About this Playlist
Within a week of adding the track “Underdog” from Canadian post-punk rock band ON’s self-titled debut album to my indie music discovery playlist Amp the Alt, I found myself chatting with guitarist Steve Fall on Instagram. Before Steve knew it, or quite possibly before I did, we’d agreed to an interview about ON — a fantastic three-piece band that also includes the talented vocalist/bassist Lucy Di Santo and drummer Dan Cornelius — and their 2022 self-titled album. The above playlist showcases some of ON’s powerful and passionate music, as well as music from bands that Steve Fall mentions during our chat.
The following transcript of my interview with ON band guitarist Steve Fall has been edited to remove all of our ums and ahs, which were shockingly abundant, yet happily absent of a single eh, considering we’re both Canadian.
Jane Asylum: ON’s last tour was August 2022, in Ontario, I believe, and you’ve got one coming up in February 2023…
Steve Fall: Yeah, we did Ontario. We’re from Toronto, so we typically play the 401 Corridor, which is basically a big highway system that goes along the Trans-Canada Highway. Typically, we do an extensive Ontario tour to warm up. We’re doing another 40 shows starting February 14th, 2023.
We’re pretty hands-on. We do everything ourselves. We manage the band ourselves. We have our own record label, Indiestructable Records. We have a publicist, Shauna McLarnon from Shameless Promotions PR, and we have a booking agent, Sean Padilla from Happy Nomad Booking, out of Charlotte, North Carolina.
But in the studio, it’ll be ourselves and a fellow named Darius Szczepaniak at Phase One Studios and another fellow, Drew Howard, down in Fort Myers, Florida. We like to go to Florida when we can just cuz the weather’s fantastic.
Jane: Snow-birding? Very Canadian of you.
Steve: Yeah, I mean we have winter, so, we’re like, why are we suffering here? We could be in the sun, we could be recording music, playing gigs. So, we discovered Star Sound Studio in Cape Coral. Drew is a hip-hop producer, but he comes from a hardcore punk background and he kind of understood our funky ways.
You made your record in Florida, then?
We started making our record, and with the pandemic, it was difficult because they kept closing the border. We had gone down there twice when they closed the border and opened it up again. So, it took forever. And once you start your record in one spot, you want to finish it there, but when Omicron hit, we decided to return to Toronto, stay put and finish.
So that’s a really different experience, not what you’d usually do as a band?
Like not at all. Not at all. Yeah. It happened that way organically. We were already separated. Dan lived in the States and so we weren’t doing anything. Lucy said, “I want to make another rock record and go on tour again. I want to get ON back together and I said let’s get ahold of Dan.
This is before the pandemic?
Right. We jammed in Manhattan, there’s a studio there called Funkadelic Studios, right in Times Square. It doesn’t get any better than that. You just show up, you spend 50 bucks, you go into a room — and they’ve got all the equipment — and we just jammed out, played our old songs, our old set. And Dan said let’s start writing and so we wrote back and forth on File Share.
Lucy was in school at the time, but suggested I go to Dan’s for a week in New York to see what comes out of it. Dan and I would take a guitar, go to a convenience store, walk downtown with our coffees and we’d just people watch, you know, watch all the lights and watch all the people, get a lyric, get some ideas. We’d rap a little bit to our ideas with the phones, you know, anything we could, and we’d send them back to Lucy in Canada. We continued doing that after I returned to Toronto, and then we all went down to Florida for a vacation and started tracking the record.
Once we had enough songs, we decided to start playing live again. So we went back to Toronto, played a couple of gigs, and that’s when the pandemic started.
We actually had a band from England, friends of ours, play the Toronto date with us. Rob Holliday, who plays with The Prodigy, has a solo project called Sulpher and he was in ON years ago. He didn’t believe that there was a pandemic. Rob’s like, “What are you talking about? Are we gonna do more dates?” I said, “They shut down the world. You gotta fly. You’re not gonna get home.” So, they went back to England.
