Interview: Ben Pokol from Elk


On the day of the release of Elk’s second full-length LP, Daydreams, I spoke with Ben Pokol, bassist for the Niagara region rock and roll band that gloriously cranks out three-minute songs with a classic garage rock foothold and unshakable pop melodies. The band should prove to be a welcome presence for any rock and roll fan with an insatiable itch to sing along with soaring choruses.

Elk consists of Michael Price, Josh Korody, Kyle Connolly and Ben Pokol. The new album, Daydreams, was released on July 16 on Indoor Shoes and is more than deserving of a loyal following. Pokol spoke with me about the band’s growth, a desire to tour beyond Toronto and the unforeseen blessing of long-distance friendships.

Elk – “Riverview”

TST: I didn’t realize it until this morning, but I saw today is the album release. I assume it’s a fairly big day for you.

BP: Yeah. Well, we’ve had the record circling for a while already. We’ve been selling them at shows, but today is the official release.

TST: Are you doing anything to celebrate the occasion?

BP: No, we’re not. We were going to plan a show, but then we ended up losing our drummer.  We’ve got a new drummer, but the whole practice thing and getting it all together, so we ended up not doing anything today.

TST: Oh, wow. Okay…

BP: (laughs)

TST: Your drummer was Josh, right?

BP: He’s still going to be a full, official member of the band, but he runs a recording studio, so he’s booked pretty much solid for the summer. He doesn’t have time to come out with us or anything like that.

TST: He recorded, produced and mastered the album. Correct?

BP: Yeah.

TST: You’ve been doing a bit of that too, right? I was looking up bands in the Niagara region, and your name kept popping up with recording and doing stuff with other bands. Do you run a studio also?

BP: I just have a bunch of equipment and do it out of my house.

TST: I wanted to ask you about the scene up there. I’m pretty new to the majority of the Canadian music scene. Yesterday, I talked to Christian from Milks & Rectangles, who are up in Charlottetown. He described the thriving Prince Edward Island scene to me. I’m sure the Niagara region is different, but you tour mostly around there, Toronto, and Ontario. Are you planning on spreading your tour out wider for the release of Daydreams?

BP: Yeah, we’re looking at August for going out to the East Coast. Then, we’re thinking towards the end of August just staying there and playing Halifax Pop Explosion, which is a big festival out in Halifax. But, we’re kind of in the works of booking an East Coast tour.

TST: Well, I want to say since Pigeon Row sent your album my way a week or a week and a half ago, I’ve been obsessed with it. It’s right in the vein of many things I like, and I think you guys made a tremendous album. I hope great things come of it.

BP: Well, thank you. It’s awesome to hear that.

TST: You’re certainly welcome, man. It’s an album where front-to-back it’s short, sweet, killer rock and roll songs that I don’t want to quit listening to. I’ve been thrilled playing it.

I’d say from your past EP and your debut album into this one, there’s a growth in your sound.  Would you say that’s a reflection of you guys maturing as a band, or is it more having people with production expertise as members?

BP: It does help that Josh has worked on a lot more things since then, and he has producing and recording experience. I’d attribute it to Balm Beach, which was the 7” before this – It was actually 11 songs. It was a full-length record.

TST: Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize that. I was mistaken of the chronology of the self-titled and the 7” on Bandcamp.

BP: We recorded it in three days in a cottage in Northern Ontario. So, we brought two vans, one full of us and one full of recording equipment, and we went up there and posted up in this little cottage and recorded this 11-song record in three days. And, it was rushed to say the least.

With this record, we went to the studio where Josh was working at the time in Toronto. We did seven days instead of three and fifteen songs, and then we cut it down twelve. We spent a lot more time on it, because we had a piano there and an organ there and all sorts of different instruments. It was a lot easier to just experiment with things. You know, “What would this sound like if we did this?” Just try things out, whereas when we were up at the cottage, we just had what we brought with us like a couple guitars, a bass and drums.

TST: Like I said, the album sounds tremendous, so it paid off. When you went in there and discovered things as you were going about in the seven days, did you have most of the songs worked out beforehand?

