“Under The Kilt”: revisiting the history of the bagpipe with Gord Taylor (THE REAL MCKENZIES)

Well known as a man of great humour, wisdom, and entertainment to successive generations, Mr Gord Taylor is back to discuss the mysterious story of his departure from THE...

Well known as a man of great humour, wisdom, and entertainment to successive generations, Mr Gord Taylor is back to discuss the mysterious story of his departure from THE REAL MCKENZIES, the band’s new album to be released later this year via Fat Wreck Chords, his solo work and the history of his celebrated instrument of bagpipe and a lot more! The man of great virtue with the ability to tell entertaining stories. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Gord Taylor!

Hey Gord! Thanks so much for taking some time with IDIOTEQ. What’s up man? How are you? How’s this harsh North American winter affecting your mood, lad? ;)

Hey man, what’s up? It’s fuckin cold! I did get to move around a bit this winter though… spent some time snowboarding in Banff and a bit of writing time in Vancouver. How’re u?

I’m a newly proud father since December 17th, so I guess I’m… tired, haha! :)

In March 2012 we discussed a few REAL MCKENZIES-related matters and your personal issues including wearing a kilt in weather below freezing :) Since then you’ve released a fanciful new joint ‘Gord Taylor Featuring Patrick Kaczor-Santos’. Where did you get the idea for this record? Who did you produce this album with? Tell me more about the crew and the whole project.

Well congratulations are in order! Hope you’re job as a parent is more fulfilling than that of my parents’.

You know the funny thing about a kilt in freezing weather? It’s warmer than these damn pants I have on now. Fuck. The wind just howls through the fabric of these trousers, where as the wool kilt stops it dead.

‘Gord Taylor Featuring PKS’ started when I came back to Winnipeg from Europe after ‘quitting’ THE REAL MCKENZIES. I needed to keep writing and playing. I met a few dudes on Kijiji who wanted to jam but found out soon that most of them weren’t very attached to the idea of being in, and or contributing to a growing band… I think most of them expected things to be awesome immediately and didn’t really have patience to build a repertoire and practice it before going live. After our bass player quit, and shortly after, our guitar player stopped showing up, Patrick and I knew we’d never make it for long as a duo. We both wanted to get on stage again, but didn’t have the repertoire nor the members to make it happen.

I decided to take a reverse approach to forming a band: Together with Paddy, we would record the current repertoire, then practice and write based off the recording. Paddy and I were very lucky to find Bryce Kaminsky from Garfield Studios here in Winnipeg. Bryce helped us host some auditions to fill in the gaps and ultimately produce and engineer what we feel is a great product! We put out a very nicely-wrapped 10 tracks of folk-punkrock using bagpipes as a primary instrument but without any Scottish/Celtic/Irish roots in the style.

A local design company, Smokehouse A Design Winnipeg here in Winnipeg heard our demo and generously decided to sponsor us. This freed up just enough free money for us to put a promotional video together for one of the songs on the album entitled “Aw Canada (I Think You’re Kinda Gay)” which can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mbZ4IeJRoY. Smokehouse helped ALOT with this effort as well. Unfortunately in the middle of the video shoot, Paddy decided that he didn’t enjoy giving up his time for shooting the video and he thought it would be better if we parted company…karma huh? And the weird thing is, shortly after that I got a strange invitation back to THE REAL MCKENZIES.

So that’s kind of the deal with ‘Gord Taylor Featuring PKS’. It was a bit of a personal muse mission combined with trying to showcase Winnipeg’s local talent. I have to say, despite how everything turned out (Basically a band forming and dissolving in under 6 months) the crew we had including Paddy, Bryce, Smokehouse, Roland Reid (Pipe band snare drum), Dale Brown (Violin), and Kyler Kuehl (Vocal Harmonies) churned out a great product, a really cool experience, and what I feel is a building block to a really great live show.

Bryce Kaminsky, haha! Nice one, bro. Maybe we’re related (my full name is Karol Kaminski) :)

Ok, so it was kind of an intermission, huh? Are you back in the band?

