No one, perhaps ever, has been able to flick a cigarette with the accuracy of Hugh Dillon. What separated him from all of the other butt flingers of the world is that Dillon did his share from stage, which he commanded as the frontman for Canadian hard rock heroes Headstones. “The cigarette flicking was early, early on. It just became a lifestyle,” Dillon says with nonchalance. “I didn’t give a shit. Lots of bands smoked and drank on stage like we did. And with flicking, I had a pretty good aim. So it’s not like I randomly flicked it. I could do it the way ninjas throw those stars. I could hit things with them, so it became a trick. And I could hit someone in the forehead or in the body so that I didn’t hurt them [laughs].”
Dillon invited Noisey to chat in the East Toronto studio where Headstones recorded and mixed their seventh full-length, Little Army. It’s tough not to bring up the band’s glory days in the 1990s though, when Headstones were the bad boys of CanRock. They stuck out like a gnarly, dislocated thumb, thanks to their hard living ways and Dillon’s biting, misanthropic persona. A lot of their peers viewed them as “obnoxious, loutish and generally annoying.”
Of course, being loutish and obnoxious was part of the band’s allure for the fans. Dillon feels that at its core, “the band has always been exciting and fun, and that’s what draws people back.” But yeah, they knew how to rub other bands the wrong way. “It’s true. Except for the Hip,” Dillon says of his fellow Kingstonians. “I grew up with those guys and they were sweethearts. But Toronto bands were notorious for having an attitude. I could name names but it’s too fucking late for that. I loved music, so whenever somebody tried to stand in my way I looked at it as, ‘That’s not gonna stop me. I’ll just go around it.’ And people don’t like that. We were a different kind of band. You can’t abide by other people’s faux civility. I don’t want to fucking dance around. I hate the passive-aggressive game. I just wanna be honest and people have a problem with that.”
Headstones formed in Kingston, Ontario in 1987, after Dillon spent some time in London, England busking, squatting and living life as a true gutter punk. Although they worked odd jobs to pay the bills as well as demos and other band expenses, the band was originally an outlet for what Dillon calls “fucking rage and energy.”
“I’m from Kingston and I likely would have gone to jail without this band,” he explains. “I was interested in three things: crime, hockey, and rock’n’roll. Thank God rock’n’roll prevailed. It was such a fucking godsend. I had the chops to write and do what I needed to do.” The band moved to Toronto not long after and began building a name for themselves playing local venues like Lee’s Palace, Sneaky Dee’s and the Ultrasound, where they were offered a record deal by major MCA.
“We wrote these songs and knew they were good. We also knew that the other bands in Toronto didn’t like us, and we didn’t give a fuck,” he says. “We were all fucking blue collar guys and Friday nights had become renting a space, getting a two-four and writing songs and getting drunk. That was the way out for us. Nothing glamorous. It was just a necessity. As opposed to talking about it and not doing it, we focused on writing and were driven to do it. We did it like motherfuckers. We were bizarrely focused.”
Headstones filled a hole in Canada’s fertile alternative rock harvest, infusing their gritty hard rock with a punkish attitude and nihilistic lyrics, heard on albums like 1993’s Picture of Health and the following Teeth and Tissue. Unlike some of their contemporaries, Dillon feels Headstones had to work even harder to create buzz. “We didn’t get a lot of video play or radio play in the beginning,” he says. “It was our live show that made us. We were on the road constantly and eventually we got some love from MuchMusic, but we were never overplayed. I think it’s hard for any artist to cut through the apathy and the noise out there, no matter any time or decade. The secret to any success is talent and perseverance. You might not be successful commercially or critically but you will create the art you want to. When it’s all said and done that’s what matters most.”
Their debut album, Picture of Health, went platinum, and was followed up by a couple of gold records— Teeth and Tissue and 1997’s Smile and Wave, respectively. However, with this success came an appetite for self-destruction. “We had to really work for it,” he says, “but the alcoholic and drug addict tendencies tend to go through the roof once you’re allowed free rein. So that didn’t help. It gets in the way of what you really wanna do, which is write and record songs.”
By the time Headstones released their fifth album, The Oracle Of Hi-Fi, Dillon was using heroin again after getting clean in 2000. Although he was an occasional user throughout his time in the band, his addiction began spiralling out of control. Fearing things wouldn’t get better on the road, he ended Headstones and headed to Northern Ontario, where he took a job as a lumberjack in a bid to get clean, which is what he’s been doing for the last 14 years.
