Words by Tommy Johnson
This writer is a firm believer in using any energy available to not become a prisoner of the moment. Not letting current conditions overwhelm, but giving space for an awareness of the past and openness to the future. When we carve this out, it allows for moments where a band like PACKS can cause you to stop and gawk at the wonderment of their music. Hailing from Toronto, the project initially started as songwriter Madeline Link but has since transformed into a four-piece juggernaut of charm and purely unaltered indie rock.
Released in May, PACKS debut Take The Cake is a paradise for those who yearn for jangly indie rock. Written in Toronto and Ottawa, the album’s lyrics capture the most tangible form of self-reflection and the mundanity of daily life that feels all too relatable from the young to those who have been through it. In the press release to the first single, Link said Take The Cake is a meeting of old and new; certain songs have manic energy while the rest slow down ever so slightly. While there is a touch of slacker vibes in the album, it’s hard to resist the melodic adventure you descend in.
Off Shelf: What has the past year and a half been for the band since the pandemic started?
Madeline Link: It has been nonstop work! Once the pandemic really set in, my band and I scattered, with my bassist going to live in B.C. and me heading to Ottawa. We recorded the album, signed to two labels, and have been working on the social media/online elements of the campaign ceaselessly, it seems. I’m excited for real life to overtake social media so I can relax for a second.
OS: You were a set dresser for commercials at one time. What kind of commercials were you set dressing? Anything we have seen here in the States?
ML: I was doing tons of US commercials! Corporations come up to Canada because it’s cheaper to shoot in some backwards way. Macy’s, Staples, Pepsi Superbowl, Walmart; the usual suspects. For the Staples ad, we had to take all of the Canadian Crayola products off the shelf and replace them with the American ones, and the American rep took a peek at ours and was just like, “Wow, these are really weird.” Markers that smell like fart and barf and things like that.
OS: You did a residency in Mexico not too long ago. What was the experience like for you?
ML: The residency in Mexico was very surreal. I had never been, so going in the middle of a pandemic, I had to watch lots of movies set in Mexico City to have a point of reference for what it’s normally like. I got to practice my Spanish, take in the Fuschia egg cartons with the orange-yolked eggs, and be a part of the Mexico City art scene for a hot second. I bought myself a guitar from a guitar maker named Barrera in the Doctores neighborhood, but I accidentally, maybe purposefully, left it at the residency! So I hope to return sometime before the year is over to retrieve it and visit the talented people I had the privilege of meeting there.
OS: When did it become clear the PACKS needed to evolve into a quartet?
ML: PACKS never needed to evolve into a quartet; it was only when my buddies came to see me play a solo set and offered to play with me that it just organically grew into one.
OS: How much influence did the pandemic play into writing the new album?
ML: A lot! The band was able to write and record six songs in one month. I then mixed all eleven songs that would be on the album before that same month was over. Being technically jobless for the first time in years, I launched into music with a surgical focus. I have a new job now, but it has felt like throughout this pandemic, I have never stopped working.
OS: What I have loved about the album is the heavy influence of 90s indie rock. I hear the “no fucks given” approach from that era. What was the band wanting to do in terms of writing for the album?
ML: I just want to rock! I want to feel a sense of release when playing the songs both acoustically by myself and electrically when I get together to play live with my friends and tour.
OS: How did the process to get the album tracks logged go? I imagine it was a bit of a process, considering everything shut down for most of 2020.
ML: It wasn’t too bad! I broke down and decided to pay $3 a month for the Google Drive upgrade. Since then, I’ve constructed a huge PACKS g-drive matrix that I call “The Office.” We’ve managed to pin down a pipeline that works for everyone so that, although constructing a song might be very different than it was back in 2019, it still does the job.
OS: Having the lyrics center around experiences that offer up the intersecting of old and new experiences, was it in some way cathartic to you?
ML: Writing is always cathartic. Once I finish writing a song, I know I’ve begun to digest whatever it is that I’ve written about.
OS: How did the signing with Fire Talk & Royal Mountain take shape?
ML: Back in January 2019, I was put in touch with someone from Fire Talk by a fellow Toronto musician, Tom Avis of Ducks Unlimited. Someone from Royal Mountain had also reached out to independently manage us earlier in 2019, but we were a confused bunch and very non-committal. The pandemic pushed me to take these musical opportunities more seriously. Once Royal Mountain caught wind of something brewing, Tom and I put them in touch with Fire Talk, and now it feels like they’re brother and sister, working together and endlessly hyping each other up. It’s been cute to see!
OS: Bands are starting to lock in tour dates again, which is exciting. What’s the agenda looking for all of you?
ML: We’re still in a state of lockdown here in Ontario! We won’t know anything about tours until much later this summer. Living with your future in limbo takes lots of patience, but I believe we Ontarians will all have a much more zen outlook on life because of it… unless we all have mental breakdowns and murder each other.