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Day Two: Big John Bates and Brandy Bones Bates Interview

Vancouver International Wine Festival.

After my walk around Downtown Vancouver and lunch in my hotel room, I prepared for my 5:00 pm interview with John and Brandy Bates of the band, Big John Bates. There was time in my schedule for an afternoon or evening visit; I contacted Brandy Bates the day before our interview. She and John agreed to meet at one of their favorite local pubs, the Wicklow Pub.

The Wicklow Pub is a comfortable bar in False Creek. They had good beer on tap, great service and a decent menu. It was a comfortable place to hangout and visit over the next two hours.

Big John Bates.

Big John Bates – John founded the band Big John Bates and the Voodoo Dollz in 2000. John is lead singer and lead Gretsch guitar player. He became the first artist to bring burlesque performers on tour. His music career officially began in 1989 with the Heavy Metal Canadian band “Annihilator.”

Brandy Bones Bates.

Brandy Bones Bates – joined the band in 2009 while a student at Western Washington University. She plays the Hofner upright Bass and Cello.

Recently married, they tour and record together with their band Big John Bates.

Photo taken in 2010 outside Charles Smith winery.

I Met John and Brandy in 2010 in Walla Walla, Washington at a Charles Smith party during a Wine Bloggers Conference. The band back then was called, “Big John Bates and the Voodoo Dollz” their style of music was described as “Alternative Rockabilly” and the Voodoo Dollz were a burlesque act that accompanied the band. Today, the burlesque act is gone, the band is called “Big John Bates” their style of music is now referred to as “Americana Noir” and John married his bass player, Brandy.

* Note 1: During the interview John and Brandy shared a lot of recommendations about food, bands and places to hangout. I've listed contact information for those recommendations at the bottom of this article.

Brandy settled in with a coffee, while John and I sipped on refreshing pints of Red Truck Lager

photo: Brandy and John Bates.

Q: You've had a change in style with your music. More music less act.
Brandy: Yeah, it's less of a show pony.

John: Yeah, it was definitely all about putting on a big show for a while. We wanted to make it more musical, I guess, so we could play different songs, kind of structure the night to the audience. As opposed to what we had to do with the girls. With the dancing and stuff.

Q: So that was choreographed?
John: It was all choreographed we had a certain amount of time for costume changes and this and that. It was fun and all.

Brandy: You always had to stay in your designated corner when you were playing.

John: Yeah, you had to watch out. You could have killed someone with that Bass, you could have jammed it up somebodies ass. (laughter)

Q: Brandy, I was watching one of your music videos on youtube, you are all over that Bass. It's pretty cool. Why would you want to detract from that?
John: It's nice to be able to have that. We've also brought in a mandolin player now, a Concertina and a guitarist. One of our friends on a boat plays here.

Brandy: There's actually a ton of musicians living on boats down here.

John: The Mandolin is nice because it brings in a lot of melody, without taking too much away.
We actually started doing some acoustic shows just with us and the Mandolin. Just to see how it feels.

> I've added another video since the original was removed:

John: It's a different experience, right. It's not the Voodoo Dollz experience. It's different. So we separate the style of music and everything, sort of had a cutoff in 2010.

Now we have this American Alternative Noir kind of music, because it's Rock/Alternative Rock sort of thing but it's also you know there's Americana and everything else in it, right. I don't want to just label it Americana, because it goes different places. And it's still too loud for that. You know.

Q: You're older, married and seasoned.
John: I think so. We did over a thousand shows with that band. That's a lot of countries and a lot of shows.

Q: So, when's the next album?
John: Probably going to do a single this summer. Tour Europe again in the Fall. We're just going to do festivals in the spring and summer. We just applied to do bumbershoot. That sort of stuff.

Brandy: We just released our last album in September 2012.

John: So it's pretty fresh.

Q: I like bumbershoot. How open the layout is. Music venue's are everywhere at the Seattle Center. It's open to wander around and listen to what catches your attention.
John: There's a lot of stuff we couldn't do like that. In Europe we could play festivals that were family, but in North America when we were with the Voodoo Dollz, at festivals it was very weird sometimes. Some communities would embrace it, but others were, “Really?”

* Note 2: Because the original band was mentioned several times. Here's a NSFW link to a live performance of Big John Bates and the Voodoo Dollz. Remember, this included the burlesque act. 
Warning! NSFW

Q: Ah, I remember my first reaction seeing the Voodoo Dollz and the burlesque act when you guys played in Walla Walla at the Charles Smith winery. Certainly not what I expected to see in Walla Walla. But an interesting combination of music and wine.
Brandy: But a good combination. (laughs).

Q: The lead singer is really important to the style of the band. To connect with the audience.
John: Yeah, I felt that when Brandy started singing. Right now she sings half the songs live. Right? When you saw us I sang almost everything. It's all changed now. We feature her in the videos we shot this summer. It brought different things together and it freed me up a lot to play too. Which is awesome.

