Motorists and Mikey Young Are in It For the Love of the Game

The Toronto band and the Australian punk legend talk DIY international touring, the indefinable art of mastering, and more.

Motorists is a Toronto-based rock band consisting of drummer Jesse Locke, singer and guitarist Craig Fahner, and singer and bassist Matt Learoyd; Mikey Young is a Melbourne-based Australian punk legend who plays in the bands Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Total Control, and has contributed to records by the likes of King Gizzard, Amyl & the Sniffers, and more. Mikey also mastered Motorists’ debut album Surrounded — out today via We Are Time, Bobo Integral, and Debt Offensive — so to celebrate its release, he and the band hopped on a call to catch up.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Jesse Locke: Mikey, I’m curious, how many albums do you master? How busy are you doing this for people right now?

Mikey Young: I just took two weeks off work, and only because I just moved out of a studio and built a new studio, which has taken me probably almost three months to finish. When I say studio, I just mean a room to mix and master, not a live tracking room and stuff like that. 

Matt Learoyd: A cave.

Mikey: Yeah, yeah. But a nice cave! It’s still a work in progress. So, yeah, things are a bit backed up, I’m booked almost four weeks in advance at the moment. I probably master, on average, an album every day. 

Matt: Woah, that’s a lot. A

Mikey: Some days I’ll do a few EPs — like yesterday, I was mainly mixing a couple EPs for people. So sometimes it gets messy, but yeah, I’m busy every day.

Jesse: Wow, that’s cool. So it’s mostly rock and punk bands?

Mikey: That’s been a good thing — I reckon when I started it was, because most people knew from that kind of stuff, and t was a lot of Melbourne garage punk bands. And then it just started slowly drifting to kind of weirder territory, a lot of reissues and archival stuff, and then kind of electronic stuff. And now there’s even a jazz label that I do a bunch of stuff for. That’s been a good thing — the longer I go, the more diverse gets, the more diverse the geography gets, too. I got my first job from Russia the other day. I was like, How did that even happen? It blows my mind

Craig Fahner: I noticed you master a lot of Canadian bands, like when I was going through recent releases from Canada that I like, whether it’s Woolworm or other bands on Mint Records in particular.

Mikey: Yeah, I’ve done a bit from Canada, but not as much from other places. There’s definitely hot spots in the world that I seem to have a good hold on, like San Francisco, or other places like that where I’ve spent a lot of time. Also I get a lot of work from Amsterdam for some reason, and places around there. I guess you just do one record, and their friends like it and so on. 

Matt: When I look at the records that you’ve mastered, or when I’ve noticed that you’ve mastered or worked on records that I really like, it seems like there’s this kind of aesthetic continuity between a lot of those bands, or at least similar kind of values — definitely a shared affinity for DIY processes and things like that.

Mikey: Totally, probably because they’re seeing my name on like-minded records. And also, price-wise, I probably fit. Independent bands can still afford me, hopefully. I’m happy to stay in that circle — most of the music I’m probably interested in exists around there. 

I think because sometimes there is an aesthetic of bands that do go to me, people think I’m responsible for that aesthetic, like something I do in mastering, which is so silly. Sometimes I’m weirded out when people comment on the mastering of things when they’ve never even heard the mixes or anything like that. It’s such an indefinable thing to comment on — unless you are the band.

Craig: You’ve got that bottle of secret sauce that in your studio pouring.

Mikey: Sometimes I just want to tell people that it’s not that impo— I shouldn’t say that. [Laughs.] It’s nowhere near as important as the person that recorded it, and then the person that mixed it. They impart so much more sonic flavor on the thing. I think there’s definitely records where I think I’ve made a big difference; hopefully I’m just there to make things a little better, and not a little worse.

Matt: I think you should lean into it and really take credit for the aesthetic — make them put your name on the title like, “A Mikey Young Joint.” 

Mikey: I’ll put that clause in my contract.

Jesse: Mikey Young Presents: Motorists. How many bands are you in right now yourself?

Mikey: It’s such a funny question to answer at the moment, because the last year and a half has been kind of…  

Jesse: None?

Mikey: Well, there’s next to no live shows. And we’ve suffered a series of smaller lockdowns — at the longest, maybe a couple of months or three months, and then some smaller ones. But it’s really hard to get run on even just a band practice and stuff like that. I don’t know if you guys have experienced that same kind of up and down. 

Jesse: Definitely. 

Mikey: Yeah, you don’t get that consistent band practice, there’s no point booking gigs because they’ll probably get canceled. I guess Total Control is still kind of active, and then the rest of the stuff’s more just, like, house projects. I’ve got another band called Power Supply that plays and has a record coming out. But it’s never like, all systems go all the time, I get bored of some people or some sound..

Jesse: Yeah, I feel that, I’m usually in three or four bands at any given time too. 

