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Comet Control interview with Chad Ross

Born from the ashes of Quest For Fire, Comet Control bares a great resemblance to whence it came, but the devastating guitar duo of Chad Ross and Andrew Moszynski aren’t interested in retreading ground or doing something they’ve done before.  There’re elements of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club going on, running head long into late 60s and 70’s rock ala Cream, absolutely mind melting lead lines and solos dripping from every part of Comet Control’s debut self-titled offering on Tee Pee Records.  Songs run the gambit from balls-out rock and roll, to some seriously tasty laid back jams like the eight minute behemoth that is “Blast Magic”.  Haunting vocal melodies echo in the midst of thunderous, fuzzy dual guitar riffs, bass that could as easily knock a needle out of a groove as it could a heart out of rhythm, and some seriously massive drums are what define Comet Control for me.  They take things in a decidedly psychedelic direction as well.  Firmly planted in the hard and heavy sound of the early 70s experimental rock scene, Comet Control almost sounds like an album the label wouldn’t let them release in 1974 or something.  There’s a sense of expansive majesty to Comet Control’s music that’s hard to label or define with words, but is deafeningly apparent upon the first listen.  Bringing collective experiences spanning decades, Comet Control made their existence known with one of the best debut albums in recent memory.  Guitarist, singer and founding member Chad Ross powwowed with me about his musical history and just about anything you could ever want to know about Comet Control.  I seriously dug Quest For Fire and was bummed when they called it quits, so it was a real pleasure for me to conduct and now to be able to finally present this in-depth interview to all of you.  That’s it, no more from me.  Just kick back, take in the words and stick on some tunes, you’re gonna wanna pick this one up; guaranteed.

Listen while you read:

Who’s in Comet Control and what do you all play?  Is this the original lineup or have you all gone through any changes since you started playing?

Nicole Howell (Bass), Chad Ross (Guitar and Vocals), Andrew Moszynski (Guitar), Jay Anderson (Drums) and Christopher Sandes (Keys).  It’s the original lineup.

Obviously a few of you have pretty illustrious backgrounds in the Canadian music scene, which isn’t to undermine or diminish anyone else’s accomplishments!  As an American I unfortunately don’t hear near enough about the absolutely stunning Canadian scene that’s out there, so I like to do as much research as possible and expose people to as much of it as I can.  As I mentioned before, I know that several of you have released stuff with other bands in the past, and have even worked together in some of those cases.  Are any of you currently in any other bands at this point, or do you have any active side projects going on right now?  If so, can you tell us a bit about that?  Who all have you released material with in the past?

Andrew and I were both in the Toronto garage rock band The Deadly Snakes and Quest for Fire.   I often do acoustic records under the name Nordic Nomadic.  Andrew has a garage/punk band called Wrong Hole.  Chris Sandes plays in a garage/punk band called PANIC amongst other cool big band endeavors, and Jay Anderson plays in a great band called Biblical and is involved in many other projects.  We've all been involved in Toronto bands for years...  The list goes on and on.

How old are you all and where are you originally from?

We're all in our thirties to varying degrees.  Jay, Andrew, and Chris all grew up in, and close to, Toronto.  Nicole’s from a cottage town called Washago and I’m from a small town called Schomberg north of Toronto.

What was the local music scene like where you grew up?  Were you very involved in the local music scene?  Did you see a lot of local shows?  Do you feel like it played a large or integral, part in shaping your musical tastes or the way that you perform?

Nothing cool happened where I grew up…  Except nature and hash.  As soon as I hit sixteen, I went out and got my drivers license, had to.  We could finally get out of the small town.  That opened the doors to Toronto, and all of its amazing music.  The punk/hardcore scene in Toronto was the first thing I got into, in the early 90's.  Because of its open door/all ages policies, I saw lots of amazing bands of that era.   Punk shaped my tastes in years to come.  And early skate vid[eo] soundtracks.

What was your home like when you were growing up?  Was there a lot of music around or were any of your close relatives musicians?

My mother was the musician in my family.  She’s an amazing piano player.

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

My parent's record collection and the instruments lying around our family home.   

