.  The power went out, and that 100-year old bar could have seen some serious fire damage.  Somehow we ended up getting paid despite the damage which I can’t believe.  I’m afraid to ask for another gig there.  For now…

Do you all give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band like art for flyers, posters, covers, shirts and that kind of thing?  Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re trying to convey with your artwork?  Is there anyone you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes to that kind of thing?  If so, who is that and how did you originally get hooked up with them?

We do.  Honestly we try and keep our money as local as we can, whenever we can.  We’ve got a logo of a kid sleeping in class that we use for stickers, t-shirts, etcetera; it appears on the CD as well.  It’s our main emblem, but we like to have different artwork styles for each release because we try not to have our releases sound the same…  So they shouldn’t look the same either.

Do you have a preferred medium of release for your music?  With all of the various methods of release that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the various mediums that they do.  What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music?

We all love vinyl.  It’s cool and fun and people get really excited about it, but we’ve seen more CDs sell than records at this point, so it’s important to stay accessible.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so, can you tell us a bit about it?

I do.  It’s a pretty good selection of styles, all of it sounds great, lots of it’s rare at this point, but it’s not that big.  Honestly, I didn’t buy any records for a few years because all I wanted to do was play and create.

I grew up around a pretty massive collection of music, my dad granted me access to just about any classic garage, psych or blues album I could ever wish for and I fondly remember kicking back with a pair of headphones, reading the liner notes and just staring at the cover artwork, letting the whole experience transport me off to another place.  There was something almost magical about having something tangible and physical to hold in my hands to experience along with the music which made for a much more complete listening experience.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

I do.  I grew up in a similar situation where a lot of value was placed on actually having a record, dropping the needle...  They were so big and bright, and when I started finding records of my own to bring home it became all the more important.

As much as I love my hard copies I keep as much of a digital backup as I can.  Not only does it give me easier access to certain stuff when I just don’t feel like looking for it, but it has really allowed me to take my collection on the go with me for the first time.  When you team digital music with the internet though, that’s when things start getting interesting.  Together they’ve exposed people to an entire world of music that they’re surrounded by and it’s allowed them unparalleled access to those bands and allowed them interaction on a global scale for the first time.  On the other hand though, illegal downloading is getting what’s left of the profit margins for a lot of people and it’s harder than ever to get noticed in the chaotic digital scene out there right now as everyone’s been kind of granted a semi equal” voice out there.  As a musician during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

I see the necessity in it…  And the convenience, but as far as piracy goes, we haven’t seen much of it.  We generally get the vibe that people would rather own it than get it for free, like there’s value to it, which is good, because it wasn’t cheap to make!  It’s good for marketing and helps get shows, but I don’t think anyone should be obligated or pressured into giving their albums away for free, but throwing a free song out there for the sake of marketing is the price of doing business.

I try to keep up with as much good stuff as I can but there just isn’t time to make it through a half of a percent of the awesome stuff out there.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to I might not have heard of before?

Check out Betrayers, Lad Mags, The Frolics, Wafer Thin Mints, James T. Kirks and Old Wives.

What about nationally and internationally?

Napalmpom, Forbidden Dimension, The Pygmies, The Mandates, Ramblin’ Ambassadors, Vicious Cycles, Greenback High, The Mants, Jim Jones Revue and Hellacopters.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, it was awesome learning so much about the band and I hope you had at least a little fun looking back on everything you’ve managed to accomplish as a band.  Before we call it a day and sign off though, is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you’d just like to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about at this point?

I think we’re good.  Thank you!

(2013)  The Fuzz Kings – Accentuate Everything – digital, 12” – Self-Released (Limited Edition of 250 copies on Colored Vinyl)
(2014)  The Fuzz Kings – “I’m Your Goon” b/w “Guilty Conscience” – digital, 7” – Self-Released [Record Store Day 2014] (Limited to 300 copies)
(2014)  The Fuzz Kings – Return Of The Century – digital, CD – Self-Released

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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