With Tough Age, the nerd factor is on display for all to see. Their debut album featured comics on the covers. The insert for the band’s sophomore album I Get the Feeling Central features a collage from the French sci-fi and horror comics Métal Hurlant. Songs on the album reference obscure comic stories. For example “Landau, Lucian and Lake” is a reference to X-men comics. The story told in “50 girls 50” runs parallel to story in an EC Comic.
Talking to Jarrett Samson (lead vocals and guitar) and Penny Clark (guitar and backing vocals) after a performance at Ottawa Explosion Week in June, it’s apparent this whole comics thing is not just a marketing ploy or flavour-of-the-week while recording. Samson lives and breathes comics, so naturally the influence infiltrates his songwriting.
“I want my writing to be honest. The honest thing is I’m a huge dork, I’m a loser. It would be dishonest of me to hide it and pretend I was a badass,” says Sampson who, at that time, was looking forward to watching a new episode of American animated show Steven Universe.
Moving to the 6ix
The comic-pop, fuzzy garage guitar hook heavy, lo-fi-coated band formed in Vancouver, but Samson and Clark now call Toronto home after moving last October. They form the nucleus of the band with other members joining orbit depending on where the tour takes place. Original members Lauren Smith (bass) and Chris Martell (drums) are still in Vancouver and appear on the new album. When playing East Coast shows, Jesse Locke (drums) and Paul Lawton (bass) join the band. At Halifax Pop Explosion, Martell won’t be with the band, but Tough Age will be joined by their friend Mac from Cult Babies.
“The band is doing well enough that we didn’t have to break up when we moved which is really cool. It costs the same for me to fly back to Vancouver as it would to Paris,” says Samson on touring, which is still a big challenge even when all band members live in the same city.
They take inspiration from Mint Records label-mates Monomyth. The Halifax band’s lineup has shifted over the past few years based on who can do which tour. Members of Monomyth also play in Nap Eyes while members of Tough Age play in Toronto band Century Palm.
When Tough Agre released their self-titled debut album in 2013, they didn’t expect more than 50 people in their local Vancouver scene to listen to the record. They were surprised to get attention from outside their hometown.
“I almost passed out because so many people came out to see what Jarrett’s new thing was,” says Clark who had never played in front of an audience, as Tough Age is her first band. With Samson, he’s been a prominent figure in the Vancouver scene playing in Apollo Ghosts and Korean Gut.
More listeners means negativity from strangers, something that weighed heavily on Samson’s mind as he working a minimum wage job at a comic shop. Those feelings come to a head in “I Get That Feeling Central” the almost-title track from I Get The Feeling Central.
“That was my mantra. “I get that feeling central” was that need to keep going instead of quitting or hiding because all of the sudden people are looking at you and you don’t want them to,” says Samson.
Even though the song seems relatively simple, it underwent many re-writes and took a long time to complete.
“I remember you brought [the song] to us quite a few times interspersed between the times we’ve played together,” says Clark.
“Mostly I write about personal things. Mostly they’re personal and about things I hate in my head or things bad about my life. I don’t get much inspiration from when things are going well. Which is lucky because usually I find a rain cloud in my life,” says Samson.
Photo: Tough Age photo supplied/Michelle Furbacher. Live photo by Jonathan Briggins/Mixtape Magazine