CMJ Interview The Can’t Tells

Q&A: The Can’t Tells Premiere Video For “Drugstore”

Plus, chatting about the band’s new album, romanticizing New York, and bacon-wrapped meatloaf

August 21, 2013  |  By 

Photo by Will Rahilly
No matter how much yoga you do, sometimes you’re just gonna have a bad day. You know how it is: you wake up a little hungover, pile on your fur garments even though it’s summer and get whacked with a payphone before everyone throws ballons at you—or something. That’s what happens in The Can’t Tells’ new video for their single “Drugstore.” Well, that’skind of what happens, but—let’s be honest—I’m kind of half-assing this description. There’s also a limping guy, angry mobs, fake blood and confetti.

The Can’t Tells are based in Bushwick, Brooklyn (which makes sense once you see how often they complain about Optimum internet service on their Twitter) and are making grunge catchy. “Drugstore” is pretty consistently sing-along-able, but its aggressively scrubbed reverb and clattering drums make it a nice soundtrack for yelling into the abyss like Natalie Portman or going on an angry jog like the hairy dude in the video. It’s good. The Can’t Tells’ debut LP,No Television, drops October 22 via Medical Records. I talked to guitarist/bassist/vocalist Blaze McKenzie about writing the album, balancing work-work and music-work, and his cholesterol. I’m not sure if it’s journalistically unethical to say this, but he’s fun to talk to. Check out the video premiere of “Drugstore” and our banter, below.

Let’s start by talking a little bit about your video for “Drugstore.” How did the idea for it come about?
I don’t like videos that necessarily illustrate exactly what the lyrics are saying, but in the chorus “I can do it too, even though it’s cold outside,” something about the idea of someone being up against some unknown opposition and overcoming it. And the idea of him running in winter gear during the summer makes it sort of nonsensical. I don’t know, it’s sort of about the absurdity of it. Then there’s the guy not ever really understanding why whatever is happening to him is happening to him. It’s just sort of like a fever dream. I’m not sure. Sometimes it’s just stream of consciousness bullshit.

Was it a group decision on how the video was going to play out?
I met the director, Austin Kerns, and we just kind of started spitballing ideas. I gave him that idea and then we found this actor, who is just sort of a loose cannon. He’s an amateur actor; I’m not sure if that’s the proper wording for it. He claims to be “method,” but really he’s just nuts. We had a makeup artist and he would not leave character, he would be grunting and spitting at her—just totally absurd. Barking at the people on street going by. We tried to tailor it a little bit to him and how he’s over-the-top.

Was he supposed to be playing a crazy person?
He goes out on the run and he wasn’t really supposed to be anything. He might have a motive but it’s not really clear. Out of nowhere the woman beats him with the telephone, he’s attacked by random people and he’s just immediately in a state of shock. The way we’ve made videos, we start with this idea and no one has any idea where it’s going to go we just have the basic, ‘Okay there’s gonna be some blood, there’s going to be a golf club hitting him at some point and we just want him to sustain a lot injuries.’ I guess at that point I was into the brutality of some film and I just wanted to make it a brutal thing.

Toward the end of the video when he’s limping down the street it reminds me a lot ofThe Shining because it’s the exact same limp Jack Nicholson has.
Yes, I love it. The Shining is in my top five favorite movies of all time. I still close my eyes when the two girls pop up.

Did you think about The Shining when you were filming it or was the actor just kind of going for his own thing?
I think not directly, but Stanley Kubrick does a lot of long shots and there are tons of long shots in this video, so that’s always sort of a point of reference for me. I get turned on by that. Yeah, probably. I mean, we shot it a while ago, maybe nine months ago, so I’ve forgotten a lot of the details. We’re actually shooting another video today. I’m kind of a little hazy on some details. It was a really draining two days. You could give the actor directions, but ultimately he was just going to do what he wanted to do, and I think it works.

Can you tell me what you’re shooting today [Monday]?
We’re shooting a video for the title track off the record, “No Television.” It’s hard to describe…well, it’s not that hard. Basically, someone turns on the TV and it’s a mixture of a performance videos shot against a green screen. We’re not sure where we’re gonna be playing. I’m really psyched about us playing in outer space, I think that’d be cool. But there’s gonna be a person changing channels. We’ve got a workout show, a TV evangelical preacher healing people, we’ve got a children’s storybook hour TV show, we got a Miami Vice sort of scene. We’ve got seven or eight vignettes just going back and forth, and it’s pretty ridiculous because—I’m oddly shaped I suppose, and really tall, our drummer is particularly hairy I guess, and he likes to take his clothes off. That’s going to be the second single, if I’m not mistaken. We also shot another video three weeks ago, finished this week for a song called “Insincere,” that’s pretty fucking absurd. Basically, it’s a take on Hansel And Gretel where we go out shopping in the market as a band and we’re slowly walking and two of us are casting sinister glances at the other. We’re plotting to cook our drummer, which we do, and we prepare him like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Does he take his clothes off?
Oh yeah, he’s nude with cabbage leaves over his special bits. Yeah, we feast on him and hang his head above our mantel and have beers and smoke a pipe. Basically, all I want from any of these music videos is to disturb the other band members’ mothers. I want them to think, ‘What have we done? Who have we let our babies share an apartment with?’