“There was no way out. I lost everything,” he says stonefaced. “I was in detoxes and rehabs. It was just so brutal. There is a romantic component to rock’n’roll, but if I was still loading trucks at Canpar and had a drug addiction that would be tragic, whereas if you’re in a rock band it can seem glamorous. And it isn’t, because your family suffers horribly. It was so hard for my family. I think that’s the big takeaway from this story. If you can recognize the pain you’re inflicting on others you have a chance to get out, if you’re willing to accept help. If you’re gonna change your habits or your life you’re kidding yourself if you think you can just dabble in anything.”
Up until 2003, Dillon had also been dabbling in acting. But once he cleaned up, that became his primary vocation. (A side-project called the Hugh Dillon Redemption Choir did produce an album in 2005.) During the Headstones’ original run, Dillon had scored roles in a handful of independent films, as well as TV guest appearances, including Degrassi: The Next Generation , for which he portrayed an abusive father. “I do get recognized for it,” he says. “I remember going to see a movie and the ticket girl lost her shit. I knew she couldn’t be a Headstones fan, and it turned out she just loved Degrassi.”
He was cast in films—both indies (i.e. Down To The Bone) and big budget films ( Assault On Precinct 13) — but it was the lead role in Canadian drama Durham County as a homicide detective struggling to face his demons that was his breakout. This led to roles in AMC’s The Killing, CBC’s X Company, and most notably, a lead in CTV’s internationally syndicated cop drama, Flashpoint, which he compares to “winning the Stanley Cup or Super Bowl.”
Most recently Dillon can be seen in an episode of the newly revived Twin Peaks. It’s not a major role in terms of the storyline, but it no doubt left a huge impression on him. “It was awesome,” he says with glee. “I can’t tell you much, but I’m in a single episode. It’s so minor. But finally to be on set with a master like David Lynch was such a beautiful fucking experience. To have David Lynch put the make up on you himself is just surreal. It all just lasted for a second, but it was such a career high. I got to work with a guy who was one of the reasons why I’m an actor. What a great experience.”
Ask any long-time fan of Headstones though, and Dillon’s greatest piece of acting was in Bruce McDonald’s 1996 mockumentary, Hard Core Logo. After portraying a killer in the director’s 1994 film, Dance Me Outside, McDonald cast Dillon as Joe Dick, the loudmouthed vocalist of the titular has-been punk band. The film became an instant cult classic, inspiring Canadian rockers Pez to eventually change their name to Billy Talent, and impressing Quentin Tarantino so much he bought the rights to distribute it in the U.S. and even auditioned Dillon for the role in Jackie Brown (it eventually went to Michael Keaton.)
“I love it. That film changed my life,” he says with adoration in his voice. “It showed me a new direction I could take. And I did it totally clean. I signed a deal with Bruce to stay clean. They allowed me to sing and they used my ideas. I wrote the ending and got involved. So the least I could do was sign a deal that said I wouldn’t drink or do drugs on the shoot. That was the best deal I ever made because I got a glimpse of what it was like to work completely clean and sober.”
Dillon feels the experience he’s gained from acting has also impacted his work as a musician. “The thing I got from acting that I applied to the band is my fucking work ethic,” he exclaims. “Because when I came back to the Headstones, after doing some acting, it was much easier. I wanted to rehearse, I wanted to be prepared, and I wanted to be organized.”
When Headstones reunited in 2011 it wasn’t some nostalgia trip. Dillon doesn’t do nostalgia when it comes to his band. “Fuck no. Life’s too good now,” he admits. Instead, it was the death of the band’s lifelong friend and influencer Randy Kwan that got them back together. Before they knew it, they’d written and recorded a new album, 2013’s Love + Fury and come full circle.
“I didn’t come back to the band for any other reason but to be creative,” Dillon says.
“I rebuilt my life and moved to California and got into acting. I learned to refocus. I was very lucky. And I was lucky that Trent and Tim were such killer creative forces that going back to rock’n’roll became better. You learn things from working with people like that.”
With a new label Cadence Music Group behind them, Headstones find themselves in a perfect position at this stage in their life. Despite reaching his 50s and finding stability in a dual career, Dillon doesn’t seem to have lost his edge as a songwriter and vocalist. Little Army still retains that piss and vinegar Headstones built their reputation on, but it also sounds as if they’re doing it more out of love than anything.
“We get to make these records and hang out and when we play there is a magic to it,” Dillon says. “I think each record we’ve gotten better and better and it’s because we don’t give a fuck. We don’t have to do it.”
Since reforming in 2011, Kingston ’90s hard rock outfit Headstones have released one full length studio album, Love + Fury, as well as One In The Chamber Music, an acoustic album, along with a pair of singles, “Binthiswayforyears” and “Fuck It”. Now, back with their second full length album of original music since then, Headstones have released Little Army, a record that solidifies the return of one of Canada’s strongest, hard hitting bands into the modern rock scene. Fans have been anxiously awaiting the release of the record as the band has been teasing them with many behind the scenes clips since February. To celebrate the release of Little Army, Headstones will perform two sets at Toronto’s Velvet Underground on June 2nd at 9 pm and 11 pm.
