Eleven Years of Mopey and a New Comic Book Single
Mopey is a five-piece post-punk band that has barrelled through the last 11 years in St. John’s creatively avoiding what some have come to most unaffectionately refer to as the ‘St. John’s curse,’ a familiar scenario that is likely applicable to most isolated music scenes.
‘The St. John’s curse’ goes something like this: a band gets together and enthusiastically writes ten solid songs, they record a demo or an EP which may or may not capture the energy or spirit of said songs, they do the local bar circuit for a while, then eventually a once-a-year ‘reunion’ gig.
Mopey centers around the songwriting of Curtis Kilfoy, whose inventive visions have not only kept the music itself fresh and focused, but continues to pump new life into the activity of the band. The band is currently dancing on its 11 year mark, already long outliving the lifespan of most St. John’s rock outfits.
Mopey have always done their own thing, and seem to possess a unique knack for crafting something new and fun into their prolific output. This trend continues with their new single, Minor League Dad / Just Noodles which comes with a double-sided comic book, providing a read-along accompaniment for each of the two tracks.
I got the opportunity to ask Curtis a few questions regarding their first show in 2004, their release show tonight (July 4th, 2015) at Distortion, their new comic book single, and over ten years of playing Mopey.
I first saw Mopey over ten years ago at an all-ages punk show at Primers on MUN campus. I’m pretty sure it was Halloween. At the time you guys were using a drum machine, and I’m pretty sure that’s where I bought A Candy Heart That Tastes Like Chalk on CD. That CD really stood out to me at the time from what I was exposed to on a local level at all-ages hardcore shows.
If you could tell me a little bit about that period in time, and ultimately where Mopey came from as a project.
Curtis Kilfoy: That show at Primer’s was our first and The Killing’s last. They were a very po-faced straightedge hardcore band, and we were, well, us. I really love the contrast of that, for a first show. I know some people probably justifiably didn’t like the crowd they used to draw, but what limited interactions I had with those guys they were always very kind, and I loved their cover of Joy Division’s “Warsaw”.
As would become a pattern with Mopey, our set was a bit of a shambles. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. We cabbed practically our entire jamspace to the venue, we continually switched instruments, I was running our beats off a CD-R – a CD-R! – into a craptastic boomboox and the sound was awful. I wore a lovely homemade sailor suit Peggy Tremblett made for me. We had people yelling for us to get off the stage. I was a lot more snotty and bloody-minded then – I’d be a lot more demoralized by a show like that now.
I was already playing in the power violence band Skullface and Others, when the band No$Trolls$More$Souls started doing shows. They used Fruity Loops to make beats and had Renee Sharpe doing this incredibly piercing screaming on top. That inspired me to start using Fruity Loops myself to develop my own material, and also to really push the limits of my voice, do very very raw screaming, not a put-on or stylized power violence or death metal voice.
Mopey starting out was totally solo. I put together an EP under my own name that I absolutely hated, then spent six months writing and recording the album A Candyheart That Tastes Like Chalk, and settled on the name Mopey Mumble-Mouse. Then once I put that out I started getting the live band together.
I’ve since dropped the “Mumble-Mouse” and made it just Mopey. The name felt dated to me, and doesn’t represent the music we make now very well. But since it’s not a complete name change there’s still a continuity there.
Over the last ten years Mopey has definitely seen a shuffle in line-ups. How long has the current ensemble of members been playing together?
Since 2010, and that lineup would’ve started rehearsing in 2009. So a pretty stable line-up actually, half the life of the band. I’m putting Mopey on a bit of a live hiatus next year, to work on a more electronic-leaning project, and we may come back with the same lineup or we may not. It depends on the arrangement of the next batch of material, which I’m leaving wide open until I write it.
The new single comes out as a part of a beautiful looking double-sided comic book with each half containing a read-along accompaniment for the two tracks of the single. I was struck by the detail, and it got me thinking about the consistent thoughtfulness and artfulness that’s always surrounded Mopey releases.
First, if you could give me a rundown of the concept and process of doing the comic.
The two songs, Minor League Dad and Just Noodles, I felt didn’t fit tonally with the rest of the album we’ve been working on. While my work always had and always will have humour in it, they’re overtly jokey in a way I’ve been steadily moving away from. When I originally wrote the lyric for Minor League, I initially thought it might be a bit too glib: the spoof of hyper-masculinity in sports culture, the pederast coach, the punchline chorus. And then the Canucks riot happened and Jerry Sandusky happened and it made me think ‘Okay, maybe this is still worth keeping.’ Still it paints in pretty broad strokes, something I’m less and less into as I get older.