> See  Brandy featured on vocals on the following 2012 video:

Q: My son is playing guitar. He's 15 and I'd love for him to take it more seriously.
John: That's when I started too.

Brandy: I don't think I took anything seriously when I was 15.

John: I took it seriously because girls didn't like me and I thought, “I might as well do something.”

Q: How do you see Vancouver as a local? And how would you share the Vancouver experience with someone?
John: There's a definite musical soul to Vancouver in East Vancouver. Main street is hip. But you go down closer to Gastown and Chinatown. You start to find the real scene here. That's where it is. Not on the West side.

You'll see things at the Owl and the Rail Way. If you go to Granville there's the Cellar and Joe's Apartment. Morriseys a good drinking place. 

You know I think you've got to look for it in Vancouver. But it's definitely farther east. Those are the places I would say to go. You can find the flavor you want if you look around. There are a lot of alternative venues. We went to the Polish Community Center for a fun show the other day. There's all sorts of stuff happening. It's a big city. It's not barren.

Q: What about food?
Brandy: The Canadians have this thing called “Poutine.” It's french fries with gravy and cheese curds. My favorite.

Q: Poutine? I've never heard of it.
Brandy: I don't know why Americans haven't. Because it sounds like an American food, french fries with gravy on it and cheese.

John: And sometimes they'll put on little bits of bacon. There's a place on Davie and Granville right downtown. And all they serve is Poutine. You got to try it. They have it here. Between Eggs Benedict and that...the best eggs Benedict is next door at Branas. They do a blackened prawn bennie. That's just awesome, awesome. You have to ask for it special. << They do it until 2 am.

Q: So you guys live on a boat?
John: Yeah. You can go down to the Gulf Islands and visit wineries and wine tours. There are only 20 licenses in Vancouver. Very few do it.

Brandy: It took a while to get used to.

John: Yeah, Montana here...

Brandy: Yeah I got sea sick. I used to turn green on a boat.

John: My dad was a sea captain. I've been doing it for a long time. So I'm used to it. Neat eh?
It's interesting on our boat, because Brandy's such a land lubber. That, we've got hardwood floors, flat screen tv, a couch, it's like walking into a living room. It's really weird. But we can move around, go to Seattle or up to Alaska on our boat.

Brandy: Yeah, it's a very minimalist way of living.

John: It's so liberating. Like we have a trailer full of musical equipment, one full back line here in Vancouver, and one in Germany. Everything is duplicated. Upright basses, amps, drum here, one there. Brandy has a car, I ride a motorcycle an old Triumph. Everything else we just gave away. Some of her stuff is sitting in a barn in Montana. Most of it you just part with your goods. If you want something new, that's great, but something old has to go. That's the way it works. Honestly, you hit some good waves, and things are breaking. It happens

Brandy: It gets messy sometimes.

photo: View of boats from the Wicklow Pub.

John: In the summertime there's nothing like it. Our view is beautiful. A million dollar view of Vancouver all summer long.

Q: We talked about San Diego and Los Angeles next. Which led to the topic of the Vancouver Movie scene and travel.
Brandy: This city is like L.A. North. Like a lot of attitude you have in Los Angeles, you have here.

John: Yeah, they call it L.A. North. It's very transient here. You get a lot of people coming and going. They come and go to L.A. Sometimes and back to where they came from. So it's harder to make friends sometimes because of that.

Toronto is getting a lot of film too.  I'm from Toronto, the area known as “The Thousand Islands” between Ontario and New York state. 1,700 islands is in this little tiny area. So, I was born in Toronto and came out this way and said “I'm not going back.” I don't want to shovel snow anymore.

Brandy: We were just in Verona, Italy. Two months ago.

John: Before that we played with Andre Williams on top of a mountain vineyard. It was amazing. We played four vineyards in Italy. It was neat. Sicily was pretty crazy too.

We'll be playing Shambhala, Kelowna festival, maybe Squamish, hopefully Bumbershoot. And Europe; France, Spain, Slovenia, Switzerland, Austria, Holland, Belgium and maybe up north. Should be good. I want to get farther East. And Hungary.

photo: Brandy Bones Bates.

Q: Where's your strongest fan base?
John and Brandy: Germany!

John: Germany, western Canada, Mid-western United States. They are the three that keep us going. Playing music. They are good people. They are not looking for the next big flavor. Enough fans who are more focused on independent stuff. In the heartland of America things are more real. I get that impression. From Montana, Fargo, all the way to Wisconsin, to Michigan. We usually play as far down as Pennsylvania. We're always looking for bands to tour with.

Q: I read that you were featured on Battle Star Galactica? Season 3 Episode 14?
Brandy: It was on the magazine. Big John Bates.

John: One of the prop masters is a fan. So they got permission to use the name. I even have the prop magazine they used on that episode. They had the wrap party next door and they thanked us.

photo: Big John Bates.

Q: Who are you listening too now? Old or new, anybody?
John and Brandy: Woven Hand. We just saw Woven Hand in Bellingham. They're really good.

