The Canadian rock scene is alive and well, with no shortage of kickass bands releasing great albums. But at the forefront of this movement stands Monster Truck, a powerful quartet whose music blends classic rock sounds with grunge influences. “I think rock has always been strong in Canada in the last few decades,” says guitarist Jeremy Widerman over the phone from Regina, Saskatchewan where the band is playing that night, on tour with Billy Talent. “I think what’s starting to happen now is that some bands are starting to get international success which has always been a struggle for any Canadian rock band. If people see us as a figurehead of that movement, I’ll take that as a compliment! We’ve always worked real hard to get known internationally and progress the band in Canada and be everywhere as much as possible.”
Monster Truck traces its origins to Hamilton, Ontario, where, in 2009, guitarist Jeremy Widerman and drummer Steve Kiely decided to start a rock ‘n roll bar band for fun. As Widerman explains, both were members of the band The Reason, who “got tied up in a legal battle over the release of their new album.” Longing for the opportunity to play in a “band that was not affiliated to any company, management or label”, the pair hooked up with lead singer/bass player Jon Harvey and keyboard player Brandon Bliss to form Monster Truck. “We wanted to do something just for fun,” he explains, “not to be taken too seriously.” But barely a year later, Monster Truck had become their main focus and a serious endeavour.
Over the next two years, Monster Truck released two EPs that brought them radio play throughout Canada, with their gritty retro sound patterned on early Grand Funk Railroad. “Everyone copies Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath,” he explains, “so we thought it’d be cool to have a small homage to a band that kinda gets overlooked in the history books of rock.” Songwriting starts with a guitar riff from either Jeremy or Jon, and then the band fleshes it all out together. As they refine their songwriting skills, the band finds itself discarding songs more often when they don’t reach their standards of quality. “At the beginning we were writing and recording everything” explains Widerman. “Now when tend to write double the number of songs that we put on the record in an effort to make sure we only put out the best material.”
Opportunities to open for former (at the time) Guns ‘n Roses guitarist Slash, and grunge legends Alice in Chains also allowed the band to reach new audiences, and along the way, the band got the support of other celebrities like Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, who often uses social media to turn his followers on to the music of Monster Truck. If Widerman had been frustrated by the difficulties his former band faced trying to break through, this time success seemed to come much easier. “When you get praise from people you respect and look up to,” explains Widerman, “it’s a ‘pinch yourself’ moment where you can’t believe how far the band has come.”
“I think that has a lot to do with the initial goal of Monster Truck,” Widerman adds, “which was to have fun and write songs that we loved ourselves. And we had no preconceived notion of anyone else giving a shit. It started from a place of pure joy and enthusiasm, and I think that’s why it resonated so much with other people. (Our) previous bands who made it their goals to get on tour and get a record deal didn’t work as well. It was a nice life lesson in the virtues of having your heart in the right place.”
The band is currently out on tour in Canada, opening for Billy Talent. “We did this exact same tour in Europe at the end of last year. Everyone’s pretty good friends, and it’s fun to bring what we did over there to Canada, where we’re all from. And it’s really cool to have the guys from The Dirty Nil with us, a band from our city of Hamilton.” And going from clubs to arena stages isn’t a problem for Monster Truck, who’ve found themselves doing it more and more often. “It’s the comfort level thing really,” he answers, obviously unfazed by the challenge. “The first few times you step up on that stage it’s like a jolt to the system because it’s something that you’re not really that used to: the distance from you to the crowd, the way it sounds, the way it feels… everything’s different. But you take a couple of whacks at it, and you just get the comfort level back up. It’s all fun and we love doing all kinds of shows, from headline club shows, to opening up in an arena or at home. It’s actually fun to switch it up all the time, going between different situations.”
With their latest record “Sittin’ Heavy” now a year old, Monster Truck is working on a follow up album for 2018. “We’ve got a lot of demos and ideas; songwriting is happening pretty consistently. We’re prepared to go back into the studio as soon as the end of this year.”
If you’re going to the Billy Talent concert on Wednesday March 1st at the Bell Center, make sure you get there early and catch Monster Truck (and The Dirty Nil too!). You won’t regret it.
Tickets are still available here.
(This article was originally written for Montreal Rampage)