Opening with “Devil’s On Fire”, Headstones take a brazen stance as an old school rock band with one hell of an attitude. Over crunching and rhythmic chords, vocalist Hugh Dillon talks about being a “red meat eater, a liar, and a cheater”” who met God at his dealer’s place, all the while, pondering what will become of him. The song is catchy, simple, and edgy, but it poses Headstones as the weathered veterans of rock, making their dramatic-meets-devil may care return; hungry to show you just how small of a fuck they give about how the times have changed. The changing shape of rock and a growing presence of indie rock? Millennial politically correct culture? None of it matters. Headstones are loud, aggressive, abrasive, but damn if their lyrics and music are charming and reminiscent of the ’90s hard rock scene- specifically Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots- while still sounding very modern.
As the album continues to roll on, Headstones showcase a number of different sides, demonstrating their versatility and strength as songwriters. The title track, “Little Army” stands out as one of the strongest tracks on the album with its raw and gritty swagger bringing what would normally be a ballad to an all new level. The song opens in a manner more traditional to ballads, yet the verse is just as aggressive and upbeat as any other track on the song. “Little Army” still fits in as a ballad, but it teeters on a thin line over some grey territory, which makes the song that much more compelling. The title track demonstrates a new depth of song writing that is nothing short of brilliant. On the other hand, “For Your Consideration”, “Dead To Me” and the closing and incendiary track, “Don’t Think At All” are straight up punk bangers that will become live favorites among new and old fans alike, as this very much is an album which will appeal to both. Other tracks, while still fueled by punk rock, resemble classic rock in what is a truly unique combination of styles; it’s quite rare to find a modern punk band that so closely resembles The Rolling Stones, as best heard in Dillon’s quick and almost shouted lyrics over crunching and rhythmic chords on “Broken”, the harmonica solo on “Devil’s On Fire”, and the grooves found on “Kingston” and “Los Angeles”.
Headstones are unapologetically themselves on Little Army. You can take ‘em, or leave ‘em; either way, they won’t care, but you’re day would certainly be better if you took them and cranked Little Army up to eleven. This is a band that is determined to prove their worth, that they’re just as strong after reuniting as they were in the ’90s and Little Army acts as a strong, semi-sophomoric album that signifies and solidifies their relevance in today’s shifting musical climate. The album blends punk with modern and classic rock influences to create a sound that is very much distinctive to Headstones, and ultimately is something which has been absent from the rock scene of today for far too long. While paying tribute to the past without sacrificing innovation of the band’s identity, Headstones have delivered a record that modern rock fans of all walks have been waiting for, whether they realize it or not.
Hugh Dillon doesn’t pay attention to that old saying: Keep your day job.
The frontman of Canadian punk/hard rock outfit Headstones for the last three decades – minus a 10-year group hiatus that began in 2003 – has also forged a successful acting career in films like Hardcore Logo and TV series’like Durham County and Flashpoint. So why does the 53-yearold, who’s been sober for “about 13 years” after well-documented struggles with heroin and booze, continue to make music? “What makes me really tick is the cathartic nature of being able to write because those are my words,” said Dillon – who last year alone shot the films The Humanity Bureau with Nicholas Cage in Osoyoos, B.C., and Wind River with noted screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or Highwater, Sicario). “Everything else is somebody has written what I’m saying. I do like rock n’roll for that because it is your own vision, it is your own voice, it is your own self-expression.”
The Kingston-formed, Toronto-based Headstones latest disc, Little Army, arrives Friday (June 2) with two shows that night at T.O’s Velvet Underground before a fall tour.
We caught up with Dillon, who’s also got two TV projects in development – one with Sheridan in the U.S. and one in Canada – in T.O. recently.
“I loved his voice, but I really loved the songwriting. That’s what it all comes down to is the songs [like] Jesus Christ Pose. There are certain songs that when I hear them, it’s a time and a place that was defining. My mental visual is sitting behind the driver in a s–y van with the radio stations in Canada and [Soundgarden] would come on and that was the soundtrack of us driving across this country. It was them and Nirvana and The Tragically Hip … nothing else mattered.”
