Burly Calling

  • Dustin Blumhagen posted
  • Interviews

Burly Calling - Ben Rispin (Founder)

  • December 12th, 2011
  • Phone

Ben Rispin is not only a member of (The) Saint Alvia (Cartel) and Video Dead, but one of the organizers of Burlington, Ontario’s annual music (and comedy) festival Burly Calling. Despite such a busy schedule, he took a break for a few minutes to talk to thepunksite.com about this year’s festival, which includes a variety of artists like The Creepshow and Flatliners, as well as a special set from Cancer Bats and the reunion of punk faves Jersey.

Ben: Hey buddy, just let me pull over. I’ve been doing some crazy running around. I’ll find a random parking spot to stop and talk for a minute. How are you?

Dustin: Do you have distracted driving laws in Ontario too?

Ben: Yeah, if we get stopped we are fucked. It’s like a $250 fine.

Dustin: What we are talking about today is Burly Calling. My first question is, when talking about Burlington, Ontario, I think a lot of people are not aware that there is such a large number of great bands that come from the area.

Ben: It used to be a really large part of our identity, especially in the mid to late 90s. You had bands like Grade, Choke, Jersey, even Finger 11 if you want to step away from the punk scene. Silverstein is from Burlington. There are a lot of people who don’t like that band, but they are from our town. Fullbast are doing great internationally. I’m with Saint Alvia and we are from Burlington. Monster Truck are on tour with The Sheepdogs. It’s really rich with music. Part of the focus of Burly Calling, on a hometown level, is to maintain that identity as it continues to change into a suburban hell. It keeps developing and developing and it’s changing into a nightmare really. We are struggling to maintain that. We have made some connections, like when we went out on tour with Against Me! and they’re like “this guy was from Jersey, we loved Jersey!” It has really been a part of our identity internationally and we are trying to maintain that.

Dustin: I see that Jersey is doing a reunion show. That is a pretty big deal.

Ben: It’s almost sold out. We had to bill that one separately, as a part of Burly Calling. The festival itself, really what it is, is bigger bands like The Reason and Cancer Bats in these really small venues. We give concert goers a unique experience of seeing a band that they would normally see with a thousand or two thousand people with only a hundred of their friends. So, its not really an idea that lends itself to much profit, so sometimes when we bring in a bigger band or event, the price tag has to be different and we have to bill it separately. We are definitely really excited to have Jersey coming back.

Dustin: So the idea is similar to a smaller version of The Fest or SXSW?

Ben: Yeah, similar. As opposed to The Fest, we don’t focus just on punk rock or just one kind of genre. We have indie, there is a little bit of metal, we have a couple of cover bands to end the night, which is a good way to get drunk. It is similar to that idea in that it is a large number of bands over a small amount of time. We kind of want to appeal more to the average concert goer rather than the suits and ties that want to rub shoulders and flex who they are in the industry. You know, keep your cards in your wallet, come have some beers and enjoy the music. You know what I mean? That is the mentality of it, more of a party than an advance your career kind of attitude.

Dustin: It seems like a great idea. I gotta say that I am jealous that I won’t be able to make it out East to see the shows. I really like that there is a variety of genres represented.

Ben: I’m glad that you appreciate that. That is how we are. I grew up on mostly punk rock and indie stuff, but it would be sad if as I turn 33 that was my only source of musical entertainment. I like all sorts of music. I have a whole side project where I make beats for hip hop. I enjoy all kinds of music and that is what we wanted to represent here.

Dustin: When Burly Calling first began, it was started by Saint Alvia. How long has it been going?

Ben: This is the 5th year that we call it Burly Calling, but in reality this is only the 2nd year that it has really been a festival of some sort. The first few years, the first year we did it in the summer when we were out of tour support. I can’t remember which tour it was, we toured so much back in 2007, but we needed some cash. We decided to throw some hometown shows. Over a few beers it turned into let’s make it a hometown tour, with laminates and tour tshirts and have fun while poking fun at ourselves. We had a great time and people asked us to do it again the next year. The 3rd year we moved it into the winter because we were touring all summer. The 4th year I turned it into this pub crawl. The beautiful thing is that in downtown Burlington, the old part of Burlington, all of these old English pubs are like 10 feet from each other, so if you are bored at one show you can take your wristband and stumble over to the next show. It’s really cool. The goal here, despite the Conservative government that is in control over here, is to make it like a city in Spain I love in the Basque. People just go from pub to pub and have an awesome time listening to the music playing. That is my dream of it. You get the picture anyway, a pub crawl music festival.