We also played with A Primitive Evolution, from Toronto, friends of ours, local band, and Phantom High, another local band, but that was shut down for two years, so we went back down to Florida to get as much of the record done again and we finished in June 2022.
And here we are.
We’re doing 40 shows starting February 14th, and we finish off in March 2023. We’ll be doing California, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon, I’m not saying the right order, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and Idaho. We get airplay out of Idaho, so we definitely wanna hit Boise. After that, we’ll try to get dates in Europe, and we’re looking at summer for that.
Exciting, exciting that you might be in my area. I’d love to see you live. To step back a bit, I didn’t know that you, Lucy and Dan had been together so long. Your self-titled album ON came out in 2022, I didn’t see any press about your history or any other singles or albums on streaming services.
Yeah, we, we kind of kept that kind of quiet just because ON began pre-internet, right? And, you know, we thought, well, coming back now is like we’re a brand-new band. So, we decided let’s just keep that a mystery. And anybody who might’ve enquired about it, we’ll tell them.
Well, that cat’s out of the bag. How did ON get started?
ON started out after Lucy and I finished touring with our band Acid Test, in ’94 or ’95. You know, you sit at home for about a month and you go, now what? We had just left Warner Brothers and Lucy wanted to keep playing, but with a stripped-down sound and I wanted to do some writing. So, we started writing.
We also eventually got another guitar player and we went through a few guitar players, Gordon Riley, Bill Hermans, who engineered some of our Acid Test recordings and ON demos, and Eric Ratz.
That’s sort of the history of most rock bands. You’ll go through members and eventually you’ll land on some, and it just stays consistent. And even though Dan was in another band and making his living as a session drummer, he always made ON his priority. He never missed a gig.
So Lucy and I were still doing Acid Test and had started doing another indie project called Interstate when we put ON on a hiatus back then. Dan eventually went overseas and started playing with Danko Jones. Lucy went back to University. We kind of all just went our own separate ways. But in 2019, 2020, that’s when Lucy wanted to reactivate ON again.
How was that? I mean working together in the 90s and getting the band back together 20 or so years later? Specifically, I want to touch on collaboration, which is a big part of the musicto community. It sounds like the three of you collaborate really well together. Was it always like…
Well, you know, that’s actually a good topic because it took a long time to get to that point. We all had to learn that skill — in other bands as well as our own. Dan being a drummer, he’s an arranger, he’s a lyricist, he writes guitar music, he’s a fantastic collaborative team member, and you know he designed our shopping cart, which we’re unveiling, which is actually on Spotify. We’ve got like a whole merchandising store with all of our designs of our t-shirts. Dan did all of that and collaborated with Lucy and me. He built the ON website at onmusic.ca. I built indiestructablerecords.com. It’s all with the three of us dialed in and collaborating, you know?
It’s been really easy to learn these skills and at this point in time, with everything being so digital, if you wanna be a band and make music, you have to collaborate, and not just as musicians, you have to also collaborate as entrepreneurs today, unfortunately. Or fortunately.
I don’t like to oversell us or anything, but we do have to do all of these platforms ourselves and it’s hard to stay on top of it, but we’re at a point where we do it the way we want to. We make records when we feel like it, we put it out with our team, and it’s really honest, you know.
That’s the main thing I can say is that the three of us are bringing everything to the table. So when you’re seeing the artwork or you’re seeing a lyric, or you’re hearing a guitar part, it’s really been nurtured by the three of us.
Right. Interesting, because ON, your self-title album is very diverse, like…
…like it’s composed of pieces of all of you, your experiences, interests. I love that. I love the diversity of sound. And listening to your album, there’s a bit of funk here, a bit of grunginess here, a slow ballad there. It’s great hearing so much on a single album. Is that because you’re independent, on your own label, or is it just because you’re older and want to do what you love and what you want to do?
You know what, I think that’s a very good question. That’s a very good question. It’s tough to answer because the correct answer is both and I think, right now, one of the things that kind of work either for us or against us — I mean, time will tell — is that we came from a world where there was no internet. And, that definitely plays on how we approach music in today’s market.
