An Interview with Left of Centre

Left of Centre. (Facebook / Left of Centre)

Originally hailing from Hamiota, Manitoba, Left of Centre would to many as a small town prairie band. Upon first listen, however, the case is quite the opposite.  With sounds that are greatly reminiscent of Foo Fighters, Three Days’ Grace, Thornley, and Seether, the band maintains a traditional grunge-band sound for the modern age. With the recent release of there second album, Hwy 21, the former BU students hope to take things one step further to making it big. Band member Corey Badger was able to answer some questions regarding the band’s beginnings, their style and inspirations and ultimately- what’s next for the up and coming band?

The Quill: How long have you been interested/ making music? What got you into making music?

Corey Badger: I have been interested in music for as long as I can remember. My parents were probably the main catalyst, as they have always been avid concertgoers. They started taking me when I was around 10 years old, and I just developed a love for live music. However, I never picked up a guitar until I was 16. I remember my younger brother getting a bass guitar for his birthday, and once it sat around for a few years I decide to pick it up and start playing along to songs by ear. It was about a year later, right after my high school graduation, that a few friends and I decided to put a three-piece band together. None of us had ever played our instruments before. Ben bought his first drum kit after grad, and I had to borrow a friend’s bass amp for about a year. There was a lot of practicing those first few summers. We really came from the humblest of beginnings, and I think that learning together right from scratch was part of what developed the uniqueness of our sound. At that point we had no aspirations… we were just having fun. Things have definitely grown and evolved since, but we still do it for the love of music.

TQ: Where are you originally from?

CB: I am originally from Hamiota, MB. Ben and I graduated together in 2005, and Travis graduated the year after. Being friends before ever starting the band was a huge bonus, and I think very few professional musicians can say that about their current group. Alex joined us as a lead guitarist in 2008, and he is from Deloraine. So we definitely all have our prairie roots in the Westman area.

TQ: What do you consider to be home base?

CB: We consider both Brandon and Winnipeg to be our home bases. Alex and Ben both live and work in Winnipeg, while Travis and I are in Brandon.

TQ: How do you balance family life with your musical career, and how does that work?

CB: It is definitely a balancing act, and I’m sure the rest of the guys would agree that we have very little free time in our schedules. Seeing as we didn’t start the band until after high school, we have spent the last seven years cramming our touring schedule into the summer months between university terms. I had three years at Brandon University and then four more at the University of Saskatchewan, while Ben and Alex had 5-6 years at the University of Manitoba. Travis had a year at Brandon University as well, so the biggest battle up until this point has been balancing our post-secondary education with our music career. Now that we are all officially done school, the balancing has been more between our music careers and our family life, but at least we are able to gig year-round now. We all have day jobs in order to make ends meet, but we all dream about what it would be like if we didn’t need them anymore.

TQ: Are you on the road a lot as an artist? Do you plan to be?

CB: We didn’t really start playing many live shows until ’07, and since ‘08 we have been heavy weekend warriors. We would usually fit in about twenty plus shows over the three summer months. The first few years we relied heavily on the rural Manitoba bar scene for gigs, and that suited us well as a party-rock band. We had a lot of fun and were able to grow as entertainers. It also gave us a good environment to test our original songwriting, as we slowly added songs to the set list as they came to fruition. We developed the flexibility to go from a 3-hour cover band to an all-original act to everything in between. Our most intensive mini-tour came last summer when we loaded up a trailer and played ten shows on a 17-day trip from Winnipeg to Medicine Hat, AB and back. We definitely plan to be on the road a lot more in the support of our debut album, which was just released on October 11th, 2012.

TQ: What is the best / worst thing about being on the road?

CB: The best part about being on the road is having the opportunity to perform on an (almost) daily basis. Working around university classes for all those years really made our development choppy. We would just be finding a nice groove with our live show come July/August, and by September we would be back in class again with no shows till the New Year’s break, or even spring. That was the most frustrating part. We also get along really well as a group and we have a ton of fun out there. You just never know what kind of shenanigans the guys will get into after or between shows.

TQ: What have been your biggest shows to date?

CB: There have been many big shows for the band, but a few of them stand out as defining moments for us. The first came in February of 2008 when we were still a three-piece band performing at the U of M Campus. For the first time outside of our hometown shows, the place was packed and we had the crowd engaged all night long. I remember thinking after that show, “wow, we might actually have something here.” A few weeks later we added Alex to the band and started taking a much more serious approach to our music.