Totally! I’ve always liked you Eastern Europeans :)

Back in the band? Well it’s not really as cut-and-dry as that… No one really leaves THE MCKENZIES haha. I mean Raven MacLeod, Little Joe, Matt MacNasty, Karl Alvarez, Sean Sellers (to only name a few), will always be members. It’s more like a family. I mean, there is only one Paul McKenzie but he’s never been pinned down to one lineup or the other. I think Paul embraces and sponsors the diversity he’s become familiar with in our writing, recording, touring, and partying. Shit, there must be 30 members in THE REAL MCKENZIES and each us will say, THE MCKENZIES aren’t like other bands… Our roots are social, not professional. Our music is to be played, not owned. And our band as well as our shows will always be lifted by family, friends, and fuckups rather than held down by being careful trying to please everyone.

So yeah, I thought I quit in 2012, but around August of 2013 I was asked to be a part of a 5-person team to write a new album for recording planned in 2014 at Fat Mike‘s studio in San Francisco. I just got back from Vancouver last month and while we had some technical issues we did come away pretty happy with a preliminary collection. I think the last count was 23 demo tracks. I’ve heard something about a weekend in Brazil coming up in March/April that I’m supposed to be on an airplane for, but am not sure if this is a true story or not.

Haha! Radical, bro! When was the last time you hit the road with THE MCKENZIES family? Any dangerous stories to recall?

Well I saw Bone and Paul in December when we were writing, but that trip is sort of a blur…something about The Railway Club, I think Melanie Kaye was there, a dancing cat, yeah it’s just fragmented memories.

Well, this wasn’t with THE MCKENZIES but recently, I spent 5 hours at the police station for telling a cop to fuck off. Actually it was because I had just quit smoking and she pulled me over for reckless driving (I was in a rush on a gravel road here in Winnipeg and weaving in and out between cars…when I went to pass a car there was another car a little too close coming my way…no big deal I thought, I grabbed 3rd gear and put my foot into the throttle…the car ended up being a cop car and I nearly missed hitting her before I pulled back on to my side of the road…on went lights and behind me I saw this dramatic cloud of gravel while the cop car spun around to come after me. In all this time though I kept passing cars (I was still doing about 140 km/h) until finally I came to a dusty crossroad where I pulled over (Like 10 minutes before the cop got there). I got out of the car and waited for her to arrive.

When she got there she immediately cuffed me and told me I was an asshole (Seriously she called me an asshole) so I told her to fuck off. It was ridiculous. It wasn’t ‘reckless’ driving it was WRECKLESS…as in no cars got wrecked so what’s the problem! I never caused a crash or hurt no one…maybe I accidentally passed too close but I used to drive 18-wheel trucks for fuck sakes I know how to handle a little car in a sketchy situation. If anything she was the one who needed to go back to driving school for panicking so hard when she should have been in control of her vehicle and temper.

Anyway, 5 hours later (2 in the back of her car and 3 at the station) they let me go. But honestly, dealing with The Winnipeg Police is nothing compared to dealing with the Swiss Police, the Italian cops or worse, The Vancouver Police.

Whoohoo. What can be worse than that? ;) What nasty pranks have you played on people in Vancouver and Switzerland?

You know, I’m not very good at pranks. I’m usually the guy they play the pranks on! Whenever I try to play a joke on someone I always go way overboard and it never ends up being funny. Like when I hid my sisters insulin. Turns out that wasn’t funny. Or when I burned down my neighboor’s house to celebrate ‘April Fools’. I’m just misunderstood I think.

Our tour manager once cut up two big lines of salt on a Rancid CD and gave it to Bone and I…actually I thought they were crystal so I dove in. Surprise!

Haha! :) No way!

Alright Gord. Back to the new MCKENZIES adventures. There are a bunch of dates announced for March. They’re teaming up with BOIDS. Will you be joining them on stage?

No, but I heard that that’s going to be the original Matt MacNasty going on that tour which means all of those will be great shows! I wonder what they’re going to do about the Winnipeg show since venue The Royal Albert closed. That was such a great venue on track to be totally rebuilt but it turned into such a mess…two guys were in business with each other to rebuild that place…they ended up getting in a fight about it, and next thing you know one of them was on the roof of the others stripper club with a chainsaw causing damage! Also taking a sledgehammer to the porcelain in the bathrooms, etc. Anyway now one is dead and the other gave up I think…or at least has been heavily delayed to rebuild the club.

