We caught up with Toronto based journalist Sam Sutherland to discuss his new book Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk:
In the book you call yourself ďa child of the Ď80s who clearly fetishizes Ď70s punk.Ē I was just wondering what got you interested in this era in the first place?
Yeah, I was born in Ď85. I think thereís a natural inclination when you listen to genre like punk and itís the same if youíre really into impressionist paintings or zombie movies or whatever. You dig as deep as you possibly can into the thing youíre obsessed with. You want to find the originals of the thing that you love so when you listen to punk that means going back and listening to bands from the early scenes in New York or LA or London. For the longest time there wasnít really any books or movies about the scene in Canada, it just seemed impossible to learn anything about what happened in our own country. So six years ago I started working on this book and since then there has been a tremendous amount of coverage. I think itís amazing that all this great music is finally getting the attention that it deserves.
What was the first band that got you into punk?
Well Iím a really, really cool guy and the first ďpunkĒ band I listened to was Blink-182. The good thing about those bands back then, bands like Blink-182, Green Day and The Offspring, is that they there were always talking about the classics. Like Blink would always mention the Descendents, which gets you into Black Flag, all the stuff that happened in DC and the early New York punk bands. I think thatís a really important thing about popular punk bands and itís something that people my age sometimes forget. No one starts off listening to Television, you have to start somewhere. So for me, Mark Hoppus and Tom Delonge, thank you very much.
I understand that the book began as a class project at Ryerson. Did you major in journalism or something else?
Yeah, it was Radio-Television Arts and for my last year I didnít really want to do a video project or anything like that, mostly because I didnít want to work with anybody. I ended up writing a paper and doing interviews, which was basically the genesis of this book.
Were you already familiar with the bands that you covered? Or did you end up discovering most of them throughout the process?
There was definitely a lot of discovery. I was a fan of Teenage Head, the Pointed Sticks and D.O.A. who are some of the bigger bands in the book. But one of the best parts of putting this together was finding all of these new bands. I didnít know much about what was happening in Ottawa, Regina or Saskatoon. And when I was putting this together I learned about some great bands that maybe only recorded two songs, but they were fucking awesome. The Bureaucrats from Ottawa have a song called ďFeel the PainĒ that I think is as good as anything the Pointed Sticks ever did. Finding out about a band like that and the Extroverts from Regina, it was incredibly rewarding because now you have all these new favourite bands.
What was the easiest thing about putting this book together?
I think in a vague but really important way, just being exciting about it every single day. This project was huge, it took me six years. You kind of have to be psyched on it every single day that you wake up or else you will never, ever finish it. It takes so much energy, so much time, so much effort. The reward is intangible, itís not a bunch of money or universal acclaim. For me these are bands that I love and even though working on this was difficult, it was also exciting and it was always in interesting process I was happy to take on every day.
What was the hardest thing about putting this book together?
Without a doubt I think the most difficult thing was just narrowing it down and figuring out which bands to actually write about. If you tried to write about every band making music during that time in Canada youíd end up with an encyclopedia that would stretch out over multiple volumes. It sucks because when youíre the one making those decisions, you know youíre bestowing a level of importance on some bands. So when you donít include another band youíre worried that itís sort of like saying that they didnít matter, which isnít necessarily true. There are people who I interviewed for the book, but never made it in because the interviews didnít fit with the story I was trying to tell. Youíre telling the story of other peopleís lives and it was really difficult to make those decisions when I loved the band and talking to those people. But at the same time I did not want to write a book thatís 3000 pages, I wanted to write a concise story about the era. You just kind of hope in the end that people donít think youíre a huge jerk.
I know itís probably hard to pick, but does any interview stand out to you in particular?
Iím sure I do. My favourite interview was with someone who gave secondary stories and that was Duff McKagan from Guns Ní Roses and The Fartz, which was his old punk band. I was covering SXSW for work and I just sort of mentioned to him that I was working on the book. He lived in Seattle and I knew he was familiar with bands from BC like the Pointed Sticks, D.O.A. and the Subhumans. He just goes off talking about Teenage Head, D.O.A. and all these bands and Iím just thinking ĎIím talking to Duff McKagan from Guns Ní Fucking Roses right now.í That kind of sticks out in my head because I was just hanging out in Austin, Texas with this guy who was in music videos I watched as a kid. And we were just talking about some punk band from Hamilton, Ontario. That just completely blew my fucking mind.
Did you have the chance to do any traveling for the book?
Unfortunately with anything punk related thereís not a ton of money so most of the interviews were done by phone. I drove up to Hamilton a lot which is about 45 minutes outside of Toronto. A lot of the other cities Iíve had the chance to visit previously. I wasnít able to go to Winnipeg to talk to anybody in person, but Iíve been there before and was able to check out the Royal Albert.
Lastly, would you ever consider writing another book about some of the more recent eras of Canadian punk?
Yeah, absolutely. Iíve spent most of my life since high school until today writing about music, specifically punk, and specifically trying to champion different Canadian bands. Thereís a lot of other stories that still havenít been told here. Itís kind of crazy how much is in the book, but how much more is still left on the floor. I think a lot of the second wave Canadian bands are incredible and fascinating. Youíve got a band like The Nils from Montreal, who was an influence on everyone from Superchunk to the Goo Goo Dolls. And youíve got a band like Propagandh,i who formed in the Ď80s and is one of the greatest skate punk/thrash punk bands ever to grace the face of this fucking Earth. I loved putting this book together and Iíd love to do something to follow it up in some capacity.