But as far as writing and deciding what song to go out when, we kind of approach this as an album. “Break You” was always intended to be the first song, and then “Amends,” that riff, it’s a closer. And then in the middle, you know, you’ve got the idea of exploring everybody’s personalities.
Underdog was the song that I put on my Amp the Alt playlist. I love Gator as well. I mean, I love every song, but…
Thank you. Yeah. Underdog was intended to really make a statement. We designed it as our first single. That song is talking about our personnel. We felt like we were underdogs coming into a digital world.
And Lucy had something to say. She’s a big Leafs fan. So am I. So the Leafs are underdogs cuz they haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967. And being Canadian, hockey’s big here, as you know, and that’s in the lyric: “1967, not the final destin.” Lucy came up with this lyric and we wrote this song. This is a really strong song. Lucy’s like, “I wanna get this on the Leafs’ television channel. I want ‘Underdog’ to be in the arena when they come out of the gate. Can we somehow get that on there?”
So we’re still trying to figure that out.
And it’s interesting you brought up “Gator,” because we wrote that in Naples and Fort Myers. There are a lot of gated communities down there in Florida. A lot of them have golf greens, there’s a lot of retired people playing golf, and they have these moats and lakes inside them, and there are alligators in those lakes. And sure enough, you know, Lucy wanted to go take a picture with herself next to the alligator and these old guys were so cranky telling her to get off the green. So she somehow used the idea of the alligator and these old guys as alligators trapped behind a wall in their gated community.
So she basically wrote a descriptive lyric around that, and it’s a waltz. It’s in three, that song. Lucy’s a big Weezer fan. She likes the way they write in three, in an odd time, in three-four time, so she wanted a waltzy, kind of a grungy swing to that. So that’s where that song came from.
Metal comes off on the album too. Well, you can hear some… I want to say Ozzie Osborne, but maybe…
I’m glad you said that. It’s insightful you said that because Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman were huge influences on Dan and I. I learned all of the guitar parts for Blizzard of Ozz. Like, I learned “Crazy Train.” So when I was doing the riff for “Break You” — you know, it’s interesting you caught that, because my rhythm part on that is totally a reference to Jake E. Lee on “Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel,” off of Bark at the Moon. You’re the only person that’s caught that. So that’s pretty insightful. Thank you for saying that because I was dying to talk about “Break You.” We really wanted to make a statement with a heavy riff. We were in that same era when Soundgarden, Rage Against the Machine and all those bands were coming up.
We played out with bands like that and it was obviously paying homage to that. But that riff, I wanted that rift to really bring it in. And followed by “Underdog,” the sort of the punk rock version of us, and then “Gator,” as I explained, and “Soul Killer.”
The reason why I put that in is that, when I was a kid, I was really influenced by bagpipes cuz I grew up in Halifax. And back in the day, if you visited a Nova Scotia Liquor Commission with your grandfather — which I did several times as a small boy — I wasn’t allowed in there. I’d have to stand outside. And there’d be a bagpiper playing in front of the Liquor Commission. So when I was four years old, I used to hear bagpipe sounds, and when I sometime approach lead lines, I still think of bagpipes. So, “Soul Killer” has that kind of a feel to it. But then I thought, you know, it kind of reminds me of Big Country.
Wow, I love digging into songs, how your album got made. It’s been a true pleasure, and lots of of fun, but I know that you’ve gotta go, so I’ll just wrap up by saying thank you Steve, and thank you to ON band, to Lucy Di Santo and to Dan Cornelius, of course.
To support Canadian post-punk rock band ON go to their official website onmusic.ca where they’ll soon be listing dates of their upcoming tour. Don’t forget to purchase their music from their official store, follow ON band on social media and on your favorite streaming platforms. You’ll find ON merch on Spotify too. And of course, check out their awesome indie label Indiestructable Records, where they also have a shopping cart.