As usual though that will be a great tour! I wish it was me too, but sadly not this year.

Bummer! There were some rumors floating around that MCKENZIES are about to invade Europe again. True or false?

I’ve heard that rumor too, and from what I’m understanding I would say it’s 75% true. I don’t want to say “YES 100% THAT IS HAPPENING” because I’m just not in the loop watching the decisions get made. Muttis-booking.de shows the tour is happening and Ieper Hardcore Fest in Belgium is advertising that THE MCKENZIES will be there so it sounds like it’s a pretty committed tour :)

Cool. Ok, so it’s “not this year” kind of deal, but I bet you have a bunch of good memories from the Westwinds’ sessions. You were directly involved with creating the songs, album concept and demo.

By the way, do you have some more insights on the new chapter, to be released at Fat Mike’s?

That’s a good way to put it but I would change the word ‘year’ to ‘month’. As in “Not this month”. I’m really happy all of us are friends again. It was never the boys in the band who caused the problem to make me leave, but I would have understood if they hated me forever after I left. I really miss playing live with THE MCKENZIES and am looking forward to whatever I can contribute in the future.

Actually I was just back in Nanton, Alberta (Where we recorded Westwinds) very recently (It’s sort of on the way from Winnipeg to Banff). I had a really nice visit with some friends I met at The Auditorium and even had a chance to have a quick beer with Westwinds’ Produc-ineer Steve Loree!
Westwinds was an amazing experience. It had a few sour points to it, but so, so few compared to what we got out of it. You have to start off with Sean Sellers (Now with AUTHORITY ZERO and still with GOOD RIDDANCE) and I writing a demo together. Getting things started on the right foot made all the difference in the world to the outcome of the project and I think the guys have adopted our Sean’s and my writing process as being the new standard for RMK albums.

With Westwinds, I provided most of the song skeletons but the demo was kicked into high-gear from Sean. He and I hung out in a cabin for a weekend in Sherbrooke, Quebec, then did the recordings in Montreal with a great guy named Ryan Batistuzzi. After that I put together as many sets of lyrics as I could. Some sucked, some were ok. In the end I think The Tempest and Burnout were the only of my lyrics that were left basically unchanged by Paul haha.

I feel that Westwinds was the first MCKENZIES album that started with a strong demo ‘treatment’ rather than just a few songs hucked together and called a demo. What this did was put an immediate feel on what we thought the album could be. In the past there were demos I think, but only 5 tracks here or 3 ideas there…Westwinds had a vision for the album I guess…we didn’t know if it was good or not, but it felt after Sean and I built this big package of music for the band to use as a starting point. I like to that demo provided a strong landing pad for the other guys. They could focus a little bit less on album creation from start to finish and more on the thoughts and messages they wanted to say on a song-per-song level.

I could talk about Nanton and Westwinds forever but to answer your other question, the ‘New Chapter’ as you call it, has started out exactly the same. I’m sad not to be working with Sean again (He quit right after I did), but change is good I guess. This time the demo is being kicked off by it’s Bone and I with help from the new guys Troy and Mario. The Westwinds Demo was 19 tracks I think before it was trimmed down to the 14 that were pressed. The new demo is at 23 Tracks and counting!
Like I said we made good progress back in December’s session and I’m hoping to organize a February session again. Actually this weekend I’ll be locking myself in a studio in Winnipeg to do some writing. I should be able to add another 5 songs to the 23 we have.

It’s pretty exciting because there are about 15 tracks on this demo that already we can’t stop thinking about and being motivated by. They’re basically finished songs and all we’re doing now is practicing to them, tightening up our parts and writing some lyrics. That’s not to say that the other 8 are garbage… When you have demos that have 23 tracks to them, it’s part of the process to tweak the ‘worst ones’ and turn them into the ‘best ones’. On Westwinds, ‘My Head is Filled With Music’ was nothing to me when I brought it to Sean. It was my least favorite idea before our demo project started. It was a riff and that’s it. I remember Sean calling me when I was in Osborne Village and humming me what he had planned. It was so good it was bone-chilling. Then Paul wrote those amazing lyrics about the D-Day Piper and next thing you know it’s getting global reviews as the best song on the album. And now it’s one of my favorites on Westwinds.

