Photo by Andrew McGill

Canadian indie rock outfit No Frills announce their forthcoming debut LP, Downward Dog, which is due April 1, 2022. Alongside the announcement, they have shared the project’s first single, “I Don’t Wanna Be Your Dog Anymore.”

On No Frills’ debut record, songwriter Daniel Busheikin calls himself names. He’s a bummer, a drip, a dog. It’s the latter that was embraced for the album’s title, Downward Dog – a description of Busheikin’s general malaise, and a nod to the yoga position he attempts every morning as part of a positive mental health routine.

When Toronto shut down in the spring of 2020, Busheikin descended into his basement and encircled himself with guitars, vintage synths and a nest of guitar pedals. Six months later, he emerged with fifteen demos and a vague plan.

Given that recording with a full band was no longer on the table, Downward Dog began by tracking only drums and bass to tape in Gavin Gardiner’s (The Wooden Sky) garage-turned-studio. With the digitized stems from those sessions, Busheikin started assembling the album in piecemeal. Bandmates Maddy Wilde (keys, vocals), Jonathan Pappo (drums), Matt Buckerrough (guitar, bass) and Mike Searle (bass) would sporadically drop in to record various riffs and rhythms and provide feedback. In lieu of a sensible engineer or proper recording equipment, Busheikin found himself leaning into bizarre production techniques. To get the ideal right vocal tones, for example, he sang wearing a KN95 mask into a microphone with a toilet paper tube taped to it. 

The result is a memorable collage of lo-fi pop that filters themes of depression, despair and death through a sardonic sense of humor. Jangly indie rock and intimate ballads are woven together by warm analog production and a uniquely whimsical defeatism. “Ice Cream Cone” channels 50s crooners, while ”I Don’t Wanna Be Your Dog Anymore” bobs along under a 90s college rock raincloud. Keyboardist Maddy Wilde takes lead vocals for the Stereolab-esque “Copy Cat,” a sugary number with gurgling synths. When the record draws to a close with the lo-fi lullabye “Pancake,” Busheikin tenderly offers a overtly simple reflection to conclude the journey: “that’s just normal life / it is nice / and it’s sad / and it’s the only one you have.”

Tell us about the genesis of your project.

Over the years I amassed a very big collection of mostly small recordings – little songs and ideas – but never presented it publicly as a band or a project. I guess I was too scared of being judged. But then about 8 years ago I read a textbook about metaphysics and nonduality and realized that my subjective reality is an illusion and nothing really exists, but consequently everything in the universe is a singularity. So I felt a bit more confident about the songs, and I put a band together.

 How did you get to where you are now?

When I was 9 years old, on a family road trip, we had like 3 CDs in the car, and one was Rubber Soul, and we listened to that over and over. And that CD touched my tween heart and was kinda pivotal for me. My family was very musical, but more like musical theater vibes so this was easily the most objectively cool music I had been exposed to at that point. It’s perfect pop music – instantly memorable, lots of variety but totally cohesive, amazing harmonies… but I feel a lot of playfulness and sadness, and that stuck out to me (and still does – now that I think of it, there’s a song on our new album, “Drip,” that references “The Word.”) I ended up becoming quite ill on the trip and had my tenth birthday but my family forgot about it, I think, because my birthday cake was just a bowl of Froot Loops with a candle in it. Anyhow I’ve been depressed ever since so it’s basically a straight shot from then to now.

What is the favorite song you wrote and why?

There’s a song on our new record called “Pancake” which I wrote and recorded maybe 9 years ago (whoa) for my niece who was about a year old because I kept telling her she was born as a pancake, and I wrote her a lullaby to confirm the details. It’s supposed to basically sum up life in a few short verses, in a way a kid could understand, and has the words “harboring serious baggage” in it. It was probably the first time I wrote a song that had a sense of humor but was totally sincere, and I love aiming for that combination.

Who are your all time musical icons?

I don’t think I look at anyone as an icon per se, which kind of bums me out. But some of my biggest musical inspirations are R. Stevie Moore, the Flamingos, Daniel Johnston, Beach Boys, Beatles of course, Joy Division, Beat Happening, and Sloan’s 1996 album One Chord To Another.

 What are some things to do to keep your inspiration alive?

Basically the only strategy I’ve got is to feel very sad, which is probably not good?

 Who are you binge listening to these days?

I found this bonkers sleep hypnosis album called Subconscious Sleep Motivations by Wealth Mantra Master Systems in which an anonymous and evil-sounding alpha male confidently declares all sorts of positive affirmations about money, wealth, abundance, and success. In the background is beautiful new age ambient music. To me it’s a perfect accidental mixture of music, pseudo-science, capitalist propaganda and outsider art.

IMS, Vol. 1 by International Music System is my go-to grocery shopping record, really amps up the experience. Inter-Dimensional Music by Iasos is a great 70’s ambient/new age record. I just recently discovered the Charlie Hilton record Palana from 2016 and really love that. Also came late to the album Payador by Tim Hill, which is really nice. And I made a very big playlist of Bollywood Instrumentals by R.D. Burman that I love listening to. 

And Toronto bands like Ducks Ltd, PACKS, Slash Need, Only God Forgives, Lee Paradise… could name many more!!

 Favorite movie or TV show?

Moral Orel is probably my favorite show but I haven’t seen it in years – I hope it holds up!

 Tell us about your latest release and how it came about

Some of the songs, like “Pancake,” are like 9 years old. So it’s been ‘in progress’ for a long time but the more direct answer is that a lot of it was written when the pandemic hit. After 6 months of isolation things began to open up so we recorded drums and bass for 14 songs over a weekend in Gavin Gardiner’s garage, which he has transformed into a very lovely studio. Then the rest was recorded in my basement, which is not a lovely studio. And the fact that it isn’t a lovely studio was very demotivating at first, but then we just started leaning into the casual DIY vibes and making choices that a proper engineer might pooh-pooh.

 Do you have any peculiar pre or post show rituals?

Immediately when we are done playing I pack up my stuff and avoid eye contact with anyone I don’t know.

 What’s the future looking like for you?

I try not to think about the future, it makes me very anxious and sad.

 Who inspires your style and aesthetics?

Any visual design or material that I’ve made for No Frills would be indebted to David Shrigley, Daniel Johnston, Matt Groening (Life is Hell and early Simpsons), Jesi Jordan, Molly Fairhurst, and drawings made by children.

What is the achievement or moment in your career you are the most proud of and why?

I have a hard time being proud… but I’m deeply grateful that I’ve had the privilege of writing music, performing, and being heard. I’m mostly lucky and I try hard to be actively grateful for that.

What do you think is the best way to make it as an artist nowadays?

 If ‘making it’ is becoming famous or popular or wealthy, I don’t know… Daily, highly aesthetic TikTok memes? The ‘make it’ mentality is toxic but we definitely brainwash ourselves to desire that. But  every one of us should try to understand our own personal definition of success – it’s probably much more achievable and meaningful. To be honest and corny, I feel like No Frills already has made it because we’ve been able to play music together and for other people, and we’ve gotten lots of nice feedback. That’s what it’s all about, for me at least.

What would you change in the music and entertainment industry especially after this past year?

OK I recognize this is oddly specific but: Bandcamp should have a streaming platform that resembles the spotify-like apps in terms of structure and behavior and interface.  I just think it would be good!