Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing The Airtights, a local indie band that just released their single Fight Music on 99.3 The Fox. The Airtights first formed in 2007 and consists of: Jay on guitar, Allan on bass, Jigs on keys, Mark on percussion and Sean on drums. Their music is an eclectic mix of funk, hip hop, rock and pure euphoria. The Airtights perform in such a way that draws you in, and their energetic yet sultry lyrics make you want to sing, swing and sway. They are such a thrill to watch live and if you think they’re cool on stage, they’re even cooler in person.
As I sat down with Jay, Allan, Jigs, and Mark (Sean is currently traveling so couldn’t make it), I felt like I was sitting down with the same guys I saw on stage. Some musicians put on an act when they perform, but not The Airtights. Who they are in person is who they are on stage, which is one of the many appealing factors of their group. Of course, this only works because they are all very interesting characters and each add a unique element to the band. You can see a connection amongst them and they agree that they are like brothers. Rehearsal is not only a time to create killer music, but also to chill.
Although they started as a backup band sans Jay, The Airtights didn’t officially get “married” until all five of them jammed at the Calabash Bistro in 2010. It was here that Jay felt that the four others were too good to simply be a backup band. More of how they formed will be answered in the interview below. Their name comes from the iconic ‘fist bump’ and I had the honour of learning and taking part in with every member of the band, which was pretty awesome. They were originally going to name themselves Panther, which is why their album cover has this really sexy panther on it. They went on to explain how there is a panther lurking in all their songs and the over arching themes consist of the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of a panther.
For the Airtights, every song is like a journey. The only way to really experience their craft is through their live performances. They keep things interesting by constantly evolving their songs and this is done when they play live. Sometimes something might go awry, and they notice that a little mistake evolves the song into something better. Their song Five Days was actually conceived in a dead club they had a gig at. The Airtights like to keep things fresh. Performing is all about being dynamic and they dislike how some bands perform their songs the same every time they get on stage. Jay says, “It’s like watching robots masturbate,” and I completely agree.
Here is a little bit about each member of the band, then following will be interview questions and answers (Plus photos taken during the interview, courtesy of Allan). Enjoy!
Jay, guitar and lead vocals:
Jay was born and raised in Vancouver, but he’s been all around. Having studied music in Boston, he went on to make music a full-time career. Alongside playing with The Airtights, he also does commercials and travels Asia performing with other musicians, popstars and bands. Playing at the Commodore Ballroom was his most important performance, because his father performed there and nothing could ever compare in his father’s eyes. Aside from music, he loves watching old films like Sunset Blvd and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, just to name a few. He’s the tech guy for all their shows and is apparently a “killer yoyo artist.”
Allan aka Onlych1ld, bass
Allan has been apart of The Airtights ever since their beginnings in 2007. He was schooled in piano at a young age where he developed his love of music, as well as his music foundation that would later play a big role in composing their songs. Piano school was also where he befriended Jigs and soon jamming together became a weekly ritual. Allan also enjoys the turntable and scratching, as well as collecting rare weaponry (think ninjas.) Another hobby of Allan’s is butchery and works for his family business, Armando’s Finest Quality Meats, on Granville Island – “I love it!” Photography is another important past-time for Allan and was taking photos throughout the interview.
Jigs aka Ace 10 (Ace Decade), keys
Jigs has always had an itch to play music. At only five-years-old he begged for a piano. In high school, he learned to play the saxophone and then went back to the keyboard. He found that he shared many of the same interests in music with others, which then led him to start a production company with Allan called No Plan B. Jigs also enjoys photography and graphic design. The Airtights album cover (shown below) was actually designed by Jigs who does all the graphic design and poster art for the band. He is also the mastermind behind the pseudonyms for Allan, Mark and Sean.
Mark aka Marky P, percussion
Mark’s sweet percussion skills aren’t only due to pure talent, but also his tendency to “borrow” instruments. He joined The Airtights in late 2007, but already had connections since he and Allan are cousins. Before joining The Airtights, he used to play with Locarno Beach. He loves free styling and has an affinity for the cowbell, “just went cowbell.” Recently he just started using a new octapad, which he used for the first time at their last performance at The Shark Club, and always enjoys discovering unusual items to use for instruments. Aside from “going cowbell” Mark thrives on collecting/riding motorcycles, as well as skydiving.
