By Kristy Koehler, June 26 2019—
Canada’s One Bad Son has shared billing with some of rock and roll’s best — Judas Priest, Def Leppard, The Rolling Stones — and they’re set to do it again this summer at Chaos Alberta, playing alongside the likes of Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Slayer and Disturbed.
Famous colleagues notwithstanding, One Bad Son is a hell of a rock band in their own right. Singer Shane Volk spoke to the Gauntlet about persistence, the state of Canadian rock and roll and the importance of giving back.
One Bad Son has been in the business since 2004. After a long grind, they knew they had a hit on their hands with 2012’s “Scarecrows.” The only problem — it wasn’t getting a lot of radio play. The group decided to show up at radio stations and play the song live.
“We phoned and said, ‘We’re coming in — one way or another you’re gonna see us,’” says Volk. “We knew it was a really good song. It just wasn’t getting any love. We knew if this song didn’t get any traction on the radio, that was going to be it. We thought it had a chance, and thought it just needed the right push and if this doesn’t work, at least we know we tried everything.”
Luckily, it worked and OBS traveled across Canada, picking up momentum — and radio play — along the way, and “Scarecrows” ended up in the top five on Canada’s rock charts. It’s one of those songs that most listeners will recognize, but won’t necessarily attribute to the band.
Volk isn’t too concerned that people don’t immediately associate the song with OBS — it’s all part of the way the music industry is changing. While listeners used to head down to a music store and pick up a CD, now fans gain exposure to bands through streaming services, and Volk doesn’t think that’s a bad thing.
“There’s so much content,” he says. “You’ve got so many choices. Somebody might love rock and OBS might come up on their playlist and then they might come to a show and we might hook them that way.
“I really think it’s an incredible time for music. I think streaming and the nature of the way the industry works has possibly even more opportunities now. You just have to accept what it is and be willing to put the work in. It’s never been easy to be in a rock band. I don’t care if it’s 1975 or ‘95 or 2005 or 2019, if you decide you want to be a musician — get ready for the grind.”
One Bad Son is making sure to stay on top of — and embrace — shifting trends in the industry rather than becoming trapped in nostalgia.
“Sometimes you can just put your head down and work blindly and work so hard and find out that you’ve worked too hard at the wrong thing,” he says. “And we just really want to make sure that whatever we do in the future, we’re focusing our energy right.
“No matter what era you’re in or coming from you have to stay on top of what’s happening now and not lament or miss the way things used to be. We’re just trying to approach whatever happens from a very modern standpoint. The truth is the game changes. You have to stay on top of it. Wishing for the past doesn’t help you move forward.”
One Bad Son formed in Saskatoon, headed to Vancouver, and now, Volk is a Calgary resident. He says the group isn’t 21-year-old roommates anymore, and times have changed, not only in the music industry, but in their personal lives as well. Drummer Kurt Dahl has two kids, guitar player Adam Hicks just welcomed his first son and Volk is getting married in the fall. Still, they haven’t slowed down.
“As your career evolves and your personal life evolves, you figure out new ways to do things,” says Volk.
The way they’re doing things right now seems to be working, though Volk is still humble about his success. He says he isn’t sure what would constitute “making it,” that ambiguous phrase often tossed around as the definition of success.
“I think maybe if somebody backed up to my house with a truckload of cash…” he laughs.
“The bands that we’ve opened for are obviously world famous — but you talk to the guys and even they have said— and I think this is universal for most artists — no matter what, you never really feel like you’ve made it,” says Volk. “Once you’re in it you’re like ‘I don’t really know what making it even is.’ You live and die by the songs and you’re never quite sure what next year is going to bring — you’re never sure how long this thing is gonna go.
“I don’t want that to sound negative — I love the fact that it’s this never-ending search to get better and to play more and do more. We’ve been incredibly fortunate with the opportunities that we’ve gotten and the bands we’ve opened for and how great they’ve been to us.”
Volk cites Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford in particular as one of those people he won’t soon forget. Chances are, he won’t soon forget being on a festival lineup with the Rolling Stones either.
“It’s going to be an incredible experience,” he says. “I downplay these things, but when you’re in the moment it becomes pretty surreal.”
The Rolling Stones are headlining Canada Rocks, a celebration of Canadian rock and roll at the Burl’s Creek event grounds in Oro-Medonte, Ont. on June 29. Asked if having a British band headline a festival celebrating Canadian rock seems obtuse, Volk says: “Come on. It’s The Rolling Stones.”
“I’ll put it this way — all the bands are Canadian — Sloan, The Beaches, The Glorious Sons. It’s The Rolling Stones. How often are you gonna get that opportunity?” he asks.
“I think Canadian rock and roll is in a really good place — look how well the Glorious Sons are doing. They’ve had a number one hit in the US. They’re doing so well. I really dont have any worries about the state of rock in Canada.”
Canadian rock has a very distinct, indie rock sound, he says, a mould that One Bad Son doesn’t really fit.
“It goes along very well with the name One Bad Son,” says Volk. “It’s kind of based on the idea of being a black sheep, and I think we’ve always kind of had a bit more of an American sound, a little heavier.
“The Glorious Sons, The Beaches — they’re great rock bands but they definitely cross over into that indie rock world. Canada has a lot of amazing bands like that. We have a bit more of that American sound. I think Canada’s a little more distinctive. There’s definitely a difference in the sound and the culture.”
Despite taking the stage with some of the best bands in the world, One Bad Son makes time to give back. They recently played a free show in Saskatoon to raise awareness and funds for mental health, as well as a show to raise money for those impacted by homelessness.
Of giving back, Volk says it’s incredibly important, for very personal reasons.
“Honestly, it’s the most important thing,” he says. “We all have initiatives that we really take to. We’re not millionaires living up in our mansions but we’ve been very fortunate in our careers. If you can use any of your modicum of fame or sucess to help whatever cause it is that speaks to your heart, that’s incredible. For me, mental health is a big one — I’ve definitely struggled with my mental health over the years. Being able to do music and have a career through those challenges — that means a lot to me.
“It’s honestly as important to all of us as it is to get a show with The Rolling Stones. I mean, that’s amazing, but there’s some selfishness to that. If you can use what inevitably becomes a pretty selfish industry to do something selfless, that’s an incredible thing.”
Tickets to see One Bad Son at Chaos Alberta in Edmonton’s Kinsmen Park on July 27 are available online at chaosalberta.com.