Tough Age

In the two years since Tough Age’s sophomore LP, I Get The Feeling Central, the curmudgeonly comic book loving band have reinvented themselves. After founding members Jarrett Samson and Penny Clark relocated to Toronto from Vancouver, they channelled their love of Flying Nun styled indie-pop into a new three-piece line-up with drummer Jesse Locke (Century Palm, Simply Saucer). The first glimpse at this new direction was their “Guess Not/Unclean” 7” EP released in June, and they will now follow it up with their long-awaited third album, Shame, due out on Mint Records on October 20th, 2017.

Recorded and mixed by Freelove Fenner’s Peter Woodford in his Montreal studio The Bottle Garden (TOPS, Moss Lime), with cover art by comic artist Patrick Kyle and mastering by Mint’s own Jay Arner, Shame is Tough Age’s most collaborative effort to date. Honing their econo jams on tours across North America and over the sea to Tokyo, while sharing a stage with artists such as The Courtneys, HSY, and recent Mint signees Woolworm, the trio has re-emerged with a fresh set of songs that are simultaneously minimal, dynamically propulsive, and eerily experimental.

“Part of my goal for this record was to really minimize as a maximization, utilize the new three-piece to explore quieter dynamics, and open up the music,” says Samson. “We have the dullest setup in the world — drums, bass, guitar — so I am always impressed by bands who somehow take that and make it sound experimental. On that front, Moss Lime (who Peter also recorded) sprung to mind as a recent band who made so much out of so little, and that was a real inspiration.”

Limiting overdubs while trying to record as much live in the studio as possible, plus paring an original set of 20 songs down to a sleek eight songs in 32 minutes, the most noticeable addition to Shame is Clark’s lead vocals on a pair of standout tunes. Switching to bass for Tough Age’s new line-up, “Ghost” is a heavier reworking of a song by her Vancouver punk band The Drearies, while “Me In Glue” finds Clark increasing in shouty intensity over chorus-drenched guitars, stop-start rhythms, and the most damaged anti-solo this side of Robert Quine.

“I was impatient to make an album that reflected how Tough Age has changed,” says Clark. “While we were recording, I was in the process of teaching myself how to play bass so my playing on the album is influenced partially by my own tension and concern about coming up inadequate. Stylistically, I tried to honour our previous bass player, Lauren Smith, while still developing my own style. I often visualize nature scenes to help me play so in my head the bass is thundery and soft.”

“I don’t like to complain or express frustration very much in everyday life because I want to trick people into thinking I am a very calm person,” Clark continues. “But there are lots of things that bother me and I think about them a lot so I try to put all those feelings into my songs and then I have an excuse to yell about things. Maybe you’ve also felt things like that and we can feel them together.”

While the prominent placement of a Tough Age poster above Archie Andrews’ bed in the TV series Riverdale was a hilarious thrill for the band, their musical tastes dig much deeper. On Shame, the influence of Flying Nun bands and other overlooked New Zealand acts continues to loom large with Tough Age’s tribute to The Clean on the slyly titled “Unclean.” Less obvious inspirations include early ’80s London, ON group The Hippies, the off-kilter drumming of U.S. Maple, and the austere lyricism of The Urinals’ “punk haikus.”

The album’s first side is charged with fuzzy pop energy, from frenetic opener “Everyday Life” to the herky-jerky punctuations of “Piquante Frieze” to the sweetly rambling “Reflected.” On the b-side, Tough Age delve into the guts of their emotional honesty with the swooning “Pageantry” (“The biggest bummer of a song I’ve ever written, which is saying something” laughs Samson) and the powerfully contemplative title track, closing the album with extended surges of feedback.

“My lyrics have always been pretty self-deprecating or negative, and this record isn’t very different,” says Samson. “There’s a lot of angst, me grappling with the point of everything I’m doing and why I’m doing it, the feeling of giving up, the fear of being as good as I’ll ever be, and how it’s not very good. I tried two things on this record though — write a few songs with more poetic or flowery language, which is something I’ve always ended up cutting in the past — lyrics that were a little less open to direct interpretation. On the flip side, the lyrics that WERE straight-ahead, I tried to condense them down to being even more plain so there’s no possible chance of obstruction between the point and the message.”

Following the album’s release, Samson says Tough Age plan to “keep playing music, keep putting out music, tour, have fun, not get on each other’s nerves too much, and refuse to compromise our intentions.”

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IMAGES: To download, click above. Photo credit to Colin Medley.


“Me In Glue”

Mint Records