So the new album is off to a great start. Better than Westwinds I would say. Bone was talking about getting into Motor Studios in March but I have a feeling that this will get pushed back a bit until April. I’m really stoked to have another writing session and to finally put some pressure on (This is where Paul works best and watching him write under a bit of stress is amazing to me. He is easily my favorite wordsmith. I never met a songwriter who can rhyme ‘sea’ with ‘do’ but listen to ‘Cross The Ocean’. Its in there, plain as day.

What’s the hardest part about the birth of an album?

I don’t think anything is really ‘hard’ about it. It’s just a process.
The trick is, is to know how much time you have to complete the project, and change your approach based on that. I guess if I were to try to think of something I might say the hardest thing is being confident enough with your ideas to just run with them regardless of whether they’re good or not. At the end of the day, if something just sucks and keeps sucking and you hate playing it then yeah, cut it, but try to give ideas a long, long life before you decide you hate them.

I’m not sure how other musicians go about undertaking projects like album releases, but the way I do it with or without THE MCKENZIES is one of two ways: If there is no rush, then I collect ideas for a while and start making lists out of them. Eventually I start to see different shapes that the collection can take…this forms a vision for an album.

However if someone is pressuring me to write an album and it needs to be done now, it’s really about money. I mean, money to lock myself up in a studio, money for drugs and booze and chemicals that can make me less judgmental of myself and my musical decisions (I see a lot of people get hung up here…the judge their work as good or bad, or pass or fail, or entertaining or boring way too early and then decide to drop it before it can even take off, or they blow an idea way out of proportion based solely on their songs childhood merit, that is the qualities it has as a riff, or a sentence, or a rhythm, not as a complete song, or message)

So yeah, if you’re an experienced composer, there’s really nothing hard about ‘birthing an album’. It’s just a matter of writing, writing, writing then sorting out, combining, and trimming the ideas into cohesive songs. Organize these songs into a vision and thenino an album. All that’s left after this is to decide how best to finalize your package and bring it to a studio.

Alright Gord. Now, we need to talk about your affection to bagpipes :) You learned to play one of the oldest instruments at the age of 6 from the late Pipe Major Robert Fraser of The Lord Selkirk Boys Pipe Band. How do you remember your early learning stages, soooo many adventures, shows, albums and parties ago? :) How do you see it from today’s perspective?

Fuuuck, what an awesome question…

My dad is a piper and because he had such a good experience in the Lord Selkirk Boys Pipe Band, and because my family is Scottish, he took me down to join the band. Bob Fraser (Originally from Arbroath Scotland, having immigrated to Canada with his wife Frances in the 40s I think) was running that band from 1953 to 2012 (when he passed away). His method was to start you on a practice chanter (A small, plastic reed instrument which taught you the finger placement of the bagpipes). You would come to practice on Saturdays when in the first part of the morning he gave chanter lessons to the new kids. Your job was to memorize 5 tunes. Once done, he loaned you a set of bagpipes, a uniform and made you a part of his band until you turned 18.

Now you would show up at practice join the band at the big table where they would have chanter practice till 10:30 then pipe practice until noon.

The members of the pipe band were competition-driven (competing 5 – 7 times per year around Canada, the USA, and Scotland) so you had to sound good and look good. Bob Fraser would tell us we’re standing crooked like a ‘dog’s hind leg’, or like ‘half-shut knives’, and this was a reminder to stick your chest out and chin in and be proud of yourself and what you were doing with your team.

It was and still is a great organization. Anybody with a desire to learn could be a member of that band. White, black, Jew, Catholic, Atheist, whatever…it got kids off the street and into a group. It made lifelong friends from people who otherwise would never have met. And my involvement in this organization has taken me around the world several times now.

