Pkew Pkew Pkew: Toronto’s Hidden Gem [Interview]

Mark speaks to Ontario’s premier power-pop-punks Pkew Pkew Pkew on their recent UK tour.

Interview by Mark Bartlett.

The May 12th was a particularly great day for me. My band, Our Lives in Cinema, had the opportunity to support one of my very favourite bands, Canada’s Pkew Pkew Pkew at London’s famous New Cross Inn. It’s Pkewx3’s first ever European tour and their first UK show. Presale tickets were comfortably into triple digits and everybody was suitably stoked about the fun ahead, what with The Burnt Tapes and The Run Up also playing. I’m also doubly happy because I had the opportunity to interview the band prior to the show.

My fandom meant that I was pretty nervous to meet them, but they quickly put me at ease prior to our recorded chat with a friendly beer in the nearby park. I can happily confirm they’re all a great bunch of dudes. If you’ve never heard Pkew Pkew Pkew, they write concise, insanely catchy pop-punk about drinking, hanging out with your pals and eating pizza… but through a sort of gruff, glorious Bruce Springsteen/The Hold Steady lens. I spoke with them at length to talk about their tour, their upcoming record and their history.

Let’s start with the obvious! How are you?

  • Mike: It’s been awesome. I’ve never been over here before. Everybody’s been really nice to us, fed us, put us up… we’ve been eating really well, actually.
  • Ryan: I think we’ve lost a little bit of weight; we normally gain weight on tour.
  • Dave: There ain’t one Taco Bell in Europe
  • Mike: You don’t even have Taco Bell. We have Taco Bell sponsorship.

Pkew Pkew Pkew NXI
Mark with Pkewx3 at London’s New Cross Inn

Where did you start in Europe? Where was the first show?

  • Mike: We flew into Berlin but the first show was in Italy, so we drove to Italy. This is Michael, our tour driver (points to Michael).
  • SL: And did you know Michael before?
  • Mike: Nope!
  • SL: Michael, how did you get involved in this enterprise here? Do you drive bands for a living?
  • Michael: Yeah, basically. Eh, I just started. This is my second tour! I work for a company called Fogwheels. They offered me a tour with Pkew Pkew Pkew and I’m like ‘sure’!
  • Ryan: (To Michael) Who are your influences?
  • SL: I’m more interested in Michael now.
  • Mike: Me too.

How would you describe your sound, for the people of England who are yet to acquaint themselves with Pkew Pkew Pkew? Do you have a manifesto?

  • Mike: Gruff punk?
  • Ryan: Something like that? I’m not sure what it means.
  • Mike: I don’t know.
  • Ryan: Rock and roll tinged punk?
  • Mike: Yeah.

Are you influenced by anyone in particular?

  • Mike: I mean, I grew up with like… Bouncing Souls, Rancid. That kinda stuff, that’s what I learned to play guitar to. When guitar tabs first became a thing on the internet that a child could access, that’s when I was learning to play guitar so it was pretty cool.
  • SL: Are we all roughly the same age? I’d imagine I’m a little bit older than you?
  • Ryan: There’s about a ten year range from the youngest to the oldest.
  • SL: But not 36?
  • Mike: No, not quite.
  • Dave: I’m 36 in a few months!
  • SL: I remember learning to sort of play guitar myself using tab books. I had a bunch of Nirvana ones.
  • Mike: Yeah, I never actually learned how to play guitar. I just learned songs.
  • SL: You never had a lesson?
  • Mike: I did yeah, but they didn’t go well. I just wanted the guy to teach me songs that I couldn’t find on the internet.

Do you form power chords in the correct way?

  • Mike: I do bar chords!
  • Ryan: With that extra finger.
  • Mike: Yeah, after ten years of playing guitar I figured out if you put that other finger on you could make it a minor chord.
  • SL: Whole new level of emotion there!
  • Mike: Yes, that’s just what I do now.

Where does the name Pkew Pkew Pkew derive from?

  • Mike: I think I thought of it in high school but nobody wanted to be in that band. It’s just annoying. It’s made to annoy. People either love it or hate it, which is better than being indifferent.

Would you say it’s been a boon to your success or an obstacle?

  • Mike: I think so! When we started off playing smaller festivals like Pouzza Fest people were like “You’re the only band on at this time with a cool name, so we came to see you.”
  • Dave: Now we get people at festivals who see us walking down the street, and they go, “PKEWPKEWPKEW!” at us really loudly. But what Mike just described is a little nicer. People catch wind of us because of the name.
  • Mike: Well it just looks different. Nothing starts with a P and a K.