Now, while I wanted to separate these songs from the rest of the album, I didn’t want them to be like these bastard children. They both had a clear narrative through-line that I thought would lend itself well to a comic, so I decided to make them an illustrated single. And I remembered how I used to love the series Marvel Comics Presents when I was a kid, and thought it would be fun to make it an homage to that. You used to be able to flip them over and read them from either cover. They’d have Wolverine on one side and then some other Marvel character on the other, as well as a couple of B-stories inside with lesser Marvel heroes. Given my very limited allowance at the time, that was big bang for one’s buck. I used to read the shit out of those things.
I’m always trying to think of interesting things to do with the art nowadays, ways to make myself more excited about the physical release, because the bottom line is that I’m just bored to tears with format. And I’ve been bored for a very long time with the nostalgic attachments people have to format. It feels very reactionary to me. I’m fond of vinyl and tapes and eight tracks, I get the appeal, but it’s not enough to excite me anymore.
Can you tell me about the importance of the visual art elements of Mopey?
I wish I could do more with the visual aspect sometimes. I do put a lot of thought and work into it, but I’m always fighting against my own limitations in that area. With the music, though my abilities as a player are limited, I know if I put the time and effort in I’ll eventually get something I can feel proud of, even if nobody else likes it. But with the drawing and design stuff I always feel like I’m settling for something. That said I really like how our past few release have turned out, and the zero-budget music videos we’ve started doing in recent years have been very fun and exciting. We may soon have a space for a small stop-motion workshop and that’s going to be fun to learn.
In the early days Mopey’s visual aesthetic was very much about wrong-footing people: presenting this candy-coated twee exterior, but with fangs underneath. And that’s still there to a degree, but the music has gotten darker and the art reflects that. In many ways this comic is very much a throwback and goodbye to ‘old school Mopey.’
Just Noodles, one half of the new Mopey single, was originally written a few years back by another local band called the Maxse Street Player Haters. It makes makes total sense, and works perfectly as a Mopey song.
Where did the idea to do the cover come from, and what stands out to you personally and retrospectively about that band?
I’ve wanted to cover Just Noodles since the first time I ever heard it, which gives you an idea of how long it takes me to get around to doing things. We jammed it a couple of times in 2008 or 2009, but our original drummer Steve Aylward left town and it fell by the wayside. Then a couple of years back the idea came back to me, and we started doing it with our current drummer John and recorded it, finally. Also, John lives on Maxse now, which lends our cover extra ‘Street’ cred. (rimshot)
MSPH were always very funny and tuneful, and I loved that they wrote songs about pro wrestling and being white trash and Dickie Dee ice cream vendors. The Dickie Dee song actually puts a lump in my throat when I hear it.
The show is on July 4 with Lavaweed and Allie Duff. Coincidentally it’s also Distortion’s 9th Anniversary Weekend, which I didn’t realize when I booked it, but which I’m very happy turned out to be the case. Glenn has always been very kind to us, and allowed us to book shows there in spite of consistently emptying his bar and abusing his equipment. As a venue it’s in my opinion extremely under appreciated.
Aside from playing the single, we’ll also be performing a suite of songs I’ve been working on called “A Blacker Shade of Pail”, about a pack of post-apocalyptic mutant scavengers who’ve evolved to eat our garbage. It’s very loosely inspired by Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packages trading cards, but also Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, and Hideshi Hino comics – which Skullface used to do a song about – and a lot of other post-apocalyptic media. I say ‘loosely based on’ because it’s definitely not ‘ooh 80s retro,’ which I’m quite sick of. It’s very much its own thing, but the same gross-out body horror married with black humour is there at the core of it. And the obsession with food and rot and societal collapse. My preoccupations basically never change, it seems.
And once the single enters our hands, what’s the plan for Mopey’s next venture?
Our album Total Education comes out hopefully before Christmas, and has the aforementioned suite of songs on it along with a bunch of other songs as well. The title is a tip of the hat to The Adventure of Faustus Bidgood, one of my favourite films, but the reference begins and ends there. Anything more would be a bit much I think. I’ve wanted to call an album that forever, and this felt like the right one.
I’m not sure what I’m doing with the artwork yet, but I’m hoping to learn more about pop-up book mechanics and experiment with that. I’m also interested in going back and looking at the big, two-page spreads Mad Magazine used to do with all these little details and gags in every nook and cranny. I want to study what made those work, how they’d be laid out in such a way that it leads your eye through the scene.