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traitrs2022 byDanielCherney03Interview with

Sean-Patrick Nolan from Traitrs

The Toronto based duo is about to set off on European tour. With the first show in Hamburg on 25 Mar 2022 they will continue on and perform live in 12 other European cities, including Barcelona, Paris and Leipzig to name just a few. It’s quite an event since the band (like many others for that matter) was not performing for over two years, so definitely it will be quite a treat for the fans to participate in their concerts, especially that there are some great bands accompanying them during the said tour. About performing live, the most recent release, artistic development and future plans with Sean from TRAITRS.

Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: Hello Guys, thank you for finding time to do the interview. I bet you are actually in the course of preparation for the European tour, so my very first question will be precisely about it. The very first concert is scheduled for 25 Mar 2022 in Hamburg. How are you feeling about playing live again after such a long break? It’s almost three years, no?
Sean: Yeah, it’s crazy, we haven’t played live since November 2019. We played in Berlin with SHE PAST AWAY and BOX AND THE TWINS, then the next night with XTR HUMAN and SUIR in Ilmenau. Both were great shows, so many of our favourite people were there both nights. Some of our fondest memories happened during that 3-month tour. So, thinking about the 2 1/2 years since then, being away from everyone and not playing a single show, that is a long bloody time! We’re ready. We miss our fans dearly and we look forward to connecting with them in person once again. And it’s awesome that Hamburg is the first city on the tour. Hamburg’s a really important city to us; it’s one of the first cities we ever played in Europe many moons ago, and it’s a place where we’ve had some of our best shows and a very loyal following. St. Pauli!

RoD: During the tour, you'll be playing with THE FOREIGN RESORT, GEOMETRIC VISION or WHISPERING SONS, to name just a few. I notice some guests are supposed to accompany you as well, still not revealed. Can you tell who that will be at this point?
Sean: Yeah, we’ve actually never played with WHISPERING SONS before and it’s our first time playing in Spain. That’ll be a great show. And it’s always a fun time when we play with THE FOREIGN RESORT. We will be playing with ASH CODE in Munich on April 17, the last show of the tour. That was just announced a few days ago. The last time we played with them was in the middle of a forest at Owl N Bats festival in 2018. We’ll also be playing with NIGHT NAIL in Ilmenau, Germany. We last played with them and HOLYGRAM at Urban Spree in 2019. Those pre-Covid times feel so long ago. We’ll also be playing with ALICE GIFT in Bielefeld, CARPET WAVES in Cologne and ON THE FLOOR in Bremen. We have never played with them before, but they’re all great artists. In addition to seeing our friends and fans again, we’re looking forward to catching up with the bands and event organizers. They’re like family to us.

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RoD: Does it take a lot of effort to organize a tour in a post-pandemic (and currently on war) world?
Sean: Yes, a lot of effort and patience with fluctuating Covid numbers, restrictions flip flopping. Lots of getting your hopes up and being disappointed again and again, tolerating nonsensical politicians, but thankfully this time the stars aligned and we can actually tour. Even though Covid numbers are going up in Germany and that maniac Putin is committing genocide as we speak, we’re still very excited to perform. Our friends and family think we’re a bit crazy for going at this time, but there’s not much choice for us except to be careful when we go. Until February of this year, I didn’t honestly think we were going to play at all this year. It seemed like with the Omicron variant, we were doomed to live in a semi-lockdown forever. Even now, Covid might not be in the news as much lately but it’s still here. People are still dying. We understand that touring entails a certain amount of risk and responsibility that artists and the audience have to take. We’re vaccinated and boosted, plus the venues are following all of the protocols to ensure everyone will be as safe as can be.

RoD: How do you feel about performing live shows?
Sean: I’m so excited to play live. I feel like a little kid the night before their birthday. I’m excited for people to see and hear us now. I bought a new synth during the pandemic, a Sequential Take 5, and Shawn’s running some new gear as well. The process of beefing up the old tracks and working the new songs into the live set has been a very fun one. I’m stoked to finally perform these new songs live. Ever since we wrote and recorded songs like ‘Magdalene’, ‘All Living Hearts Betrayed’ and ‘Burn To The Sun’, I’ve been dying to play them live and now we finally can. The set is a nice mix of old and new songs. These are definitely going to be very emotional shows for us. Factoring in the state of the world, the shows will feel both like a love fest to our fans and a farewell to the world as it once was.

