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USS headline Edgefest 2, talk music and live shows

USS, Edgefest 2, July 18, 2014
USS, Edgefest 2, July 18, 2014
Elizabeth Gyde

Toronto traffic was even more dismal than usual this weekend…but the shutdown of Lakeshore Avenue due to the Honda Indy wasn’t enough to dampen the spirits of concertgoers headed to TD Echo Beach for 102.1 the Edge’s second iteration of Edgefest 2014 on Friday. Rather, the perfect weather, serene setting, fabulous food trucks, and most importantly, great lineup made for a truly enjoyable evening.

Featured on the Emerging Artists Stage this time around were James Black (of Finger Eleven fame), followed by Dear Rouge and Toronto’s own Wildlife.

As Wildlife wrapped, things got started over on the Main Stage as Bear Hands came on, followed by sets courtesy of Said The Whale and New York duo MS MR.

Then came the moment everyone was waiting for as headliners USS took the stage, opening with “Yo Hello Hooray”. The Stouffville boys delivered a power-packed performance that featured all the favourites…”Yin Yang”, “The is the Best”, “Damini”, “NA/OK”, “Laces Out”…and included their signature mid-set “stretch” to George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”.

Torontonians adore these guys and with good reason – their talent is matched only by their irresistible sense of humour and obvious love for both their fans and what they do.

I had a chance to chat with vocalist/guitarist Ashley and turntablist Human Kebab (Jason) before the show and the two were clearly excited to be headlining the event aptly nicknamed “This is the Fest”. It was six years ago that they were headlining the same radio station’s Next Big Thing concert series, so this occasion was clearly a momentous one.

“It’s amazing because that’s a testament to our longevity,” says Jason. “A lot of people are discovering us now because our music has gotten bigger and better. We’ve learned so much and we’ve come this far and become increasingly experienced and open-minded. And it does feel at times that we’re just arriving now.”

Known for their energy, the live shows don’t come without their share of stress, particularly for Ash.

“The most honest answer I can give is sometimes it’s awful,” he admits. “ It’s like if you’re at a symphony, you can’t be moved to tears while at the same time analyzing the music structure. You can’t think and feel at the same time, right? When we’re onstage at certain performances and technical things start going awry with the sound and with the equipment…it moves me out of that feeling place and into that thinking place. And in that thinking place, you’re in front of thousands of people and things aren’t going right. You’re kind of three cameras back from the movie. That can get a little unnerving or it can be the most exciting thing of all time. I would say that 80% of the time, it’s the time of our lives.”

Jason in particular is known for his onstage antics, whether that’s leaping into the crowd or standing on his head or bouncing to the point you could swear he actually takes flight. So does Ash ever get jealous watching from behind his guitar?

“I’ll tell you a funny story about his acrobatics,” laughs Jason. “We started the Advanced Basics tour in February…and Ash, out of nowhere, decides to suddenly end the show by stagediving, completely blindly. It was amazing, it was like a cannonball ripping through!”

“I accidentally aimed it right at a pack of adoring female fans who were very similar to your height (4’8”),” confesses Ash. “Even though in my mind I’m a small creature, I’m actually a 6-foot, 210-pound male who potentially may have done some damage. But there was a giant group hug after.”

“And there were no comments online about it,” adds Jason. “So I think they were safe and sound. Like Capital Cities.”

The boys’ growing success has been accompanied by opportunities to perform at bigger venues, such as when they opened for Hedley at Air Canada Centre this past March. And with their style of performance, bigger venues present greater possibilities for an even more impressive live show.

“Absolutely, and tonight is the pinnacle of what we’re able to do creatively and artistically as a full-scale production,” says Ash. “Whereas our first show in Jason’s hometown of Stouffville was in a space about the size of this little area that we’re occupying right now at this picnic table.”

This past year had some pretty big moments for the guys, one of which was on a deeply personal level for Ash.

“My dad coming back after 20 years of being away, that was a pretty big moment,” he says. “I can say that there’s a good chunk of the catalogue of music that I’ve written that was basically caused – directly or indirectly – by not having that person to teach me how to be a man and then having to basically just do a really inefficient job of living. I feel like our next album is going to be a real smiler!”

And are they working on a new album?

“Always,” promises Ash. “We’re always working on the next album.”

For now, fans have a new single to look forward to (Advanced Basics’ “Shipwreck”) and its video, which was shot in Nova Scotia last week.

“It’ll probably be done in a month,” says Jason. “We’re outside of Dartmouth in the middle of the ocean, Ash is playing with a lighthouse behind him and we’re reenacting what it would be like if the ship was hitting the biggest storm of all time.”

“We essentially are able to cinematically recreate the feeling that everybody has felt when you’re lying in bed by yourself in an absolutely turbulent, chaotic inner state,” explains Ash. “For every individual, your anxiety feels like the worst anxiety anyone’s ever felt, your depression feels like the worst depression anyone’s ever felt, your sadness…all of those feelings always feel like the worst thing that anyone has ever felt. In this video, we basically set out to create a group empathy of ‘let’s all empathize with each other, feeling this feeling together’. But then that archetype of a lighthouse showing you the ladder when you’re at rock bottom is a beautiful thing. And that lighthouse also represents the beauty of having just that one person that you’re brave enough to call to talk you off the ledge.”

Ash is never shy to chat about his own personal struggles, and he and Jason are clearly grateful for the success they are experiencing.

“We were at the airport coming home from Halifax,” says Ash. “As I was walking to the baggage claim I saw a lady working at a little booth that was selling trinkets and jewelry…and she was staring off, going through something in her mind. I saw myself as her in that moment, ten years ago at work – and this is what I was staring off at. So I’m very thankful and grateful that that was able to manifest itself into where we are now.”

2014’s third and final Edgefest takes place August 16, also at TD Echo Beach. Something of a throwback for the station’s longtime listeners, headliners will include Our Lady Peace, Sloan, Eve 6 and I Mother Earth.