It is impossible to talk about the Canadian ska scene without mentioning Montreal ska-punk heavyweights The Planet Smashers and Stomp Records, the label founded by Smashers band leader Matt Collyer. Late last year, the band and the label celebrated twenty years of existence with a series of packed anniversary shows held across Canada. This summer, The Planet Smashers will be headlining the Sailor Jerry outdoor stage at Montreal’s annual punk summer camp Pouzzafest. Through the magic of the internet, we were able to get some time with the very busy Mr. Collyer to talk about the Stomp’s humble beginnings, the new reality of running a label, and what it is like to smash planets for twenty plus years.
I’d read that you’d started Stomp Records as a vehicle to release music by The Planet Smashers and The Kingpins because no other labels were interested. At the time, did you ever think Stomp would become a label that would endure for literally decades?
No! Not a chance.
How soon after the beginning of Stomp did the big Ska revival of the 90s start to happen? What was that time like for The Planet Smashers and for Stomp?
It pretty much went from a blip on the radar to a full alien attack in a short few months after we released the Smashers first record (June 1995). Rancid’s “Time Bomb” was huge in the fall of 1995, followed by “Sell Out” by Reel Big Fish in ’96, and then the kicker being Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “Impression That I Get.” Within a few years, everybody was in a ska band.
While the global popularity of Ska and Ska-punk has ebbed and flowed over time, Quebecers’s enthusiasm for the genre, especially for The Planet Smashers, has never seemed to waver. Why do you think that is?
Quebecer’s like to party!! And tend to be less uptight than the rest of North America. 🙂
You guys have released eight full-length records over the course of a twenty plus year career and, although other groups may have changed their style to fit particular trends, you’ve remained true to your original sound. While “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” seems to apply, did you ever feel a desire to go in a completely different direction?
Not really. We had three rules when we started out; (1) if we stopped playing ska then we should quit (unlike Madness, the Specials); (2) you can’t rhyme “fire” with “desire” or use any combination of “funky” + “monkey” + “coconut” in any song; and finally (3) if you fart in the van open the fucking window.
How do you feel about your older material? Songs like “Super Orgy Porno Party” and “Pee in The Elevator” are classic crowd favourites, but do you still enjoy playing that stuff at shows?
I remember wanting it to be “piss” instead of “pee” ‘cause I thought it sounded tougher. Not sure I fully understood at the time what I was getting into. But seriously, I love playing those songs ‘cause people dance and freak out, and it’s a blast being in that environment. There are very few songs in our repertoire that I don’t enjoy playing live, normally it’s the ones that bust my vocal chords.
The Stomp roster of bands has evolved over time and now features a wide variety of styles and sounds, including bands like The Penske File and The BCASA. What makes a band a good fit for Stomp? What criteria are important to you when considering to work with a new band?
We absolutely, totally, f’in love our bands!!! Our bands are hard working, write good music, tour ‘cause they like it, and are capable of doing stuff on their own. That’s really what we’re looking for and need. A band that views Stomp as a tool, as a way to help guide them, as an extra hand on deck, will do well by signing with our label.
You’ve said previously that the death of physical retail was the biggest change in how the label operated. Has the resurgence in formats like vinyl and cassette at all alleviated that issue, or is increased and constant touring the new reality in order for bands to survive?
Not financially (costs are way too high). But, I believe it has changed the way the average music fan perceives the value of music. More and more people seem to be coming around on the idea that ripping music for free isn’t necessary anymore. Yes, it’s primarily due to the cheap legal streaming suppliers like Spotify, Apple Music, and more, but I do believe that this change in attitude is also in part due to the resurgence in vinyl (vinyl is awesome to hold in your hands, it feels like a little music-baby, it feels like something special, and it is!).
Enough doom & gloom; what new Stomp releases are you particularly stoked about in the near future?
We have new records ready to go from Dig It Up, KMan & the 45s, and Brutal Youth—all three are f’in amazing. And then later on this year, we’ll see new music from The Creepshow, Rude City Riot, and Duotang. It’s a crazy mix of styles from new to veteran bands, it’s going to be a blast.
At this year’s edition of Montreal’s Pouzzafest, The Planet Smashers will be headlining the outdoor All-Ages stage on May 20th, 2016. Do you guys have anything extra special planned for your set?
Yup! We’re doing Life of the Party from top to bottom. We’ll have a few guests with us for a few reasons; the biggest one being that I broke my neck in January and haven’t played a show since. My right arm is still kinda fucked up but I should recover fully, so Dennis from Boids is going to join us and cover for me. We’ll also have some other wonderful horn-bag guests up on stage for a few other tunes.
This summer will mark the sixth year for Pouzzafest. Quebec seems to be a particularly great incubator for homegrown music festivals: Pouzza, A Varning, and Rockfest (to name a few) have all grown into marquee events that attract great talent every year. What do you think it is about Quebec that makes it so conducive to killer fests?
Well, the indie punk festivals work ‘cause the big guys like Evenko, FEQ, Ottawa Bluesfest, etc. don’t give a rat’s ass. Plus, indie/underground, music in general, has always been popular in Quebec as the majors have less control here than in other parts of North America. So, toss in Quebecers willingness to party and voilà!
The Planet Smashers put out Mixed Messages in 2014 and last year you played a series of 20th anniversary shows for Stomp. On top of your show at Pouzzafest this summer, what’s on the horizon for The Planet Smashers?
We have a handful of festival dates in Ontario and Quebec this summer followed by more club shows September to November. Sometime toward the end of the year we’ll start writing for the next record which should be out late spring 2017. One more time!!!!
The Bucketlist question: if The Planet Smashers could assemble a fantasy tour line up which could include both past and present acts, who would be on the bill and why?
Assuming I can resurrect people:
The Clash, ‘cause they never reunited after 1982 and I only saw them without Mick Jones.
The Jam, ‘cause I never saw them play.
Minor Threat, ‘cause Fugazi is okay but not as good as MT.
And the Planet Smashers.
Written and compiled by Jesse Gainer
Header photo by Susan Moss
*edited by Danielle Kenedy