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

I remember listening to Cream's Disraeli Gears as an adolescent.  I’m not sure how old I was, but it was my first real taste of electric guitars.  Mind blown.  Then in high school, the older punks started making me mixtapes; good taste for youngsters.  Circle Jerks, Curtis Mayfield, Black Flag, Motörhead, Neil Young.  The older dirt bags definitely opened my eyes to real possibilities in music.  I went from someone obsessed with skateboarding, to someone obsessed with mixtapes and record collecting.

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

When I was sixteen, I went and saw the bay area punk band Econochrist at a Queen Street west country and western/dive called Bronco's, in Toronto’s west end.  I remember that was my first time thinking that I could start a band.  I was focused on the revelation.  Soon after, my friends and I started making noise in our parent's basements.

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

My family always had instruments lying around, drums, acoustic guitars and pianos and such, but I saved up from my first job, to buy a shitty electric guitar and a Peavey Rage.  My first real deadbeat instruments.

How did you all meet and when would that have been?

Andrew and I go back to The Deadly Snakes days.  I joined the band for their last two records, Ode To Joy and Porcella.  We all met through years of hangin’ in Toronto.  I guess I met Jay and Chris through Andre Ethier the singer of The Deadly Snakes.  They've been part of Andre's band through out the years.   I met Nicole at a Happy Endings' show.

What led to the formation of Comet Control and when was that?

Andrew and I wanted to keep playing after Quest for Fire broke up.  We had a few Quest For Fire songs that we wanted to record, songs that we were playing on the last Quest For Fire tour.  Nicole and I had already talked about doing a music project together, so, it was a pretty natural transition into Comet Control.  We called Jay Anderson of Biblical and started to work on songs/direction.  In the spring of 2013, we dove into making a record.

I dig the name!  It summons these swirling psychedelic landscapes of lights flashing in the darkness for me.  What does Comet Control mean or refer to in the context of the band name?  Who came up with it and how did you all go about choosing it?

Nicole came up with the name...  Sounded cool.

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

“He, or she, who leaves the pack, must find their ‘effin own way back”.  Pretty handy, used that one in a few groups.

Where’s Comet Control located at right now? How would you describe the local music scene where you all are at?

We all live in the west end of downtown Toronto.  It’s an amazing city with a pretty colorful music scene.  Sometimes it feels kinda dirty, playing a music business game in a big stinky city.  Other times, it feels really easy and exciting.   It's usually easy and exciting when you're playing small local shows with your friend's bands...  Party Island.

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

None of us book shows, but we all try to go out as much as we can to see friend's bands.  Sometimes it's hard to go out in Toronto, because there’s something going on every night of the week.  You’re usually afraid to get swept into a party hole, but we all bump into each other, drunk on the town, from time to time.

Has the local scene played an integral role in the sound, history or evolution of Comet Control in your opinion or do you all feel like you could be doing what you’re doing regardless of where you were at or surrounded by, and stuff?

The music scene in Toronto is very diverse, but not very influential on our sound.  I would say it's more influenced by our personal tastes as music heads.  That being said, there're a lot of great bands from Toronto who we love.  Lot’s of good sounds and great people come from Toronto.

Your music evokes a lot of different sounds and ideas to me, it sounds like there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface than a lot of people are going to take the time to pick out and understand.  Who would you cite as your major musical influences?  What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?

We're all crazy music fans, with varying/similar tastes.  I can say that it's fun to be in a band with open doors, we can play the soft and heavy.  Acoustic guitars and fuzzed out sounds/heaviness... I love 60s and 70s folk, rock, and country and 60s/70s psych, garage, classic rock, kraut.  Those are the bins that I usually visit first at a record store.  Maybe see if they have a Voivod section; can’t pin down just one.

I love working with Psychedelic Baby and I love talking to bands, but I only talk to people that I really dig and respect as musicians so it’s a little nerve-wracking for me sometimes when I have to describe all these amazing bands to readers who might not have ever heard them before, and not only make do them justice and make them sound as interesting and engaging as their music, but I feel like it’s kind of my responsibility that the reader goes in with some rough understanding of the band that they’re about the learn about before they ever read question one.  Needless to say, it’s become a bit of a neurosis for me; seriously.  It keeps me up nights a lot and I’m always worrying I’m going to put too many of my own thoughts and perceptions into things.  Rather than giving me an ulcer, ha-ha, how would you describe Comet Control’s sound to our readers who may never have heard you all before?

Ultra bright.