But when I was 18 the fun sort of stopped for me. I always got bored of pipe band music. It was largely season-based so you would play the same music for a whole year. And doing the same thing over and over every year and especially competing became really stupid to me. When I was 14 I had become close friends with Matt MacNasty who was playing with a really cool competition pipe band in Winnipeg (Cool music, cool attitudes, cool concerts) called THE STIRLING PIPE BAND. I joined up and Matt and I spent 3 years together in STIRLING, before he left Winnipeg to join the MCKENZIES. Incidentally, this was where the last tune from the track ‘Taylor Made’ on ‘Oot and Aboot’ was born and first played.

I think most of my favorite memories from the pipe band days were when Matt and I would play in the pubs around Winnipeg. He and I were 14 and too young to be in a pub, but not when we wore kilts and provided ‘the entertainment’ for the evening. I can’t imagine how we must have looked waiting for our bus out front of the Concert Hall where the opera had just let out and all the rich cunts had to see two drunk 14 year-olds in kilts running up and down the street playing bagpipes.
So this was where the deviation came. With Matt gone to THE MCKENZIES, I became sick of pipe bands. Still playing with them and writing quite a bit, but mostly just for myself to keep up my chops. I started writing bigger and better pieces, trying to take what I thought was the dumb, standard music of the boring pipe bands to a new level. Matt would always call me up and ask me for more music. Sometimes 3 times per year. When I first came down to join THE MCKENZIES in the studio for ‘10,000 Shots’ it was such a musical eye-opener. Some of the most boring pipe band pieces that I knew were being amped up and put on this massive pedestal intended to proclaim those songs’ powerful, historical origins. I’m talking about songs like ‘Farewell to Nova Scotia’, ‘Will Ye No Come Back Again’, and as I dove further back in the band’s repertoire, songs like ‘Auld Lang Syne’, ‘MacPhersons Lament’ and ‘Loch Lomand’ are great examples of songs that I played, but never really learned to love until I heard what they really were, as THE MCKENZIES recorded and performed them.

I mean fuck, the sheer, raw, power of a song like ‘Loch Lomand’ just cannot be matched. This was sort of a nirvana for me because I knew so, so many of these old songs which all had great melodies and huge stories. I knew how to write this kind of music (Having published 3 self-composed books of it already!) THE MCKENZIES taught me to keep looking for and writing that stuff…that’s where I came up with the idea to cover ‘Hallowe’en’ and ‘The Massacre of Glencoe’ on Westwinds.
From today’s perspective I see a lot of bands trying to do the same thing as THE MCKENZIES, THE MAHONES, and THE DROPKICK MURPHYS. Many new bands who are starting out, trying this style are getting punched in the face from the critics as being ‘just another celtic punk rock band’. I think that’s fucking bollocks. I do agree that I’m sick of hearing the category ‘Celtic Punk Rock’ but I’m sure not sick of hearing the bands nor their music. I think it’s these labels that people seem to love to make that are actually shooting us in the foot. I just couldn’t say that THE MCKENZIES, MAHONES, and MURPHEYS are ‘Celtic Punk Rock’. They’re THE MCKENZIES, MAHONES and MURPHEYS! Different bands, different history, different sounds, different respects, different ideals. The only category I would feel comfortable putting these bands in is that they are all ‘Fucking Good’. And that’s what really matters. So my advice for new bands who wanna play bagpipes in their band…don’t worry about trying to be ‘Celtic Punk Rock’. Just try to be Fucking Good!

I guess we have to blame one of the above 3 pioneers of the genre, or maybe THE POGUES, or maybe THE DUBLINERS, for starting the style and letting the bastards get away with pigeon-holing all of us into the label ‘Celtic Punk Rock’. I was trying to functionally address this when I did my album ‘Gord Taylor Featuring Patrick Kaczor-Santos’ – I wrote and recorded music with bagpipes but actively avoided falling under the moniker of being ‘Scottish’ or ‘Celtic’… rather it’s just a dude who likes to represent himself musically using his first instrument, The Bagpipes.

…his first instrument on which he composed 3 music books! What’s special and unique about those sets of melodies, harmonies and production pieces?

