Sitting in a tiny café near the intersection of Granville and Broadway, Ryder Havdale looks as much like a lumberjack as he does an indie musician, with his black tuque and prodigious beard. The Mohawk Lodge frontman rocks what is arguably a very Canadian look, but the former Vancouverite and sometime Torontonian reveals that he hasn’t been living in this country at all.
Havdale, who also runs White Whale Records, travelled to France for the 2012 edition of MIDEM, the annual music trade fair. While there, he took a side trip to Berlin, where he planned to stay for a couple of weeks. That was a year ago. He’s still there, now living in the notorious punk squat Schokoladen, which also houses a music venue. “I’d tried to book bands in there for years, and six months after moving to Berlin I somehow ended up living above the stage. For the last six months I’ve been living above the stage of the only venue I knew in the city before I moved there, which is pretty bizarre.”
Havdale probably doesn’t have much trouble booking solo Mohawk Lodge shows at Schokoladen these days. While he’s back in his old stomping grounds, however, he’ll be playing a rare full-band show, for which he’s hoping to get a few Lodge veterans, including guitarists Cory Price and Arch and backing vocalist Alexandra Staseson, to join him.
Arch and Staseson contributed to the most recent Mohawk Lodge album, Damaged Goods, a collection of 10 songs that are raw, visceral, and more than a little frayed around the seams. When he tears into the anthemic opener “Howling at the Moon”, with its blistering guitar solo, Havdale brings to mind Bruce Springsteen fronting Dinosaur Jr. There are more six-string pyrotechnics on “Believe in Love”, although the feedback-drenched noise squalls to be found there are more Neil Young than J Mascis. (Giving credit where it’s due, they were played by Eamon McGrath.) This is an album with more than enough heart to compensate for what it may lack in studio polish.
And, in fact, Damaged Goods wasn’t made in a studio at all. “We recorded it in my living room in Toronto during this crazy heat wave,” Havdale recalls. “It was bass, drums, and guitars all live, all in our boxers, and literally standing in a pool of sweat. There was actually a lake around all of us. It was so hot. I think it was, like, July 15. It was insane. We banged it out over two days.
“It’s the first record I’ve done where I feel like we succeeded in what the idea was supposed to be. I wanted to write a short fuckin’ banger, in and out. I wanted it to be terrifying and urgent and no bullshit—just in, out, see you later. It’s my punk-rock record. It’s not really a punk-rock record, but it’s my punk-rock record.”
With that out of his system, Havdale intends to go into his new project—which might not bear the Mohawk Lodge name—with a clean slate. “I hope I’ve gotten the cynic out of me,” he says. “I want to write an upbeat, joyful record. I’m working on a record right now that’s all synths. A little bit of guitar, but it’s going to be an electronic dance record. It’s gonna be something different.”