Oct. 13, 2004 - Issue #469: Don McKellar
Has this Choke gone on too long?
Not in the least, says bassist Clay Shea, on eve of band's 10th anniversary
Break out the baby books and put on your finest party pants, because this week Edmonton’s most beloved punk rockers, Choke, are celebrating their 10th birthday—and someone is sure to spike the punch. Over the past decade we’ve watched Choke grow up: their infancy was a blur of aggressive rock anthems; their teens a collage of arts-weekly covers and college station chart-toppers; their young adulthood a frenzy of high-profile tours and critically-acclaimed albums. Now it seems the band has done their parents on the local scene proud, but just don’t expect them to get a haircut or a real job anytime soon.
"Being a musician has absolutely changed me," explains Choke bassist Clay Shea. "It’s gravy now because I’ve realized that I’ve spent a third of my life doing this, which is absolutely insane. It’s hard to remember what I was like before the band, but I know I’ve learned a lot from traveling and meeting people."
Shea says some of his fondest memories involve touring with Choke, whose lineup has stayed remarkably unchanged since the band’s inception in 1994. Along the back roads of Canada and in the midst of dimly lit clubs, Shea made lifelong friendships with label-mates like Moneen and mingled with like-minded musical fanatics. "The first time we played Quebec City is one of my fondest memories," Shea recalls, "because it was one of the first times we had toured out that way and we didn’t know if anyone had ever heard of us. All these kids who couldn’t even talk to us knew every word to every one of our songs. They didn’t even speak the same language, but they were so into it—it was just mental.
"The traveling is a huge part of why I still do this," he continues. "Coming home and realizing you got paid to do what you love, even if it wasn’t a lot, is really nice. It’s amazing to wake up in the morning and knowing you’re going to do what you love that day, and that things are going to be looked after."
And it’s a good thing the boys of Choke have always been fueled more by passion than paycheques. Even with a strong urban following and numerous tours—Choke has opened for the likes of AFI, Bad Religion and Good Riddance—the elusive rock-star lifestyle they dreamed of as boys didn’t turn out to exist, at least not in this country. "When we started out," Shea laughs, "I would have thought that a band doing this at the status we have for some time, with a solid, underground cult status in Canada, would actually make a bit of money. I had no clue that it would be like this because I though after this much time and effort you could sustain some kind of lifestyle."
But even with his seven-year stint as a pizza delivery boy and countless other day-job disasters, Shea considers himself a success when it comes to the band. "In a lot of ways," he says, "I think we’ve already reached my idea of success just because we went passed our expectations. When we started out, all we ever wanted to be is what we are now, except I had the misconception that we might make a bit of money. As far as being able to tour and have people to come out coast to coast, that’s what we all kind of had as a goal."
With their sights now set on the next level of success and a few outstanding goals (such as touring abroad in Europe and Japan) still to be conquered, Choke is looking forward to their next round of adventures. Their sixth full-length album, which just wrapped up in Vancouver with producers Paul Forgues (Slayer, Nine Inch Nails) and Blair Calibaba (Gob, Brand New Unit, Heart), will be released this January. Shea describes the release as being "far more produced and much slicker," and he’s confident fans will make sense of the band’s next phase in their natural evolution.
"I would just like to keep touring and playing music," he concludes. "As we get older, it gets harder, but it’s been nice up to this point because we’ve always been growing and doing bigger things, which has kept it interesting and fun. If it ever hits that stagnant point where we’re just rehashing things for the sake of it, then I think we’ll call ’er a day, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon." V
With Downeastday and A Last Goodbye • New City • Fri, Oct 15 (10pm)
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