For me, composition was a way to offer the bands with whom I was playing, new and innovative music. Pipe Band competition is very ‘trendy’ in that bands follow what the better bands are playing and doing. For this reason, quite often, one competition year might see the same tune by a composer played 17 fucking times – a result of one of the great bands playing this tune the year before.

I always had a good ear. I have the ability to hear a band play a tune and I can write it out on paper exactly how it was played. Bands often ask me to do this when they like a tune they’ve heard that has not yet been published. It’s a service I provide haha.

I loved supplying new music…what’s more, I loved hearing where it got to. I don’t know if I’ve ever written a tune or a song, and BANG just like that it was done. I always encouraged people to collaborate on it, to tweak it, to make it theirs because that’s where I found the fun. THE REAL MCKENZIES are no different. I write a skeleton for the band, and they work it and tweak it until it’s theirs. I just love seeing the final products from these collaborations. I much prefer being a part of this process than the owner of the music.

I don’t think too much about those books I wrote. I’m proud of them, but I don’t rest on the laurels of their merit. I mean the first one was kind of crappy because I was only 12 or 13 when I wrote it. The second one showed a lot of development in my abilities as a composer. Not only will enthusiasts find the sheet music to ‘St. Mary’s Cinderella’ in book 2 (The last song in ‘Taylor Made’) but Matt MacNasty was responsible for the wicked cover art on this book! The third book was a big sucker. It took me 2 years to finish and during this time I had taken years of music theory lessons and exams in Classical Guitar – I had applied lots of this history, theory, harmony, and counterpoint knowledge within these pages.

But honestly I like to think these books are just memories represented by music. Sometimes I like to go through them and remember the funny names and events that inspired the tunes. It takes me back through my life in a nice way – Like looking through a photo album. I’m being asked to contribute to another collection this year with a great, great Winnipeg piper named Nate Mitchell. He’s publishing a compilation music book and has honored me by asking for some of my music.

While I won’t have a problem finding the time to write some new stuff for his book, my real focus is with THE MCKENZIES new album and afterward, my own new album due to be recorded in late 2014 or early 2015.

Very well, Sir. We’ll sure get to that, but first, let’s reveal more of your pipe-love ;) Are there many different types of this incredible instrument? When you are talking about it, you mean Piobaireachd, right? “My guitar is my girlfriend”, “bass guitar is better than a girlfriend”, they say :) Is it more or less the same with your “lady”? :)

Hahah “Pipe Love”… you dick haha

Well, the pipes we play in THE MCKENZIES are called Great Highland Pipes. Yes there are many different types. Spain has about 5 different kinds, Ireland has a few, The Serbs have some different ones. We even have a few interesting pipemakers here in North America as well but when people talk about bagpipes or hear the bagpipes they are generally talking about/listening to The Great Highland Bagpipe (I should exclude Spain from this generalization…guys like Aspy from BASTARDS ON PARADE’ absolutely rocks the Spanish Pipes.

Piobaireachd is actually what the Scots call their ‘Classical Music’. It’s a style of music. It’s very old, very entrenched in story and story-telling, and is quite classically structured. I for one, hate that shit. I mean it’s got a small place in my heart but the problem I have with Piobaireachd requires a lot of room from which I derive very little musical enjoyment. The pieces can be 30 minutes long of just one bagpipe going on and on and on. I got a few complaints from reviewers on the track I did for my Bob Fraser’s wife, Frances. People thought that Bob’s lament for his deceased wife was boring and long. Well that’s nothing compared to a Piobeaireachd! To me, Piobeaireachd is a lot like old poetry. Some like it, some hate it.

Regarding my pipes, I must say, no I’m really not that attached to them like a guitar-player might be. I mean, yes I love the instrument I own, but I can make any instrument sound great and feel great to me. I’m not trying to sound like a dick, but as long as it holds air I can fix it so I enjoy playing it. I think this attitude stems from the amount of pipes I break! I break them so often that I’m always having to rebuild it again or buy another one.

Bagpipes are so simple. Just a bag and an adjustable path for air. Then when you put some reeds in, you got sound and you use the adjustable pathways for tuning. Once you’re done that, you’re ready to play!

Damn, maybe I should make one here with a beach ball or somethin’? Haha..