“So much of it, with our history, is linked to alcohol and drugs and underneath that is depression and whatever else is there. What you’re always trying to do is be honest and be upfront. And what’s great about our relationship as a band, we’ve known each other so long, you can see any little warning signs so it helps all of us. I do know enough that you have to be vigilant, you have to know yourself because if you slip in that downward spiral of isolating yourself … you can isolate to a place where it seems to be pointless. And it isn’t. I mean I’ve been there.” SOBRIETY “I played all the, ‘Let me see if this combination works. If I just have half a Valium and one shot of whisky, yeah good.’And it comes back to the concept of fooling yourself. You’ve got to know yourself. You can’t fool yourself. I have done it so much. And that’s what our band is like because we know each other so well. Any misstep or anything that’s bulls–, everyone is lasered on it. And so it kind of makes you accountable. Because it isn’t just you, your actions affect everybody. And if you want to f–ing be part of [a band] – be honest.”
ACTING WITH CAGE
“[Nic] was just an awesome professional. You know I like working hard and it’s just you have to be on your game. He had such a grounded, hard work ethic and for me that guy’s been married to Elvis’daughter [Lisa Marie Presley], his uncle is Francis Ford Coppola, he was in [the 1983 film] Rumble Fish, and yet it’s all about the work. And I like it to be about the work … It’s gratifying to see somebody through life’s maze bulls–is on the ground bringing his A game.”
“My grandfather’s a writer. It’s storytelling. I’m Irish. It runs in the blood. I’m black Irish so I’ve got to deal with the temper and the nonsense. You’ve got to know yourself. You’ve got to not let your thoughts take you into some dark alley. It’s like being able to put it somewhere. And even when I didn’t have the band [during the hiatus] and I was trying to find my way and doing Flashpoint, I had a solo band, I was always write. It stops me from acting in ways that I used to act. That’s why I love writing because it calms you and it puts everything down on paper.”
KINGSTON (A NEW SONG ON LITTLE ARMY)
“I ran some of the lyrics by Gord Downie, we go back so far to us being 17 and in high school together [in Kingston]. We just loved music. We talked about [Bob] Dylan and Jim Morrison and it was all about writers and songwriters. We were friends. There was such a musicality about that period of time – about two years. And in this bar that I referrence [in the song], the Prince George, e, we would go down there. And Gord and I loved music and it was Dillon and Downie, we were in a lot of the same classes. We were in a dramatic arts class together, we were in home room. All of it goes back to him. It’s not just the singer and The Tragically Hip, and this band that I love. It goes back to I would not be here, literally, without him.”
“I feel that guy’s going to live forever. I can say that. It’s like I want to think positively every day and every moment like, ‘You f–ing kidding me, I just saw him with Bobby Orr.’ ‘It was a hockey game and I think it was the Senators against Boston. I know it’s naive but I feel he’ll live forever.”
“I thought for sure we were going to buy it in some ridiculously stupid way. It was so lawless. It is weird. It is the chemistry. It is the writing. It is the ability to recognize each other so honestly. It’s like [guitarist] Trent [Carr] and [bassist] Tim White have been friends since 1972, lately it’s a big numbers game. [Trent’s brother] Steve [Carr] has been in the band as well but nobody talks about it – he’s on the cover of the new record – he plays keys, he’s been our road manager, so this record he’s on the cover and in the promo shots.”
By Jane Stevenson, Postmedia Network / Posted:
We’re excited to be able to announce new shows on the EAST COAST!
Saturday, July 29
Halifax, NS @ The Marquee Ballroom
Tickets onsale Friday, June 2 @ 10am EDT/11am ADT
Purchase tickets here
*This is a 19+ event
HEADSTONES ANNOUNCE TWO SHOW/ONE NIGHT STAND
In celebration of the release of their upcoming album Little Army, the Headstones are excited to announce that they will be performing two intimate shows in one night, in a small Toronto venue – the Velvet Underground.
These limited capacity performances will be on June 2nd, the same date as their album release, with sets at 9pm (doors at 8pm) and 12am (doors at 11pm). The band will be performing songs from the new album, including the single ‘Devil’s On Fire’, as well as fan favourite hits. Ticket proceeds will benefit CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health).
Tickets will go on sale this Saturday, May 6 at 10am ET
**Purchased tickets are only valid for showtime indicated on the ticket
Pre-order your digital copy of the album now. Physical CD pre-order coming soon.
Please note that current PledgeMusic Fan For Life pass holders will be honoured. If you hold a FFL pass, please submit your attendance by May 26th 2017, to email@example.com. FFL passes can no longer be purchased.
For media requests, please contact
Erin Carroll at Cadence Music firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re happy to announce that we’ll be rocking The KEE stage this summer
**Please note that current PledgeMusic Fan For Life pass holders will be honoured. If you hold a FFL pass, please submit your attendance by August 2nd 2017, to email@example.com. FFL passes can no longer be purchased.