Best friends since the age of 4, cleopatrick is guitarist and singer Luke Gruntz and drummer Ian Fraser. Even though they are from (and still based) in the small town of Cobourg, Ontario, their sound is anything but small.
For their recent single “FAMILY VAN,” Gruntz and Fraser created a unique video game for fans to play, complete with an 8-bit soundtrack composed entirely by the band themselves. The video game features cleopatrick waking up in Coburg, Ontario, late for a headline show in Toronto. The player then has to drive the duo’s trusty van “Vannah Montanah” to the gig on time, dodging various obstacles and challenges along the way (including picking up the band and crew, some major label contracts, and over-zealous hangers-on). You can play the game here. Canadian live shows will soon be announced once the group feels like they can commit to them without having to move or cancel them.
Most recently, cleopatrick released the haunting and heartfelt standout ballad “2008” and its accompanying animated video created by Shuyler Nazareth. “2008” appears alongside previous singles “THE DRAKE” and “FAMILY VAN” on the band’s highly anticipated debut album, BUMMER, due out on June 4th via their own label Nowhere Special Recordings, distributed by Thirty Tigers.
Our heartfelt thanks to Luke Gruntz and Ian Fraser for taking some time to field a few questions from us.
Would you share your perspective on growing up in a smaller-sized town in Ontario? Pluses and minuses?
Luke Gruntz: “Absolutely. That’s what we are best at. It was weird. But I think it was something we saw as the Achilles Hell of our band for a while, and now we see it as our greatest strength and something we are grateful for. Growing up here, Ian and I have always wanted to be musicians. There was no music scene here and no role models here for us to base our expectations on as a reference point. So in a lot of ways, we felt naïve and blind. For the first few years of this band, I was really terrified. And then it became something we kind of embraced, and now, looking back, I think it’s given us an edge. That’s sort of how it all happened. I’m grateful for us growing up in Coburg, Ontario.”
Ian Fraser: “I would second that for sure. It was weird for us, but it definitely feels like it’s given us a bit of an edge creatively and has allowed us to push ourselves a bit more so than if we were surrounded by musicians that we could learn from. Maybe we would have gotten a different idea of what we wanted to do if that were the case. I feel like the way it happened is the way it’s meant to have happened.”
What label are you signed to? I ask this because I’ve pre-ordered an LP, and it’s coming up from the USA.
Gruntz: “We run our own label. It’s a joint thing with the States. We deal with this company called Thirty Tigers out of Nashville. They are distributing our record. It’s also through a company called Orchard. They are both kind of working hand in hand with us. It’s kind of our own label between the three of us. Thank you for pre-ordering the album, by the way.”
Hey, No problem at all. I like the sound of the album. And I’m digging the vinyl these days.
Gruntz: “We are so stoked. This is our first time having vinyl.”
Do you feel that the ideal of “The Album” is still relevant in this day and age?
Fraser: “I think that’s something we kind of go back and forth on. Luke was kind of mentioning something along these lines earlier. I think we’ve kind of been allowed (in the way that things have happened for us) to go more into the direction of doing a traditional album. Maybe not traditional, but it’s a significant thing for us. I think the way we’ve done things and the people who have come along on this journey with us (friends and fans) have grown to expect us to treat doing an album in a much more important way.
Maybe more important than the music industry sees it today. It’s kind of a weird time currently because you see most artists just trying to pump out as many singles as possible. That’s cool too, I love singles, and I love hearing new music often. But there’s something important about the idea of an album. Especially for us, this being our first album. I feel like that resonates, and it’s an effective medium for us. It’s a hard thing for me to pinpoint, I guess. We wanted to make one.”
I think it’s pretty interesting that it’s still an important thing in your age demographic. If your fans are asking for an album, that’s curious because an album is not that big of a deal in this current marketplace, right?
Gruntz: “Yeah. That’s something we are so grateful for. All of our favourite artists make albums. We don’t really listen to artists that just release singles. The album is like a thing to us. It’s a collection of ideas put into one package. It feels important. We feel so grateful that our fans are looking to us to make an album. there is a constant stream of new music out there, and they are looking to us to take our time and say something a little bit grander.”
Did you approach BUMMER as an album, or would you describe it as a culling of songs?
