Liner Notes is a close up look at a great new album you may have missed. This week, it's been a decade since Hamilton math rock band The Inflation Kills issued their excellent self-titled, scene-setting debut. After a lengthy hiatus, serious illness, and a few false starts, the band's Phil Williams gives us the story of making their — thought to be lost — second album.
In the mid-2000s, following what might you call second-wave emo, there was an explosion of angular, mathy post-hardcore and punk acts in Southern Ontario. Bands like The Sourkeys and The Vermicious Knid and From Fiction. Bands with fiercely independent ethics. Bands interested in expressing complexity and abrasiveness inside their songcraft. It was sweaty, breakneck, volatile stuff. This was exactly the moment I entered the rock club scene, and Hamilton's The Inflation Kills were my gateway.
For a certain sub-generation of locals, the band's 2005 self-titled full-length is anthemic. Ten regional classics. To my young eyes and ears, they were the vision of a great indie band: freakishly talented, hard-working, proof that replaying a tricky phrase until you've got it just so — no matter how pissy it makes the bass player — pays off. And they were inspired, unleashing a top-to-bottom new set what seemed like right on the heels of the album. There were rumours they'd go back to Chicago and record a follow-up immediately.
But before anything would be pressed, the band broke up. The seven tracks left unreleased. Hometown fans would trade bootlegs of whatever was salvaged from live shows and sessions. Scenesters of a certain age talked about the lost Inflation Kills record with reverence.
These songs were passed around Hamilton for years, like, "Who's got them?"
Grounds for Termination is, for me, full-strength rock and roll pleasure. Perhaps that's in some small part because it scratches a nostalgic itch or maybe because it resurrects songs I thought long gone, but more, I think, because it reinstates in me that initial vision of a great indie band: that fiery talent can always make a spectacle. I spoke with singer and guitarist Phil Williams about the long, snaking road that finally gave us The Inflation Kills' second record.
The Inflation Kills Grounds For Termination is available on cassette from Cold Slither Tapes and as digital download here. Stream it below.
Chart Attack: Why is this a project and especially a batch of songs that you were compelled to get back to? To try again?
Phil Williams: I don't think it ever felt complete for any of us. We didn't ever really hit the end of the road and say, "That's it, we're done as a band, send out the press release because you're never gonna see us again." I came back to Hamilton, leaving a really great job in a very nice community in my career. I left because my mom was in a period of transition and she needed family near her. I guess I was kind of bummed out to be back in Hamilton. And, for me, this was something to focus on that was really positive.
I can't really talk about the other guys' intentions, but I think that they would say that none of us really felt like things were done with us and we wouldn't feel like anything was complete at least until this record came out. But who knows, we might've put out another one 10 years from now.
Where and when did these songs start? There's a long story to this album. I was hoping you could catch me up.
From an archivist's perspective, I think we've created pretty good representations of ten year old songs. From a tastemaker's perspective, ten years ago seems to be pretty popular right now.
We started, maybe, two months max after having recording at Electrical Audio. We started to track them, but I did this weird thing where I was like, "I'd like to get kind of a collection of people that I know that are engineers, that are trying to work on stuff, that have interest in an aesthetic that I'm interested in."
I picked three people instead of one. It was Sean Pearson, Donny Cooper, and Ryan Mills all in the room. I guess I didn't realize this until years later, but there aren't many engineers that work in cahoots with other engineers. They don't really collaborate on the production of albums.
Too many cooks in the kitchen-type situation?
Too many cooks. [Singing] Too many cooks. Definitely too many cooks. Not necessarily in a negative way, it's just that there were so many ideas thrown around.
In retrospect, I'm just so enthusiastically happy that it ended up being Sean because we took some of the best aspects of that Cursed aesthetic and of the Fiftywatthead thing and other bands like WTCHS, Sianspheric, all these bands that he's worked with. He gave us the best aspects of all of their various recorded aesthetics and put those to hard drive.
When would you say that was? The same year that you put your debut full-length?
Yeah, it was maybe May, 2005. So I think we released the first record on, like, April 8, 2005, and maybe May we went in to record.
So immediately you're onto these new songs, even though they never came out until now.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, they were already written. At that time pretty much everything was written in my bedroom. The whole first record I brought pretty much complete to the band. That's just kind of the way I was operating at the time. Then when Matt [Fleming] and I started sitting down we started writing more cohesively together. That's more the structure that I wanted, and I think Matt liked that as well, although he tended to try and keep the best songs or best riffs that he wrote for Hoosier Poet. I'm okay with that. That's every songwriter's priority, to provide the best material for their, you know, priority.So we did that, we started to track with Sean, Donny, and Ryan Mills. We scrapped those when we realized that we weren't ultimately ready. Guitars were out of phase in the recording at the time, lots of stuff was going on and we just trying to do pre-production on that, really, so they weren't ever really intended to be anything more.
But that's the "Rejection" demo that was on MySpace. People didn't have recognition of any of these songs, for the most part, until we went to record the CBC Radio 3 session. When we did the session somebody ended up ripping all of those songs to MP3s, so they were passed around Hamilton for years, like, "Who's got them?"
By that point in time we'd already toured again and written the rest of the album. "Churches" and "Won't Know" were the last couple of songs to be finalized. They were the last two to get written.
And when were they written? Since Dave O'Connor from TV Freaks joined the band or earlier?
