Gutter Demons are one of the pioneers of the Canadian psychobilly scene. Hailing from Montreal, Quebec, this three-piece band (guitarist and growls, Johnny TöxiK, upright bassist Gutter Flipper, and drummer Alx Fantom) has been churning up a storm around the globe for nearly two decades. Blending psycho punk, rock n’ roll, and country, the group has paved the way for other great acts like The Creepshow, The Brains and Raygun Cowboys to create an active, loyal and vibrant community across Canada. The band is already up to album five, releasing their latest record No God, No Ghost, No Saints last November (buy via Stomp Records).
We were all overheating as we sat down together mid-afternoon, Flipper to my left, Johnny in front of me and Alx off to my right. After we all apologized to each other for how utterly sweaty we all were (the afternoon heat was pushing well past the 40-degree mark by this point), we talked a bit about Betty Page as I was setting up (Alx was wearing a cool Betty Page shirt). We quickly got into some dialogue together, even pulling in Alx to chime in on a few questions.
The audio for this interview is included here via SoundCloud. There is a bit of background noise; this interview was indeed recorded at the ’77 Montréal amidst a melee of music, scurrying festival workers, and press types. It’s decent enough audio that we deemed it worthy of a listen and included it for listeners who’d like to hear all three Gutter Demons members discussing their craft.
Can you talk a little bit about how you signed with Stomp Records?
Gutter Flipper: “Sure. It was pretty recent. Our fifth record is on Stomp. For the Gutter Demons and Stomp, it’s weird that we didn’t get on the label before that. We knew these guys, and they knew us. We’d been doing shows with a bunch of bands from Stomp. And it’s one of those things where…”
Johnny TöxiK: “The timing was good now.”
Flipper: “The timing was good. Back then, it wasn’t right, yes. We stopped for a couple of years. And when we started to play again in 2014, we wanted to achieve new goals. One of those goals was to be full on professional. Music would be our day job. And I think they saw the seriousness of the band and how we wanted to pursue these goals. So we talked with them, and it just worked. The timing was good.”
“Ghostrider” is Gutter Demons’ newest music video from No God, No Ghost, No Saints:
Did you have demos to play for them?
TöxiK: “Well, we had a couple of songs, you know?”
Flipper: “And we had four albums before we signed to Stomp. So they knew. We started in 2001. We stopped playing in 2008 for six years. Between 2001 and 2008, we did three albums. Stomp knew those albums. They knew the band already, so we didn’t have to come up with new demos. They knew what we were all about.”
What made you stop in 2008?
Flipper: “Well, we had to take a break to figure out some personal stuff. And that takes time. (laughs) We just had to get away from the whole circus for a little while and recharge the batteries and come back stronger with new energy.”
TöxiK: “At that time, as he said, we had some personal issues, and we had to take a step back and regroup. Actually, when the break-up happened, we weren’t totally sure of what was going on, and it was very different times for us. Strange times. But everyone in the band had a feeling that we didn’t achieve everything that we needed to do back then. So even when the band wasn’t playing, I always kept in mind the idea of us playing again. Which we managed to do eventually six years after we split. But I think this lineup and the state of mind we are in right now is our best. We’ve been playing a lot.”
Can you talk a little bit about what you feel is integrity in music? Particularly in your music, and bringing it to the genre that you play?
Flipper: “Integrity, I think it’s true to the band. What we do musically, we never settled for making more pop-orientated music. We always stuck to our guns, and that’s integrity. We’re making psycho music. Psychobilly, as you know, is the smallest subculture of them all. For us, to keep our integrity is to keep our psychobilly aspect in our music. But what we try to do is blend Psychobilly with punk and country music. That’s what psychobilly is; it’s a mix of multiple genres. We stick to our early musical tastes.”
TöxiK: “Yeah, exactly.”
Flipper: “But we are evolving in that music scene, and our sound is still evolving.”
TöxiK: “Absolutely. Flipper is absolutely right. We don’t force ourselves into doing anything. We never did, and it’s never going to happen. We do stuff because we want to do it. And that’s how we have always been dealing with our stuff.”
Mike Bax’s photos of Gutter Demons at ‘77 Montreal (Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal, Quebec) on July 26, 2019:
What are some of your gateway bands? Acts that made you want to get onstage and pursue your genre?