What’s the songwriting process for Comet Control like?  Is there someone who usually comes in with a riff, or maybe an even more finished idea for a song, to work out with the rest of the band, or do you all just kind of get together and kick ideas and riffs back and forth and kind of distill a song from the exchange that takes place between band members?

Andrew and I write some songs.  We usually bring ideas, and hash them out as a group over a bunch of beer and jams until they have a mind of their own.

What’s recording like for Comet Control?  I’m a musician myself and I think that at least most of us, can appreciate the end result of all the time, work and effort that goes into making an album when you’re holding that finished product in your hands.  Getting to that point though, betting things to sound like they should, and especially doing that as a band, can be absolutely nerve-wracking sometimes.  What’s it like for Comet Control when you all record?

It’s definitely a lot of work to get to that moment, when you're holding a finished product in your hands.  Basically, we jammed a lot, until the songs were easy to play, then went into Candle Studios in Toronto and finished the bed tracks in a few days.  The fun part is, from that point on, when you can produce and finish songs.  We usually do overdubs away from the studio in the comfort of my living room.  Salts and peppers, stuff like this.  I never get too stressed.  I just turn into a little bit of a space cadet.

Do you like to take a more DIY approach to things where you handle a lot of the recording aspects on your own time and turf with your own equipment?  Or, do you all like to take a more hands off approach and head into a studio, letting someone else handle the technical aspects of things so you can concentrate on getting the best performance possible out of yourself?

Both.  Donny Cooper did an amazing job engineering this record in the studio and we did the DIY thing at home.  I love the idea of home recording in a space where it's comfy; soft chairs ‘n shit.  We jammed, got the beds together in the studio, then took it to my living room and got to know the recording.  No pressure.  I have a little Pro Tools setup in a corner of my living room.  Andrew and I did a bunch of the guitars there.  I recorded all of my own vocals too.  Chris Sandes did his keyboard parts in his wizard's castle.  After, we gave it to Josh Korody from Candle Studio and Beliefs, and he did the final mix back in the studio.  It was nice to let it go away for a mix...  It was getting a little too 'lost in space' at home when everything was done.

Is there a lot of time and effort that goes into working out every nook and cranny of a song before you all record it?  With every single part of the composition and arrangement fastidiously planned out ahead of time?  Or is it more of situation where you get a good skeletal idea of how a songs going to sound, and then leave some room for change and evolution during the recording process as to avoid madness, ha-ha?

The songs begin to have a life of their own, the more you jam them.  We tend to not over think things.  But after recording bed tracks, it's nice to have enough time to familiarize yourself with the songs again, even more.  Get creative with a couple of drinks, and a set of headphones.

You all just released your debut self-titled album not awfully long ago on the always jaw dropping Tee Pee Records.  What was the recording of the material for Comet Control like?  When and where was that recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?  Was that a fun pleasurable experience for you all?

We recorded at Candle Studio in Toronto with Donny Cooper.  He worked on both of the Quest For Fire records.  I took it home for a fistful of months and then gave it to Josh Korody, from Beliefs, for a mix.  We recorded the beds in spring 2013 over a couple of days.  A lot of old broken gear recorded by Pro Tools.  Old guitars, broken tube amps, space echo, echoplex, box ‘o pedals, sweet mics, analog synths, eggs, tambos, beer, smokes, pizzas.

With the release of Comet Control not long ago, are there any other releases planned or in the works at this point?

We’re working on a few projects for the German label Who Can You Trust.  One song’s coming out on the Sweet Times compilation series, other stuff to be announced.

I try to provide our readers with as many possible options for picking up music as I can.  I know that postage rates just keep going up and up, and while you may be exposed to a lot of stuff, it gets frustrating sometimes with the insane shipping rates out there.  Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up copies of your stuff?  What about our international and overseas readers?  

Your favorite independent record store!  Teepee has pretty good distro worldwide and a webstore.

Are there any major plans or goals that you all are looking to accomplish in the rest of 2014 or 2015?

Euro tour January 2015 is booked.  Some new songs are kicking around our brains too.  One day at a time.

Do you all spend a lot of time our on the road touring?  Do you enjoy touring?  What’s life like out on the road for Comet Control?

