Toronto is fortunate enough to have a vibrant, active aggressive music scene in all of its various forms. In addition to heavy metal, there is aso an abundance of excellent hard rock, hardcore and punk active in the city, of which party punk band Skullians is an great example. Having recently released the high-energy record Don’t Take It To Heart last year, Skullians are one of the harder working bands in the city, playing shows and festivals locally and travelling all over Ontario and beyond as much as they are able. The merry band of punk warriors is led by Candice Ryerson, who plays guitar and contributes searing, soaring vocals as well as devoting her time to booking shows and keeping the band organized. Candice, who often uses the band name as her surname as an additional mark of devotion, has become a fixture in the aggressive music scene in Toronto and a powerful force at that. I’ve long admired her work-your-ass-off attitude, her intelligence and her toughness. It is fantastic to have her as part of Girls Don’t Like Metal.
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What is your punk love story? How did you become obsessed with this genre of music?
To be honest, up until about 10 years ago I was more of a rock and roll fan due to my Dad’s love for classic rock and rock music in general. I grew up listening to Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and David Bowie. Things really changed for me when I discovered Bad Religion. They opened up a can of worms inside me that I didn’t even know existed! All of a sudden I couldn’t listen to 4×4 rock ‘n’ roll tunes anymore. The music I listened to had to be loud, fast and rigid. Once I discovered Bad Religion I started listening to a lot of the other “big” punk bands, and then the rest was history. In terms of actually playing punk music, I didn’t start until I joined Skullians. Before that, I only learned to play punk songs by myself, and the other musical projects I had were more rock oriented. Playing music was more of a “loner” hobby for me until I joined the band, and when I did I finally felt like the music I was writing made sense.
When did you begin playing in bands, and how did you know it was something you wanted to pursue seriously as a career.
I’ve been playing music for about 14 years, but I’ve only been in bands and performing live for about 7. I dabbled in a few different projects before Skullians, but they all sucked. Plus, as I mentioned before, none of them were even close to punk rock. I found that it was really difficult for me to get along with musicians until I met the boys in Skullians. I don’t know why, but from day one we all just “clicked.” I remember the first time we ever rehearsed together: we played for a good three hours, and about 5 days later I played my first show with them. We all became close friends really quickly and since then it’s been a roller coaster of highs and lows, but mostly highs.
To answer your question more directly, I’ve been day-dreaming about being a musician since I was about five years old. To me, the entire process of starting or joining a band, writing songs, recording them, performing them — it’s the most fulfilling feeling in the world. I fucking love it, and if I had my way I would do it non-stop, every day.
With your band, Skullians, you recently released your second album, Don’t Take It To Heart. On it, you have a song called “Music is My Job” where you talk about how you want to devote all your time to your calling. How possible it is for a band at your level to make music their primary occupation?
Well, it’s not possible really. All four of us have careers aside from the band. I import textiles, Evan is a tattoo artist, Mike is in management at a huge Canadian retailer and Greg is a music teacher. Everyone aside from Greg has a career in a field that is not music. It’s really brutal sometimes in the sense that I’ll be at work, and flustered about something, and my first instinct is to just quit so I can go home and play guitar. But in adult life, that is not realistic. The song “Music is My Job” is about wanting to leave everything behind to be a full time musician, and not wanting to work a 9 to 5 job like everyone else. I guess in the end, music costs money, jobs bring money in, so one cannot exist without the other — for me, at least.
While you have label support in the US and UK, Canadian support has been more limited. Do you think Canada, and Toronto in particular, has a hard time recognizing it’s own high-quality talent?
This is a delicate subject, but I’m glad you brought it up. I find that in Toronto, there are so many punk bands that you really have to do something different to get noticed. Skullians aren’t trying to break the mould or reinvent the wheel, we’re just trying to have fun and write songs that we love to play. So perhaps that’s not enough to get signed in Canada, I don’t know. I’m starting not to care about that sort of thing anymore. I’m having so much fun doing what were doing right now that if we got signed to Stomp or something, it’d be icing on the punk rock cake. But getting signed is no longer dictating how I feel about the band like it did 5 years ago. There are measures of success for everyone, and for me, I already feel like we’re successful, so why complain?
How much overlap do you find there is between the various genres of aggressive music co-existing in this city? Do punk/metal/hardcore play well together?
It would be nice if they did! There are a lot of fights at shows, that’s for sure. But recently it seems as though people have calmed themselves, the last few shows I’ve gone to I only saw one fight break out, which is amazing compared to two years ago! We actually played a show recently at Hard Luck Bar in Toronto, it was called “United Fest,” and it was a mixed genre show of Punk/Metal/Hardcore/Ska and more. It was pretty cool. The only thing that sucked was that barely anyone showed up, but I credit that to it being Superbowl Sunday. But, in terms of the bands “playing well” together, it was nice. A lot of the bands and their fans were standing up front during our set, cheering us on, even though they were clearly not punk fans. This was confirmed afterwards when I heard more than one person say, “I don’t even like punk but I liked that!”
As well as one of the vocalists, songwriters and guitar-players in Skullians, you also take on booking and general organization. What drew you to that role?
I’m a total control freak and organizational wizard. I love to help people get organized and prioritize, and it was just a natural fit for me. Within a month of joining the band I had shows lined up for the next 6 months that followed. I love my role in the band and at times it is a lot to take on, but I wouldn’t change it. We all need to recognize our strengths and play on them, and all of the above are my strengths, so I just do it. I’m really proud of what we’ve done over the past 5 years, and none of it would have happened if we all didn’t work together to stay organized and sharp, so it really is a team effort at the end of the day. I just make the itinerary for everyone to follow, and it works.
Do you ever find that you are treated differently as a woman in a punk band than your male counterparts? If so how do you deal with and overcome these challenges?
This is a people problem, not a “woman in the punk scene” problem. If you’re a sexist fuck, then you’re going to behave as such in any situation, music-related or not. I used to get really angry when we would play a set and the boys would get handshakes, high-fives and congrats from people in the audience, and I would just pack my gear up and sit alone at the merch table (and be referred to as “hey you, Merch Girl”). But I’ve realized that I don’t need the praise to do my job (and neither do the boys), I’m doing this for me and for my bandmates, and if people like it, that’s great! I actually got called a “Feminazi” the other day (on Facebook, of course) because I challenged a comment stating that Terminator 3 was a great movie because you get to see a woman get the shit beaten out of her. Can you imagine?
Again, this is a people problem. Either you are an accepting and supportive person, or you’re not. And let’s not forget, sexism works both ways. I bet the boys really hate it when people automatically load my gear in — because hey, girls don’t lift gear right? There’s no way I’m strong enough to carry my own guitar!
What advice would you have for a young woman who wants to pursue a similar career path?
Learn your craft and instrument before you join a band, be prepared to be under the microscope. Have a great attitude and high energy, and don’t put your own needs aside to fulfill what others want! But that’s general life advice, not just “band advice.” Being in a band should be fun and fulfilling, if it isn’t at least one of those two things, you shouldn’t be doing it.
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