BANDSPEAK

The Hassle Interviews Toronto DIY Vet Guard Petal

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Named after the often wilted or charred petals of the rose that protect the inner bloom, Guard Petal’s perfectly bittersweet anti-folk is quite fitting. The projects ambassador, Jules Noel, has the lilting voice of Frankie, but supplants the upper crust socialite childhood with years spent hanging in Toronto DIY spaces and on the road playing bass with punk act Chastity.

Though a somewhat unorthodox background for a folk artist, their experiences loan themselves to their songwriting, a wonderful duality that allows them to craft the musical equivalent of that melancholy place where a concrete sidewalk meets an open field. Noel’s traipsing guitar-work acts as a perfect companion for their honest vocals, slowly building the core of song on Guard Petal’s debut album Memory Box.

As Noel speaks of their memories of grief and growth, there’s rarely a sense of repetition, a hallowed quality in the world of acoustic-heavy singer songwriter releases. On “Saltwater”, haunting accordions swell and recede, “Light Pollution” houses twangy bass-lines and a moldy-peaches-esque duet with vocalist Sofie Hamlin, while “Band-Aid’s Won’t Hold Me Together” is pushed onwards by an oddly sunshine-y drum set. Each song casts it’s own charm, making it unbelievably easy to get lost in the music. I’ve been listening all week – and I’m still not tired.

I got a chance to catch up with Noel as they were in a car traveling across the prairies of Alberta. Kindly, they introduced me to their life story, and chatted about influences, tour and my new favorite genre, “Tweemo”.

C: Okay, well, I want to start here because honestly, you’re quite a mysterious character. Usually when I find somebody that I want to interview. I’m like, okay, like, I’ll do some background research, and I got to be honest, I know almost nothing about you. I couldn’t find anything. But I’m curious, could you give me a little abridged life story?

J: Sure, I can do that. I just turned 26 a few days ago, and I am from Whitby, Ontario, which is just a suburb outside of Toronto. I’ve been playing playing guitar since I was 13, and then I started writing songs when I was about 15 I think.

I always just wanted to be in a band that was like, my entire goal, like I wanted to be in a band basically, since I was 15 like to go on tour was my biggest dream. And I just geared all of my efforts towards music as much as I could through like, going to school. I didn’t study music, but it was just always my extracurriculars. Eventually, I linked up with a band called Chastity, which are from my hometown, and I have been in that band for about four years, and I play bass and travel with them.

But I’ve always had like a solo project on the side. Crywank, when was the first tour I ever did. When I was 22, we did an Ontario tour with Jay and Dan, and they just became like, two of my best friends. Since then I just have been all about like traveling and playing music and doing what I can with that, and I also like met a lot of friends who were very supportive of my whole project.

Does that answer the question? It’s a little bit vague (laughs).

C: No, no, that was that was excellent

J: I’ve been around I been around I guess, but not under a solo name.

C: Yeah I figured that. I felt like if I was in Toronto, and I was at like a concert. I could like ask somebody who Jules Noel was I, they’d probably know you.

J: Yeah, I’ve got like, a lot of mutual friends. And, like, I’ve been active in a lot of different scenes in Toronto, and I’ve just kind of been around – just never really onstage unless I’m supporting another musician.

C: But I mean, that’s, that’s cool to finally you know, get that opportunity. I’m glad the release has gone well and it’s been been a redeeming process.

J: It’s really nice to like, release something and like, feel the support come back from all these people you’ve supported in the past, like really sweet experience.

C: Was it like, somewhat nerve wracking to put something out for the first time?

J: Yeah, I was definitely, like going between feeling anxious and feeling like really excited – and like, proud. But it’s a lot of attention all at once, and that’s not something I’m super comfortable with all the time. I think that’s why it’s taken me so long to finally like release music that I’ve worked on for quite a while. But, it was a really nice day, and the way the project came together just overall, I have a lot of positive feelings associated with it.

C: I think there’s a whole there’s a whole different like level of intimacy to like, you know, listening to something versus actually like being in the room and a part of the creation of something. How was it for you, inviting these you know, other people in to collaborate in and work on it?

J: I was like very intentional about who about who I was going to work with, on this record. I think I need a really comfortable environment in order to like be able to perform properly, I think. I’ve had times in the studio in the past where it’s been a little anxious or like didn’t really feel like my contributions were being taken seriously, and that’s like, all part of being in a band, but this record is so personal that I needed to work with people who I could trust to, like, listen to me.

So I, when I heard that my, one of my best friends Colm Hinds, who is from Northern Ireland, has his own project called Rousseau. When I heard he was booking studio time, because he’s also a recording engineer – I booked in with him immediately, because he’s just the best vibe type of person I could have asked for.

He made the experience so much fun. It was well organized, he knew exactly what he was doing with with like, coming up with tones for the instruments I was playing, and is like, hilarious and very sweet. So he was like, the biggest reason why I wanted to record, and he also produced a lot of the tracks because he was like, just on the ball and knew me personally and knew what I wanted. Yeah, he just like, he just made it happen seamlessly.

