SFU student Jennifer Lai moonlights as pop-punk guitarist

This Side of Town owes its creation and much of its success to the Internet. (L-R: Jennifer Lai, Melaine Dawn, and Chris Kavanagh.)

Being ‘indie’ in the music industry implies more than just a musical genre — it also means being responsible for handling the business aspects of one’s own career. The obligation of establishing one’s musical image, including the daunting tasks of booking tours, promoting singles, and paying for recording sessions, is placed in the hands of the band members themselves. This is the case for This Side Of Town, a Vancouver-based punk band that exemplifies the meaning of ‘indie.’

The band describes their sound as an amalgamation of modern pop vocals and early 2000’s punk influences, reminiscent of Paramore and A Day to Remember. About their beginnings, Jennifer Lai, lead guitarist, said, “I started playing guitar at 15 and 16. [. . .] I didn’t take it seriously until after high school though. I had a year off after high school and I really wanted to do something with music, so I decided to post an ad on craigslist and then actually do something about it.”

“I’ve been doing music for pretty much my entire life,” says Melanie Dawn, the lead singer of the band. “I’ve been in other bands before, but I grew up in Abbotsford, so there are bands out there that don’t really go anywhere. It’s really hard to get out there when you’re living in a small town, so [joining] a band that was based in Burnaby opened a lot of doors.“

“I started playing drums when I was about 18,” says drummer Chris Kavanagh. “I bought my first kit then just screwed around for a bit before deciding that I wanted to be in a band and do something with music. All my friends weren’t serious about it so it never went anywhere. Then I saw Jen’s Craigslist ad, and now here I am!”

Fast forward to a debut album — 2013’s #thestreets — a couple of EPs, music videos, a stream of live shows, and a cross-continent tour. I discuss with them the  challenges of being an unsigned indie band.

“We do everything ourselves,” says Jennifer Lai. “We have to pay for our recordings, venue bookings, promotion — everything.”

“We tried to get other people to book for us, but it’s really hard.” says Dawn. “They aren’t as passionate as we are, so we try to get it into our own hands and do it. I mean it results in probably getting less gigs than we like, but we’ve still been able to play gigs across the whole continent, which in itself is amazing.”

The challenges that came with setting up a cross-continent tour were a big hurdle for the band. The biggest challeng of being indepedent, Lai says: “I would say booking tours. But even so, just getting your music properly promoted out there is really difficult.” 

The Internet has also played a big part in the formation of the band, as well as in building their fanbase.

“I think if the Internet didn’t exist then we wouldn’t have anything,” says Dawn. “We even have a fan in North Carolina that writes to me! He would of never heard of us if it weren’t for the Internet.”

Aside from the benefits of holding the world in your hands, the accessibility online platforms have enabled has also shaped the relationship between bands and record labels, inevitably placing more responsibilities on the band to promote themselves.

“Before the internet, the fight to get signed was more central, but now it’s not as important. A lot of bands who inevitably get signed to a label still have the onus of doing a lot of things [. . .] you still have to pay for your own recording most of the time, but it depends,” says Kavanagh, as he sips on a brewer’s lemonade.

“Sometimes, the labels will also pay upfront for stuff but it really varies per artist. But, they’re not going to take care of you like the way they used to. They still expect you to do the work,” adds Dawn.

“You have to pound the pavement basically. So instead of Facebook and that, you have to begin printing out flyers and stick to traditional ways because you can’t rely on the Internet to spread the word,” Lai elaborates. “With the Internet, it makes it harder, too, because everybody now has a chance. There’s so many bands for people to listen to.”

After a coincidental friendly encounter with another local Vancouver punk band The Faceplants, I end by asking what advice they wish to give to aspiring bands.

“Please do it!” says Kavanagh enthusiastically.“Go out there, do shows, meet and network with people, and make friends. We went to a show, gave someone our card, and then when they were booking shows they considered us, and now they’re our friends,” Dawn adds with a smile. “It is an experience like no other.”

If you interested in seeing This Side of Town perform live, they have a 19+ show coming up on April 15th at Venue Nightclub. Tickets are available in advance and at the door.