In 2009, the Veer Union were an opening band, working tirelessly to stake their claim in a crowded playing field. A year later, the Vancouver natives were playing to packed clubs as headliners, with well-deserved chart hits from their major label debut, Against The Grain.
The Veer Union is vocalist Crispin Earl, guitarists Eric Schraeder and James Fiddler, bassist Marc Roots and drummer Neil Beaton. They write songs that sneak into your brain and stay there on instant replay, and deliver their music old-school-style: real musicians playing real instruments.
As the tour began winding down, Crispin Earl — TVU’s laser-focused co-founder, songwriter and vocalist — spoke about being a “Union man.”
When you look at how far the band has come, what have been the biggest steps?
Learning how to be on the road for that period of time, and learning to live in close quarters with everyone. And for me, learning how to write on the road, because I’m so used to being home, then out for a month, home, out for three weeks, and writing at home. Being gone for a year and a half, I had to learn how to write. This was our first tour, so we took the money we had invested and bought our own bus. It’s a smaller bus, granted, but the writing process is different. Most buses have quarters in the back. We built bunks, so I spend a lot of time writing in the bathroom.
How big a role has the Internet played in the band’s success?
The Internet is key. It’s a place where people can connect with the band immediately. We don’t hire somebody else to handle our e-mail. It’s been us directly since the beginning, and we will continue to do that for as long as we can. If any band does not want to connect directly with their fan base, they are losing out.
At what cost to your privacy?
First and foremost, loss of privacy is the chance you take and you’ve got to accept it. When I’m at home in my apartment, that’s my time away. I’m no different from anyone else. I try to maintain normality as much as I can. I expected it getting into this business, and if somebody is not going to try to figure out what you’re doing, chances are things wouldn’t be going well. It would mean that they don’t care. Luckily enough, people do care about us, so I look at it as a positive thing.
At the same time, there’s been a lot of old-fashioned hard work in the form of relentless touring, playing some very small clubs, visiting radio stations day after day, and did we mention the relentless touring. How do you keep your spirits up when your mind and body are exhausted?
It’s easy. Some people look at relentless touring as a negative thing. We look at it as the good part. We worked really hard to make the best record we could and go out and tour it. To get the instant gratification of people saying, “Thank you; I connected to your music” — that’s what you want. Playing a crappy club doesn’t matter. If the fan base, however many there are, have a great time, the number doesn’t matter. It hasn’t happened often, but in a year and a half of touring, there were maybe three shows where we thought, Why are we here if people haven’t heard of us? But not many bands can say that only three times in 18 months. We played for 100 people in a small club and we played for 60,000 people at Rockfest. As long as they enjoy what we’re doing, that’s all that counts. We are really lucky to have a really cool job; why would we not want it to continue?
Let’s go back to 2004. How fully formed were the songs and vision when you and Eric brought in the other band members?
I can’t say it happened in 2004 because I started developing those things the first time I wrote a song. From the very moment you decide that you want to be a musician, that’s when you start forming your skills. The vision of what we were trying to do — once Eric and I hooked up, we put together the skills we had achieved by that time. It was creating the songs, doing the record and formulating the band because of our love for music. It wasn’t to make a million dollars. The point was to make a record we believed in, and if people bought it, it was because they connected with it and knew they were buying something real. We weren’t going to have anyone come in and say, “Write this type of song,” or “Do this.” If someone has a suggestion about how to make a song better, I’m interested, but I won’t take someone else’s song to make me famous. What’s the point? So in 2004 we were putting together our headspace, and the music came naturally.
Headspace? I don’t remember the last time I heard someone say headspace. Watching Woodstock documentaries on the bus?
[laughing] Headspace, man!
What made Eric the right musical partner for you?
Eric was, and still is, a hungry musician. He’s as hungry for it now as he was the first time that music changed his life. He wasn’t about getting corporate or trying to write what makes money. He wasn’t trained by the corporate world. And we had known each other for a while; we were best friends. What could be more perfect than to create music you love with your best friend? I still feel the same way about him now.