We've all done our share of touring.  Between Andrew and I, in The Deadly Snakes and Quest For Fire and other projects throughout the years.  Also, Jay stays really busy with Biblical and a handful of other bands.  Chris and Nicole are well musically travelled too.  I’ll let you know how it was, when we come back from Europe in February.

Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with over the past few years?

We’ve been pretty lucky to play with some butt melting bands.  Dead Meadow, Fuzz, the Night Beats, the Human Eye, No Joy, Mark Sultan, to name a few.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?  

Crazy Horse.

Do you all give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band to a large extent, such as fliers, posters, shirt designs, covers 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?

Over the years we've been lucky enough to work with some cool visual artists.  Andre Ehier, the singer of The Deadly Snakes, did the paintings for both Quest For Fire LPs.  Signalstarr did the work for the Comet Control record.  Lots more in the archives.  Nicole found Signalstarr's work on the web.  She emailed him and he was cool to collaborate with, turned out well.  We don't put too much thought into the visual meaning.  That’s the artist's job.  Everyone involved should just intuitively know when it's a good match.

© Dimitar Gadevski 

With all of the various methods of releases that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the various mediums that they do.  Do you have a preferred medium to release your own music on?  What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music?  If you do have a preference, can you tell us a bit about why?

I listen to vinyl at home, but I like to get the download for my radio at work, and I love playing CDs in the van.  I like the vinyl with a download format these days; best of both worlds.

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

Nicole and I have a nice vinyl collection when combined.  A lot of folk, classic rock, psych, garage, punk, soul, country, and metal in there. 

I grew up around a pretty massive collection of vintage psychedelia, garage rock, plenty of classic blues and a heavy helping of just about anything pre-1977 that didn’t suck!  Not only that, but I was really encouraged to dig in and listen to whatever I wanted to as a kid.  From a very early age I got really hooked on kicking back with a set of headphones, reading the liner notes, staring at the cover artwork and just letting the music carry me off on this trip, you know?  There’s something magical about having a psychical object to hold in your hands, to physically experience along with the music.  It always made for a more complete listening experience for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released material?

I definitely connected with that early headphone/artwork experience.  It’s amazing when there's thought put into creative packaging, in any era, in any format, tapes and CDs too.

As much as I love my collection of music, there’s no denying that digital is here to stay – at least for a while.  Digital music is just the tip of the iceberg really though, when you combine it with the internet, that’s when you really have something on your hands.  Together they’ve exposed people to a literal world of music that they’re surrounded by and it’s allowed unparalleled communication and access between bands and fans for the first time in history, eradicating geographic and language barriers almost instantly.  Nothing’s ever black and white though, and while people may be being exposed to a lot of new music they’re not always in the mindset to pay for it these days.  Illegal downloading is running rampant and it’s harder than ever to get noticed with the internet giving everyone a somewhat equal voice and all.  As a musician during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

On one hand, as a small band, it's nice to have your music heard at home and in far away places.  I’m guilty of taking things for free, usually rare things that are hard to find in hard copy.  If there's a record I love, I will buy the vinyl with a digital download.

I try to keep up with as much good music as is humanly possible, maybe even a little more than that even, come to think of it...  But I digress!  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to that I might not have heard of before?

We all love the work of Rick White; Elevator, Eric's Trip, The Rick White Album, The Unintended.  Inspiring music from a pretty trippy place.  He’s originally from Moncton, New Brunswick, but now lives outside of Toronto.  Rick shot a cool live video for Quest For Fire's "I've Been Trying To Leave".  I’ll dig up a link for you.  Quest For Fire was opening for Eric's Trip in Toronto in 2008, I think.

What about nationally and internationally?

I love the Shooting Guns from Saskatoon (Interviews here and here).  They’re kinda like a bulldozing instrumental Hawkwind.  Good stuff, good dudes.  Lorenzo Woodrose from Denmark has been doing lots of amazing things throughout the years as well.

Thanks so much for taking the time to fill us in on all the juicy gossip and back history!  Seriously though, it was awesome learning so much about the band and I know my interviews aren’t short so thanks so much for taking the time to make it to the end here!  I swear, I’ve only got one more thing to ask you all!  Before we sign off and call it a day, is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you all would just like to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about at this point?

Thanks a lot!  Hopefully we get around to meeting you all!

(2014)  Comet Control – Comet Control – digital, CD, 12” – Tee Pee Records

© Jr Jansen

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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