By: Valerie Dittrich
When a couple of high school kids from Windsor picked up a guitar and decided to start a band, they had no idea how far it would take them.
David Venn, a Ryerson journalism student, and Shane Owchar started the The Kid Lickies, back when they were only in the eighth grade. Since taking the stage at a charity performance in their first year of high school, Kent Wang and Marcus Stryland have joined the group and they’ve performed at high-profile Toronto venues such as The Phoenix Concert Theatre and the Horseshoe Tavern.
CanCulture got an exclusive interview with The Kid Lickies' lead guitarist and singer, David Venn, about how they started the band, the brotherly bond between the four of them, their inspiration and what making music means for the southern Ontario band.
Q: I think everyone probably wants to be in a band when they’re a kid, but you guys have made it pretty far. What inspired you to start a band?
A: Shane, our singer, met our bassist Kent at Seneca College. I met Marcus during first-year through mutual friends and we’ve hit it off ever since we met each other. Shane and I though -- we go way back. We’ve been friends since Grade 7. What inspired us to start [the band] was that we were young and we all loved rock and roll, and we were all playing instruments at the time -- not well though. We would basically just get together and make terrible noises and the idea was to just start playing shows and playing better noises and writing songs. We all had a passion for songwriting and expressing ourselves in that way and it just sort of clicked. We just wanted to keep it moving.
Q: Rehearsals must be really fun for all of you. What typically happens during one of your rehearsals?
A: If we have a show coming up, it is largely making sure our setlist is pristine and up to date. They’re normally around two to three hours. Shane and I are constantly writing songs; so if we have one that we think is ready to bring to the band, we’ll throw it down and we’ll start learning it for the next set. Rehearsals are pretty fun! We go to Rehearsal Factory at Front and Sherbourne, it’s a chain of rehearsal places. We have to have Studio 4. It’s the one we always get, it’s a cheap one, it’s the one we’ve made magic happen in. We’ve written and come together as a band. If magic wants to happen, we need to be in Studio 4. If there’s something coming up, it’s the must-have.
Q: You have a pretty diverse setlist in your shows and no two songs sound the same; it’s hard to narrow down a genre. That said, what influences and inspirations for your music?
A: That’s why we can’t put a label on our music -- it’s because we have too many. We all just have a stupid amount of influences. Everything we see and hear is an influence. Marcus is really into the early 2000’s pop-punk revolution stuff, while Shane and I aren’t the best technical players, but what we do really well is we can listen to something and really feel it and come up with our own version of that. A lot of our influences come from, really anywhere. That’s the way it goes with us -- as you grow as an artist, a musician and as a person, you start to expand in every single area and you can get inspiration from literally anything. Our sound is the fact that we are our own band and we do what we want to do. We all have such different backgrounds, which is hard to find in other bands. We are all such different people that sometimes we don’t even come across as band, we look like just four people on stage. But we’re so close, we’re all such good friends and we come from such different places that in our songs there are so many different things we want to do and we have so many different backgrounds that we want to show it off musically.
Q: You started playing guitar at a pretty young age and started the band when you weren’t even in high school yet. How has your sound and overall vibe changed from then to now?
A: We started off in Grade 8 and I started playing guitar in Grade 7. The first song we ever wrote and never even ended up playing it was called “I’m Not The Only One.” And it was awful. From top to bottom, everything was awful. But that’s why it was so much fun -- it was so innocent. We didn’t even know how to match power cords with regular cords or what a key was and we couldn’t even keep time properly. We knew nothing. And then the second was called “California Bound”... and none of us are California bound. I think we brought in a harmonica that wasn’t even in the right key, but everyone thought it was cool because I had one of those face masks where I could play guitar and play harmonica at the same time. Every song had four chords, no rhythm or melody whatsoever. The third song we wrote -- Shane wrote it -- and for the most part, we still play it today. We wrote it in Grade 9 and it was a big hit throughout high school. It’s called “Wasted Away” and it’s three chords and nothing else; E, B and A. We play it for the olden days, but ever since then we’re in a much clearer headspace now more than we ever were. Now that we’re out of high school and we’re able to grow as people and experience a ton of new things, you can hear it in our lyrics and in the way we’ll play our instruments now. There’s different melodies that we’ll have and they way we’ll change things up, and it’s cool to see the change from “Wasted Away” to our songs now like “Be My Friend”, “Let It Out” or even “Seafoam Skies”, they’re all songs that have grown so much. I couldn’t even imagine trying to write something like that when we were in Grade 9.