Mikey: I find it really healthy to just maintain a few bands. Unless you’re trying to make a career out of this thing, then you should put all your energy into one thing maybe. But as far as enjoyment of music, it’s really nice to just jump around from people to people.

Craig: Yeah. We had a similar experience here, with things closing for a month at a time and then opening, and then kind of being able to, with a very select small group of people, get together. That’s basically how we recorded, in these small bursts when it was possible. And so the whole process was kind of punctuated by the times we were allowed to go to our rehearsal space. So that’s kind of the chronology of the recording, like these moments last summer you could do all that stuff, ad then in the winter there was a brief window where we got together to mix the record. And then seemed like a week later it was down again.

But I think part of the way that I’ve tried to maneuver the pandemic is starting too many bands. So I’ve had several projects that are not finished that now that we’re sort of able to do things, remain unfinished. We have a bunch of files for Ableton projects on my computer with names I can’t remember.

Mikey: That was my plan! Not that I was happy that there was a worldwide pandemic, but I was like, Oh, maybe I’ll have some spare time to finish this, this and this and start this, but then work got busier. That’s one thing I was not expecting. Because I guess everyone, like yourself, was like, OK, I’m going to finish or start that recording project. So all of a sudden all these half- finished recording projects were now finished and needed mastering. So I’ve been lucky in that respect. 

Matt: I’m seeing events pop up for late September, early October and forward — it’s going to be funny, it’s like a big shakeup. I’m curious to see what bands still exist and if people started projects over the pandemic. Because I feel like it’s a big culling exercise — there’s probably going to be a bunch of bands that just go away because they couldn’t practice or whatever, and moved on to different things. I think it’s really going to alter the landscape, in a way that’s kind of exciting — especially for us, because we’re a relatively new band. When the pandemic started, we’d only played a handful of shows.

Mikey: The record’s done? It’s pressed and everything? 

Jesse: Oh, yeah. 

Mikey: How was the vinyl turnaround time? 

Craig: The turnaround time was shockingly fast considering all the warnings we’s gotten, just hearing about there being, like, 12-month wait times.

Mikey: Yeah, I’m hearing nine months.

Craig: It was turned around in three months, I think.

Jesse: Yeah. The difference is that it was pressed in Europe, because we have a Spanish label that we’re working with. Because I have this new label here in Canada, We Are Time, and the turnaround time for people here is really long at this point.

Mikey: There’s a Canadian plant, isn’t there?

Jesse: Yeah, there’s a couple. There’s Precision, and there’s Clampdown here in Vancouver too. They’re doing recycled vinyl, which is cool — they’re taking old records and melting them down and making new records out of them.

Mikey: Oh, cool. I started to get pretty self-conscious about vinyl, because it’s pretty terrible at the end of the day. We used Optimal in Germany and they had a lot of options, like using 100 percent recycled bottles, compostable outer sleeves and stuff like that. And so that made me feel a little better about the things.

Jesse: With the last Tough Age LP, we really wanted to take copies of our 7” that we didn’t sell and melt them down into the new LP, but they wouldn’t let us do it for some reason. [Laughs.] 

Matt: Why not?

Jesse: I don’t know! They think we’ll still sell them at some point, maybe.

Craig: Oh, the label wouldn’t let you. I wonder if the plant would allow you to bring custom material to melt down. 

Jesse: Put your blood in a record or something.

Craig: “We’re going to put our former lead singer’s ashes in the record.” [Laughs.] 

Jesse: That’s so metal.

Mikey: I think that’s an amazing idea, every band should do that. They should be forced to use their unsold records.

Jesse: I absolutely agree. And I think you should, like, turn the sleeves inside out and print on the other side of them. Just use all the shit again.

Craig: I wonder, in kilograms, how much unsold merchandise we have between the four of us.

Jesse: Like a small island. The Motorists record is 220 copies split among three labels, and I think that’s kind of like a magic number. 

Mikey: That’s amazing. How did you organize that?

Jesse: It’s a lot of emails. We were talking to this label in Calgary, Debt Offensive, because they put out records by Supercrush, this band that we really like. So we’re like, OK, we’d like to have a label in Western Canada to help us distribute and stuff like that. And then we reached out to Gonzalo from Bobo Integral in Spain, and he was also into it. And then I have my new label I’m starting to get off the ground now, We Are Time, so we just decided to do it like a three-label cooperative thing.

Craig: Yeah. It seemed like it was going to be an immense amount of work and logistics, getting everyone on the same page, but it’s gone super smoothly. I think just because everyone involved is definitely in it for the love of the game. Especially with these sorts of labels that are operating at this scale, working with bands that, you know, aren’t vying for superstardom, maybe, to put it honestly. But everyone involved totally shares the same sort of mindset about just wanting to make the record happen, wanting to cooperate. It’s been cool. It’s totally been a smooth process that I can imagine being really bumpy if it was different people with different priorities.

