[Interview] Kobi of Canadian Winter discusses forthcoming EP, writing a Concept Album, and losing his mind

Photo: Robert Michael

by: Kara-Lis Coverdale

When Kobi of Canadian Winter first came to Canada, he wasn’t expecting to end up a musician. But once he was welcomed open arms by the music community in Hamilton, Ontario, things sort of just fell together. Now, a few snow storm seasons later, he and his indie hip-hop group Canadian Winter are set to release their debut album Just Wait Till February, a concept album that vividly narrates his autobiographical experiences in big metaphors and dense literary and musical references over the band’s detail oriented sample/live production style.

With the February first release date just on the horizon, emcee Kobi sat down to tell me about how his book agent back in the UK would kill him if she knew what he was up to, how he found comedy in light of impending doom, and how he made his heart a home in steel town.

CUS: How did you get hooked up with Slow Hand Motem?

Kobi: I actually met them through a mutual friend and photographer Robert Michael. Rob wanted to shoot a photo or two of Motem, and they had heard our first single “City Lights” and wanted to hook up with us, so Rob said he would make the introduction. But if you want the full story, I touch on exactly how I met everyone on “How To Make It In Canada.”

CUS: The entire album is sort-of a digest of your first experiences here in Canada, right? Including your incidental musical hook up with Canadian Winter?

Kobi: Yup, they’re all in there.  But the last song on the album is pretty much me just taking stock of everything just before the band played for the first time on September 28th 2009. Like the flashback in “Walk The Line”. I do the exact date thing a lot…

CUS: Let’s talk about Just Wait Till February a bit. Why that name?

Kobi: “Just Wait Till February” is what Canadians would say to me when I complained about being cold in November.  It also relates to the work I was doing with my Uncle at the time, mini docs for Black History Month, which were due to come out in Februrary ’09.

CUS: So February was looming near as you were writing the project. It’s almost February now and it’s fucking freezing!

Kobi: Yup. And when you’re cold enough to die in November, the last thing you want to hear is that it’s going to get worse.  It’s that mix of ominous foreboding and comedy, I think.

CUS: There’s definitely a sense of something both dark and playful on the album.

Kobi: That’s what we aimed for. It’s basically a mixture of everything that I’ve learned from film, music, and being a writer. You could probably do the Pink Floyd/Wizard of Oz thing with our album, except with Ron Burgundy: The Legend of Anchorman. You can definitely do it with Elf, because he writes a book about his journey at the end.

CUS: Elf does?

Kobi: [laughs] Pretty much. I’m a big fan of Will Ferrell. Not minute for minute or anything, but Just Wait Till February follows the old “a stranger comes to town” formula by and large. And the stranger is me, of course.

CUS: Have you been back to your hometown since you came over here? It starts with a w…

Kobi:. It’s Woking, Surry. I haven’t, actually. It’s been pretty much non-stop.

CUS: It seems like you’ve really carved a space for yourself in Hamilton.

Kobi: Hamilton welcomed me with open arms. Particularly some of the musical community.  As long as you’re sincere with it, Hamilton is not shy about showing love.

CUS: JWTF strikes me as a very “Hamilton” album. It’s a local effort. And though you’ve only been here a couple years, you certainly seem entirely genuine and comfortable with calling it your home.

Kobi: All the prouducers are people I met in my travels and consider friends.  We recorded the whole thing in the city, and all the guys from the band are residents.  The city’s personality is stamped all over it. I feel comfortable out here.

CUS: Do you think that’s more because of your personality, or because of the city itself?

Kobi: A bit of both.  I’m’ supposed to have been writing a semi autobiographical book for a couple years now.  I have a literary agent in London who will probably go mad if she finds out I wrote an album rather than a book.  The album kinda became the book…

CUS: The album certainly has a narrative thread. I’ve heard of books becoming movies, but less of books becoming albums.

Kobi: That was one of the most important things, to make an album where the songs can still be played individually, but you can get something extra out of it if you listen to the whole album.

CUS: Yes, so each song is a self standing chapter.

Kobi: Exactly! And there’s a kinda 90’s influence in there too.  I imagined the album being on tape. And if you look at the liner notes, the way the songs are split on there is how I imagined it being, as if there was a Side A and a Side B. In my teen years I spent all my time and lunch money on cigarettes and records, so I was definitely a vinyl kid.  “Side A”  ends with “Room 100” and “Side B” starts with “You Know What You Are.”

CUS: How does “Room 100” function as a partial conclusion or breaking point in the album?

Kobi: It’s the lowest point in the story. God help them if I get to make a video. It will be complete with a gang of midget doormen and enough weird stuff to make Hunter S. Thompson’s experience in Fear and Loating look like a trip to the petting zoo.

CUS: There is something threatening about that track.  Like impending doom.

Kobi: Scarier than a pedophile’s nightmare, is how we generally describe  it.  Here’s the analogy. Room 100 is the room that Sid and Nancy stayed  in at  The Chelsea Hotel where she died.  The metaphor was a young  man coming  across the Atlantic with great potential of fucking himself  up.  Room 100 is  a state of mind. I didn’t stay in a motel, but I did have a  few wild times in  Toronto, hence the punk rock references.

CUS: Most would say Sid was out of his mind. Are you big into the  Pistols?

Kobi: Sid was fucking crazy. I’m into everything, so I dig the Pistols, but I’m more of a Clash guy.  Mostly it was a reference to the terrible state of mind I was in.

CUS: Should people listen to your Bundle Up EP as a shortened version of JWTF? Like a precis?

Kobi: I like to think of it as the trailer, to be honest, like where there’s a guy saying “ADVENTURE! SUSPENSE! ROMANCE!” over the top of it. [laughs] I always felt the EP was a quirky indie flick trailer, the way some of the DJs in the city embraced it.  It was weird having hype around it. That’s when it started to become “The Iron Man Trailer”. But I should tell you, the band name itself started out as a joke. My cousin and I used to joke about indie band names being so obvious, and then we said, what if there was a band called Canadian Winter? And I said the album would have to be called “Just Wait Till Februrary.” [laughs] I like to think of it as a joke that just refused to die.

CUS: Well you are an indie hip-hop group.

Kobi: True, and playing live we kinda blur the lines. We have the guitar, bass, talkbox, percussion, and the DJ.  I’ve been told we’re hip-hop enough for the indie kids and alternative enough for the hip-hop heads.  I love the name.  I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve spoken to people who dig it and others who hate it. But you can’t please everyone, right?