Q: Toronto’s underground music scene is pretty incredible. How did you guys get started in it and how has it personally helped your band and how you create music?
A: We got a break. We played at the Phoenix in August, which was a huge thing. It’s a big Toronto venue and if you’re a Toronto band, playing at the Phoenix is a big deal because it’s such a legendary venue. The Rolling Stones have played there. That was a huge, huge deal for us. After that, we had a ton of shows lined up and are now in the process of recording our first album and EP. As far as the underground scene goes, it’s helped Shane a lot, for sure, grow as a songwriter. Reid McMaster, the singer and frontman of the Fade Awaays, and he was playing drums for us when we first made the transition to Toronto before we found Marcus. [Reid] alone, I think, saved our band. It was a rough period of time for our band, and we almost called it quits but Reid and the underground scene really showed us what rock and roll was like in Toronto. What the underground scene shows you when you’re a performer rather than just a consumer of music, is that kind of lifestyle. If we didn’t have all these bands around us that we were playing shows with and hanging out with that were doing some crazy things, we would be fine with what we were doing; there would be no growth. That is what’s great with the underground music scene, is that it’s so strong and there’s so many people who care about it and love it and are consumers of it that it gives us the platform to be able to produce what we love producing. And that’s something I don’t believe that you can get in a lot of cities. You’ll have fans that’ll go crazy and buy your merch and it’s just a really special platform to be apart of.
Q: It’s pretty impressive that you have played at not only the Horseshoe Tavern most recently, but the Phoenix as well, both really iconic venues in Toronto. How did it feel for all of you to be playing on the same stage as rock legends?
A: We have a pretty solid track record going right now, we keep playing where the Rolling Stones have played! We’re following them from the Phoenix and now the Horseshoe. It’s been very surreal for us. It’s been a long, long, very long road and I know it’s only going to get longer. But just to have those benchmarks and those checkpoints and being on the right track, we can look back and say, “legends have played here.” It’s just a legendary venue. As soon as we walked in, I just remember I was looking at the stage and bringing in my equipment and thinking, “wow.” We’ve done some cool things up to this point, but this was pretty cool and it was the exact same feeling when playing at the Phoenix. Just knowing that our role models and influences have been there previously is reassuring.This is beyond what we ever would have thought we would have been doing at the age of 13. It’s a super rewarding experience.
Q: Being in band and playing music together is obviously something you’re all very passionate about. But what does it mean to you, personally, being in the Kid Lickies?
A: This band means a lot to me because I don’t play music because I necessarily love music. I mean, I do love music, I love playing it, but it’s not just about all that. I would prioritize the fact that I love my bandmates more than I love the music that we produce. Shane is my brother until the end of time, same thing with Marcus and Kent. Being in the band is more like I want to do this for the love of music and the love of eachother, keep this thing going. And to me, it just means fulfilling dreams and goals that I’ve had for a long time. For me, it’s an outlet where I can let loose and just enjoy life for a while. And for Shane, it’s very much his career, his passion, his everything. He’s going to do this forever. It’s something different to everyone in our band. It’s just that we’re The Kid Lickies and no matter where it goes or where it takes us, it’s always going to be that thing I did and I know I’m going to put a hundred per cent into. It means a lot to be able to experience life in this manner with people that you’re so close with.
The Kid Lickies will be playing at the Supermarket Restaurant and Bar on January 31.
This piece was edited by Luke Elisio.