Brandy: Wolves in the Throne Room, they're out of Olympia.

John: Just eclectic stuff. We try to avoid mainstream. I have friends who are in big's fun to hang out. But you want to look for the more interesting little things. A lot of them turn out to be U.S. Bands they have a lot of personality. Right?

Slim Cessna's Auto Club – they are out of Denver. So's Woven Hand. There's a lot of cool bands out of Denver.

Reverend Deadeye is out of Denver. We've toured with a lot of these guys. They've helped us with our records. There's some terrific talent. You Know. Amazing stuff.

If you look at Slim Cessna, 30 different members over the years and you can follow all of the different bands that are offshoots from there. It's crazy. Amazing stuff.

Q: Social media for marketing and networking, sharing, advice, jokes, regular dialogue has really opened things up for me. What about you? Is social media helping you?
John: Completely. You have to. It's really important. For us to get hold of other bands. It used to be a lot harder. You can get hold of just about anyone now. It doesn't get you any farther than... it would have in the old days. It's just more accessibility. That's what it's about. It doesn't make anything easier. You still have to make an effort. But it's also a nice “hello.”

photo: John and Brandy Bates.

Q: The reason we're here today is because Brandy and I are facebook friends.
Brandy: Yep. (laughs)

Q: I have a cell phone, but I don't use it for voice calls. Mostly just data.
John: Texting has become more subtle. Texting has made phone calls, well “I'll get to it.” But people get really annoyed if you don't text back pretty fast. Which I find obnoxious. Brandy has to remind me sometimes, “John, social situation.” (we all laugh.)

But yeah, I couldn't live without it either. Drives me crazy when we go to Europe, when we don't have it, it drives us all nuts. Jones'n for a wifi signal (laughs).

The city of Vancouver has a project. Basically trying to blanket the city with wifi. If you have Shaw cable at home, then they have Shaw Open, you go and there's a wifi signal at every bar. There's an app in the app store you can get. So you can just use the Shaw Open. I'm almost never without some kind of signal. Pretty cool.

Q: Sounds like things are going well.
Brandy: It's been a nice little break.

John: That's one thing. We're having a 6 month break. Aside from some little shows we're doing on our own. We're writing new songs. Getting back in touch with our city too. Which we haven't had time to do. It's been touring, touring, touring. For Brandy since 2009 for me since 2001 I've been on the road. So it's been really cool. To discover the city again.

Q: At this point, some of his buddies arrived to watch the hockey game. Go Canucks! The three of us hung out a bit longer and ordered the daily special, hamburgers and beers.

* Note 3: I should mention that I took a taxi to and from the Wicklow Pub. John mentioned that the legal limit in Vancouver is .05% alcohol. That would be equal to just one glass of beer. So it's not worth it to even attempt drinking and driving. There are several ways to get to the Wicklow from downtown; taxi, SkyTrain and water taxi. Next time I'm going SkyTrain.

It was an enjoyable visit with John and Brandy. The conversation was good and the beer was good. It's exciting to see a band grow and change it's style as it matures. Their new acoustic stuff with Brandy on vocals is very cool. I encourage you to catch a live performance and buy their music.

Checkout the links below. There's a lot of music I need to add to my collection.

Big John Bates upcoming shows – visit their website for current schedule.

May 10, 2013
Big John Bates
The Fairview, Vancouver, BC, Canada

May 11, 2013
Big John Bates
The Shakedown, Bellingham, WA, US

June 07, 2013
Big John Bates, The Wages of Sin
2 Bit Saloon, Seattle, WA, US

August 07, 2013
Shambhala Music Festival 2013
Shambhala Music Festival, Nelson, BC, Canada

August 09, 2013
Big John Bates
The Regent, Revelstoke, BC, Canada

Recommendations by John and Brandy Bates:
  • Eats & Drinks:
The Wicklow Pub
610 Stamps Landing Vancouver, BC V5Z 3Z1‎
Edit details
(604) 879-0821

Red Truck Beer Company Ltd.
1015 Marine Drive
North Vancouver, B.C.
V7P 1S5

The Morrissey Pub
1227 Granville Street
Vancouver BC Canada
V6Z 1M6

Branas Mediterranean Grill
617 Stamps Landing
Vancouver, BC - V5Z 3Z1
  • Music Venues:
The Electric Owl Social Club
926 Main Street, Vancouver

The Railway Club
Located in the heart of Vancouver, BC, at
579 Dunsmuir St. on the corner at Seymour
Phone: 604-681-1625.

The Cellar Night Club
1006 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC
Phone: 604.605.4340

Joe's Apartment
919 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC
  • Bands:
Big John Bates

Andre Williams

Woven Hand

Wolves in the Throne Room

Slim Cessna's Auto Club

Reverend Deadeye

Related Posts:

My next post will be about the Vancouver International Wine Festival and the Blind Tasting Challenge held at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts.


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