To stamp a definitive start date on when Toronto-based punk/rock band Organ Thieves formed isn’t an easy task.
The abridged story goes like this: While the idea of the band had been ruminating for several years, it took a series of unexpected pushes forward for vocalist Chuck Coles to transform the band he started in 2008 as a largely acoustic, one-man side project into the four member outfit it is today.
Detailing the road towards the Organ Thieves debut album Somewhere Between Freemen and Slaves (2012, MapleMusic Recordings) makes that origin story read more like a winding epic.
While Coles and bassist Mike Smith have known each other since childhood – where they grew up cutting their musical teeth together in Oshawa, Ontario – they each drifted towards their own respective projects. Coles began playing with alternative rock band Cauterize, after which he joined Brown Brigade – the then-newly formed heavy metal outfit of guitarist Dave Baksh.
While playing with Brown Brigade, Coles began delving into the volumes of half-written material he’d closely guarded since his early days as a musician. This move became the push forward that ultimately spurred him to part ways with Baksh in order dedicate his time to focus his own creativity and songwriting.
Unwaiveringly honest about the struggles with substance abuse he has witnessed both first hand and through those close to him, Coles began distilling his experiences into searingly truthful music. “It’s really hard to be a positive person sometimes when you know what kind of insanity is out there,” says Coles. “Everything I write comes from a positive place, it’s like a nod of understanding for the rough things people go through.”
Once he began bringing these earliest songs to friends, including Baksh, it was clear that there was something unique and profound about them and that the two musicians had found a way to reunite their talents. The road leading to forming Organ Thieves had begun.
In an era where bands can pursue the self-gratification of recording and putting out records seemingly over night, Organ Thieves chose to take a longer path. After enlisting the talents of Smith on bass and eventually finding drummer Theo McKibbon, they began writing new material that was influenced by drawing on their common history of having been raised in working Ontario towns, where they played at local venues that first exposed each of them to the fervor of punk rock, metal, reggae, and classic rock.
Says Coles, “It took us this long for a reason. We wanted to figure out a what we wanted to say, and to make sure we were doing things for the right reasons.”
Through Somewhere Between Free Men and Slaves, the picture is vividly clear. Produced by Greig Nori, the album’s wrenching vocals, crisp guitar, and pounding rhythm are crafted to need no explanation. Evocative of the intensity of influences ranging from Bad Religion and The Clash to Tom Waits and The Pixies, the band pours every last ounce of intensity into the 12 songs.
The album’s first two tracks “Simon’s Wine” and “Daddy’s Little Girl” find the band roaring out from the gate. Each song deftly paints a portrait of struggles with abuse against a backdrop of unapologetic rock sound with an intense punk sensibility.
Somewhere Between Freemen and Slaves is not a concept album so much as a collection of 12 interwoven composite sketches that tell tales of the often-heavy side of life without coming down like dark hammer. Tracks like “Phoebe”, “Question” and “Fix The Heart of the Hollow” lend an empathetic voice to struggles for redemption and overcoming hardships, balanced with driving melody and messages of silver lining.
“I get where people are coming from when they have to stand up to the bad shit they’re going through,” says Coles. “And I don’t want to just keep things hidden, it’s about bringing everything to light and letting music not just be an escape, but a way to give some positivist.”
Chuck Coles - Vocals, Guitar
Dave 'Brownsound' Baksh - Backing Vocals, Lead Guitar
Mikesmith - Bass
Theo McKibbon - Drums
"God’s Favourite Sons" EP (2009)
"Somewhere Between Free Men and Slaves" (April 2012)
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Fix The Hearts Of The Hollow
Daddy's Little Girl
Just Another Gun In The War Machine