Sean aka Billy Suede, drums
Although I didn’t have a chance to meet Sean, the others were able to tell me a little bit about him. Currently he is traveling abroad. His full pseudonym is the Brilliant Billy Suede, which is based on the movie Billy Madison. Aside from music, he is also a pro-wrestler. And, according to the band, he is good at wrestling, drinking and lovin’. Sounds like a pretty cool dude! You’ll learn more about him in the interview below.
Jay: Actually, I am the newest member of the group and the Airtights were already collaborating with a bunch of different frontmen when I stepped in. I was a working with some popstars in Asia and a handful of local Vancouver groups; The Airtights, at the time, were a tough and slammin’ hip-hop crew. OnlyCh1ld [Allan] caught me playing with some other acts and invited me to the studio. The vibe was awesome and it wasn’t long until the identity of the Airtights, as they exist now, was cemented.
Allan: The Airtights were formed in 2007 initially as an instrumentalist jam band with the intention to back up various solo acts. It started with Jigs, Sean and myself. Shortly after, Mark and his percussion kit were added to our sound. In 2010, we added Jay Leonard.
The name comes from a variation of the ‘fist bump’, which is believed to have originated from Jigs and Sean and ultimately Vancouver.
The band’s roots are pretty deep. Allan and Mark are cousins. Jigs and Sean are also cousins and played in high school band together. Jigs and Allan were instructed by the same piano teacher as kids before high school. Jigs, Allan and Sean all attended the same high school.
Jigs: We started as a trio (bass, keys and drums) in 2007 then later added percussion. We played covers with Jill Quinto, originals with Passion, and backed up the rap duo, Spot&Ess for a few years. In 2010, we worked our way into a five-piece band adding Jay Leonard on the guitar. This is the band you know today. We’ve always had the name and it originated from a modified version of the ‘fist dap’ that Billy, our drummer, and I started doing before the band even happened. So the band name is actually the name of our official band ‘fist dap’.
Mark: Well, I was one of the late additions to the crew. I think Allan and Jigs will have a more accurate answer for that. The Airtights was originally a hiphop and R&B band back in the day. We were the backing band for a bunch of local rappers and singers.
Sean: Vice magazine had a pic of epmd (i think…jigs help me out here), giving eachother daps. the caption under it read “look at the seal between their knuckles…its AIRTIGHT” i think me and jigs were “medicated” and thought it was a rad name…and it was.
Jay: The idea of Fight Music was, from my perspective, a chance to write a song for our drummer Billy Suede. He competes in ECCW wrestling and Fight Music was originally conceived as his competition entrance anthem. The lyrics were drawn from a Manny Pacquiao boxing match I watched not long after we started working on the song. Manny’s competitor entered the arena with a killer’s intensity; one could know that man’s life story just by seeing the eagle-eye staredown he was shooting at Pacquiao. The song is pretty much what I thought that guy would be thinking during the moments before such a career defining match.
Allan: When we wrote this song, we just wanted something gritty, nasty and, up to a point, psychedelic. We entered ourselves into the AMP Records band competition as a joke, since we don’t ever do competitions. Funny enough, we won. The prize was a Fox radio release to be produced by AMP Records. We didn’t have time to write a new song for the collaboration so we decided they [AMP] can take a crack at remixing our tune Fight Music. We came to their studio to track a few new parts. Phil and Tara from AMP made a couple contributions and changes. And the result is what you’ll be hearing on the Fox.
Jigs: All of our music is written as a band, with the exception of lyrics – which sometimes comes later in the writing process. We usually start with a groove and work our way from there. The Cfox version of Fight Music is a revamp that was done with Amp Records as part of the Band Fight competition prize. Getting it on the radio was part of the prize too.
Mark: After reading my band members response to your question, there’s nothing really I can add to this except……..FIGHT MUSIC!!! YEAH!!!
Sean: Jay has an autographed photo of Billy Suede hung up somewhere in his house. Im flattered.