Gruntz: “It’s definitely an album. That is the thing I thought the most about. That might be the thing that made us take so long to bring it all together. I had a really clear journey that I wanted to document; everything from how the songs flow into one another, the track listing order, and the song titles. It’s all been hyper-analyzed by us. The albums that I have fallen in love with have that level of thought into them. We wanted to put just as much thought into it.”
I like that you have a bit of a mission statement as a band: “Restoring the outspoken provocation of rock n’ roll through raw, abrasive honesty.” That’s interesting.
Gruntz: “Yeah. That’s about music that means something. That’s what I like and what Ian likes. That’s what our audience wants. I think that guitar music has been around for so long that it’s easy to become complacent and say the same thing. Some of the songs are made-up stories, the crazy show, or the crazy tour. To me, that’s just not what I want to go for. We take a lot of pride in our songs actually meaning something.”
What are some of your examples of honest musicians, then?
Gruntz: “We love a lot of stuff. I love Drake. He is one of my favourite songwriters. That might throw a lot of people off that I have massive respect for Drake. He really means what he sings about. A lot of hip hop too. I love Kendrick Lamar. The lyrical content and the thought that he has so obviously put into it. He is one of the greatest album makers of all time. I’m super into Radiohead and Thom Yorke. Those are album-based artists that make music almost like it’s a part of themselves, and they are letting everyone else see a bit of them when they release music.”
So how do you then try to be honest as musicians?
Gruntz: “Maybe it’s a little bit subconscious. We are hyper-critical. Musically we try and be honest. If an idea feels like it’s mundane sonically or sounds like something else, we can quickly quash it. We just want to feel like our own band.”
Fraser: “Yeah. There’s a certain selectiveness. For me, there’s always been the way music makes you feel. The actual sonics, in addition to the lyrics. I think it’s important to be aware of all aspects of the music. We like to make sure we’re fully invested in it and be as excited about it as possible. It’s not a formula, but it’s more of a mindset and just things that make us excited and feel new and unique somehow. I think it has to speak to us in one way or another, as far as just the sonics go.”
Can you talk a bit about how you’ve managed to build up a streaming audience so far?
Gruntz: “Yeah, I think it was almost by accident. There was some intention behind it, though. It kind of catalyzed out of an email I sent to the head of rock at Spotify. Back in our days of grinding and sending a lot of emails that never got replied to. But this one happened to get a reply. Her name is Allison Hagendorf; I sent her our song ‘Hometown,’ and I pretended to be a fan of our band. I said, ‘Ali, you’ve got to check out this band cleopatrick. Their song ‘Hometown’ is great.’
Within 20 minutes, she had put us into some Spotify Playlists. From then on, I guess the music kind of did its thing. People just happened to like the song. We gave them more music and people liked that too. It felt like an accident how that happened. We put so much work into our music, we never really imagined people would get into it. Since then, we have tried to note the things people like about our band. We have tried to embrace those things as much as possible. We’re young, and we are still trying to figure it all out. We never really had a plan or grand goals other than having fun and making songs that our friends like and that we like. The audience that has built from streaming and from touring has informed us.”
What can you tell fans about your debut album? How old are some of these songs on it to you both?
Fraser: “There’s a couple of tracks that have been around for a few years now, I mean a handful we’ve been able to play live and kind of ‘workshop’ in a sense. Like the track ‘Family Van’ that just came out. It was kind of cool, and it kind of ties into the thing with the newfound streaming audience. That song became like this sort of underground ‘known’ track that kind of built up. There was this unique amount of buzz about it. I think it’s hard to pinpoint. There are so many kinds of angles that I think about this album from what people have heard.
I think the singles we’ve put out there are a pretty good indicator of where it’s headed. We put so much thought into the way it sounds, yet it’s also very raw and feels very home-made, which we’re super proud of.”
I enjoyed that you turn “Family Van” into an 8-bit soundtrack with a video game component. AND a PowerPoint! Low-tech all around.
Gruntz: “Best film project ever.”
How did you go about crushing some of your music down to 8-bit? Was that a weird process for you?
Gruntz: “It was so much fun. I remade it on this little sampler synth thing I have called an OP-1. It’s a fun little piece of gear I picked up right before COVID hit. It’s been a coping mechanism ever since. It wasn’t even that hard, actually. Our songs are pretty simple, so it was easy to translate to that sort of 8-bit sound. The game was a lot more work. Less so on our part, we just come up with the grand ideas. It was made by this company called AGENCY. They worked together with us to bring the thing to life. It was a fun way to engage our fans when we can’t go and play shows the way we would like to. It gives them a little something else to interact with.”