Ok, but actually you surprised me. I thought that all pipers consider Piobaireachd to be superior to other forms of this style of music. Anyway, it’s quite associated with the Gaelic language. Do you speak this crazy Celtic branch of speech?

Well I think a lot of them do. Especially the competitive bastards. But I think it’s a loosely-based bias. Sort of like a lot of people thinking The Yankees are the best baseball team. When you really look into it, The Yankees are simply a baseball team with a long history, which probably lends to their trendiness among people who don’t know any better. I can tell you right now neither Matt MacNasty nor I think Piobaireachd is superior to anything. And I might even venture a guess that many rock n’ roll pipers feel the same way. It’s kind of like Religion…when you do a little research and make a few opinions for yourself you come away with a different sense of enlightenment. Remember, most of the people who think Piobaireachd is great are people who follow the lives of the ‘Piobaireachd masters’ who are really nothing more than a bunch of pipers and judges in bed with each other.

With Piobaireachd or Ceol Mor well…to be honest, it’s easy music. It’s ‘Great’ in history, and emotion, but honestly, pretty mundane in terms of technique. There are no harmonies, just a melody line, it never speeds up that much (Doesn’t even really have much of a rhythm as it’s largely based on the performer’s opinion of free time, and a single judges acceptance of it regardless of whether he’s drunk, it’s raining, or there’s a train going by). The length of the pieces alone is what makes it difficult I think. Once you master a few movements (Literally no more than 30 or so), the only difficulty Piobaireachd presents is asking the piper to make it through a 30 minute performance.

Now Beethoven, that’s kick-ass music. Talented, requires virtuosity, musicality, and incredible endurance. You’ll break your fuckin’ hands on the ivory playing that stuff and you’ll break your fucking heart on the stories from his life and pieces. I’m thinking of Piano Sonata 14 (Moonlight Sonata), Piano Sonata 8 Op 3 (Pathetique) as 2 good examples.

Not to say that complicated is better, but I don’t hear of people proclaiming of the musical genius of Gregorian Chants. In my opinion Piobaireachd is kind of the same thing…Pope Gregory’s Chants were some of the first organized music to come across Europe in the middle ages. They have HUGE history and HUGE stories associated to them. We look back on it now and it’s haunting, simple, and beautiful but there certainly are no throngs of masses of people DYING to get in to a Gregorian Chant concert. Same as Piobaireachd. I think some pipers just like it because if they are good at it and it makes them feel they have a right to be arrogant. When I look at it for myself, I’m more interested in ‘writing the future’ and would prefer to leave ‘conserving history’ to the musicians lacking creativity.

I feel like a real ball-buster talking about Piobaireachd this way, and I’m really sorry to all the pipers who are reading this thinking that I think they’re talentless, uncreative assholes. I really don’t. Piobaireachd is just not for me. The truth is, like all music, it’s based on how much a musician enjoys playing it or the audience hearing it. If you LOVE Piobaireachd, then that’s great….Play it, write it, have sex with it, do whatever…Music is all about doing what you love and getting enjoyment out of whatever you want.

And yes, Piobaireachd is very closely associated with Gaelic (not that I would know…I don’t speak a word of it) both because of it’s historical proximity to the language way back when and also because of the lilting language used to sing Piobaireachd, called ‘Canterach’.

Would you say pipe music is an evolving art form? How active is pipe development these days? Is there an evolutionary development going on today?

Oh yeah I think so. But you have to look at pipe music the same as you look at guitar music. There are a group of people that want nothing more than to play old, or Fernando Sor, Ferdinando Carulli, or Andre Segovia pieces tighter and better simply for an adjudicator, or a judge. When they win/pass their exams, they can be called the ‘best’ within their own elite crowds. These are people who are playing music for purpose of conservation. For the re-telling of history.

Punk rock, rock and roll, metal, all music categories in my opinion fall under one ‘type’ category when compared to the historians. Let’s call it ‘Free Music’. Where musicians aren’t restricted by history, rules, judges/adjudicators, whatever. All they do is try things and show them to REAL PEOPLE. Not ‘Experts’ not ‘Judges’ but, but the rawest, free-est, most accurate form of rulings: Art. Ruled by the audience.
Oscar Wilde said one of the truest things I have ever heard: “Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience and rebellion that progress has been made.”