BP: The songs were fully worked out beforehand aside from one that got cut. What we ended up doing was we worked them all out as a rock band – two guitars, bass and drums – and when we got into the studio, we just stripped them down. “Come Home,” for example, that song is very piano-driven. When we started, it was just full of guitar. We thought, “What would happen if we just took all of the guitar out of the verses?” So, we worked in piano, and a little bit of organ, and brought the guitars back in. We did things like that, just kind of restructuring the songs. That was mostly how it was done. They were all written lyrically at the start and structurally beforehand.

TST: What would you say, whether for your band or yourself, is your grandest aspiration for the album?

BP: I really just want people to hear it, and I want to be able to just go out and tour it, and hopefully tour it for as long as we can financially sustain.

TST: If you tour and make it south to the states, I hope you don’t forget to swing through the Midwest. We get skipped over now and again, and I’d love to see you guys.

BP: And I would love to come there. And, I would love to go to Nashville.

TST: I was watching the video you did for “Before the Sun.” I’m going to assume that’s a pretty accurate representation of you guys live. I know you probably did multiple takes, but your energy in it is great and the video is very well-made. Was that the first video you guys have done?

BP: Yeah, that was our first video. That was a little weird. A friend of ours did it in St. Catherines. He had us just play the song. We did it once, and then he had us play it over and over again to get different angles, and at that point, we were just kind of standing around and going through the motions with playback of the song. But, that was fully recorded live at the time.

TST: I think the energy on it is great, and it totally suits the song. That song is a perfect album-opener, giving a sense of what’s to come without giving away all of what’s ahead.

It’s refreshing for me to find rock and roll played really well, especially with guitars and a tight rhythm section, given the state of much of what’s popular in the music industry.  I will say there are bands that come to mind that have gained a solid amount of acclaim in the last handful of years or so that I would say play comparable music to you and have been championed by the likes of Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, etc. I’ll just throw some out there: Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Harlem.  They are all bands I truly enjoy, but I think it’ll be a damn shame if you don’t get a similar amount of recognition. I think your album is on par with some of their best.

BP: Wow, thank you.

TST: You’re welcome. I hope it gets out there as well as you deserve.

BP: Yeah, I agree, too. (Laughs) Not to be in that sort of way, I just want people to hear what we’re doing, you know?

TST: Oh, absolutely. I wouldn’t take that any other way.

Okay, so you’ll have to tell me if it was before or after recording the album, the band split into two and two geographically, correct?

BP: Yeah, it was actually before we recorded the 7” when that happened.

TST: I read that you guys still found ways to work out your schedules with rehearsing and playing together. How challenging was that? It seems like it would be a pretty hefty challenge for a young band.

BP: It is, but we kind of just picked a day in the week. We’d say, “That’s the day. Nobody do anything. Nobody work.” We just made it happen. Me and Mike, the guitar player, he lives in St. Catherines, and I live in Welland. They’re about a half-hour apart. Josh and Kyle live in Toronto. For me, I’m a little bit further, that’s about an hour and a half drive. Once a week, we get our stuff together, and we truck on up to Toronto. We have a rehearsal space there that we rent. We jam for a while. It has been a little tricky at the time just sometimes not wanting to sit in the car for three hours. Or, you could be like, “You guys moved. We didn’t move. Why do we have to come there?” It always works out though. It happens once we get together.

TST: I commend you on that, because there would be a lot of people who would be resistant to change and not be willing to do the legwork. Something worthwhile definitely came out of it.

BP: I almost find it to be somewhat of a good thing, because you see so many bands that are best friends and hang out all day and do all the same things together. With half of the guys living there, we still are best friends and still have the same interests, but when we jam or play shows every time feels like seeing a friend you haven’t seen in a while. “What have you been up to?” “Oh, you should check out this band that I heard a couple days ago that played over here.” It’s always something new, and the same goes for when we go up there. It makes playing shows and doing a tour a lot easier, because you haven’t been spending every minute with that person before you’re even going. When we all get together, it’s awesome. We all like hanging out.

TST: It sounds like it gives special weight to every interaction. That seems like a pretty valuable thing.

BP: Yeah, I think so.

TST: I don’t want to keep you too much longer on release day. I hope wheels start turning for you and the tour in August goes well and things just keep getting better. I wish you luck with everything in the near future. I hope it’s big for you, Ben.

BP: Thank you. Thank you so much.

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