This past fall, Ontario DIY punk rockers UIC released their first full-length album, FM Hill, since their reformation in 2016. The band refuses to have the COVID-19 pandemic continually halting some of the momentum of their album release. Nevertheless, the band still hopes to perform a live-streamed concert in the middle of January -pending COVID restrictions- to perform their brand new album in its entirety, live from Toronto’s infamous Horseshoe Tavern. I got a chance to ask the band’s drummer Murray Heywood a series of questions about the band’s career, spanning from the beginning to all the way for what is yet to come.
UIC has been short for a couple of different things over your career, does it still stand for Up In Canada?
I guess that is the beauty of having a name like UIC -it can mean different things at different times and to different people. Originally, it came from the “Unemployment Insurance Commission,” which was the precursor to what people currently know as EI. In 1982, when UIC started, there was a deep recession -and all of us were unemployed and collecting UI. Which by the way, makes more sense than EI. It is insurance against unemployment, not employment, so it just seemed fitting at the time when we needed to pick a name. Picking a band name is really hard. You may have to live with it for a very, very long time as we have. We started telling everyone it meant Up In Canada at some point -I have no idea when, why, or how. We did not realize that UB40 meant the same thing as UIC (Unemployment Benefits) until much later, so no, we did not copy UB40, and I doubt that they heard of UIC at that point, so they didn’t copy us, but I do like that storyline. Up in Canada, in my opinion, was a neat twist. I mean we are pretty much up from everything. So we’ll stay with that one.
What are your musical influences? What gets you making the music you do?
As a band, our influences vary somewhat. However, there are definitely areas of overlap. I mean it would be hard for us to not site early Detroit (Stooges, MC5, etc.) as this was material we covered early on when UIC formed and music we were exposed to on our nighttime trips out to FM Hill. However, you must also include, Ramones, Damned, Teenage Head, Radio Birdman, Replacements, and lots of other Punkish influences. My personal tastes also include lots of Rootsy and Outlaw Country music. I loved Jason & The Scorchers, The Blasters, Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Steve Earl, Dwight Yoakam, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and the list goes on and on. The music we write and create is certainly from the heart, we are never trying to be something we are not. It is what it is, what our skill set allows. Our songs just kind of happen, or they do not. If we have to labour too long over a song, it typically gets ditched. The best stuff is almost immediate, it almost writes itself. There will always be a Canadian element, not on purpose, just because we are who we are.
Could you walk me through the typical UIC song writing process?
Most UIC songs come from riffs created during jams or just goofing off prior to rehearsal starting. Someone comes up with a riff they have either been working on prior or just spur of the moment. Dave Robinson (singer) is one of the best there is at singing to jams. He can make stuff up on the spot better than most. I am a bit more methodical with my lyrics. I write lyrics typically with a melody in mind and store them away in my brain. I also write them down now -getting older. They will surface when I think I hear a fitting riff or I work out the melody with the guys at the rehearsal studio. Some songs come incomplete with lyrics and music, but that is very rare. We record a lot of our rehearsals, we always have. We use to simply turn on a ghetto blaster and record. Now with Dave Dysart joining the band in 2016, we rehearse at Dave’s studio and he will record the sessions. I also like to take riffs that we record and write lyrics around them. My writing style is more of a storytelling style, while Dave Robinson is excellent at stream of consciousness typewriting. Once we have the riff and lyrics, everyone adds their flavour to the song in a collaborative way, and we have the birth of a song. That is then massaged through rehearsal, and after a month or so, it either becomes a keeper or goes off into the dust bin of history.
If given the chance, what musician or whole band would you like to collaborate with? Rather this is past or present.
Hmm. That list would be a very long list. If I had the time and you had the space. Speaking personally as a four on the floor garage rock drummer I would love to have played with the Ramones or Stooges when they were switching drummers. Obviously, I never got asked [laughs]. Steve Earle and Paul Westerberg are 2 of my favourite songwriters ever! I am not sure what I would be able to bring to that table from a writing perspective, but it would be fun to collaborate with them and try.
You guys released your most recent album, FM Hill, on October 23rd, how has it been received by listeners so far?
