Paint Can You Hear Me? interview with Robb Johannes by Jason Schneider of the Waterloo Record

Paint work with a variety of musical colours and textures

by Jason Schneider
June 9, 2010

What's in a name? One might be thoroughly justified in asking that when it comes to Toronto band Paint. But according to the quartet's driving force, singer/songwriter Robb Johannes, the only intention behind choosing Paint as a name was the hope that it would be instantly memorable.

The same philosophy could be applied to the bandís sound, which combines the powerful guitars of Johannes and Waterloo native Mandy Dunbar, with solid pop songcraft and socially conscious lyrics. Although Paint's current album, Can You Hear Me?, features the band's original lineup, formed when Johannes was based in Vancouver, he says that since relocating to Toronto he feels the new coat of Paint, as it were, is poised to carry his musical vision even further.

"I'd been on the scene in Vancouver since I was 14, playing in various bands," Johannes explains. "As much as I love the city and all of the talented people there, there are so many barriers in terms of a band becoming a viable live entity. Just to be somewhere that allowed a greater ease to tour was really the main reason why I wanted to move to Toronto."

Johannes adds that since his arrival late last year, there's been a snowball effect of interest building around Paint, something he hopes will intensify after the band's North By Northeast Festival showcase on June 19. It's entirely likely they will win a lot of new fans, given that their sound is an almost perfect blend of classic-rock crunch and contemporary-rock smarts. One early review went so far as to describe them as Rush-meets-Sonic Youth, which after listening to Can You Hear Me? isn't that far off the mark.

"It bothered me at first getting compared to Rush," Johannes says. "I appreciate what they do, but I'm not exactly a fan. What I've always been more influenced by is the British shoegazer scene of the '90s -- that wall of distortion -- and trying to make sense of that with some folk elements."

Johannes admits that his early songwriting attempts came from an infatuation with Bob Dylan's work, although now he's tried to distance himself from making grandiose political statements. "I think people can relate to experiences more than abstract ideas," Johannes says. "It forces the listener to put themselves in that position and sometimes face up to the fact that they would have made the same decisions in whatever the situation you're writing about is."

The turning point for Johannes came during a period when he ran workshops for Vancouver prisoners. One involved a childhood friend who had committed double murder. "Realizing we were both running around causing the same s---, yet he took that extra step and I didn't, really shocked me," he says.

"I kept doing the workshops for some time after that, and while they were rewarding, they were also really emotionally draining. I couldn't give all I wanted to the band, so I had to make a conscious choice to redirect that energy into my art. That work will always be there, but I feel this is the time in my twenties to go off and have fun playing rock and roll."

Live: Paint w/ 40 Sons; Saturday, June 12; Maxwell's Music House, Waterloo; Cost: $7; Show Time: 9 p.m.; More Info: 519-498-5705

The original text of this article can be found at The Waterloo Record.