Looking around the gritty office of Royal Mountain Records, one can’t help but notice the lack of gold records on the walls. “I think we’re close on Record in a Bag,” says Menno Versteeg, lead singer of indie-rockers Hollerado and Royal Mountain co-founder, referring to the band’s 2009 album. “I don’t care about the actual gold records, as trophies, but the accomplishment would be nice.”
It’s a shame, but Hollerado won’t likely make it to gold. After a dozen years, hundreds of high jinks and a multitude of shows, the cheerful pop-rock enthusiasts are calling it a day. But don’t cry for them, Manotick, Ont. (the band’s hometown). “We’re lucky to have gone this long,” says Versteeg, a boyish, unkempt and quick-to-smile type. “Good things must come to an end.”
Good things, and middling things, too. Hollerado, a Canadian alternative to Weezer, never won a Juno (despite four nominations) and you know about the lack of gold records. But they are beloved for their buoyant brand of music and an undying sense of camaraderie with their fan base and other musicians. In advance of a final album (Retaliation Vacation, due out on June 7) and a farewell tour to follow, the group’s just-out lead single is One Last Time, an exuberant Ramones-like invitation to dance and remember when. “Dreams got real,” sings Versteeg, flashing back through the years. “But real gets old.”
As does Versteeg. “I just turned, um, 39,” he says, when asked about his age. His bandmates – lead guitarist Nixon Boyd, bassist Dean Baxter and drummer Jake Boyd – are younger. “It’s not too late for them to start a new life and a new career. For me, I’m virtually unemployable anywhere outside of the music industry at this point.”
Versteeg is being modest. Royal Mountain Records, co-founded with Adam (Bix) Berger, may have began as a way to release Hollerado’s first album in 2009, but it has grown to become one of Toronto’s scrappiest and most successful labels and music-management companies. In addition to being home to PUP and indie darlings Alvvays, Royal Mountain has signed established acts Mac DeMarco, Metz and U.S. Girls, while specializing in developing emerging bands such as Montreal’s Anemone and Oshawa upstarts Dizzy.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Hollerado was just beginning themselves. Based in Montreal before moving to Toronto, the band developed a reputation for quirky self-promotion. The album Record in a Bag was so titled because of its nontraditional packaging. In 2010, the song Americanarama attracted attention for a music video that starred comedian Dave Foley and spoofed the clothier American Apparel. In 2011, a Meet the Mayor tour took Hollerado across the country connecting with magistrates from Vancouver to Sudbury, Ont.
“I’m not an idiot,” Versteeg says. “I realize the value of marketing. But the genesis of these ideas were truly from what we thought, as a band, would be fun.”
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We’re speaking in the rehearsal space on the main floor of a Toronto west-end building owned by Hollerado and Royal Mountain. Versteeg says it was purchased as a “sound investment” in the rugged “up-and-coming” neighbourhood at Runnymede Avenue and Dundas Street West. Upstairs is an office. Boxes of vinyl are everywhere. Disused in a hallway sits an old Arkanoid video-arcade game. “Life’s too short,” says Versteeg, a go-getter in a slacker’s guise of track pants, hoodie and unwashed hair. “We all want to do different things and experience something new.”
What the band will remember is not just the promotions that worked, but the stunts that went wrong. Once, when they forgot their equipment for a show in Winnipeg, they decided to rescue the gig by air-banding (pretending to play imaginary instruments) to one of their CDs. Of the 150 fans in attendance, all but a couple of dozen diehards left after three songs. When it was time to pay the band for their “performance,” the promoter mimed the doling out of cash. “It was embarrassing,” Versteeg recalls.
Then there was 2009’s infamous residency tour, which involved seven bars, seven cities and seven days a week – and 11,000 kilometres of driving in the dead of winter to make it happen. “It’s the only time we called our booking agent, crying and asking him to cancel the tour,” Versteeg says. “We were young, we were drinking, we were hung-over, we were exhausted and we had no idea where we were at times.”
Still, Versteeg has no regrets. “Over the band’s lifespan, we got to see things on this planet in a really amazing way, and make amazing friends and make music we’re proud of. We’re pretty lucky.”
He’s right. Most bands never get near the modest success of Hollerado. Leaving Versteeg and the Royal Mountain building, I look around. There’s a dive bar to my right and a 7-11 store on my left. An old-school burger joint is across the road. What else do four guys in an indie-rock band need? Something else, apparently.
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