Mikey: I’m sure. I’ve found with releases of my own with the split label kind of thing, it only really gets messy if it’s like a separate pressing in Europe and a separate pressing in America and a separate pressing in Australia, and you’ve gotta time the release dates perfectly. But if one pressing just gets diverted to a few different camps, it seems to go alright.

Jesse: Yeah, it’s gone swimmingly.

Mikey: Are you guys freaking about [your tour]? 

Jesse: I don’t think so. Our tour is three shows, it’s pretty small. 

Matt: We’re also playing in Calgary, where we’re all from, so I’m partly just going to see my family. Even if the shows get cancelled, I’m still going just to see people, so it’s not the end of the world. 

Mikey: I’ve always wanted to go to Canada — I’ve been to America, like, 12 frickin’ times — but whenever I’ve toured over in America, I’ve done it without a proper visa. I mean, I’ve had a travel visa, but not a working visa. So it’s already sketchy enough, and then I’ve only heard horror stories about the Canadian border for bands. So any time I’ve had the offer of shows over there, it’s just been too sketchy to go and worry about coming back with a van full of instruments. Is that still true? Is it still hard for bands to cross the border?

Jesse: Yeah, you need all your paperwork in place. And it just depends on the border person you talk to on the day — they could be in a good mood or a bad mood.

Matt: It’s just like dealing with cops, where if they feel like they don’t like the cut of your jib, then they’re just gonna detain you for 12 hours because they feel like it. It’s arbitrary. I know tons of people who have snuck across the border through all manner of, like, sending their gear and merch in one car and then the band members go in a different car and gotten across, and then there are people who had all their paperwork together and still gotten denied because somebody had a DUI or a parking ticket five years earlier and they flagged them. It would be way better if it was so strict but consistent, but it’s just arbitrary no matter how much your ducks are in a row. Unless you have the actual P-2 visas.

Craig: I lived in the States for a while, and I’d go back and forth with gear, and I was a Canadian citizen but for some reason, I got way more flagged going into Canada than I did going the other way.

Jesse:  If you play by all the rules, like if you pay for the P-2 visa and you make the list of all the gear that you have, usually there they let you through.

Matt: If you bend to their will

Jesse: Exactly. 

Mikey: We go around it. From here to America, we just take nothing — we just buy cheap guitars and and borrow whatever and start from scratch as soon as we get there.

Matt: [Laughs.] That’s sick.

Mikey: It’s cheaper over there anyway, so we just bring new stuff back home, or we just leave it. Or I’ve got a buddy in San Francisco, so when I get there I just borrow an amp and a guitar off him. That’s just way less stressful than trying to carry a guitar past Customs. And also, if you do,  a proper visa is so expensive for four or five people, it’s like six grand or something. Which is just ridiculous for the type of money people are making from that sort of a rock & roll show.

Jesse: And you need to have dates booked consistently throughout a year for them to even give it to you for the length of a year. 

Mikey: It seemed easier in Europe and the UK. I found the promoters would just book the visa for you and you would just go and were fine. But America’s a bit of a drag.

Jesse: One time I was crossing over the border from Ontario to Michigan, and the border guard that we happened to have noticed that we had instruments, and he started talking to us about Rush. Our guitarist just happened to, like, live down the street from Geddy Lee’s son, so we had a nice conversation with him, and he just stamped us and sent us through. So you never know. You just end up getting the one nice person.

Mikey: The one rocker.

Jesse: The one prog fan. [Laughs.]  mean, he was still an asshole cop, so like, he was not cool, but at least he was cooler than the rest of them.

Matt: We’re gonna have to have, like, a spreadsheet of all the border guards who used to play in fucking hair metal bands. 

Jesse: There ya go. Ask for Bob at the Detroit crossing.

Mikey: I seem to notice that a lot of Canadian bands remain relatively unknown in America  — bands that even in Australia seem less known in America. And I wonder, is it because of that strict divide.

Craig: I was even going to mention the parallel with what I assume things are like in Australia, which is like: Canada’s a huge country with a handful of major cities, not a ton. So I think for a lot of bands, touring isn’t really an option. I know so many incredible bands where they mostly just operate in this really small scene, and whatever, put out records and have a following. But there’s these local, almost like musical dialects that I think form because there’s not a lot of moving around.

Mikey: Totally.

Craig: I notice when we think about Australian bands that we love, or bands from New Zealand that we love, I wonder if that sense of isolation maybe actually causes there to be more of this musical kinship that happens.

