COUSINS, BELIEFS and HANDS & TEETH at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), Friday (August 8), doors 9 pm. $12. RT, SS.
Five years ago, Aaron Mangle graduated from art school and decided to work on his Halifax garage rock band, Cousins, in a more focused way. He and drummer Leigh Dotey hit the road, and have only come off it for brief intervals to make records. They released their third, The Halls Of Wickwire (Hand Drawn Dracula), in May, and it made this year's Polaris Prize long list.
"The way we've found any success and got people interested in working with us has been by playing all the time," says Mangle while loading up a washing machine at a Halifax laundromat. "So we have a reputation for being hardworking. We set a precedent for ourselves - people know we will tour. We don't have any hits. We don't have any albums that sell really well. But we have a reputation for doing a good show."
Besides the Polaris nod, recognition has come in other forms lately: the band secured a respected booking agent as well as a record deal with Toronto's Hand Drawn Dracula, which allowed them to record Wickwire with Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh and engineer Josh Korody at Candle Recording.
The result is a raucous but soulful and cohesive effort. Already they're on to album four, at Jay Crocker's studio back in Nova Scotia.
Yet despite this progress, notes of disillusionment creep into the conversation. Mangle says touring can take a toll on the band's relationships, health and finances. He's wary of festivals that don't properly pay performers. And he feels like granting body FACTOR is a way for the federal government to prop up the music industry by filtering money through artists who don't get to keep it but still have to claim it on their taxes.
"We're getting more recognition and paid better at shows, but we still don't have any money. We're working harder, and more money is coming in, but Leigh and I aren't able to pay ourselves. Other people working for us are getting wages and salaries, but I don't have any money to pay rent next month."
But is playing music still meaningful to him?
"Playing music and having people respond to it, engaging with other artists and engaging the world as an artist, and living in a way that you design for yourself - that's really valuable to me. The problem is trying to figure out how to do that within an industry that's corrupt and doesn't care about artists at all. I don't feel like a victim - I'm extremely grateful for the opportunities and success we've been enjoying. But I don't really like the industry."