So your upcoming album, No Television, do you think that has that same dark side as well? 
I don’t think it’s really even really a conscious effort. During the writing process, things we’re reading, personal life, living in New York, getting bogged down, frustrated, maybe in relationships or lack thereof, books I was reading—I was reading lots of Roberto Bolaño, and I felt that totally influenced certain things. And also the music I’ve been listening to. I’ve kind of focused on a couple artists for no particular reason. Maybe it’s not because of that and it’s more that I’m seeking that out. I think there’s definitely…it’s not a bummer dark mess. It’s not hopeless. I think there’s hope. It’s like hopeful music inspired by desperation or something. That sounds cheesy.

What was your process like making the album?
We started about a year and a half ago. We really quickly wrote it. We’d been playing shows for a while as a band with a different style. Our sound was a little bit softer, more laid-back, slower tempos. Then all of a sudden we wrote five songs in this new sort of vein that was faster, sweatier, a little thrashier. We were like, ‘Okay sweet, let’s put out an EP,’ and then we talked to a couple labels and ended up signing with Medical Records out of England and they were like, ‘Let’s do a full album.’ We recorded five songs and then we went back and recorded like six more and ultimately chose ten total. So that spanned probably about a year recording. I sing and play guitar and bass, the other singer always plays guitar and bass. We split lead vocals half and half and guitar and bass half and half. We mixed it. Recorded it ourselves. We had it mastered. And now it’s actually happening, it’s weird.

Do you all live together?
We do. We’ve lived together for five and a half years at this point. And the two other guys lived together for like two and half years before that, so they’re basically in a common law marriage. It’s an interesting dynamic. I don’t know if everyone could do that. The things that you get pissed off about, we’ve already reached all of those points. Like ‘You don’t clean the bathroom, you leave dishes in the sink.’ And the things you get upset about on tour are pretty similar to that, and we know how to get over those issues. It’s been good. We’re best buds.

On your Facebook you describe No Television as an “elegiac tone poem to life as a group of scrappy late twenty-somethings in Brooklyn.” Do you mean you’re mourning something specific about living in Brooklyn as a late twenty-something?
I moved here having totally romanticized late ’70s, early ’80s downtown music scene and cheap lofts, drug addicts everywhere, too dangerous to be a good idea, but all of this great music coming out of it. Then I get to New York and it’s been difficult finding a scene if you don’t subscribe to a certain style or something. It can just be difficult. In New York, you see trends develop really quickly and you see them pass really quickly. For whatever reason, we feel like we’ve been pushing this thing that people could really latch on to. Jon and I, the drummer and I, have a crutch, a nostalgic crutch. We’re constantly reminiscing about music we grew up on in the ’90s and wanting to feel that from bands. I think that kind of that comes with having to work long hours at a day job. We all just hustle constantly. Everyone’s got multiple jobs. You just got to fit this thing—the only thing that makes me happy really—you have to fit it into the little in-betweens. It can get really tiring, but boo-hoo, you know, whatever. We recorded a record and we’re proud of it.

So you guys currently have a residency at Pianos. Do you like consistently playing the same venue every week?
Yeah, it’s actually nice. Say you’re only playing shows once every three weeks, or once a month in a city if you’re worried about over saturating. Or if you’re playing different venues every week. Every time you play though, it can be an exciting thing if you haven’t been playing really frequently. But if you’re on tour playing every night for three weeks you’re able to hone in and find things that excite you and that are going to make things more exciting for the audience and you’re able to keep this backlog memories from your previous that shows and what made those shows good. Like, can we take the energy higher here? Where can we loosen up and where can we tighten up? But getting the same room every week—although we’ve had different sound guys every week, so it’s like we’re starting at ground zero—it can be really nice. You find out where your guitar sounds good. Where I can kick my feet around and not veer into the crowd.

So after your album comes out what’s next?
We’re beginning to book two small tours. One going down the east coast and one going out into the midwest, out to Chicago and then back. Instead of going out and tackling 25 cities, a lot of which we probably would have never played before. We’re trying to focus on the cities we’ve been playing consistently like Baltimore, Philly, D.C., Boston, Northampton, Rochester, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and zeroing in and trying to get something else going. I don’t if it’s luck or whatever, but you can go back and play a city five times in five months and you don’t necessarily see a growing crowd; it takes something else. I think we’re trying to focus in and build a crowd in each of those bigger cities before we try and fill in the smaller gaps. I’m from Oklahoma City and O.C. isn’t necessarily the first choice for a lot bands’ tours. Statistically speaking, you’re going to play to an empty room unless you get some sort of press beforehand. It’s weird. The whole music machine is still something I’m completely baffled by.

I think most people are. Also on your Facebook, you posted a photo of this big rectangle thing of bacon. You called it a “bacon bombsplosion.” What is that?
Laughs. That was a regret I think. My cholesterol is bad. I’m a bartender also and that was a family meal one day. It was the most decadent bacon wrapped meatloaf with cheddar cheese.

Sounds gross. Do you run the Can’t Tells Twitter? Because you have a tweet about hating Arrested Development more than any other show ever.
The Twitter we kind of all take turns at. Jon has his own Twitter so, Mike, the other singer—if a tweet has anything to do with pasta it’s Mike. The guy eats a freakish amount of carbs. If it’s Jon or me it’s typically something more vulgar.