Interview with Abort Magazine

This is Justin with ABORT Magazine, sitting here with with Magnus Rising. We’ll be primarily talking with Vocalist Aaron Hawkins, and Bassist Matt Snow with a few thoughts from Guitarist Roger Cranford and Drummer Nick James.

Interview by Justin Sarris on April 10th, 2013 for Abort Magazine. Issue 21 of Abort Magazine is now available online. Download it free today!

You guys have a big year coming up. You have the full length, much anticipated release “Whatever it takes” you’re working with the label (L8r Records) and at the time of this interview, a big show in Whistler coming up (Telus Ski and Snowboard). How are you feeling about the strides you’re making here in Vancouver?

[Aaron] Well we spent much of the last couple of years in this building, you know, we’re just trying to settle in after our last big Canadian tour to basically get this record out. Start getting more active as a band. The winters can sometimes be hard to travel, so we’re getting situated to make a big push for summer, make some noise.

You’re feeling a big sense of accomplishment over the last couple years that has been this album. You guys tour a lot, so do you feel this is kind of cycling over into the next era?

[Aaron] I think so. Yeah. As far as the music goes, its essentially going to take care of itself. As long as you’re being active with your instrument and your group, that kind of stuff just takes its toll. Everything else is a process. You have to work around schedules constantly. Even booking shows, it just doesn’t happen with a single call or email, it happens over several phone calls and emails, but yeah, its going to be big.

How did the Whistler gig come about?

[Aaron] Well, we were just recording a video with Gene Greenwood for ‘The Drill’ and one of his good buddies who he works with a bit from ‘The Mighty One’ was talking to the organizer and put in a good word for us and it just fell into place

Most people who know us from over the years know that we have had a few drummer changes, so it was always interesting. Hopefully that’s completely settled

Right on. The relationship with L8R Records ties in with the help you put in to build the studio how did this relationship come together, what brought you into this space?

[Aaron] Well, I guess it would be when Nick James joined as our drummer. He was playing in another band that Dave dealt with previous to building this studio, but when the console was still set up in his house. At that time, both and Rog and Matt were both working at Long and McQuade, and met Nick who was working in the drums section, and since we were looking for a drummer, we asked him to come out to jam and he took the gig. We met Dave through Nick shortly afterwards.

Just like that. You didn’t have to go through the tedious Georgia Straight ads or anything. Just ask the guy in the drum section.

[Aaron] Most people who know us from over the years know that we have had a few drummer changes, so it was always interesting. Hopefully that’s completely settled (Laughs)

Nick, You came along at a late stage in the Magnus story, joining an established group of friends who have been playing together for year. What was it like being assimilated into the band, was it awkward at first?

[Nick] Ya I guess you could say it took some time for me to feel like a part of the group. Especially being a fair bit younger than everyone else (I was 18 when I joined). The other guys had so many stories of things they had done together. They’d all been playing their instruments way longer then me as well. It was sorta daunting. But the guys really tried to make me feel like part of the family even from early on. August 27th this summer will be five years with the band. Very excited!

Tell us about your songwriting process in general. In regards to Whatever it Takes specifically, does it all start with a MIGHTY Magnus riff, does Roger bring in his Guitar, do the lyric ideas come in first?

[Aaron] More often than not it will start with the riff. For me, I think a title of a song stems from what you’re feeling about something. The Drill for instance, I heard the riff and I thought “That would be a great name for this song” I often use metaphors so it ends up bridging gaps, and links together.

Before you had the lyrics you just knew the song was ‘The Drill’

[Aaron] Yep.

[Matt] I agree with Aaron. Songwriting usually starts with a riff or a groove. It is developed in a jam setting where we all have input on flow, duration, shots etc. The lyrics most often determine the order and space of the song. As for myself, I find my bass lines are rooted in the riffs, but take the drum beat very seriously. The overall feel is built around this. Take jaws of life for instance, instead of directly mimicking the guitar riff, I played off the feel of the drums and created an open and spacious line that reinforces the riff while leaving room for the vocals and drums to have their say. All in all a collective effort. Our philosophy is that if something doesn’t add to the song then it doesn’t stay in the song.

Our philosophy is that if something doesn’t add to the song then it doesn’t stay in the song.

Aaron, is there any song in particular that is important to you as a lyricist?

[Aaron] The title track, whatever it takes. It’s basically taken from the last seven years of my life working constriction. It’s a very literal song which makes it powerful because it is coming from that emotion of being out in the pissing rain, being hungover and still going in for an eight or ten hour day and doing it all over again throughout the week, the months, the years.

It’s a very literal song which makes it powerful because it is coming from that emotion of being out in the pissing rain, being hungover and still going in for an eight or ten hour day and doing it all over again throughout the week, the months, the years.

It’s a good analogy for being a musician in general, slugging it out.

[Aaron] For sure.

Originally hailing from Newfoundland and now living in nearly the furthest place away, Vancouver, have you found that your roots in both places have helped you with putting together a tour, or is it too far apart?

