I first heard ACTORS in 2017, after my friend Filip from Side-Line Magazine introduced me to their music by sending me a link to their music video. They piqued my interest in a way that not many newer acts do. I was rather excited when their debut album It Will Come To You was finally released in March 2018. Although they rely on post-punk and new-wave influences, their approach to the genres is fresh and modern. This Canadian four piece band, led by Jason Corbett, has played numerous shows and festivals since the album’s release and they have no intention of slowing down. I got the opportunity to catch Jason in London during their UK tour. We spoke about his musical background, influences – musical and otherwise -, creative process, the band and their future plans.
1. How did you guys meet and how was the band formed?
Jason: Basically, I was playing in Vancouver in other bands and Adam and I ended up joining the same band together years ago. I was kind of winding down playing live, I wanted to kind of change what I was doing, so I started writing just on my own, producing my own music and releasing just like one single at the time and Adam was there with me to work on those songs. And then I had a couple of different line ups, different bass player, different keyboard players. We were originally a five piece band. I really liked Jahmeel’s energy, I had worked with him on another record that I produced. I had hired him on as a bass player for another project and I really liked working with him. I liked his style so I asked him to join my band and I asked the other bass player to leave. It was a hard thing to do…
He wasn’t happy, I assume?
Breakups are hard.
Jason: It is. We were a four piece then and then the keyboard player that was playing with us couldn’t do one show so I asked Shannon to come in and to help out. Right away I noticed that line up people responded to really well and I enjoyed playing with them live. So after a couple of shows as a five piece, with Shannon and the other keyboard player, I just told them “I’m gonna go down and do a four piece because we’re going to be doing lots of touring” and it didn’t make sense for it to be a five piece, and he just had a child with his wife. So I thought that might make most sense. But again, that was hard because we were close, not close close, but we were good friends and I feel bad that that’s how it was but it just really felt right once the four of us were together. And that gave me the confidence and the strength to continue writing and to play live more again, ‘cause I really didn’t think I was going to up until a couple of years ago. Because I quit drinking almost six years ago. It just wasn’t agreeing with me, I was getting hungover, it was taking me like two, three days to recover and I thought life’s too short for that.
Jason: To me, post-post-punk means we don’t sound like other traditional post-punk bands, there’s newer elements in it, there’s different production techniques that traditional revival post-punk doesn’t have, whether that sidechain compression on the kick in the synth or just how it’s mixed. That’s not something we called ourselves until someone else said it, and that just made sense.
3. You named Bowie, Eno, Roxy Music, The Cure, Joy Division and some others including David Lynch as your influences. I am especially interested in the two Davids. In what way did Lynch influence your music expression?
Jason: I just get inspired by darker imagery; maybe it’s living through the eyes of a different director that helps spark the imagination. Sometimes life is pretty mundane and you’re working a day job or whatever, and you see these crazy movies and these people expressing themselves in different ways and you get inspired, you know, fantasy!
What does David Bowie mean to you?
Jason: David Bowie’s always been a part of the music I’ve listened to. I like how he expresses himself. Even though, we don’t sound like David Bowie’s music, I like how it felt he was just honest and expressing himself in an honest way. And that really sold me.
Do you think that being honest with your music and lyrics is very important for an artist?
Jason: I think honest expression is. I don’t think the lyrics need to be true, but I feel like you have to be honest with your music in the way that you’re not trying to be something you’re not.
Jason: Well, when we first put the record out, I remember talking to the band members that I was gonna be excited if we sold 100 records, like vinyl records.
How many did you sell?
Jason: Well, we’re in the thousands now. It really was unexpected. I just feel really thankful. That’s why I’m trying to get out and play everywhere we can, ‘cause I want to meet people and share that experience as best as I can.
After the album was released, you were suddenly everywhere. You got amazing feedback. I was following you on social media and I felt it was just something new that just came in and it was fresh and everyone responded so well to it. How did that make you feel? Happy? Proud?
Jason: Yeah, really happy. I’ve been playing music for a really long time, since I was 14. I started touring with my first band when I was 20 and I never got, not recognition, but the acceptance from the crowd like I have with this record.
Did you expect it?
Jason: No. I didn’t expect it at all. Actually when Artoffact Records offered us a record deal, I turned them down the first time. It really took me by surprise, but I felt vindicated that the choices I made in life to continue playing music and to continue mining that territory panned out in the long run. And if this is as big as it gets, I am pleased with that.
