Interview with Joel French!

If you live in Toronto and have any knowledge of the music scene in the city then you've probably heard of Joel French.

Not only does he play in a plethora of great bands, but he's also one of the busiest promoters these days. I caught up with Joel over... well, to be honest, Facebook, and picked his brain a bit about what he does! Check it out!

You’ve been/you are in many bands… name them all:
I've only been a "musician" for a few years now. My first band was The Get Nuns. I sang really obscene lyrics and spat on people mostly. … oh and I dressed in drag. Now I sing in Pink Wine and play guitar in Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs as well as Sphinxs.

What came first, the promoting or the playing?
The playing. I moved to Toronto about 5 years ago into a house (81 Markham) with a bunch of pals from Sudbury and we started The Get Nuns as a joke band. We were a little more into substance abuse back then than we are now and it lead to a lot of bad ideas. This bad idea just happened to turn out alright because the people got into our live show.

Why’d you get into promoting?
Believe it or not I got into promoting thanks to local mega-promoter Mark Pesci. I used to DJ random nights at 751 years ago and Pesci (who I had known for a bit because of him booking The Get Nuns) asked me to take over for him for a night at Parts and Labour. It was a St-Patrick's day show with Get Nuns and Hate Gang. That was the first show I ever booked. Since then I've probably booked close to 100 shows at several different venues including CMW and NxNe showcases. Nothing like realizing how many shows you've actually booked through an interview question!

You studied Journalism? Why not go for something along those lines, or do you on the side?
That's a long story that I'll make very short. Studied in Sudbury. Lived with girlfriend of 5 years. Worked for a year at Sudbury Star. Relationship ended. Moved to Toronto for something new. I still write plenty. Just on my own terms. Deadlines are the worst.

If you had to choose between promoting or being in a band and playing, which would you choose?
At this point they kind of go hand in hand for me. I'm trying to move away from promoting shows that my bands actually play so maybe in a year or two I'll actually recognize a divide. Who knows?!? I used to have to dig around for locals to play my shows when I was starting out. Now that I know the scene and it's frequenters a little more it's a lot easier to just pull a show together last minute. The Toronto Art/Music scene is actually pretty tiny! As for shows, It's always been real easy to just get up and play a show last minute, though! There is not a single role I play in any band that actually requires talent let alone concentration! Kidding. But not really.

How do you select the bands for each show?
At this point I usually have someone approach me (either the band or a friend of theirs) to ask if I've got anything going on when they will be around or if I'd mind slapping something together for them. From there it really depends. If the band has a big enough draw on their own then I gear the show around them (pull in similar bands even if it's from the same social circle) but if it's a band that might not draw so well then my goal is to try and build a line-up consisting of bands from different social groups. Just to get more people out to experience it all. That's just for my own shows though! I've been working more and more with Pesci on events and a lot of the times he's already got people lined up for it so from there we just figure out who would be rad to open.

How often do you add one of your own bands to the line up?
It has happened quite a bit actually. I'm trying to step back from that because even though I truly enjoy promoting it really comes down to not mixing business with pleasure. There is always an extra element of stress and expectation when my own band is playing. Plus, I'd never want anyone who is asking me to put on a show to think I favour my own bands over anyone else on the bill. I've booked us as headliners as well as openers for shows. Really depends on the mood of the show.

Do you ever throw bands that you hate on a bill?
I've done that twice but to be fair I didn't know I hated them till I got there and heard them. That was me being a dumb/lazy promoter. Without naming anybody there have been two shows where friends have asked me to put them up and they wanted to play with such and such band. I said cool and regretted it. I don't/won't do that anymore. I'm always sure to check out all the bands before agreeing to have them!! Trial and error.

Who does all your show posters? Same person? They all look really cool.
Thanks!! I do them all myself with fountain pens and dipping ink. I've been doodling for a few years now and am really happy with the style I've landed on. It's nothing fancy but it's my own. I'm actually working on 10 large pieces that I will be putting up for show and sale this summer. It will be my first art show! Apart from my own show posters I've done several other things for friends bands (artwork for Non-Stop Girls and Nature Boys as well as show posters for shows I'm not even invalid in) so if anyone want to get some artwork done for cheap just send me a boosh!

Do you think the moustache has helped you further your career as a promoter in any way?
HA! Probably. This city seems to love their characters and it certainly almost turns me into a cartoon of a man! These days I don't even have the mustachio all the time. I shave it at will. I do what I want. I used to walk around in a yellow toque and mustache and people would always comment on it or what not. I don't need that anymore. I'll let the shows speak for themselves. And I'm enough of a cartoon as is. I don't need to accessorize.

Are you worried about people coming to kick Paul’s ass at your Ketamines show in June?
Anyone who has met Paul Lawton knows it would almost be impossible to actually show up, meet him and want to fight him. I met Paul because my bands and his bands played shows together and he runs a wicked label called Mammoth Cave which one of my bands has been interested in getting on for some time now *wink wink* and he is genuinely the nicest dude. Easy going, intelligent, all smiles, good times.

