Punk rock ain't dead but the venues certainly are. Big cities keep losing venues to gentrification and for Toronto bands like the Flatliners, who have lost no less than three punk rock venues in under a year they have had a tough time playing for all-ages crowds.
"There aren't very many places to do all-ages shows at all anymore, to be honest. If there are, they're either really big, or really, really small. It's kind of tricky these days," says vocalist and guitarist Chris Cresswell, en route to their first tour stop in St. Louis.
All ages shows are the foundation of most punk bands. The music, by its very nature, attracts an angst and aggression characterized by the teen years and often reminisced by the older punk fan. The Flatliners play to this crowd well.
They've been thrashing around the city for the better part of nine years, starting when they were still taking math exams in high school. In that time they've released three albums - most recently 2010's Cavalcade - several EPs and 7-inch vinyl-only releases and a demo.
They were still teenagers when that demo was released, geeking out in high schools in Richmond Hill and Brampton, Ont., during the week and playing shows on the weekend. Once they graduated, it became non-stop touring of dive bars in cramped vans across the world.
"We've spent maybe the last six years touring. It all kind of rolls into one after a while," Cresswell says.
"The first few tours that we did, like for any band, were pretty awful. I think for our first ever official tour we went out to the Maritimes and we barely made it to New Brunswick and then just went home. I think we went to our first show and it sucked and went home."
He says they've learned a lot since those early days, like how to deal with each other while cramped in those vans. It's naturally developed the band's sound and has allowed Cresswell, guitarist Scott Brigham, bassist Jon Darbey and drummer Paul Ramirez to hone their skills while playing with one another. It has allowed them to "hone their chops," Creswell says.
"It has made us better musicians because we spend all year on tour," he says. "All year, we're playing shows all night so we've really noticed the difference. It's clear when we listen to our own stuff from our first record to our most recent stuff."
Perhaps more than any other genre, punk rock depends on the live show to propel a band's career. People don't really buy punk rock albums, few punk rockers will find crossover hits or mainstream success. Even the biggest names are virtually unknown to those outside the punk rock world, so for a punk band, touring is everything and it has certainly aided the Flatliners in gaining a steady following.
"The only way people are going to find out about you, and remember, your band, is seeing you live," Cresswell says. "The Internet has helped, and it's so easy to get the word out now...but there are so many bands that you can find on there it's tough to remember sometimes unless you see them right in front of you."
In the off days, they bum around Toronto looking for whatever work will get them by until the next tour - bartending, landscaping, offloading concert equipment for much bigger bands than themselves.
"The whole (musical landscape) has changed," he says. "No one makes much money off of selling records anymore unless you are someone as huge as John Mayer or Beyonce. They're always going to sell records because it's pop music."
But pop the Flatliners are not. This is raucous, ska-infused punk combusting with the aggression and energy of youth.
Ah, to be young(er) again. It would be nice to jump, thrash and holler about on stage, even just once for old times sake. But for those with bad knees and brittle, arthritic bones, there's always the Flatliners.