Speed Control is all about the performance. The Whitehorse pop-punk trio – guitarist Graeme Peters, his brother and bass player Jody Peters and drummer Spencer Cole – give a show that can make anyone take notice.
To improve those performance skills, the Peters brothers travelled from Whitehorse (and Cole from Seoul, South Korea) to meet in Nashville with live music producer Tom Jackson. Speed Control had previously worked with Jackson when the Yukon Film and Sound Commission hired him to work with various local artists.
“He saw us play at the very beginning of what Speed Control is, probably our third show ever,” Peters tells me over cappuccinos, shortly after returning from Nashville.
“He thought we had a lot of potential because we went from a good band, super tight, with really good material but not really too much presence on stage, to something where he said he’d buy our CD after he saw our show. Like I learned more from him in two hours than I have in my entire life.”
Eager to capitalize on Jackson’s invitation, Peters spent the next year raising money to take part in Jackson’s performance workshop in Nashville. With barely enough sleep to recover from jet lag and no time to rehearse, they performed for Jackson and his team of producers. “Because we were really tired, we said, ‘Let’s play one of our medium-tempo songs. Warm into this.’
“We played one song, Last Four Years, and they were like, ‘Man you’re a really great band.’ They asked us to showcase four of our songs, and then they were going to pick a couple to really work on. We played Lies, Hatred and Jack Daniels, and they said, ‘That’s the one, we don’t need to hear any more.’ That’s good, because that’s my favourite song to play. It’s really intense, and I get to swear in it.”
Workshopping these songs wasn’t just about improving the song itself. Rather, Jackson and his team focus on how the band stages the song in a live concert.
“His philosophy is the music is 20 per cent, what you look like when you show up is like 10 per cent, and visual presentation – how you look onstage – is over 55 per cent of it. The music can sound good, but if it all looks the same, it sounds the same in a live situation. So then its about creating different moments.”
Speed Control, like Peters’ previous band, the legendary screamo punk Friend Called Five, is known for a wild, energetic performance, which Jackson and his team appreciated.
“They love that energy because they never worked with anyone like that,” Peters explains, almost as jittery with enthusiasm as with the caffeine. “But they want to harness that energy because every song can’t be like that.
“So we workshopped like our ballad song, It Only Sucks When You’re Gone,because it’s a slow song. They had us change it up, I’m actually not playing guitar on that song. I throw my guitar to Jode. I start the song, just me on vocals, he catches it and starts playing, and I stand there at centre stage and start singing it. We need to get a light show now to make this work. It looks fricking awesome.
“Everything we have learned is applicable to everything we do,” Peters says, adding that Speed Control has just finished a tour of schools in Ontario.
“We have a show, From Rags to Rock, where we play music from ragtime to modern rock. If we’re doing Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis, he got his name because he’s insane, jumping on piano and lighting it on fire. He’s the ultimate in stage presence; no one could follow him. With this show, every single thing we play, we do with 100 per cent authority. We end up getting a lot of fans that way.”
The band’s frenzied performance in Ontario included Peters face planting, resulting in broken glasses and a black eye. That’s rock ‘n’ roll!
Peters has been incorporating Jackson’s techniques into School of Rock, where he teaches middle school and high school students how to be rock stars.
“I tell them, like ‘You need the power stance. Don’t just stand there and be cute, the cuteness is done.’ After the first rehearsal when I came back from Nashville, I asked how it was. They said it was the most awkward they ever felt. And I said, yes, but it looked the best.”
Speed Control has come back from Nashville with a renewed energy, the skills to control that energy, and some new fans – Jackson and his team. They told the band, “It’s not if you guys make it big, it’s when. And if you decide to work your asses off the way you are right now, on the music, the show, and your business, it’ll happen,” Peters recounts.
“OK,” he says, jumping up from our table, “I really have to pee, and I have to pick up my daughter. You can put that in the interview.”