INTERVIEW: Vancouver Synth-Punks Hygiene

Hygiene is one of my favourite recent discoveries, playing some excellently creepy synth-punk. This young band has already released two tapes — 2016’s Soylent Clean and 2017’s Hypocrite (reviewed here) — and played half a dozen shows at Vancouver’s DIY venues.

I caught up with the band after a practice session at Red Gate Arts Society. Sitting on ragged sofas and sipping nondescript lager, we chatted about a whole bunch of random shit, including riots, Alice Cooper and even — at times — the band’s music.

The band’s demo, Soylent Clean, was recorded in a hurry. “We gave ourselves a deadline, for some reason. I don’t know why,” says Hygiene’s singer/guitarist, Kevin. In order to meet that deadline, the entire EP was recorded in a single day, under some unusual conditions.

Recording in an actual closet, the band had to go in and record their parts one at a time. Alongside that, a play was being put on in the same venue and the “middle-aged moms” filling up the lobby were somewhat at odds with Hygiene’s caustic punk vibe.

Nevertheless, the tracks got recorded and the band rushed bassist Jon to finish mixing them, adding what the other band members call his “magic.” Soylent Clean still turned out great, but there’s no denying the improvement from that to Hypocrite, released June 2017. The band has no hesitation about admitting that Hypocrite is “the better sounding one.”

The sound on both releases is distinctly Devo-core, occupying the weird fringe of hardcore. Kevin explicitly acknowledges the influence of other bands within the genre, name-checking Uranium Club and Toyota during our interview.

After seeing Uranium Club play, Kevin remembers thinking, “Yeah, I wanna bite this style real bad.” In fact, the sound spoke to a style he’s wanted to play for a long, long time, saying, “I’ve always written some songs that are like that but just never done anything with it yet.”

As Devo-core became a thing, Kevin realised it was now or never. He even admits to “getting a little upset that that’s real trendy because I’ve been wanting to do that band since I was 15.”

Adding in the Korg synthesiser that really makes Hygiene’s sound stand out is another thing Kevin has long had in mind, inspired by Devo (who he calls his “favourite band in the world”). On stage, Kevin wears the Korg strapped alongside his guitar, something he admits is taken from the band Toyota. However, whereas Toyota used the synth in a single song, it is littered throughout Hygiene’s output — adding an extra layer to their sound.

“That’s where that came from,” says Kevin. “I was stealing a little bit from places, but it’s all stuff that I wanted to do for, like, years and years and years. But I’ve never really been able to do it.”

In addition to finally trying out a style he has long wanted to play, Hygiene is also Kevin’s first time as a frontman (although he has played other roles in other bands). With Kevin writing the lyrics (plus none of the other members wanting to take it on), it is a move he feels make sense.

“I hate my lyrics a lot and don’t like showing ’em to other people,” he says. “Let alone, ‘Here, sing these words that I wrote down.’ Or even, like, bringing someone in just to go, ‘Hey, all these songs are completely done and everything. Write some lyrics and we all have to like them and you got to yell ’em real well and you’re the last part that we’re waiting on…’ So I’m, like, well, I guess I’ll just do it myself and fuckin’ hammer something out.”

That hammering out generally happens right at the last minute, even as late as on the way to a show.

“We never even heard the vocals until we recorded the demo,” says Jon. “ It’s just like, ‘Oh, this is what Kevin’s singing about.’”

While the first EP was written entirely by Kevin before the band was even formed, Hypocrite became more of a collaborative effort. He says:

“I have the songs, written out all the parts and stuff. Then, I go, ‘You come up with your janky parts you want to play.’”

“Just telling me the notes, and I diddle in between,” adds Jon. It’s an approach Kevin feels make sense now that the band has been playing together for longer.

The band has played a handful of shows (“Five or six, I guess,” according to lead guitarist Darren), mostly at DIY venues such as Black Lab, Thor’s Palace and Toast Collective. You should go see the next show as it will most likely be their best yet. Right now, Hygiene is improving and getting tighter each time they play together.

Always looking for recommendations, I asked the guys what local bands they like. I received a litany of ‘shout-outs,’ ranging from the genuine to the facetious. For posterity, here is every single artist/entity that received a shout-out:

Dad Thighs
Woolworm (“The best band in Vancouver. Period.” – Kevin)
Watch Dog
Bad Mouth
Kiso Island
“All the bands my friends are in” (from Darren)
Kiss (“Don’t shout out Kiss” – Oskar)
Cheap Trick
Chick Treat (A Cheap Trick cover band led by Die Kreuzen’s Dan Kubinski)
Bach (both the classical composer and the guy from Skid Row)
Champion Lawnmower
Pirates of the Caribbean
Allright Ladders

In amongst the shout-outs, there were “big ol’ fuck yous” to:

Bob Ezrin (“Bob Ezrin is a piece of shit. Got to put that on the record.” – Jon)
NIMBUS (“Nimbus School of Whatever the Fuck They’re Calling That,” which Jon attended)

It was at this point that Oskar, Hygiene’s laconic drummer, was moved to say, “Listen, cut out all this bullshit.” Sorry, Oskar, here it is — albeit in a somewhat condensed form.

Kevin agreed: “Oh, yeah, no. This’d be absolute, unlistenable trash and I wouldn’t fucking touch it with a ten-foot pole, if it was just posted like this. But other than that, it’s going swimmingly. Yeah, that’s all the shout-outs. I don’t like anyone else. If I didn’t mention you, fuckin’ die.”

Click here to read my review of Hypocrite by Hygiene.