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Five Questions With… Chairmen Of The Boards

Three Toronto scene veterans have teamed up to indulge their love of surf-rock. A debut album comes out tomorrow, and here bassist Leo Valvassori talks about their love of the genre, guitar instrumentals, the making of the record, and plans for a killer live show.

Five Questions With… Chairmen Of The Boards

By Jason Schneider

The beaches on Lake Ontario aren’t exactly Malibu but Toronto does contain a small but hard-core surfing community. By extension, there’s also a small but hardcore community of surf-rock fanatics, three of whom now comprise Chairmen of the Boards, whose debut album Surfin’ The Apocalypse is out Nov. 27 on Weewerk Recordings.


The seeds were planted when guitarist Rob Hiemstra started bringing original “surf compositions” to bassist Leo Valvassori during a residency they were both a part of at Grossman’s Tavern, the storied Toronto venue long known as a professional musicians' jam spot. In no time, the pair was working out new ideas, eventually realizing they were building up enough material to make an album.

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Enter drummer Gary Craig, and, after recording sessions got underway, additional sugaring to songs was applied by keyboardist Denis Keldie, pedal steel guitarist General Kevin Neal, and the Hang Ten Horns—Rebecca Hennessy and Carrie Chesnutt. Tracks were then sent to New York for mixing by Grammy winner William Wittman and mastering by Greg Calbi and Steve Fallone at Sterling Sound.

Although surf rock is the basis of Chairmen Of The Boards’ sounds, the added elements of raw rock and roll with a touch of psychedelia, along with some vintage Memphis funk, makes Surfin’ The Apocalypse a thoroughly engaging listen. We spoke with Leo Valvassori to get the full scoop, and you can find out more at chairmenoftheboards.com.

So what motivated some guys from Toronto to play surf music?

I think the strongest motivator is just how happy it makes us feel to play this music, especially these days. Surfing gives you balance, and that extends to surf rock. It’s equal parts adrenaline and chill.

What goes into writing a great guitar instrumental?

I think it’s about getting out of the zone of your typical rhythm and lead guitar playing. It can almost be more like composing for classical guitar, creating parts you can easily sing. It’s also about making every note count because there’s nowhere to hide.

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What was the recording process like for Surfin' the Apocalypse?

We started at Revolution Recording where we did the drums. Everything else was done at The Notebox, our personal studio. Recording cool music with great musicians is more fun than a pair of full bikinis. Most of the time.

What are some past projects that people might know you from?

All of us in Chairmen of the Boards have affiliations: Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Alannah Myles, Bruce Cockburn, Ronnie Hawkins, Sue Foley, Martha and the Muffins, Powder Blues, Susan Aglukark… the list goes on.

What's your mindset looking ahead to next year and the prospect of hopefully playing live?

We are definitely cooking up a great live show. We’ll be adding the Hang Ten Horns, keyboards and percussion to our basic ripping trio, and we plan to incorporate multi-media elements and a cool set design to augment the various moods on the album. In short, Chairmen of the Boards want to bring you not only to the beach but right up into a breathtaking curl.

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Celine Dion
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Celine Dion

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Celine Dion Battled Extreme Muscle Spasms From Stiff-Person Syndrome With Dangerously High Doses of Valium: ‘It Could Have Been Fatal’

The singer opened up about her decade-long struggle with the rare neurological disorder in Tuesday night's (June 11) primetime NBC special.

Celine Dion was so desperate to alleviate the pain from severe muscle spasms during her secret, nearly two-decade-long battle with the rare neurological and autoimmune disease Stiff-Person Syndrome that she took near-lethal doses of Valium in search of relief. In her one-hour primetime NBC special on Tuesday night (June 11), Dion said she took up to 90 milligrams of the medication used to treat anxiety, seizures and muscle spasms, an amount that is more than twice the recommended daily dose.

“I did not know, honestly, that it could kill me. I would take, for example before a performance, 20 milligrams of Valium, and then just walking from my dressing room to backstage — it was gone,” Dion said of the instant pain relief the medication offered at levels, however that “could have been fatal” if she’d continued at that pace. “At one point, the thing is, that my body got used to it at 20 and 30 and 40 [milligrams] until it went up. And I needed that. It was relaxing my whole body. For two weeks, for a month, the show would go on… but then you get used to [and] it doesn’t work anymore.”

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