What do you think about his blog?
There's nothing I can say that hasn't already been said. The shit is blowing up all over the internet. When I first read it I thought it was hilarious and was just hoping that my band would get reviewed! Once he dropped that FACTOR article though, wow, that was a game changer. I commend him on what he is doing and how he is handling it. The man has played for years and seen the country over. He knows what he is talking about.

What’s your deal with Crawford?
Jasmine is the owner there and I love her to pieces! She has allowed me to put on shows, DJ nights, birthday parties, you name it! The thing with Crawford is it's not known at all as a punk bar or even a live show bar but they have a great set-up for it. The basement is rad when it's packed as it was for my CMW showcase and will be for my NxNe one coming up.

Have you gone out and asked for these venues or are they coming to you to put on shows for them?
For Crawford, Jasmine asked me to start putting on events there. I used to do them a lot more than I do now but with 3 bands to play in, a full time job, a relationship, artwork, other shows to promote and just general life I don't have time to do as much there anymore. I still love it when I do though! As for parts and labour that's usually pesci who has something come up he wants to team up on. Same with magpie. Most other venues (Izakayia Sushi House, 460, Silver Dollar, Hard Luck, Bovine) I usually have to approach them and see if they have available dates. You can't just always throw shows at the same spot because people will get bored. This is Toronto after all. Home of the jaded "what's next" crowd!!

Most epic show you’ve ever booked?
For me personally, as in the best line-up I've ever booked, was my CMW showcase this year. I had my friends from all over the country (and one from the US) come play. Sonic Avenues, Teenanger, Steve Adamyk Band, Mystics, First Base, Boats, Ultimatemost High and of course I threw on Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs on there because, well, fuck it. Why not right??!

How’d you get the Rancid after party? Are they attending?
The Rancid afterparty isn't locked in 100% because it's over NxNe so Darryl (from Bovine) and I are trying to work something out over it. The reason it came about is I recently did an afterparty for the Bad Religion/Bronx show which went really well. Place was rammed and the bands showed up to party. Can't ask for more.

Is it safe to say that punk is your genre of choice?
I grew up on 90's punk. Epitaph, Fat Wreck Chords, Honest Don's, Nitro, etc… these are the labels I followed religiously in my teens. It's the reason I throw a 90's pop-punk party every now and again. Now in my life I'd say my genre of choice is pop. Power-pop even more so. My record collection has a little bit of everything in it, that's for sure, but I always seem to be most drawn to pop. No matter what it is though it's always better when there is a bit of punk influence in it. Pop hooks sound best when they are hidden in the dirt.

How do you decide how much money to take from your shows?
I work the majority of my shows the same way. Bands split the door after I pay out my doorgirl. Once I get over $100 for each band through the door then I take door cut. If we don't make that much then a lot of the time I either don't get paid at all or the bar pays me out with a percentage of sales. There have been some shows where everyone in attendance was on bands guestlists and so NO ONE got paid. Those shows suck for everyone involved…..except the guestlisters, I guess.

Are you making a living off of it?
I can't say yes and I can't say no. The reason for it is a spend money like it's all I have to do in life. I work full time but I'm pretty sure that if that ever fell flat I could hustle enough to keep a roof over my head and some Mr. Noodles in a pot with this promoting stuff!!

You got to sing pop punk with the Bronx and Bad Religion at one of your shows right?

Yeah! That ruled. They played here last month and I did the afterparty at Bovine. I saw all the dudes from Bronx singing along to Less Than Jake and Lagwagon tunes!!! I didn't personally see anyone from Bad Religion but people told me they were there in the front room that night! I was DJing so I couldn't roam around at will. If you would have told me 10 years ago that I'd be playing my favourite pop punk tunes for those guys I would have cried on the spot…then denied it. Cause my pink mohawk meant I was a man haha Now I just think it's rad and hopefully i get the chance to do it again!

Is that kind of thing payoff enough even if you got no $ from the deal?
Totally!! I know I look all manly and rugged and serious *cough* most of the time but I'm really just a super nerdy and easy going, happy kind of guy. Sometimes shows don't go so well and I start getting bummed because of either no payout for bands or sound was shit or technical issues or personal issues but what always saves the day is seeing people smiling and dancing. At the end of it all, when all the bands have stopped and I'm just playing music for whoever is left over, whether it be Motown hits, 70's punk classics or even Meatloaf, people having a good time means I'm doing my job right. That's really what everyone is there for right? To have a blast with people they love and/or to fall in love with new people/bands.
What kind of person do you need to be to excel as a promoter?
I wouldn't say I excel at it. I don't have any spread sheets or anything ;) Get it? An Excel joke. Womp. I'd say stay firm, don't be a dick, don't be selfish and always be transparent. Bands and fans need to know exactly what they are getting into. No one likes a shitty surprise. This question would probably be better suited for the more established promoters in the city like Pesci, Dan Burke, Ewan Exall, Craig Laskey…..those dudes have been doing it forever and rule at it.

What advice do you have for somebody who wants to get to where you’re at with promoting?
Nike can sue me but I'd say just do it! If you have a band you want to see and they don't come here then message them and ask them if they want to. They will either say yes, no or not right now. 2 of this possible 3 answers means you might get to see them soonish. So why the fuck not?