Mikey: I would agree. I feel like bands here compared to, say, bands I ran into in America are overall a little less careerist — it’s kind of next to an impossibility to make a living out of music, because you can’t keep touring. You just go up and down the coast and play five shows maybe twice a year. So we seem to be pretty happy to stay small. Which could probably lead to laziness or something, or a frustration for some bands who do want to do other things. That’s why I think the lore of every Australian band is always, “Ah, one day I hope I tour America.” Just the idea that you can get in a van and play 40 shows, because it’s an impossibility.

Jesse: I think the fact that Eddy Current has never played Canada, that just kind of makes your band loom a bit larger in my mind even. It’s like, Oh, this is this amazing thing, it’s rare and hard to see. You can only get the records and watch the videos. 

Mikey: I wish we did. [Toronto festival] Not Dead Yet offered us a couple times. That band especially was pretty lazy. We only toured America twice, and they were very lazy sightseeing tours, I think, where we played like 10 shows over 21 days. 

Jesse: That’s the way to tour.

Mikey: It wasn’t exactly a hard working band, that one. But even when bands tour here from overseas, it’s pretty much telling them like, “Every other show is gonna kinda suck. Just wait till you get to Melbourne and you can play five shows.” Because Melbourne is really good, the music scene huge, there’s different pockets and stuff. But Sydney, even though it’s a bigger place, just doesn’t have the scene at the moment.

Matt: Why is that?

Mikey: I don’t know. It used to be pretty poppin’ in the ‘80s — like whether it’s different licensing that affects the way venues operate over time, and the cost of living. Melbourne has a lot of venues, and I think in the ‘90s we had pretty loose liquor licensing laws, so a lot of new things popped up, maybe it just stayed like that. And now we have a reputation as a live music place. Then Adelaide’s just too small, and Perth’s too far away. Perth’s awesome, but it’s so far away. So you couldn’t tour here make any money. You just hopefully break even.

Jesse: I would love to do it though. 

Mikey: Is there an equivalent over there, or is it pretty well spread out?

Jesse: There’s pockets in Canada for sure. There’s, like, five or six cities that are going to be really good.

Matt: Yeah. There’s three major cities, and then three to six B-size Canadian cities. So you can string it together. But the problem is the middle of Canada is just so massive. There’s only three or four cities between between Calgary and Toronto, and that’s, like, 30 hours of driving. So it’s like, just because you need to sleep, you have to play Saskatoon, which is a town of like 300,000 people. 

Jesse: I have to say, I’ve played amazing shows in Saskatoon though. People buy merch like crazy there, because they’re just really starved for touring bands coming through.

Craig: Sometimes those smaller cities are gems. We all used to play together in a band called Feel Alright, and playing in Hamilton for me was way more fun than playing in Toronto. Or even, Jesse and I were in a band called SIDS ages ago, and I remember playing in Saskatoon — remember, there was like an armed robbery in the art gallery while the show was happening? [Laughs.]

Jesse: I remember playing with a band called called Chimpan-A to Chimpan-Z, which was like a metal band.

Matt: There was an armed robbery in the venue?

Craig: Well, the music venue was upstairs in a sort of undeveloped space above this art gallery, but the art gallery ran this kind of event space. And then yeah, while the show was happening upstairs, I guess no one was watching the front door where someone had come in and robbed the art gallery. 

Matt: Wow.

Craig: It was a really fun show. [Laughs.]

Jesse: But yeah, there’s great people in Saskatoon. It’s the people that make shows good. 

Matt: Absolutely. All those little towns are worth it. It’s just the distance — a lot of long driving days no matter how you slice it.

Jesse: If you’re like DOA or something, and you know every little punk scene in every little town, you can do it. But for most people it’s kind of hard.

Mikey: Yeah. It’s kind of impossible here. There’s a national radio station called Triple J that’s like a youth-oriented radio station, and you can kind of reach the level of commercial viability — if you can get played on that, you can start touring anywhere, because then people in these small country towns are hearing your band. But if you don’t make that step and you’re still on the local community radio, it’s really hard to go anywhere. But, yeah, like you said, it’s all fine if you’ve got low expectations. If you know some of the best shows are to 10 people in weird places, then it doesn’t matter at all.

(Photo Credit: left, Michelle Lemay; right, James Vinciguerra)

Craig Fahner, Matt Learoyd, and Jesse Locke’s paths have intertwined for a long time. They’ve played together as Motorists for three years, but have been in and out of various projects together since their teenage years. Craig’s previous bands include Feel Alright and Leather Jacuzzi, while Jesse plays with Tough Age, Simply Saucer, and Chandra, with whom he runs the label We Are Time. They also share an eclectic mix of influences from post-punk to power pop to krautrock. Their debut record Surrounded was mastered by Australian punk-rock legend Mikey Young (of Total Control and Eddy Current Suppression Ring), and released September 2021 via We Are Time/Bobo Integral/Debt Offensive.

(Photo Credit: Michelle Lemay)