JAY: The concept of our first album Panther was an epic opera which blended our favorite aspects of all the music that inspired us as kids. It starts with an overture that introduces those themes and a finale which ties them all together. During the writing process, we usually would start with a hook and continuously play with it until we find it’s perfect voice. However, sometimes inspiration hits when you least expect it: I came up with the On The Floor riff while singing along to a flashing traffic light on route to rehearsal.
Allan: Everything inspires our music. Everything from good to bad, clean or dirty, sweet or nasty. All sorts of extremes and everything in between.
Jigs: We get inspired in many ways. Many times, girls are involved. Other times, it’s whatever you’ve got poured. Me, I like listening to music on the way to the studio. Bands like Jamiroquai, The Mars Volta and even big band jazz music.
Mark :The music we listened to as kids inspires our songs. For me, I listened to a lot of Hip Hop and R&B and I still do.
What also inspires me is watching live bands play at local bars and clubs. There’s a lot of crazy bands here in the lower mainland and watching them perform turns on some sort of competitive instinct in my brain, and it’s saying, ‘Dude, get your sh!t together!’
Sean: If we’re being honest here, smoking a joint, putting on a set of cans and listening to dope bands of all genres. Listening to WEFUNKRADIO also helps cause they’re the sickest dj duo of all time . . . I also get inspired from watching Tarantino movies and wanting to write music that would find its way on a Tarantino movie soundtrack
JAY: The best part of being in a group is being in control of your own music and the vibe you feel when you sense that you are really “wowing” a crowd. I “play” guitar for a living; most people “work” for a living. I would rather play than work any day of the week; that is why I knew I would be a musician ever since I first strummed my grandma’s guitar.
Allan: I love the trust. The feeling of depending on your crew and knowing that they’ll be there for you when shit hits the fan. The one mindedness of being in the pocket. The sort of chemistry that’s required to be productive and positive at the same time. Playing in front of the fans is pretty rad too.
I always knew I’d be making music. It’s been a part of me since my early childhood. I’ve always respected music and the role it plays in my life. I’ve never forced it or done work I wasn’t proud of. If you dig my shit, cool. If not, cool. I’m still gonna do what I do. If it ever gets to the point where music will put food on my table, that’d be pretty sweet. But you’ll never catch me bending over backwards or losing my integrity to make a buck. That’s my principle. I always have shit lined up…musically or not.
Jigs: The music is dope and there are no (big) egos haha. I knew I always wanted to be involved in music – no matter what form it came into my life. Before the band, OnlyCh1ld and I created a production company called No Plan B. and it kind of inspired us to start the band because no one was doing the type of music we were making.
Mark: What I love about being in this band is creating original music that we are proud of and sharing it with others. You would think that with having five people in a band there would be a lot of different ideas of how a song should be played, and there are, but somehow we make it work. Everyone has a say, so we do have to compromise sometimes and respect everyone’s opinion. But if there’s no respect that day, we just vote. That’s why it’s good to have an odd number of people in the band! Easy breezy.
I’ve never actually imagined myself being in a band, but that’s what I’m doing right now. What I like to imagine is if I could make a living off hitting things that makes noise, then this is the only path in life I need to take…
Sean: Besides music and drumming I also have a passion for PRO WRESTLING. but when it comes down to it MUSIC has always been my FIRST LOVE. the first time i performed on stage with a band (high school stage band), mongoloid drumming faces and all, I knew that I wanted to make music my full time gig. I feel so lucky and privileged to play with these guys (the airtights). we’re an airtight-knit (pretty clever, huh?) group and, at the moment, they’re the only thing I miss back home.
Jay: The easiest part of the job is creating and performing the music. The hardest part is all the business behind it: getting the music to the people, knowing who is truly looking out for your best interests, and the constant pushing forward that needs to be done in order for success. As long as you are dependable to your team, completely trust the people who you work with, and hustle your ass off, you should be fine.
Allan: For myself, when we first started the band, my main concern was to make sure everyone was fairly treated. I’m not just talking compensation wise. I always wanted each person in the band feel like they were equally contributing which should result in equal return. We each have our strengths individually but the concept is that the overall goal wouldn’t have been reached without each member. You’ll never see us bitching about writing splits. Keeping that mindset is always a challenge but we constantly remind each other of that with every project.