TöxiK: “Well for me, I was already playing music. But I show that I’d seen that kicked me in the head was RockFest in Montebello; Alice Cooper was there. He brought the whole nine yards which him. The cane and the giant ALICE signage on stage and everything. I was blown away, man. It’s crazy; it’s vaudeville; it’s insane. It really blew my mind. Alice is amazing. I was already playing in a band, but it just gave me that extra kick in the ass.”
Flipper: “For me, it’s Bad Religion, actually. Back in the day, maybe in 1997, I saw them play. It was a big experience for me. Those guys are fucking energetic on stage. And Greg Graffin has an absolutely beautiful voice. The guys never stopped from the start through to the end of the show. The energy that I saw that night made me want to do what I’m doing right now.”
Alx Fantom: “For myself, there’s no band in particular. But I always wanted to play music. I’ve always wanted to be on a stage since I was a kid, 9-10 years old playing air guitar in my living room or in my bedroom.”
Fantom: “Yeah. That’s the only time I’ve played guitar actually. It was pretty clear to me that I always wanted to be on stage. It was one of those things you know? That’s what I wanted to do. With time and years, we are achieving that.”
Have you come out to Parc Jean-Drapeau for any of the earlier Evenko concerts? Like Heavy Montréal?
Fantom: “I was here last year actually.”
Flipper: “I came once for the Vans Warped Tour. And that year on the bill Bad Religion was there. Obviously, Rancid was there, and NoFX was there. The Specials were there. And Reverend Horton Heat was there. It was an amazing year, that particular one.”
Fantom: “Rancid and NoFX, I was at that Vans Warped edition. But the first time I went to Jean-Drapeau for a big festival, I think it was Lollapalooza in ‘94. With Beastie Boys and L7 and Smashing Pumpkins and Nick Cave. That was good.”
TöxiK: “Vans Warped and Osheaga a few years ago.”
No God, No Ghost, No Saints was released November 2nd, 2018:
I haven’t come for an Osheaga yet. I hear it’s good.
TöxiK: “It’s fucking amazing. Yeah, a lot of people.”
Fantom: “It’s one of those festivals I don’t know any of the bands, like this year, I just know Interpol. But the other bands I have no clue.”
And Chemical Brothers. Which I’d LOVE to see. With the demise of PledgeMusic, how do you feel about crowd-funding, and would you ever crowd-fund and album?
TöxiK: “We never did. Before everything, We sat down and thought ‘Ok, we’re going to take this part of the money and put it towards our projects, and this part of the money we’re going to keep it for us.’ So we never crowd-funded. We never did it.”
Fantom: “The GoFundMe thing, for some bands, I don’t know if it’s a good way. It’s probably a good way to get money to get an album or get money to record an album. We never did it. I don’t think for us to ask for help from the public, we would have to be in a bad place. We’ve seen some bands get their band gear stolen on the road, so you lose 25,000 dollars it’s a one-shot deal. If you lose your drums and your amps and your gear, you need money right away. Maybe that would be a solution for us if something bad were to happen to us like this. But the FundMe thing is not something that we want to do unless we really didn’t have the choice.”
What’s your favourite piece of band merchandise that you either own or have owned in your life?
TöxiK: “I have a dollar bill from AC/DC from The Razor’s Edge when they played ‘Money Talks’ and they just drop cash on the crowd. It’s a dollar bill with Angus Young’s face on it, and I had one. One of my aunts went to the show, and she brought it back to me. I don’t know what I did with it. I lost it at some point. But, wow, that was something.”
Flipper: “The glow-in-the-dark Gutter Demons panties were pretty cool pieces of merchandise.”
TöxiK: “Your stuff. Something that you own.”
Maybe he does!?
Flipper: “You don’t even know, but I’m wearing them often in my private times. (laughs)”
Fantom: “Do they still glow in the dark?”
Flipper: “They still glow in the dark. For sure.”
Fantom: “For me it’s a handshake from Dave Grohl. And a pair of sticks from Taylor Hawkins. I’m a huge fan of the Foo Fighters.”
Get your psychobilly on with the music video for “Cold Call,” also from No God, No Ghost, No Saints:
And you got a handshake?
Fantom: “Yes. From Dave Grohl. In 2002 I think, for The Colour and the Shape. I met them in the cab in the alley behind Metropolis back in the day.”
Did any of you use that FaceApp thing and make yourselves look old?
Fantom: “No I didn’t.”
None of you? Wow.