RoD: Your most recent release is ‘Horses in the Abattoir’. How would you say the album places amongst your previous releases? Were you trying to experiment on the album or rather follow the classic punk line?
Sean: Over the last few months, I’ve been relearning the new songs to play them live, so I’ve been thinking about what these songs mean to us a lot recently. It’s been nice to take a step back from the record and see how we feel about it almost six months later when the bloom is off the rose. I’m still really proud of the writing on the record and I still think it’s the most mature and fully fleshed out record we’ve ever put out. Sonically, lyrically, atmospherically and our performances. You’re right, we were experimenting with our sonic and dynamic palette on Horses, using more drones, textures, loops and pianos. While at the same time we were trying to be poppier and catchier than we have been in the past. I describe it as taking the most extreme parts of our sound and pushing them further apart. I’m proud of the emotional arc on the album too, both lyrically and musically. The feedback to the record has been overwhelmingly positive with fans and critics. Everybody seems to have a different favourite song, which is always a good sign. I think people will love the record more and more with repeat listens.

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RoD: It’s an excellent, atmospheric album featuring great dynamic lines, too. I loved how you operate on contrasts with every particular song, changing the pace, the vibe and the mood, making the listener react fast and adjust to the change of ambience. What was the work on the album like? What were the major traits or inspirations reflected on it from your perspective?
Sean: Thank you very much. We do put a lot of thought into dynamics, atmosphere and mood when we compose our albums. We work very carefully on having a wide range of styles and moods throughout the track listing. While we were on tour in 2019, we learned a lot about timing and pacing. Pacing is everything. We played a mix of our own headlining shows, opening for bigger bands, Sunday afternoon festival slots, packed theatres one night and a DIY show in an antifascist squat the next. We learned the weaknesses in our set and the value of time. Not to mention how to keep people’s attention. Those lessons were invaluable for us when it came time to think about variety and dynamics while writing the new record. Also, after the success of ‘Thin Flesh’, we did put pressure on ourselves to follow up with a lot of singles, but we didn’t want them to feel monotonous or repetitive. Each single needed to have its own vibe, be its own self-contained entity. That’s where some of the experimental elements come in handy, like the intro and outro to ‘Oh, Ballerina’, for transitions and setting the tone. As a whole, we wanted to make a really honest and emotional record. Lyrically the album still plays with horror themes but they have a more personal element now, as we gradually shed layers and feel more comfortable revealing ourselves as artists. ‘Horses In The Abattoir’ documents a very dark and strange period in both of our lives. It’s about being alive one second and gone the next, love and loss, pure bliss and terrifying horror. I like art that reflects the personal, political and historical states they’re composed in. I think Horses does a good job of mirroring the abyss back at itself.

RoD: My favourite song on the album is ‘All Living Hearts Betrayed’ - I love everything about the song, the melodic line utmost. Could you tell me the story behind the song?
Sean: NEW ORDER is a band that’s always in my regular rotation and when we wrote this song, I was listening to a steady diet of LOW-LIFE and BROTHERHOOD. I love how they fuse dance music with melancholia; I find a lot of influence in that juxtaposition. So, a lot of the inspiration for the percussion and sequencing came from NEW ORDER. The title is from a William Butler Yeats poem; the line stuck out to me separate from the poem itself, more in the context of living during these modern times. ‘All Living Hearts Betrayed’ has my favourite chorus on the whole record and it has my favourite lyric: “fill the icebox one more time as if it’s alright”. That image perfectly captures the detached feeling of moving on like everything’s normal while dealing with grief, depression, substance abuse etc. I remember Shawn’s vocal performance blew us away in the studio. That song had a spark and anthemic quality to it even in early demos. During rehearsals, it took a few hours to arrange the chorus vocally, almost like fitting puzzle pieces together. But as soon as Shawn did, it brought the track to another level.