And the PowerPoint video. I don’t know why more people haven’t done that; just bring in a bunch of slides and put some music overtop of it. It’s so obvious.
Fraser: “I’m glad people found that as amusing and funny as we did. That’s kind of one of those things that I feel like people could have looked at it and been like; ‘what the hell is this?’ For the most part, everybody got it, which I love. I’m happy about that.”
Is that how it’s going to live? Or you going to do a “Family Van” video, something real afterward?
Gruntz: “Yes, it actually comes out tomorrow.”
Gruntz: “I can’t say that it’s cooler. They are both just great. But it is completely different.”
Fraser: “I can say that’s cooler. (laughs)”
What are you going to do if the numbers on the PowerPoint one are higher than the actual video you’ve put some money into?
Gruntz: “I guess we are making more PowerPoints for our singles. Save some cash.” (laughs)
How weird is it for you to be booking concert dates in the U.S. right now, knowing that we’re going to be at least six months behind that schedule in Canada?
Gruntz: “It’s bizarre. Especially because before COVID, we were in the U.S. a bunch, and we had plans to come back to Canada and do dates. It’s kind of sad. We really want to play here. But we also don’t want to announce many dates and let everyone down because we will have postponed them. There are many plans in the works, but we aren’t making them public because I don’t anyone can deal with the heartbreak of losing more tour dates. We are waiting until we are sure.”
Which is wise. A lot of bands are not doing that. I’m seeing dates popping up here and there all over the place now, and they aren’t going to happen.
And you have sold out a gig in Chicago already. I got an email saying they had announced a second show there. That’s exciting.
Gruntz: “It’s kind of surreal. After every tour, Ian and I kind of forget that people still want to come and see our band play. It’s always felt like a surprise to us. We’ve always felt like the underdogs. It doesn’t feel real to us that we’ve got sold-out shows on the horizon.”
I also saw mention that you have a newsletter. Is that something you are running off a mail interface, or are you actually sending something out to people that is physical?
Gruntz: “We post them on the web right now via our website. They are all hand-drawn, random stuff from our brains. Advice and doodles and tattoos for kids to get. Really random stuff. We have never printed them physically; we like the idea that they are completely free for everyone. But if they grow, I think it might be cool to turn them into something a bit more professional.”
I’m intrigued by the New Rock Mafia. Is this a cleverly disguised Patreon campaign, or something more than that?
Gruntz: “It’s like the antithesis of a Patreon campaign. It’s a collective that we’ve built that has remained pretty much undefined. Other than being based around the promotion and protection of honest guitar music. It’s supposed to be a way to connect with our most engaged listeners. The youth who are looking for guitar music doesn’t adhere to the same old story aesthetic we discussed earlier. It’s supposed to help promote that collective to the listeners. It’s to bring about a scene that isn’t just the old guys from the ‘90s who are the biggest promoted bands on the radio. It’s supposed to be for kids and to set everything apart from that sort of listener. That’s about as honest as it gets. It’s kind of in the hands of the audience to determine what it really means. We just get to sort of go along for the ride.”
So what does that look like for you? How involved are you in that? Do you monitor it? Regular.
Gruntz: “Yeah. There are a couple of private lists where these members have given us some of their information and can contact them outside of our public social media. So we have done secret basement shows where only NRM members have received a ticket. An email with a location. It’s kind of corny, but it’s all for fun. We’ll put out an email blast where kids can reserve their ticket and get DM’d on social media a location and a time, and then they all go meet there at that time, and a school bus comes and picks them up and brings them to a basement where we are playing an intimate show at. It’s stuff like that. It’s mostly been based around live music. We are building it into something more. We hope to be able to involve more bands that we’ve discovered.”
So what have you both been doing during the past 13 months to keep your sanity?
Fraser: “Uhhh (laughs). We were lucky enough to be able to record the album in a time where there weren’t as many lockdown restrictions in the summer. And I think as a whole, the album as kind of a project for us was kind of the guiding light, like a lighthouse in maybe the foggiest of seas. Do you know what I mean? The sea that was COVID-19. I think that was a vital thing for us to have had to do. Other than that, lots of yoga and trying to stay peaceful. I think music is one of the main things for me that allowed me to feel like myself more times than not.”