No, no, they're all ten years old. Nothing comes out past 2006. Nothing happened post 2006, because I went off to teachers college in 2007. There were some petty conflicts, but also some things that were representative of, for me, really serious or significant ideological differences between a couple members of the band. So we said okay, that's pretty much it. We're not going to pursue this anymore. Unfortunately, in retrospect.
When did you decide you wanted to revisit these songs?
That was actually Jag [from WTCHS/Perdu]'s idea. I was never part of the conversation until the end, but I guess he'd had conversations with Nick [Daleo] about Perdu potentially releasing our album on vinyl. So the only reason we actually got together to jam again was realizing, "Okay, fine, we should probably put out these songs." It kind of felt like the whole process or the whole life of the band was incomplete, and there were people that, I'm sure at least for the sake of feeling some sort of attachment to the band, would like to have some of these songs recorded properly.
So, it was Jag and Nick that originally instigated the jams, and then Jag was like "Well look, if you guys are jamming and you're playing then you might as well do our NXNE show."
Right, that was in 2014. I was at that show.
Yeah, you were, absolutely, you wrote that report card. Which was very nice, thank you, by the way.
Just after that we were scheduled to record with Sean at Boxcar, and again, it looked like everything was going to fall apart. You know, Matt went through a really serious health issue, like, a really serious health scare.
Are you comfortable talking about that?
I just don't know if it's my place to really discuss it, and I would never want to take away the physical and the emotional impact. But, what I can say is that he lost a family member the Fall prior, right around his birthday. I think it's a very personal issue for him, and I don't know if he'd feel comfortable actually talking about it so out of respect for him I prefer to speak about it in vagaries, but really, you probably know the story already.
I'm aware that it was a very serious thing, yeah.
Yeah, a serious scare that he was able to overcome. The guy has such an impressive spirit to persist in the face of what seems like a constant barrage of battles with cancer in his family history.
So, that derailed our recording plans. At first he didn't want to cancel. He was like, "Well if we don't do it now, when are we going to do it?" But then as he got further into his treatment, I think he realized, "Okay, this is probably not a good idea, I don't even know if I'll be able to hold a guitar," for example.
Or be able to choke it the way he does.
Yeah, he certainly wouldn't be able to choke the spirit right out of the thing or whatever he was trying to do. Exhume the ghosts of rock and roll legends passed.
So that derailed things, then I got really busy. I was working at McMaster University at the time and Nick was starting a new job, and we'd never really confirmed with Adrian [Murchison] that he was going to actually participate in the recording. I'd always misunderstood what happened here. I talked to Adrian later and he was like, "Nobody ever asked me. I'm not heartbroken, I wanted to move on and do my own thing, but don't let the stories show that I was asked and refused."
Dave O'Connor had sent us a bullying email just kidding around because he'd heard that we were going to be doing the recording anyway. He said, "Oh yeah, I'll do it, I'm going to do it," right? "I'll do it, I'll just figure out the songs." You know, just being the funny, arrogant version of Dave where it's not real arrogance; he's just jumping at a chance to be a part of something. The guy spreads himself so thin creatively speaking.
He does a lot.
He freaks out, but he does it to himself. I love him for it, but, like, he needs to take a vacation.
Anyway, we agreed to do that, he jammed with us, we played NXNE, and the plan was to go and record, and then all that got put on hold for a year. Exactly a year later we realized that we'd better start jamming again, and we pulled it together.
Matt had been recording with Terra Lightfoot in Brooklyn already, so he came back fresh with a new experience, new ideas for how to contribute to the recording, and sort of a new energy. Nick came for the first couple of days and just slayed his drum tracks and came back a couple of times for mixing stuff.
It's kind of like he never put it down, like he shakes off the rust pretty quick.
Yeah, it's interesting because, you know, Nick Daleo is probably one of the better and most overlooked drummers in southern Ontario, even though he's been in every band, it feels like. He's got such unique style, for all intents and purposes he still could be one of the greats in terms of Ontario or Canada. He's untrained, completely self-taught, plays a right-handed kit open left-handed style, and he's just such a unique dude to begin with that for whatever reason he doesn't fit into the packages that make it easy to market people as musical products, so he's just kind of fallen by the wayside.
He really does have an insane load of potential and talent.
Yeah, and I mean, having seen him develop from not really knowing what he was doing to really interesting and complex rhythms... I think that there are more technically proficient drummers that end up coming off sounding a little more sterile in their approaches, in bands that are much more complicated than ours. There are also these completely untrained drummers that sound loose, wild, devilish and freakishly good, like Nick.
So how did the songs change in those ten years?
Not really that much, to be perfectly honest. I think they got a little bit more virile, we probably sound more energetic. The beats per minute were increased in the studio for sure, all of them. It's faster, it's more propulsive, grittier, more overdriven, a little bit more blown-out sounding from the guitars and voice probably than the album.
Were you ever worried, because maybe your taste changed a bit, that these might sound like ten-year-old songs?
Well, I mean, they are ten year old songs, so if we're putting together the best representation of ten year old songs as we possibly could, then, from an archivist's perspective, I think we'd done pretty well. From a tastemaker's perspective, I don't know, ten years ago seems to be pretty popular right now.
I don't know if there are as many generational borders, if that's a way to describe it, in the internet age of music. I don't know if that's as relevant as a concern now as it would have been putting out a record in 1995 and sounding like Depeche Mode. That would've been a fatal flaw. Columbia House would have never featured your CD for a penny. The entire industry has changed radically and I think, in a way, it's terrible for musicians, but it's also allowed musicians the flexibility they wanted, getting respect for their songwriting craft and their tunes in a way that's independent of industry approval.