TöxiK: “It actually doesn’t work with us. (laughter) We’re demons; we’re ageless.”
How important is physical product to you? Buying a record or buying a CD? Do you still believe in that as a band?
Flipper: “Oh yeah.”
TöxiK: “We’re pretty old school. I’m the youngest in the band, and I’m 40 years old. I grew up with tape cassettes and vinyl and CDs and record sleeves where you could read the lyrics and find out who did what. Even back then they would put things like, ‘This guy is playing ESP Guitars.’ ‘This guy uses this brand of sticks.’ For us, it was tons of information. And just to be able to hold an actual copy. There’s something about that. Especially now with the revival of the vinyl, you know? It’s part of who we are because of our generation. I can understand that younger people don’t see it as important as we do, but even as a band, we’re still putting out CDs and vinyl. And we’re still going to keep on doing it. Maybe we’re not pressing as many as we used to (laughs), but for us, it’s a part of our band. I was saying this earlier to another guy, about music being something physical. It’s important to keep those kinds of things. A file in a computer?”
All squished down into shit?
TöxiK: “Yeah. That’s the thing, right? An MP3? It’s not a thing.”
Flipper: “I’m a collector. I’ve always been a vinyl nerd. And I don’t really shop online. Rarely, anyway. I still find myself, when I have the chance, I go to a record shop. Or if I’m at a festival if I have the time, I’ll take the time to choose my records and that for me is half the fun. The searching and finding of stuff. That’s how we grew up.”
TöxiK: “Yeah. Flipper is absolutely right. It’s not just the fact of you buying something. It’s picking it up.”
Flipper: “The quest of finding the stuff you want.”
TöxiK: “You flip through those record sleeves in the store.”
Flipper: “And that’s fun, you know? We have kind of lost that. It’s so easy with the internet, you can order it right away. Amazon or whatever.”
TöxiK: “The thing that is also pretty cool about the whole vinyl revival, is that with CDs you can skip tracks with the push of a button. When you listen to a vinyl you have to pop that needle onto the record and let it go, you know? Even the whole approach to listening to music it’s completely different. It’s not just background noise, you’ve got to actually sit down, put the needle on the record, and listen to it. It’s kind of weird; with all of the downloading and everything, it almost feels like it’s come back to the 1950s where everything was singles. Nobody was listening to actual records, just the songs.”
Flipper: “Well it was all 45s.”
TöxiK: “It was just songs. In the 1970s it was albums. When we got to the 1990s and 2000s, it went back to the song again. And I feel like we are slowly coming back to albums. People will actually sit down and listen to an actual record. For bands like us, and musicians in general, we put effort into these things. Some people don’t. But everybody I know, ourselves included, we put time and effort into giving our best on the record.”
Flipper: “So we hope that people will pick it up.”
TöxiK: “We hope that people will listen to all of the songs. Anybody who puts out records, big or small bands, feel that way. They hope that every song is going to be as important as everything else on the album.”
Anyone up for a “Hellride?” Watch the video off of 2015’s Unfinished Business:
While you are on the topic of putting effort into music, can you talk a little bit about how you approach writing music? The way that you like to put music together? And has it changed from when you first started? Are you writing differently now?
Flipper: “Well, for the music, usually Jonathan or myself will come up with a riff. And then we’ll work on that riff and make it complete. So the music will come first. When we have a rough sketch of the song, then Jonathan will work on lyrics, and we add it all up bit by bit. But we’re always, 90 percent of the time, we’re starting with a riff. With the music, or an idea of the music, and then the lyrics.”
TöxiK: “When we work on the music itself, it’s not just putting riffs together, and it’s going to be a song. We’re going to have to play it a few times and pick it apart. That part is good, but this part is not good. That sort of thing. It’s a process.”
Flipper: “We complete each other a lot. He comes up with an idea, and he will have the main riff, and I’ll come up with a bridge. Or vice versa. One will come up something, and the other will add his two cents and then we’ll have something.”
Fantom: “You just follow that train.”
TöxiK: “For the lyrics, it’s always different though from album to another. It’s always different. For example, Room 209 and Misery were both concept records. So pretty much all of the songs when they are put together they make a story. The last two were more one on one kind of things. Lyric-wise it always depends on my mood. Sometimes I’m going to have an idea, and it could wind up being more than one song. Or it’s completely the other way around. It always depends.”