Two Hours Traffic wraps it up with a final tour in December
by Bethany Koughan
Over the past decade-plus, Charlottetown’s Two Hours Traffic have made a name for themselves as one of Canadaʼs best-loved indie rock outfits. From their startup as hometown darlings, their vibrant sound and unforgettable hooks have made them a favourite across the country. Their second full-length album, 2007ʼs Little Jabs, reached the top 10 in Chart Magazineʼs list of Canadian College Radio Top 50 and earned them a breakthrough in the form of a shortlist nomination for the Polaris Music Prize. Theyʼve since appeared at the Winter Olympics, been featured on a myriad of magazine covers, and can boast placements on some major American television series including Gossip Girl, The O.C., The Office, and One Tree Hill. Having performed on four continents and won many industry accolades, Two Hours Traffic is undeniably one of Prince Edward Islandʼs greatest musical exports.
After a fantastic 12-year career, the band announced last week that they will be wrapping it all up with a string of farewell shows scheduled next month. I sat down with founding members Liam Corcoran and Andrew MacDonald to discuss their decision, and find out what might be in store for the four gents in the near future:
Buzz: Letʼs talk about your decision to stop performing as Two Hours Traffic. Youʼve made it clear that it was an amicable decision, but can you tell us what sorts of things factored into the decision? How do you decide when to move on from a project which has been so successful for you in the past?
Andrew MacDonald: When we set out to record Foolish Blood we knew that there was a good chance that it would be our last recording. Derek [Ellis, drummer] was seriously considering returning to school and unless the record really took off, we knew it would be tough for him to continue on with the band. When he finally made the decision to go back to school, we discussed the possibility of getting another drummer but it just didnʼt feel right. We were really happy with how Foolish Blood turned out and we felt it was a good note for us to go out on.
Liam Corcoran: I also feel that we reached a certain creative limit with Foolish Blood. We are extremely proud of the record and I’m not sure where else we would have to go with our sound. I think we could get together tomorrow and create some cool music, but I don’t think it would fit into the THT world.
Buzz: As fans may have noticed, in 2012 you parted ways with guitarist Alec OʼHanley and also made a move from longtime producer Joel Plaskett to work with Darryl Neudorf. By most accounts this change was well received and provided a recharged sound for your most recent recording, but is it fair to speculate that this shuffle in some way influenced the decision to step away from the band?
LC: If anything, the making of Foolish Blood prolonged our career. We weren’t sure if we could continue after Alec left the band. It took some soul-searching but we decided that we’d never forgive ourselves if we quit at that moment. So we started the search for a new member…in the end, we got Nathan [Gill] to play bass and Andy became the lead guitarist. When it came time to record everyone was in agreement that we should step outside of our comfort zone, which was recording in Halifax with Joel. Without Joelʼs help and encouragement we may have never made it past our first EP. He was much more than a producer for us. We just felt that for Foolish Blood, we needed to try something new, if only to challenge ourselves.
AM: A friend of ours, Matt McQuaid from Holy F*ck, recommended Darryl and we hit it off right away. We spent two weeks at his studio in Mono, Ontario and it was fantastic. Writing and recording that album was a real pleasure.
Buzz: Youʼve had a pretty stellar career, especially for an East Coast band. Having had the chance to play internationally and work with some industry greats, what would you say are your biggest accomplishments?
LC: Getting shortlisted for the Polaris was cool because it put us on the radar across the country. I think our biggest accomplishment was simply touring as hard as we did and becoming a headliner in our own small way. When we started, it was all about getting to open for big bands: that was the dream. I credit our manager, Larry Wanagas, with showing us that that was perhaps not the best goal. He made us believe that we had to be the show, and in the end it's a lot more rewarding to headline a small club than open in a stadium, at least in my opinion.
Buzz: After more than a decade in the business, what would you say are your biggest criticisms of the industry, or the process of trying to make it as a band?
AM: In terms of industry, just how terrible mainstream radio has become. I donʼt understand what happened to make rock radio so unlistenable over the past 10 years, but Iʼm crossing my fingers that one day things will be set right and great Canadian bands like Zeus and Rah Rah can dominate the airwaves.
LC: Itʼs also very difficult to make a living in a band right now, and being in an indie band is basically like running a small business in an extremely saturated market; itʼs tough to succeed. There's not much point in complaining about it, but if you're willing to stick it out and sleep on some floors for a while, I guarantee you'll have some of the most amazing times of your life.
Buzz: Youʼve managed to establish and grow your career over the past decade from PEI—which, as Canadaʼs smallest province, is arguably an isolated part of the country. How do you think this affected your direction? Did it make progress more difficult, or was it integral to your development?
LC: Staying on PEI definitely became a big part of our story, for better or worse. We resisted and ultimately never gave in to the industry standard of re-locating to the biggest centre possible. Sure, we might have missed out on some opportunities by not being in Toronto but we didn’t see that as a good enough reason to leave behind the pace of life we enjoy in Charlottetown. We did a lot of driving, but a band like Hey Rosetta! has done a whole lot more.
AM: We are so much happier at home and I think the music is better because of it.
Buzz: What lessons have you learned from this whole process that you will take with you going forward professionally?
AM: We have had the opportunity to meet and work with a lot of great people. Joel Plaskett in particular taught us a great deal. We have all learned so much about songwriting, production, and everything that goes into making a band work. More than anything, though, it is the friendships that we have made along the way with other bands that has made it all worth it.
Buzz: What has been your favourite/ most unforgettable experience as part of THT?
Both: Hard to pick just one.
LC: I never thought I’d be able to say this: after finishing up a 10-day tour of India where we performed in 3 different cities, we spent the final day watching the World Cup Finals in cricket where India was facing Sri Lanka. We sat drinking beer with our guide, Nihaal, and peppering him with questions until we more-or-less understood the game. India went on to win the match and the whole country went into celebration mode. It was an amazing way to cap off the trip.
AM: I feel really grateful that we have been able to travel as much as we have. We have been across Canada, throughout the US, we had our first European tour last year, and weʼve even been to India and Australia. I feel very lucky to have travelled so much doing what I love.
Buzz: Any plans for the future, musically? Is it time for a break, or are you envisioning new projects already?
AM: I haven’t envisioned a new project yet, but Liam and I will keep writing songs together. I’m not sure whether that will lead to a record any time soon, but in any case I’m looking forward to starting the writing process again.