Jigs: There’s going to be tension sometimes between members, but the band is very supportive of each other and we find constructive ways to deal with certain challenges. Joking around after a serious issue always helps. Or we just watch youtube videos of Prince or goats yelling.
Mark: I think the biggest challenge for us is trying to appeal to the masses. Our music isn’t exactly pop or electronic, like what you hear in today’s mainstream. We’re trying to stay away from that. We want to be different and take it back. There’s an old school vibe about us that I think 80s kids will appreciate and 90s kids will relate to. I’m just wondering how the new generation of music listeners will absorb our sound.
The second challenge is the look of our band. We are not the typical band from the lower mainland. We’re a bunch of Filipino boys from Canada trying to make it in the music industry. It not the social convention for 1st generation (Canadian born) Filipino kids to pursue a career in music, but let’s do it anyways!
Sean: For me, personally, it was making the decision to travel, just before shit was starting to roll. Honestly, other than that I don’t think there’s anything that we can’t handle. And if that roadblock ever decides to show up, I’m confident in myself and the others to just smash it in the face and hop with ease over that proverbial obstacle.
Jay: Don’t listen to all those musicians who always talk about how music is dead, all the new stuff sucks, and how the local scene has nothing going for it. Buying into that junk will just keep you down and gives you an escape goat for when things don’t go your way. Be positive, keep pushing yourself, and try to avoid elitism and entitlement – save your egos for your live show.
Allan: If it feels good, do it.
Jigs: Write the music for yourself. Don’t let anyone change how YOU want to write. The reason why your fans like your music is because you are original. And the reason why others are afraid to enjoy your music, is because you are different.
Mark: Don’t let anyone tell you that your no good at what you do. You get that enough from yourself.
Sean: 1) Be open to anything. 2) Don’t be a douche to the sound guy. 3) Designate the drummer as ‘groupie control’, oh and 4) make sure one of you has a van, or at least a car with ample truck space.
JAY: The Vancouver Canucks and late night sushi! Vancouver has also been quite perfect for my career from a geometric standpoint. I travel a lot to the East Coast and Asia – Vancouver is kinda right in the middle. We are also a stone throw away from Las Vegas and LA. You also can’t beat the fact that Vancouver has clean air, a beautiful landscape and the prettiest down-to-earth women in the world.
Allan: I love everything about Vancouver – especially the food. We have the best Sushi and Chinese food in the world.
Living here kinda forces a bit of hustle if you want your shit to get heard. There are thousands of artists in the lower mainland all trying to do the same thing and trying to play for the same people. Because of this, artists can get cliquey and extremely competitive which results in a lack of support required for an artist to thrive. It is a very unprogressive community in terms of being a ‘community’. It’s all a numbers game when it comes to Vancouver. For us, we just play in front of as many different faces as we can. For example, playing for just the hip hop heads in Vancouver ain’t gonna get you that far.
Jigs: I love the food! Dim sum on the weekends with my homies. Guu in the evenings with my girl. In terms of local influences, Vancouver has unreal talent – from Spot&Ess, to Marie Hui, to Edge the MC, to JayKin, and The Airtights! My homie DJ Static (from WeFunkRadio) lives in Vancouver. That dude, along with Professor Groove, have inspired me for years. They spin the most inspirational music on the internet.
Mark: I love how you can pretty much do any activity you can think of living in this city, whether it’s going to one of the local mountains for a mini ski trip, riding your bike around the sea wall, play ice hockey at a local rink or just hanging out at a favourite local beach. There’s really no limit, and trust me, I’ve done all of these activities in a single day.
I’m not too sure if the city itself has influenced much of our music personally. I think what influences our music are the people around us. I grew up with what my siblings and close friends listened to in mean streets of Eastvan, a lot of hip hop, R&B and ABBA. As for success, we will have to wait and see…
Sean: GIRLS (in the summer time, or anytime), Calabash Bistro, and GIRLS THAT GO TO CALABASH BISTRO.
That’s a wrap! Be sure to listen to their album by clicking the link below
A special thank you to The Airtights for taking the time out of your busy rockstar schedules for this article!
Written by Tiffany Kaczmarczyk, contributor to Vancity Buzz. Connect with Tiffany on Twitter at @tiffykitty13