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RoD: How would you say your style, general aesthetics or approach towards music have changed since ‘Butcher’s Coin’?
Sean: I think an artist’s style and aesthetic is a slow and gradually evolving thing. Like our personalities or the world itself, art should be in a constant state of motion and development. People can write and create for any number of reasons, but for us we like to push ourselves to see what depths our music can get to and how far we can push our boundaries. For example, ‘Sea Howl’ is our most amorphous and dreamlike song, ‘From This Old Mirror’ is our punkiest and fastest track to date. That’s how I measure our growth from ‘Butcher’s Coin’ to now, in terms of taking the post-punk framework we began with and adding fresh elements to it. When ‘Butcher’s Coin’ came out, we still weren’t sure if anyone gave a fuck about us or even knew who we were back then. When we played our WGT showcase in 2018, I’m sure a lot of people in the crowd weren’t totally familiar with us. So, after years of touring and seeing our fan base grow before our very eyes, performing in front of bigger crowds, playing in over a dozen countries, it filled us with more confidence and belief in ourselves. We can finally trust our instincts and really get behind the driver’s wheel so to speak. I’d say our sound is still true to our original concept, just becoming more expansive. It’s both darker, catchier, faster, poppier, moodier and more vulnerable.

RoD: It would be hard not to ask how the current events (including the Ukraine conflict) affect you? I realize you are not Europe-based, but I’m guessing you have fans in this part of the world also…
Sean: Of course, that’s a natural thing to ask these days. We’ve been writing about the end of the world since the first cassette. The only difference is now it feels like we’re actually seeing the end of everything instead of waiting for it to happen. The lyric about the Cold War in ‘Skinning’ has a whole new connotation to it now. The hopeless situation in Ukraine has been on our minds constantly ever since the war started. It’s horrific. There’s a large Ukrainian community in Toronto. Putin is a war criminal. Full stop. This reign of global authoritarianism needs to end. We have fans in Ukraine and have discussed performing there a number of times. Our hearts go out to everyone there and the thousands of refugees abroad. Words cannot express how horrified we are by the atrocities we see every day in the news. And sadly, this feels like it’s been a long-time coming. I pay very close attention to the news and how the media covers current events. I remember my professors in university talking to us about the 24-hour news cycle and how commodifying news and information is a dangerous thing for society. This was the mid-2000s, a world before clickbait headlines, rampant disinformation online, far right Facebook groups and Russian Twitter bots. In that sense, I feel like I’ve been watching the slow death of democracy, media literacy and public discourse for years now. It’s like boiling the frog in water by slowly turning up the heat so it doesn’t realize it’s dying. It’s sad but also seems like an inherently human trait. There are monsters among us who simply like destroying and killing things.

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RoD: As stated at the beginning, you set off for a European tour on the 25th of March. Any other news from your end? I bet the fans miss you after so many months of concert break.
Sean: Yes, we hear from our fans every day about how much they miss us and where they want to see us. It’s heart-warming and brings big smokes to our faces. We want to deliver the best live experiences we possibly can for them. We’ll be touring the U.S. for the first time this summer, both east and west coast. This is long overdue and we can’t wait to finally go. Our American fan base has grown exponentially during the pandemic. We’ll be playing with LEBANON HANOVER and WINGTIPS in Toronto in June, SHE PAST AWAY in October. We’re going to Mexico for the first time in June with Lebanon Hanover. There’s lots of stuff going on. We also have some big announcements lined up for 2023 as well but we can’t announce that just yet. Follow us on social media and stay up to date with us.

RoD: Any final message to the fans before you set off on the tour?
Sean: Thank you for your patience during Covid. We love and miss all of you and we can’t wait to reconnect with you all. These first shows back are going to be really special nights, one’s we won’t soon forget. You won’t want to miss them either. Come out and say hello!

RoD: Thank you very much for you time!

All pictures by Melina Crawford & Daniel Cherney

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