It’s going to get bigger.
Jason: I think so, I just keep watching it.
5. One of my favourite songs from the album is “Crosses”. It sounds like dark-wave meets post-punk meets indie with elements of shoegaze. Can you tell me more about the song? It’s utterly emotional. Can you tell me where that came from and how it was written?
Jason: I was at the studio, really late one night and I’d started playing the guitar part. Normally what I’ll do is I’ll record the guitar through an amplifier with the microphone on the amplifier, like a traditional way of recording. With that, I had a vocal mic sitting on the table and I heard the guitar strum go through that microphone, just the not plugged in guitar and it created a sound that was very haunting and that inspired me. So, I recorded that, I recorded some of the other sounds. You can’t put it into words how a song like that’s made. And up until the end, when I say “It’s a long way down, hide your crosses”, that’s the only real lyric. The other stuff, I was just tired, it was about 4 AM by the time I started singing and I just laid back in my chair and started doing falsetto and I thought I’ll write lyrics later, but it captured an emotion, so I said “Well, I’m gonna leave that”.
Were you in any particular emotional state at that time?
Jason: I don’t know, I wasn’t sad, I was just vibing out. I felt like I was soul singing almost, like the blues or something.
Haha, it doesn’t sound like that.
Jason: No, but that’s the best way I can describe it. I just let my heart sing and it went into this high falsetto.
6. Can you tell me more about the songwriting and recording process? Do you take care of all of the songwriting and producing? Do other members contribute to it as well?
Jason: I do all the writing.
Jason: No. What I will do is if there’s a part that I’ve written that I feel one of them can do better, I’ll bring them in to do it, ‘cause I like having them involved. Because I believe a part of their soul adds to it. Especially vocally, like I like to have Shannon sing with me at times and I think on the new record there’ll be more of that, because she’s really flowered as an artist as well. So, the songs come from a very personal place. And as they go to completion, the other members come in and they’ll play their parts to help flesh it out.
7. You also did some videos. How important is the visual aspect for the band and your music expression?
Jason: I like the visuals to be somewhat provocative, somewhat interesting, I don’t like boring videos. I think sometimes we succeed in that, sometimes we don’t.
Do you use videos to get the message out there or is it just a promotional tool?
Jason: No, it’s more a promotional tool, because none of the videos say exactly what the song’s about. Sometimes the video’s very simple like the Crosses video and it’s just a mood.
You had to walk backwards, right?
Jason: Yeah. That video, I was tied around my waist to the videographer, so I was walking backwards, but we had to know how far away we were from each other because he was walking backwards too.
8. You recorded the live EP “Part Time Punks Session” in Los Angeles in 2018. The EP includes “L’appel Du Vide”, “Slaves”, “Face Meets Glass” and “We Don’t Have To Dance”. How did you choose the songs for the EP?
Jason: I felt like those translate really well live, and they also were the songs that people responded to the most live, so I thought they’d be a good representation of what we could do in a couple of hours, ‘cause we recorded that very fast. So that’s more what it was.
Jason: I am a huge fan, they’re one of the best. People had told us that we have elements of what they do and some of the songwriting, some of the darkness in the songwriting. A friend of mine actually turned me on to them, he said “Oh, what you’re doing sounds a bit like The Sound, check them out” and that was a few years ago and I got to really like them. So we were asked by a label in Los Angeles to contribute a cover for a compilation record of The Sound for a charity. The compilation hasn’t been released yet and I don’t know if it’s gonna be released at all, and I got tired of waiting, so I thought “This is too good not to share”. I was really pleased with how it sounded, so we released it on Valentine’s and it may or may not come out on the compilation later, on a later date, but that’s yet to be seen. I’m not opposed to it.
10. What’s the alternative music scene like in Canada?
Jason: Well, it’s good but the population is small in Canada, so it’s in small pockets. Vancouver’s good, Toronto’s good, Calgary, Edmonton, we can go out there and play and there’s a few hundred people but some of the other places are a little sparse because they’re very secluded.
Have you ever thought about moving?
Jason: I have, I’ve been looking at other cities, I haven’t found a city I like more.
11. You played some festivals in Europe in 2018, WGT in Germany and Infest in the UK. Can you tell us about those experiences?
Jason: They were all great, it’s been nothing but positivity from those shows.
You played in Volkspalast at WGT, right?
Jason: Yeah, that’s right.
How big was the crowd?
If people know the lyrics after you’ve just released the record, that’s always a good sign, right?