[Aaron] I think its great to have a community like Newfoundland in our corner, because they don’t forget. Every time we go back there, they come out. They support us fully. They still look at us as that band that formed in St. Johns ten years ago. So you always feel the love, but that gap in between is QUITE large. It’s almost too much. When we did the trip last year it was a lot of space to cover. (Laughs)

Excluding Newfoundland, where have you found the most support, geographically?

[Aaron] Well, I think here, of course, but you have places like Calgary, and surprisingly, Saskatchewan. We had a really good response there. We didn’t know what to expect, being our first time playing there. Toronto as well, was good. I’d love to get back to that eastern part of Canada and camp out for a month or so, play some shows.

Part of learning about how big this country is, is learning how big Ontario is.

[Matt] Being familiar with both sides of the country was certainly beneficial in our efforts to tour. Having support on both sides allowed us to bridge the gap and expose the centre of Canada to our music. Now that we have made it all the way across and back our hopes is that the next time we do so will not only be easier to book and execute, but more successful and profitable.

[Aaron] Part of learning about how big this country is, is learning how big Ontario is.

[ALL] (Laughs)

[Aaron] Driving through Ontario is a nightmare. You have so much space in between the towns.

Matt, how has the bands sound changed since the early days and Counting the Numbers album?

[Matt] Our sound has certainly changed since Counting The Numbers. As an album, whatever it takes is a drastic step forward in our songwriting. We we more concerned with making something that was unique and accessible. Our goal was not to satisfy the norm of any particular genre but to challenge the listener with a more diverse and melodic album. It was a chance for us to stretch out and explore different musical voices that would seem out of place on counting the numbers. Whatever it takes is a true representation of the musicians we want to be.

Our goal was not to satisfy the norm of any particular genre but to challenge the listener with a more diverse and melodic album.

The theme for this album, Whatever it Takes seems to flow for the band as well. You all seem to lean heavily on a theme of perseverance. Doing whatever you need to get shit done, and get where you need to be. Do you have any advice for those young hard rock bands who want to make things happen.

[Aaron] Well, the first part of the question about it taking time… And most people don’t realize this, but most of those overnight sensation bands that come out of nowhere have actually been bands for 10-15 years. They just stay with it. What ends up happening is bands join together. When bands break up they generally form 2-3 more bands and everything grows again from there. We were lucky. We all liked what we were writing and playing. We weren’t fighting. If one of us doesn’t like something they speak up. There is no sense in doing something you don’t want to write or play.

As for advice on bands coming up… You’re not going to write a song and put it on the radio tomorrow. You’re not going to make a million dollars until you grow as a band and that takes time. You don’t have to be complex at all. You can write your songs and lyrics and you don’t have to be insightful. Record them, and get on a stage and play. That is what served us so well in Newfoundland. It was the greatest place in the world to practice. You can play on a stage downtown every weekend if you like. No problem. People will come out, and its great. We got to play enough gigs there to really feel comfortable with ourselves as a band, and take cues from the other members. Even under terrible sound circumstance, you just practice.

It was the greatest place in the world to practice. You can play on a stage downtown every weekend if you like.

If you like doing it, keep doing it. Why stop if someone says they’re not feeling it. If you’re feeling it then keep going. You’re not going to be Mark Knopfler at the age of twenty. Do what you love.

Your thoughts as well, Matt?

[Matt] I can say is that you need to want this more than anything. The road can break down even the dearest of friends if there is a lack of determination and a ubiquitous mindset. No matter what gets in your way, you have to realize that together there is very little that cant be overcome. This is about building a life in music. Your bandmates and your fans are your only allies. Many will give you the reasons why you should quit or step down and I assure you they will reap the mediocrity they deserve. This is about looking back on your life and feeling proud that you had the courage to say “yes, I will go and I will succeed.”

No matter what gets in your way, you have to realize that together there is very little that cant be overcome. This is about building a life in music. Your bandmates and your fans are your only allies.

Finally, Roger, as a teacher and exceptional guitarist, you’re mentioned as an influence in guitarist circles around Vancouver, (and likely St. John’s) how does this affect your drive to succeed and how do you feel bringing up a new generation of shredders?

[Roger] Well, as much as I would love to consider myself an exceptional and influential guitarist, those are still words that I aspire to be known by. But, since you asked, yeah it does make me push harder to live up to the idea. When more people recognize my playing, I feel more pressure and practice and study more as a result. Raising the next generation is really a privilege. To influence and be a role model in kids lives these days is more important than anything I ever experience as a child. The pressure of image and media on kids today is a heavy weight to bear, and giving them a sense of identity, a musical voice in our 10 second attention span world… it’s important, and rewarding beyond description. I’m lucky to do what I do.


Our long awaited new album ‘Whatever It Takes’ drops on May 31, 2013. Come celebrate with us at our CD Release party at the Rickshaw this Friday! More details here.

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