I can’t claim that I knew Elizabeth well. Over the past couple of years, our paths increasingly crossed as we watched the incredible story of Leicester City FC’s impossible premier league win unfurl before our eyes. We shared food and wine at weddings and birthday parties. We laughed,smiled and focused on positive things; this was Elizabeth’s way.
Elizabeth had terminal cancer. From the time when this initial diagnosis surfaced, there were the inevitable ups and downs. “It’s a miracle”, she told me when the cancer in her throat was re-assessed as simple scar tissue. She fought ‘the little fucker’ with every ounce of her weakening body but I think, in our heart of hearts, we all knew it was eventually going to get her.
One of those moments of respite came at a festival. Elizabeth, the sister of my lovely friend Claire, joined us for an alternative music weekend at Butlin’s. In bracing Autumn wind, out on the Lincolnshire coastline, we played in table tennis tournaments and giggled because members of our gang forgot to pack their pants.
That weekend, I had driven to Skegness on my own. I stopped for a bite to eat in a Little Chef and noticed Neville Staple and his touring entourage on a nearby table. As cheeky as it was, I bounced into their circle with an odd request. “I’m going to watch you play this evening. Would you dedicate a song to Elizabeth? She’s not too well.”, I offered.
I was urged to write this down on a piece of paper else Neville might forget. I wondered whether anything might be said from the stage but at least I’d tried.
I’ve been listening to The Cardboard Crowns quite a bit recently. Their new(ish) album, Global Citizen, has me hooked. Long train journeys have passed by in a flash. I’ve simply plugged my headphones in and allowed myself to drift off into the exuberant ska pop punk world that they inhabit. Here I ask one of my new favourite bands ten questions by way of introduction….
(1) Many readers of Sonic Breakfast might not have heard of ‘The Cardboard Crowns’. In less than 100 words tell them what they need to know…
The Crowns are a four piece blast of something different. We really try to deliver high energy, high involvement entertainment. There’s a lot of boring archaic convention in show business these days… that’s something we try to blow to pieces. We’re also really big on (as the title of our new album Global Citizen would suggest) trying to get people to identify themselves more with the human race than it’s sub sects. We’re all humans, lets have a good time together, and also try to think about those of us who are in rough spots as though they were our family.
(2) What have been your highlights and lowlights of 2014?
We’ve had some really awesome times this year. This is the first year we’ve really had an opportunity to drop the gloves and hit the road. We’ve played some awesome festivals: Ottawa’s Sparks st. new years eve event with K-OS, Beer Fest in Toronto with Wide Mouth Mason, Hope Volleyball With Matt Good, and we’ve been lucky enough to play a couple shows along the way with one of our biggest influences The Planet Smashers. That said, we REALLY loved our album release mini tour through Montreal Ottawa and Toronto. The support was really out of this world! As for lowlights… I guess we had one fiasco show (I won’t say where…) but my (Joel) throat was infected so I tried some REALLY COOL mime intro… miming is clearly not a forte of mine I guess. At any rate we made It through the set, and my car tow bill was only $250. Nasty business.
(3) You’re from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Is it a city with a good music scene? What are the best and worst things about living there?
The scene in Ottawa is interesting… it’s a bit of a lazy little town when looking from the outside. But the most packed shows we play are always there. The support in Ottawa is unreal, and there’s something so cool about having a nearly fully bilingual crowd. There are some REALLY talented bands from Ottawa as well, our good Buddies Finding Chuck and Mosquitos for starts… but I could really go all day with awesome Ottawa acts. Great town for music, it has a great attitude and support system for it’s artists, and great artists for it’s fans.
(4) In the past month you’ve released the terrific album, Global Citizen. Apart from the fact that Global Citizen is also the title of one of your songs, why did you settle on this title for the album? Is it important to be a Global Citizen and why/why not?
We titled the album Global Citizen for a few reasons: A) we really love that crowd hook at the end, B) (more seriously) it kinda sums up a lot of what we’re about. The lyrics talk about human fragmentation, and how we relate more strongly to a kinda silly national identity (beavers + maple syrup + “thank you sorry eh”) than we do to the suffering and state of affairs outside of our immediate field of vision.
(5) Bits of the album suggest an anger (or at least a frustration) with the music industry. What’s wrong with it and what would you change about it if you could?
I suppose you’re PROBABLY asking about Pulling Teeth. Really I wrote that song about advertising and the culture that’s sold between the satirical one-liners in our commercials. That said… the state of the industry has a lot of similar goofiness as well. We’re bombarded every day with the same 4 chords and lowest-common-denominator “sex n’ money” lyrics; Pulling Teeth is about how selling the idea that you’re not good enough unless you have X amount of dollars and intercourse, at the cost of our confidence and self respect, is REALLY destructive to our humanity.
(6) Who are your influences?
Main influences I guess are Toots and the Maytals, Sublime, Planet Smashers, Against me, all our friends, and global events.
(7) The video to ‘Hat’s off’ is a pretty entertaining watch. What was the thinking behind it when you made it?
Ahhhh the Hats off video haha. A few of our dear friends at Prototype D invited us to an abandoned factory to shoot some sort of video. It was all very loosy goosy show up and see what happens, so that morning the boys and I decided we’d surprise them by dressing up like super (idiots) heroes! They were certainly surprised as we showed up over an hour late (we’re real divas when it comes to superhero costumes). So feeling a little bashful we apologized for the late arrival, and followed that up with “And no we don’t have a clue what to do for this video”. I don’t even think we knew we were going to shoot hats off. We basically had to turn a somewhat uncomfortable situation around visa vi running around like clowns, jumping, and climbing whatever we could find. Luckily the city workers and our good pals at Prototype D forgave us, and all in all the video came out quite well!
(8) Is it obligatory to wear a cardboard crown at a ‘Cardboard Crowns’ gig? Who typically wears the best one?
It’s not mandatory or anything… but it can be lucrative! Originally our hardcore friend-base started wearing crowns to our shows to show their support. We then tried to reciprocate the love (and start a wicked gimmick) by offering discounts ticket rates at the door for people wearing home-made crowns. We’ve seen SO many awesome crowns at our shows over the years it’s hard to pick the best. We had one gentleman with a castle for a crown, complete with working draw bridge, we’ve seen Lord Sauron’s crown carefully constructed over at least several hours… personally I love it when people incorporate egg cartons. Those ones are just hilarious for some reason.
(9) What are your plans and dreams for 2015 (and onwards)?
The Crowns want to do it. We want to be a self sufficient, fully independent band that tours and meets cool new friends and have a great time. We want to try to get people onboard with global thinking, and we want to, frankly, make a positive change in the world. It’s a tall order, but with the amount of awesome people jumping on board every day, be it by donating to doctors without borders, at our album release shows, showing solidarity with crowns, making AWESOME cover videos (montreal boys!) it feels like it’s happening, and we couldn’t be more excited and thankful!
(10) And finally – energetic humour isn’t far from the surface with ‘The Cardboard Crowns’. What’s your current favourite joke?
Hmmm… I feel like the best jokes the crowns know are usually when we actively try be funny on stage. Every time we plan any sort of gag, or joke or whatever we always get a TON of laughs… The kind of laughs that manifest themselves 2 years down the line in one of those “hey remember how DUMB that idea was?! MAN are we lame” kinda conversations. I think our favourite jokes are one ones where everyone ends up laughing at how bad we SUCK at being funny lol. Anyone who’s been to a crowns show will know our banter is always ripe with this kind of “comedy”!
I don’t know about you – but I can’t wait for these guys to be able to tour Europe. They’d make a pretty decent festival band…