And then one of the other collaborators I worked with is my friend, Sofie, who is the second voice on Light Pollution. I knew them because the person they used to live with the person I’m dating and so during a lockdown in Toronto. So I used to hear them practice, like they used to play and write songs, and I could hear them practicing through the walls and was immediately like, “I love the music that you’re making, I’d really love to collaborate.”

I reached out with a chorus for light pollution and stuff, and we made it come together. I think we got a really cool track out of that process. They also played that like really sweet guitar solo on Missed Connection, and they played bass on Body Heat as well. They just like made a lot of really awesome connections, because they’re very multi talented. Across like a number of genres.

Is music like, just at the forefront of everything for you? Like in terms of life in general?

Yeah, it absolutely is. Like, I haven’t been able to hold down like a job when I’m home because like I book everything around tour, even though that doesn’t really pay my bills or anything. I’ve been in a bit of a weird place because in Canada the lockdowns have been so intense, and only now is it seeming like things can start happening again.

C: So have there been any shows and stuff going on (In Canada)? Or is it all been shut down?

J: Like during 2021 in the summer, yes, and then Omicron shut everything back down again. Just now bands are starting to play like half capacity shows. Which is okay for some local bands to do, I think, but touring bands like aren’t coming up here currently. It’s a lot of effort and money to cross the border to just play a half capacity show.

C: What’s life been like without the aspect of tour? You know, like, has it felt less meaningful? Are there ways you’ve tried to, like substitute things in for something that’s so integral to your life?

J: I moved into an apartment, like a different apartment, and I just really tried to focus on like, healing from trauma and growing emotionally and trying to be a better friend and partner, and I just like, I kind of just took it very internally for a while. And then I also read a lot. I practiced guitar, like, quite a lot. The world just became very small.

And in a way, that was why Memory Box was able to happen, because, like, I felt like I had space in my head to be able to do this, where in the past, my schedule has been too crazy. Like I was out at gigs or parties or at work. It was just like, finally, I had a minute to collect myself, and work on a personal project. So, that was given back to me from the pandemic, I guess.

C: What, what was it that like, initially hooked you into that need to tour (and music in general)? Like, was there like a song or an album or an experience a concert, something that triggered this need? Or like a friend or family member?

J: Like the first record, I remember being really excited about it was American Idiot, like Greek. Like, I think that came out in like 2007 or something. And I was like, maybe 11. And that was like, my first favorite bands. Like when I started. I don’t know. And I had a pretty hilarious, like, history of like, what got me into music, but I was like, a pop punk kid for a long time.

That’s a question I feel like I need to have a prepared answer cause Green Day is the only one that comes to mind. Because after that, it just opens up. guess where I found music most of the time when I was younger was on YouTube. I remember like, I remember like, Crywank’s Tomorrow’s Nearly Yesterday coming up on my YouTube sidebar, and like listening to that when I was in highschool. And then meeting Jay and stuff (Crywank’s founder) was like a really awesome experience too. Like meeting someone who’s an independent musician and watching them fall into some mainstream success, through self promotion and through just two or three things happening organically, it was extremely inspiring. That was also a big highlight. Crywank was huge for me.

But I got into like 60s and 70s, folks, and classic rock, and then got into more punk stuff. Then hardcore and metal and then back to country. I like a lot of different music.

C: It’s good to have a varied taste for sure. Anybody who pigeonholes themselves into being like a one genre person is a bit disappointing.

J: Yeah, I don’t think I could ever write for one genre like, when I write music, it just kind of comes out the way it does. I’ve tried before to write for a heavier band, and then I just get these, soft songs that come out. It’s kinda therapeutic so it’s like, whatever needs to come out just does, I guess.

C: I mean, you describe yourself as tweemo, which is part of what originally pulled me in. That’s incredible portmanteau of two genres. I think this could be a genre that you pioneer for sure.

J: There’s actually a Tweemo tag on Bandcamp already.

C: Oh really?

J: Yeah there’s like other bands that identify within that genre which is awesome

C: You guys have to have like a festival where like you all get together.

J: Yeah that would be sick, like a compilation or something.

C: How or what do you associate with the word Twee in your existence? like I know it’s become a big buzzword again recently

J: I like didn’t really start paying attention to genres until I started listening to like more hardcore music or heavy music, because there’s so many different sub genres and the differences are very subtle, but also important in that scene. But in like folk and anti-folk and folk punk I’m not great at picking up those subtleties.

Especially for earlier songs that I’ve written, like, when I was quite young that music was just like, purely tweet. And then that emo influence came out a little bit later on. But I didn’t know that it became a buzzword again, but that’s kind of that might work in my favor.

C: I think it could!

J: But yeah I think twee reminds me of like, like the movie peaches and and like that. I get references to that Juno soundtrack with my music, which I think is like an awesome compliments. I love Kimya Dawson. She’s awesome.

Just people have told me all sorts of different influences that they hear and I always love hearing them because whatever association people can draws, it’s just really sweet to hear about.

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