Jason: Even our label said “We’re gonna hold off on another pressing of the record” because usually the record sells a certain amount and it drops off. So we released the record in March 2018 and it hasn’t stopped selling, it just keeps selling and selling and selling… it’s been unbelievable.
So WGT was the first time we really saw in real time what the response was within the goth community.
How did you get booked for Infest?
Jason: They just asked us. It’s been amazing.
How did WGT happen?
Jason: They just emailed me. They said “Hey, we really want you to come out”. I said “OK, sure”. I think working with Artoffact Records has been really great ‘cause Jacek’s exposed us to a lot of people and it gave us some legitimacy having a full record instead of just the singles I was releasing before. Jacek is a really nice person and he believes in us and he’s sincere, so I think that translates. So Jason Novak does Cold Waves, and Jacek was trying to reach out to him and say “Listen to this Actors record” and Jason told me later “I didn’t listen to it for months and then I finally put on the record”, and then he said “That’s it, I want them for all three shows”, so he booked us for New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Who do you like more, the European or the US crowd? It’s a tough question, I know, haha.
Jason: Well, they’re definitely different.
Who is wilder?
Jason: I think the European crowds.
12. You are currently on your first UK tour with Empathy Test. How are you pleased with the tour and the feedback from the audience?
Jason: The feedback from the audience has been great, like overwhelming. I wish there were more people. The shows are a little bit slower in the UK for us right now, but also there’s smaller cities we’re playing. We played Wolverhampton, Nottingham, you can see from the list, a lot of the smaller cities but the bigger shows were great, like I’m happy with the turn up tonight, it’s great, it looks good. In terms of the response from the audience, it’s been super positive, but it’s still just a little bit behind where we are in Europe and the US. The US really took off for us this year.
Would you like to come back to the UK?
Jason: Oh yeah, definitely. I don’t think we would do full two weeks. I think we would focus it down to some key shows, maybe do four or five dates instead of nine, because I felt like there’s a few shows that were close enough distance-wise that people would have come to one or the other, but definitely, we’re gonna come back.
Jason: Well, I think it needs to be fun. I know a lot of people are so serious. I am not super serious when I’m on stage, I just like to have a good time.
I’ll see that tonight.
Jason: Yeah, just connecting with the audience. Somehow winning them over and being onboard together, and sharing the music together and embracing the audience instead of challenging them.
Would you say that you and the audience form one community when you’re on stage?
Jason: I like to think so. I hope that’s happening.
It’s like you’re sending your energy to them and they are responding to it, so it must feel great for you too.
Jason: Sometimes it’s hard to gauge it, sometimes you can’t tell until the song’s over and then the applause. Sometimes people like in Glasgow, stood with their arms crossed, but then when we stopped they were cheering very loud, so you don’t always know.
How long are your sets?
Jason: 50 minutes. For this tour, we have two more extra songs that we play.
Jason: We’ll be announcing the tour dates for Europe when we get home. There’ll be a press release for that. That’s gonna start mid August, this year. I didn’t think we’d be still touring, but after we come home from the UK we’ll go out and play 30 dates in Europe, and then we come home and we do another 20 dates in the US. This year’s a lot of shows. And then at the end of October we come home and then I finish the new record.
Will UK be included?
Jason: No, not on this tour. So this is the first part, we go home and then go back and do those.
Are you playing any festivals then?
Jason: Yes, we are playing Prague Gothic Treffen, we’re playing Young and Cold festival and we’re playing NCN in Germany.
What about the new album?
Jason: About half the songs are done and we’ll start releasing singles probably in March 2020, the first single will come out in March and there will be a full release in May, and that will be a full length record on Artoffact Records. And then we will start touring immediately after. So May, June 2020 we’ll be in Europe and probably our UK dates and then we’re gonna be in the US. So we have a break November, December, January, February, March, April, May, that whole time we’re not touring. So we have some down time. I am also a producer in Vancouver and I am working on several records with other artists.
What do you do as a producer?
Jason: I produce other bands. A band would come to me and say we want you to do our record, I’ll do pre-production with them, help them finish their songs or arrange them so they sound better, hopefully, and then I record them, I mix the record, I’ll master the record, I’ll help them shop it to labels. I also work with television shows so I do a little bit of music for TV. There’s a TV show that I do called Letterkenny, it’s very popular in Canada. I’ve done some short film soundtrack work, that kind of stuff, so a little bit of this and that and I do that full time.