Dustin: With Saint Alvia, you are playing two sets over the festival yourself?

Ben: Yeah, we are playing a bunch of different things. The first thing is that we have two Saint Alvia sets, one is all ages and the other is at Dickens Pub. Then I have my side project Cartels & Thieves, which is guys from Saint Alvia and the Organ Thieves. We have combined bands to do this acoustic soul thing. Then Greg Taylor does an acoustic set, then the next night I do a set with my other band and Greg plays with Jersey. We are not the only ones doing this though. Jersey has Rat Beard, who was the drummer from Alexisonfire. Everyone is running around doing crazy sets. I think it will be a lot of fun. The whole thing is very incestuous.

Dustin: While it sounds like it would great to see as a fan, it almost sounds like it would be even more fun to be one of the musicians involved in the festival.

Ben: Yeah, that’s what we are aiming for. Every year it is a clusterfuck you know. We are playing in pubs, so there are no stages. There are tons of people pushing on the crowd and against the band. Everything is really rammed and tight knit. Everyone is like holy how are we gonna pull this off, then at the end of the night it was amazing and we are like, let’s do this again next year. I hope we pull it off and get to do it again. It is run really DIY. There is me and one other guy who pretty much put the whole thing on, then we assign certain tasks to other people. Me and Brad (Hails) from The Killin’ Time Band, he is my partner in it. He has been a godsend, he is amazing. He does the website and all of that kind of work. It has been a gong show man and it will continue to be one.

Dustin: The Cancer Bats are doing a set as Bat Sabbath, a Black Sabbath cover band. Was that your idea or did they approach you?

Ben: Originally that slot was supposed to be for Monster Truck. Brandon (Bliss) from Saint Alvia, our old organ player, plays in Monster Truck now. He played it last year and we are great friends. They were going to play and then they got offered the Sheepdogs tour, which they couldn’t turn down. I thought, we need something cool like that, so I thought of Cancer Bats, thinking it’s different but whatever. I contacted their booking agent and he’s like, “you know what might be cool for this? They have this Black Sabbath set that they are doing.” That would be fucking perfect actually. They put the offer out there and I took it. It will be a unique experience too. They are only doing this set for a couple of months, so it will be cool to have it at our festival. I love Black Sabbath. I’m a huge Sabbath fan. I can’t wait for the new record.

Dustin: I saw the video that Liam (Cormier) did where he was interviewing himself for a fake metal show. Did you see that?

Ben: No I didn’t.

Dustin: It was pretty amusing. He was dressed as a stereotypical metalhead and interviewing himself.

Ben: Those guys are great.

Dustin: I noticed that even in the scheduling for Burly Calling you still have Saint Alvia listed as (The) Saint Alvia (Cartel). Are you still fighting the name change?

Ben: It’s really just to avoid confusion. We don’t really care. It was never really our idea to make a big announcement about the name change. We kind of always referred to ourselves as Saint Alvia. We just do it so that people know what the fuck is up because a lot of people don’t remember the word Alvia, you know, they just remember the Cartel. It’s like, this is that band. You can call us whatever you want. We don’t fucking care. It was more interviews that drew attention to it than us.

Dustin: Are you working on anything now? You are all involved in so many different projects.

Ben: Our new record gets handed back to us December 12. We finished recording it this spring. It was produced by Craig Northey (Odds) and mixed by John Drew, who did Tokyo Police Club and Fucked Up. We are really excited about it, its 12 or 13 songs. I know everyone says it’s their best, but I really feel that way. We have a new piano player named Jon Laurin, he has brought a whole bunch to the table, which is really cool. Me and him have been writing a lot of stuff together. It’s different; I mean Rob Pasalic is not in the band anymore, he left the band in the fall so that whispered voice isn’t coming through. It’s a lot more like our first record, it’s a lot of fun, you can hear us smiling while we are singing.

Dustin: Well, good luck with Burly Calling. It sounds like a lot of fun. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Ben: Stay tuned for 2012. We have a lot of stuff coming up. It’s the 10th anniversary of the Video Dead, so we are going to be doing a bunch of stuff. I got a graphic novel coming out in March, called Strike the Dead that I wrote with my brother. Keep your eye out for that.

Dustin: Thanks for taking some time to talk to me.

Ben: Thank you for taking the time to do this. We really appreciate it. I hope I didn’t sound like an asshole, I hope I was articulate enough. I always get stressed out about doing interviews, I always pass them on to someone else.

Dustin: You made me want to go to Burly Calling and excited for some new Saint Alvia, so I think you did just fine.