Another defining moment for the band was winning the Rockin’ the Fields Rockoff competition in 2010, and then going back as a signed act in 2011. We had the chance to share the stage with some pretty well established acts at that festival, including Bif Naked, Wide Mouth Mason, and Colin James.

Lastly, our Hwy 21 CD release party at the Roadhouse this October was a memorable one. We set a personal indoor attendance record of over 300 people that night.

TQ: As a Manitoban artist, what do you think you bring to the industry?  What is your viewpoint? Any cause you strongly believe in and support?

CB: Well, I’ll be the first to tell you that we aren’t politically directed at all, despite the name. We started the band to have fun and entertain our friends, and that mentality has stayed with us over the years. Maybe that has a bit to do with being small-town prairie boys, but we feel like we have done our job if everyone in the audience has had a great time. I think a lot of the modern rock acts have lost that mentality in their approach to music. Sure, it’s a business, but having fun out there is number one. If we aren’t having fun, there is no way that our fans are going to have any fun either.

TQ: How would you describe yourself as an artist? What do you consider to be the greatest influence for your music today?

CB: That’s honestly the hardest question I find to answer. You would think that because I am in the band I would know how to best describe our style, but I have a really hard time putting a label on it. Our influences are pretty vast, and I really think that because we first learned how to play as ‘Left of Centre’, it’s almost as if we started with a blank slate. Sure, we all had our favorite artists and genres of music, but we were forced to develop our own individual styles as we developed the group identity. The two are really one in the same as they happened at the same time. To me that is the greatest influence on ‘Left of Centre.’ I don’t know very many bands that have that element to them.

TQ: What type of audience do you hope to attract with your music?

CB: We honestly don’t discriminate… any audience is a good audience. We know if we get up there and put on our best show, that people are going to connect through our energy. We see all kinds of people out there on a nightly basis.  We enjoy the fact that we don’t have a stereotyped crowd segment, we tend to bring them all together.

TQ: What all goes into the production of a single song? How long did it take for your album to come together as a whole?

CB: Our writing process is pretty fluent for the most part. Usually Alex or Travis will bring a riff, or series of riffs to a practice session and we will jam that out as a band until we have the composition of a song. Each person generally composes their own part or adds their own flare to the basic bones of the song. Then we generally sit on it for a practice or two while I write the lyrics/melody and Alex fine-tunes his leads and solos. Then we sew it all together and get feedback from the group on anything we want to change. The fourteen songs that appear on the album have been written over a number of years. We definitely have seen our own level of maturation on some of the newer stuff, but we are constantly writing. We have some material that is so new it isn’t even on the newly released album.

The recording process took place at Private Ear Studios in Winnipeg. We started in November of 2011, and initially we planned a block of five days to get it done. However after five exhausting 14-hour days, we decided that we needed more time in order to complete it properly. We went back in for a day in January and finally finished up the studio work. We then spent the summer mixing it and deciding on the artwork before sending it away for pressing. We then had a series of three CD release shows (Winnipeg, Brandon, and Hamiota) at the start of October, 2012.

TQ: What is the name of your CD? What can you tell me about it?

CB: The album is titled Hwy 21. We chose that as we all grew up in communities along Highway 21, and our old jam space was on the highway as well. We just felt like we had put a lot of miles on that highway and it had seen ‘Left of Centre’ grow from nothing into what it is now. The songs themselves are pure rock. We really tried our best to capture the energy of our live show on the recordings. Seeing as the content spanned so many years of writing there is a good mix of music, right from riff driven crunch to more harnessed melodic energy.

TQ: Tell me what your favorite song is from the album and why?

CB: One of the unfortunate things about being in a band is that it is very tough to assess your own music at face-value. I mean, we poured everything we have into this album and there are a lot of emotions in there. Almost to the point where we don’t even really know what we have, so I find that my favorite track changes with the weather. If I was going to highlight one track though, I think it would be “white collar.” The song is about the internal struggle that we all deal with; the one between our day jobs and our career as musicians that gets you thinking, ‘what if?’ I think this song is just one of those rare combinations of melodic rhythm, inspired writing, and a climactic solo. It doesn’t matter how many times I listen to it, I still get chills on the back of my neck when that song peaks.

TQ: What is next for you?

CB: I think the next step is really the biggest for ‘Hwy 21.’ We are going to spend some of our down time heavily promoting the album and get it in as many hands as we possibly can. We have an excellent reputation as self-promoters, and it’s one of the main reasons we have risen to the level that we are at now.  When we have something that we put this much effort into, we really want to give it the best possible chance for success. As always, we will be hitting the road again very soon…

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 13, November 27, 2012.