When you first started was ‘Pkew Pkew Pkew (Gunshots)’ your actual name? Just a helpful guide in how to say it?

  • Mike: Yeah, but we dropped the gun thing. We don’t know anything about guns.
  • Ryan: We thought we better stay out of it.

When you first started, I imagine that playing internationally was beyond what you thought was achievable when you first got in a room together. What as the first point you thought it was catching on?

  • Ryan: Just going to The States for the first time and meeting people who had already heard of us, and heard us through other bands. Just people actually coming to shows. It made us think ‘oh, maybe we can do this’.
  • Mike: Yeah, Canada’s a little tough because the cities are so spread out. Everything’s five hours away. We were doing good in Toronto, but then we got out of Toronto and it wasn’t as good. We started going to The States and people started showing up and singing the songs.

Was that surprising to you?

  • Ryan: Yeah.
  • Mike: We’ll that’s the best part, people aren’t turning up and singing Mid 20’s Skateboarder, they’re singing the entire set. Which is really cool. That’s the best part of it… that people sing every word.
  • Ryan: That makes it fun, for us.

You recently re-released your debut on Side One Dummy. It includes a new song called Cold Dead Hands. Was that written especially for the re-release?

  • Mike: No, that was like a leftover song from the first batch of recording. We don’t like it that much.
  • Ryan: It was kinda just to add something to the release. We don’t really play it. I mean, we could play it tonight for you if you wanted?
  • SL: I’m just hungry for new material.
  • Mike: We’ll play a new song tonight.
  • SL: So, it’s not a good indicator of the direction for the second record then? How’s that progressing?
  • Mike: I guess it’s all moving on. It’s all still observation, it’s still the true stories of our lives.
  • Ryan: I’d say it’s more lyrical.
  • Mike: More thoughtful, more lyrical. I mean, drinking’s still a part of it and still a part of everyday life.
  • Ryan: I would say, since the first album came out, all the songs were written by Mike over the years before we started touring.
  • Mike: There’s some stuff about being in a band and what that’s like.

Lyrically, the first album could be seen as kinda novelty or throwaway because so much of it is about singular topics like partying, drinking and eating pizza. For me, I think there’s a real romance and nostalgia to a lot of it. It reminds me of a much younger time in my life.

  • Mike: Well, we’re all getting older.

People could maybe assume you’re still partying all the time. I’m sure you’re not those guys… unless you are?!

  • Ryan: No, I think what you’re saying is correct. It think there’s a little more depth there than people realise.
  • Mike: We still drink, it’s just not party drinking anymore. It’s rarely a party, it’s more having a couple of friends over. but it’s like you’re home before the tour and you barely drink at all, then you’re on tour and like, “What, I’m like drunk every day for a month.”
  • Ryan: And it’s funny; we’ll see each other everyday, and we’ll get back from tour after seeing each other for 30 straight days… then go 5 days without seeing each other and be like, “You wanna play video games… get drunk?” and we’ll be like, “Yeah!”.

Is the song Stop Calling Us Chief about a specific incident? Is there a story behind it?

  • Mike: It’s about a thing I like on David Letterman. He’d wear a hidden camera or something? He got someone in with a hidden camera and he’d talk to someone in a restaurant and just call them chief.
  • Ryan: Biff?
  • Mike: Maybe it was Biff.
  • David: He’d get someone from the street, maybe someone from the live taping and ask them questions. But he’d keep calling them chief. David would call them chief with every question, and the point of the game was for the innocent bystander to ask David to stop calling them chief. If they acknowledged that they were being called chief, they would win a tray a jellybeans!
  • SL: I would never have guessed that in a million years!
  • David: You can see it on YouTube, it’s pretty funny. I don’t think anybody ever acknowledged it.
  • Mike: I got a text one night from Craig, from The Hold Steady, and he asked ‘Is stop calling us chief a David Letterman thing?’. I was like, yeah nobody’s ever got that!

Planning on doing any sightseeing here in the U.K.?

  • David: Well, we missed the Beatles shit in Hamburg. There’s this club where they cut their teeth as a live band.

Well, you could always go to the Cavern club in Liverpool! Last question; is the Earth round or flat?

  • Mike: Have you ever seen that it’s round?
  • SL: Well, I’ve been told it’s round. All the science suggests it is. But… I’m not a scientist.
  • Mike: All I know is, I was on a plane and I didn’t see a curve.

Interview by Mark Bartlett.

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