You and Eric were a team who hired a team when you found Marc and James. Was it hard for a duo to join forces with another duo and create a bigger team?
I was very nervous, and I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I had come out of a bad situation with my old band. They had become all about the corporate world and that’s why the band dissolved. But this was so natural, and it happened so quickly because we were all in the same headspace — there it is again: headspace! We love what we’re doing. Honestly, I feel lucky that we’re in this together. We’re not looking at each other and saying, “Why haven’t we bought mansions yet?” I have actually heard that from other bands and I think, What are you saying? Chances are that if that is your attitude, you will fail. Our original drummer was a great guy, and at the last minute he got an offer for more money from a bigger band. I understand that and I don’t blame him for taking it. I knew he was a great guy and he wasn’t jaded. We auditioned a lot of people that weren’t working out, and we didn’t realize that Neil, who was our drum tech, was such a great drummer. He knew the songs, he had six days to learn to play them, and in some ways he saved the band. Marc and James — [laughs] I’m not used to calling them Marc and James, but you call them Marc and James — had been playing together so long; they, too, are best friends, and it’s a very natural thing between them. It’s weird how our personalities are similar. We’re all very laid-back guys, straight up, down to earth, small-town mentalities with no big egos. Nobody walks around going, “I’m better than you.” That attitude does not work.
You had well-recognized songwriting chops before you put this band together. You’re also a guitarist and a drummer. How much higher did that raise the bar in finding people who could interpret your material and add their touch but not change the concept?
That’s one of the reasons why some bands come together quickly and others take years. Again, I was really lucky. It was fate. I didn’t know the guys that well before we went into the studio, yet I felt I had known them a long time as friends because of our similar personalities, and musically because we were on the same page. You find a lot of bands saying, for example, “Tool is our favorite band.” If that’s the case for five guys, what are they going to sound like? They’re going to sound like Tool. We listen to so many genres of music that it’s easy for us to interpret different feelings or types of production. When you’re that open, you’re willing to try things.
You toured in association with the You Can Be Anything Foundation, which works to keep music education in schools. That tour meant performing in high schools. Were you concerned that an entire itinerary of dates for these young audiences, while it certainly built a fan base, would brand you as a “teen” band?
It was absolutely a concern, and we reached a point where we heard people saying that. All you can do in a situation such as that is prove yourself, hence the relentless touring, opening for great bands, and people walking away saying, “They can play their instruments.” I don’t say that to brag. I say that because I know how hard we worked to get to where we are, and because we really are good at what we do. I think that even if you don’t like our music, you can appreciate what we do and the work we put into it.
As the frontman, the spotlight is on you, both onstage and in interviews. How do you ensure that all of the band members receive equal time and their share of recognition?
It is split up quite a lot. The only time I step up to the plate is if I’m requested for an interview. If someone has a question about a song, chances are that because I am closest to the song, I will answer. Ninety-five percent of our interviews are group interviews. I think it’s all about perspective. If people want to think that this is the Crispin Show, they have to realize that this is their perspective, because I know that the Veer Union is a group. We all have our strengths. Explaining the lyrics is my strength, but if you want to know about production, talk to Roots. If you want to talk about how “Over Me” was formed, talk to Eric, because he wrote the first guitar parts to that song. We all do our part, and hopefully people will like the Veer Union for all the parts that we play.
Is it correct to say that you are the team leader? If so, what makes you a good one?
I’m definitely the team leader, and because I’ve been leading a team my entire life, I’m used to playing that part — and it’s not always the easiest part. Some people don’t know how to take the lead. They’re not willing to get their hands dirty. I think a good leader appreciates everyone’s strengths and at the same time is able to guide every person. It’s all about respect. If you do not respect your team, they are not going to respect you as a leader, and your company will fall apart.
Final question: The band is together having drinks in a bar. Which member is most likely to sneak away when the check comes?
Have to think about this one?
If it’s after a show, nine out of ten times we pull out our wallets and our fans are so generous that the check is already paid. If it’s a band meeting, nobody sneaks away, because either Eric or I will get the bill. It’s unspoken. It comes back to being a leader and respecting your team.