In this sense, Bagpipes just like guitar are most-certainly an evolving art form. Free musicians are always changing things, flipping them on their head, trying something new, then submitting it to the musical world for adjudication. Sometimes it catches on, sometime it doesn’t. But this is what art is. Art decides history. Art isn’t always good or always bad but as long as an artist tries something that elicits a reaction, that’s an evolution of the art.

I love seeing more and more bands pop up with pipers. It bugs me a bit that most want to hide behind this ‘Celtic Punk Rock’ name (I wish more people had the balls just to play music with bagpipes minus the label) but one step at a time I guess. These are the people and the bands to whom I feel a brotherhood. I feel that together, we are all on an evolutionary path to change the way bagpipes are played and accepted in music.

Alright Gord. So what other pipers and “piped” bands ;) would you recommend to us, pipe-hungry readers? Haha! Give us some names!

Matt MacNasty is my favorite piper of all time. He was the first, and arguably the only piper I’ve ever seen who became A PART OF THE BAND as opposed to just an addition to it. It was his attitude and his performance that did all of this, but Matt’s contribution to music has evolved bagpipes more and further than anyone I know or have ever heard of.

I said before and I’ll say it again, I’m thrilled to see how many bands are playing with pipers now and what’s more, that list grows every year, but to me, it’s not enough to just play bagpipes in a band. I want to see more pipers being aggressive and confident with their wartime instrument! I want to see more pipers singing with their lead singer and sticking their neck out during their band’s musical climaxes! Be a part of the entertainment, not just a part of the music!

If you’re a piper and you want to explore how an instrument can be opened up to the world, listen to and look at everything you can find starring Matt. He’ll teach you things you never would have thought of haha.

One day soon I would really like to get together with Matt to do an album. I know he’s into the idea. I’m starting to gather material for my next album now (Recording next year) Maybe this is when Matt and I should get together again.

And regarding recommendations from my pipe band days, I always thought THE VICTORIA POLICE PIPE BAND from Australia were evolvers and promoters of change in the conservatory. I also always like VALE OF ATHOLL and POWER OF SCOTLAND. THE 78TH FRASER HIGHLANDERS from Toronto were always very clever and very musical.

What should we expect from your upcoming solo album? What details can you share about it?

Firstly, it’s going to be longer. I really like how the first album turned out and how the music wrapped the album’s subject sort of between parentheses… But the worst part of that first album, was just how short and ‘entry-level’ it seems…I guess I just didn’t think it would take off like it did!

Secondly, there’s going to be a little less folk and more punk. Not that I don’t like folk, but to me the electric stuff is more challenging so that’s what I’m interested in. Plus, I think Canada needs more Fuck-You Music. It’s been a long time since the world was really taken over by the works of bands like DOA, PERSONALITY CRISIS, and NOMEANSNO.

There will be many songs sung from a very liberated demeanor. I just don’t care who I piss off any more. I record these on my own label and I don’t need to please anyone but myself. My songs have really started to feel like the sentences I speak. I’m proud to be ‘coming of age’ with my art to the point of being way more confident with it. I have mine and THE MCKENZIES fans to thank for this…always encouraging me, motivating me, and making me feel like it’s okay to be who I am as long as I stand by what’s important to me.

Finally, with the release of this album I hope to begin touring this music. I hope when we next talk, I can tell you some crazy tour stories from taking my own music on the road… maybe THE MCKENZIES will let me open for them!

Ha! Actually it’s a great idea! Who knows, maybe it will all go the other way round and it will be them opening for you? ;)

HaSo what final words would you like to leave off with?

Stay free, stay strong, learn to be satisfied with who you are, and do the things you want to do in life.

Thanks for the interview Karol! As always it’s been a pleasure!

Thanks a lot man! Take care!

DIY rock music enthusiast and web-zine publisher from Warsaw, Poland. Supporting DIY ethics, local artists and promoting hardcore punk, rock, post rock and alternative music of all kinds via IDIOTEQ online channels.
Contact via www.idioteq.com@gmail.com

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