Hi Chad. Where, when and how did Vacant Lot form? Were you all native Torontonians?
Paul & I were already playing & writing music together with like-minded individuals, did a few gigs under other names but it just never took. Really, it just started over a pint in our favourite local.
What was the skinhead scene like in Toronto in the 80s and early 90s? In the early 90s, the ARA and various right-wing groups were all over the media – what was it like being part of a scene that was under so much scrutiny? What was the musical and political landscape of the era?
The early to mid-’80s was great. Some of the best times of our lives, meeting new people in which was a fairly new subculture for us. All the great music that was coming out etc… Then when the politics hi-jacked it, it divided a lot of people & for me personally, it was never the same. Wasn’t easy navigating the landmines for the band.
What bands were big influences on you guys? I hear a lot of similarities to The Crack and mid 80’s era Business. Were there many other active Oi!/skinhead-related bands in the area at the time?
Ya, luved both those bands but for me & for the most part, I can safely speak for Paul. It was when I first heard “The Cockney Rejects” which led to other bands like “Red Alert” “Blitz” etc… that we wanted to give it a go ourselves & now we’re pretty close friends with most of them thru touring over the yrs with different bands especially the boys from “Red Alert”. The only other band I knew of back then who were close to what we were doing was Gassenhauer from Montreal but we didn’t know them & to be honest, I never heard any similarities between the two of us.
How were live gigs for Vacant Lot – any memorable stories/highlights?
There’s a few but the one that sticks out for me was “Mid-west Punk Fest” in Detroit w/The Rogues & ALD.
While you were only active for a few years, Vacant Lot managed to record the first Canadian Oi! LP and it’s an absolute banger and still holds up as one of the best Canadian ones to date. How did the record come to be put out on the controversial Rock-O-Rama label? Do you think the label choice may have been an obstacle for the band? Were there any regrets after the fact? Has it ever been reissued?
We knew they were putting out political records but they were the only label offering at the time. Us never having a record contract before as well as being young & naive at the time jumped at the chance thinking it wouldn’t really affect us as we weren’t a political band. How wrong we were as no punk bands would play or share the stage with us after that. I knew that was the beginning of the end. Yes, ROR has re-issued it twice (without our permission). Most recently in 2017 on Orange vinyl. They’ve done the same with “The Rogues” as well. Thieving bastards still robbing us from the grave. We’ve never received a penny & don’t want his money anyways. Hope the cunt’s rotting in his own private hell. That’s all I got to say about that.
I’d imagine that considering how strong your sound was, there would have eventually been opportunities to gig in Europe etc. What caused the split of the band?
We’d lost our drummer (Wayne) due to Griffin’s ever-growing political leanings towards the far right. Paul & I wanted to give it one more shot. We didn’t really know anyone to replace Wayne so Griffin said he knew a guy & tbh I personally don’t remember if we even rehearsed with him, I think he just knew the songs. We had a 2 set show booked on a Sunday night at “Call the Office” in London, Ontario. We played the first set with no hitch, went on to play the second one & though there wasn’t any coming from the crowd, someone approached Paul and I afterward to tell us our drummer was throwing up the Heil Hitler salute between drum beats. Right then & there Paul & I said almost in unison that it’s done. It was that simple.
After Vacant Lot finished, you went on to form Bitter Grin which to me sounds like a band that you built on the sound of Vacant Lot with, and you were also around longer with a more beefed up discography. What do you feel were the main differences between those bands, and how was the reaction to Bitter Grin compared to Vacant Lot? Are you more proud of one project than the other at all?
Yes, Bitter Grin was very much built on the sound of VL due to Paul & I writing 95% of it. Though Griffin will tell you different (chuckles to self), he only had a hand in helping write 2 songs being “Cheers To You” & “At The Border”. We grew musically with Bitter Grin though the 1st one turned into more of an experiment imo only knowing we wanted to stay in the genre but at the same time distance ourselves from how VL ended. The 2nd release was more directional when we brought in some talented musicians we knew growing up (Pat Ferrigan, Corey Atreo, JP McDonald, Justin McWilliams & the list goes on) However, the 3rd release that’s still shelved to this day due to lack of production is the one that could’ve possibly brought us to another level, our best to date imo. Lack of money has it collecting dust. Hopefully one day we can dig it out. We rode a great wave with BG touring the US and Europe but that 3rd release (unreleased) project being shelved took the wind out of us (too long a story to get into, there were many reasons)
Can you tell us about Class Assassins and the band’s involvement with Insurgence Records?
I took a kind of hiatus from playing music for a while until the boys which came to be known as “The Class Assassins” come calling. It was basically an idea that Dan Farr (Hockey Teeth) started. He wanted to form a band with all his favourite (old school) musicians. I was the last member to join though it took a lot of convincing on Dan’s part as I didn’t want to just join a typical generic hardcore band which I thought it would be. I said make me a practice tape & I’ll let you know. It wasn’t anything like I expected so off we went. Did some demos & a 7″ on “Soap & Spikes Records”. I was mates with some of the boys from “Insurgence” already thru them attending TCA shows. We did what’s now known as the “No Justice” 7″ & then “TKO Records” responded well to our demos & then co-released the full-length “State of Emergency” with Insurgence.
More recently – you’ve started a new band, Vacant Rogues. Can you tell us more about the band?
Yes, we’re all very excited about this new project. It’s made up of ex Vacant Lot/Rogues & of course, “Sunderland Pete” (ex roadie/tour manager of Red Alert) who co-fronts the band on vocals along with me. As we’ve maintained our friendships over the yrs, it just happened one drunken weekend near the border of Michigan & Indiana. Our first release is a 4 song EP called “Brothers in Arms” on KB Records (Germany) Nov 27th and will be available thru our website shortly afterward to distribute in N. America.
What do you make of the current Oi! and skinhead scene of today – any newer bands that you rate?
Haven’t really been out lately due to this Covid-19 thing so hard to say. There’s a lot of good new stuff out there eg: The Mistakes UK, The Divided (ex Bonecrusher), The Berzerkers, Riotgun etc…
If you could, what would you say are your all-time top 10 influential albums?
Top ten in no particular order:
Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks
The Clash – s/t
The Clash – London Calling
Cocksparrer – Shock Troops
Cockney Rejects – Greatest Hits Vol.2
The Ruts – The Crack
The Damned – Black Album
Stiff Little Fingers – Nobody’s Heroes
The Jam – Setting Sons
Killing Joke – s/t
There’s defo a few honourable mentions which I could throw in but the list would be so long.
How is the current Toronto scene – any pubs, record shops etc you’d recommend checking out to visitors?
Again, there’s no live music due to Covid-19 but I generally shop for my stuff @ Kops Records on Queen st. West. Neurotica Records is very good as is “She Said Boom &” Rotate This”.