So far, the feedback has been very good for the new record from those who have had a chance to pick it up. Obviously, releasing a new record after having been away from the scene as UIC for some time, in the throes of a worldwide pandemic, was not in our master plan. We are very proud of the record and hope that all who hear it will enjoy the record. We rely on the live experience and cannot wait to get out and start promoting the record more that way. This is the first time we have used a publicist…Melanie Kaye PR has been excellent getting us to new people who had either never heard of UIC or had not known we survived and were still hanging in there. I think time will tell the story, but I feel very good about the record.
Do you have any favourites tracks off FM Hill?
There are some special songs about some special people on this record that make them stand out for me. “Richard May” is special for 2 reasons. First, it is a song about a friend (Richard) who passed away too soon, what makes it even more special is the riff was the last riff that Danny “Hack” Preszcator brought in before he got sick and passed away. The minute we heard the riff we all got excited to play it. Then Dave put the lyrics in and that was that. We were working out the arrangement when Danny got sick. That one will forever be special to me. “Fly Danny Fly” was a song I wrote the lyrics for and I think it was Dave Robinson’s guitar riff and Dave Dysart brought in “Thunder from the Left” completed. Both are special because they are tributes to our fallen brother. I really like the song “FM Hill” as well. It was my lyrics about a nostalgic time in my life that I had wanted to write about for a long time. The riff came from a jam session tape and I built the lyrics around the riff. The addition of the horns played by John Jowett (Trombone), Jim Bish (Tenor Sax) Lisa Patterson (Alto Sax) made it even more special. “Superstar” is also a favourite and came from a jam session way back when UIC morphed into The Chickens for a few years and 2 albums. It was crafted towards the end of The Chickens and never got on a Chickens record. I love “Superstar” because it is a tribute to musicians doing what they do, and being superstars for that 1-2 hour set despite the fact that they aren’t really superstars. It doesn’t matter whether there are 10 people or 10,000, they do what they do for love, not money and fame. It also mentions our favourite people from The Horseshoe Tavern like JC & Craig, Willy, and the one and only, Teddy Fury. In my opinion, I like all of the songs, I do not feel like any of them missed the mark.
What should fans expect from your upcoming live streaming event?
Well…you would not have known that the November 21st date was canceled due to the increase in COVID restrictions. It has been rescheduled for January 23rd. Hopefully, that one happens. It is hard to say with the current upswing in COVID concerns. Fans can expect a UIC show that has some pent up energy and emotion included to knock this COVID coma on its ear. We will be playing everything off the new record and choice songs from past albums, and a choice cover or two. There will be a horn section involved, and that will be fun.
Is there any song or songs off FM Hill that you’re looking to perform live during the live stream event?
The song “FM Hill” will be special with the horns being there live. That will be awesome. The horn players are a lot of fun and it just adds a really cool new element to the band when they join us on stage. UIC does not write songs that do not translate well in a live setting. After all, UIC is really all about live performance. As we were not playing a lot of live pre-pandemic, playing the new songs for people will be fun and will hopefully help propel the record forward.
Is there any significance to why you chose The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto as the venue for this live-streamed concert?
The Horseshoe Tavern and all its glory was an easy choice. It has been our club to play in Toronto for a very long time. It is both classic and perfect for a band like UIC. Great tight stage and stage sound, and typically people are right up front and in our face. We like that. Rock & Roll is meant to be played in small sweaty clubs. The Horseshoe is the epitome of that Rock & Roll experience. It really doesn’t get any better than that. It was an easy choice.
How has it been releasing a brand new album in the middle of a worldwide pandemic?
It has been very difficult. Not being able to play live to promote the record, not being able to get together as a band on a regular basis, has caused some momentum stall. The good news is that we are not a large band that spent millions of other people’s money to make the record. Independent records have long lives and we will resume promoting this record when the COVID fog lifts, and we can get back out there and play.
Following the live stream event, do you have any plans for the rest of the unforeseeable future?
Hopefully, more live shows, and I really want to do a mini 2-week European tour. We will see what happens. I hope some clubs survive so bands can get back out and play. This has been very tough on the music business and especially live music. I would also like to start to prepare and write for another record. It is still a fun process, no sense stopping now!