Interview with The Motorleague & Brian Byrne

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The Motorleague

There is something unmistakable about being in the Maritimes.  Canadians are already known for being friendly, but somehow, the Maritimes takes it up a notch…or two.

The same can be said of The Motorleague, who seem to take their music up a notch or two, which makes them stand out.

In fact, it stood out so much, that Brian Byrne (formerly of I Mother Earth) took note, and this eventually led to a collaboration, and admiration for the band.

When speaking of the Maritimes, Don Levandier noticed that:

“There are a lot of people here that never leave.  People that will live and die their entire lives in Atlantic Canada.  That brings with it a certain humility, almost an imposter syndrome.”  

For Brian Byrne, who has travelled extensively and lived in many Canadian cities, there is a magnetic attraction to Atlantic Canada, “I keep getting drawn back.  There is something very comforting about it, it’s very down to earth and like Don said, there is humility to these roots.”

Beyond the humility, Brian points out that people from the Maritimes are very creative.  “It’s an epicenter for the arts.”  

Kitchen Parties is a tradition that goes back to the Gaelic ceilidh, in which the kitchen becomes a roaring party with music, food and drink.

Brian & The Motorleague

Brian was a DJ on a Halifax radio station, when he started hearing the Motorleague and admitted: “I got really drawn in.  I quickly became a huge fan.  The Motorleague are one of the greatest rock bands that you either know already or haven’t heard yet.”  

“The Motorleague are one of the greatest rock bands that you either know already or haven’t heard yet.”  Brian Byrne

Brian Tweeted the band, and as the band was starting to write new material, a collaboration was made possible…eventually.  At first, Don was in disbelief that the band was attracting the attention of such a respected artist.  

The reality of the situation came to light when Brian joined them on stage for a song at one of their gigs.

Don, being a huge I Mother Earth fan, found a kindred spirit in Brian, and an equalizing of respect was established between them.

Brian and the band collaborated on Dischordia, their latest single.  

When asked if the song had anything to do with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers boss enemy Dischordia, whose superpower was apparently making people dance uncontrollably, Don, who considers himself to have “above average Power Rangers knowledge” was stumped.   

It seems that going to a Motorleague show will also cause uncontrollable dancing, so buyer beware.

The Origin Of The Band Name

The Motorleague’s name was taken from the Propagandhi song, a band they shared a stage with.  About the experience, Don explained that “it was like having your dad watch you go on a date.”  

The song refers to pabulum, that bland staple for babies.    

To Don, the song, “one of the best ever written”, was about small-town music scenes.  “Are you going to give up everything in your life to pursue a rock band or will you go back and work your 9 to 5 job?”  

In other words, do you stick with the pablum, or do you have a taste for something more exciting.  

Pablum also relates to the music.  Do you do what everyone else does, and stay mediocre, or do you stand out, enough that someone like Brian will take notice of?

The Tidal Boar

In the Bay of Fundy, there is this phenomenon called the Tidal Boar which is when the tide goes up the river, against the current.  

Don conceded that it is a tourist trap, a letdown when seen in its current state.  Apparently, 100 years ago, it was a massive 6-foot wave, but then Don’s city put in a bridge and the Tidal Boar was reduced to half a foot.  “You blink and you will miss it.”  

For The Motorleague, going against the current was leaving the East Coast for the first time and going to Toronto to make their first record.  Nathan (guitar/vocals) was the one who put his foot down and insisted they record outside the comforts of the Maritimes.

In Nathan’s mind, going to Toronto was going all in.  Many of the local bands were producing basement records, but that wouldn’t cut it for The Motorleague, so up the current they went.  

“We were out of our league.  We were not ready.  We were kids and we just got in over our heads.” admits Don.  

That initial record was “so frantic and so fast” that when Don hears it now, he’s “exhausted”.  He could feel how nervous he was on that first record.

Going against the tide is about breaking through the forces that try to keep you down.  The band was determined to move forward, even if it was going be difficult.

During those sessions, Don remembers being lent a pedal that belonged to Geddy Lee and the reality of the situation hit him like a ton of bricks.  He was now in another league.

Brian shares the lyrics of Shortcut To Moncton, that had a line Chris wrote that stated: “I can see the tidal wave of disappointment.”  

That wasn’t going to be Brian’s story.

With only a small amount in his wallet, Brian moved to Toronto with Barry Stock (Three Days Grace).  From those humble beginnings, he was propelled into an established band with I Mother Earth, replacing Edwin.  “I was green as green gets.” confessed Brian.

Brian just wanted to play music, but he was thrust into the corporate side of the industry.  “From my perspective, I wasn’t already jaded.  I was wild-eyed, open to everything and I was excited to see it all.” 

When he did take a break from the band, he was into folk music and old country.  “I did a few solo records that I couldn’t get arrested for.  I definitely went against the tide.”  People told him he was too rock to be country, or too country to be rock. 

“I was fortunate to be allowed make the records I wanted to make, whether they were received or not.”     

With the platform he was given, he was able to navigate his own path.  Brian is able to choose his projects now, and this includes collaborating with The Motorleague.  

Finding The Sound

The Motorleague itself had to find their sound, going from 90s Skater Punk, through a Stoner Rock phase, to the current sound.  

When asked how to describe the 2021 sound, Don admits that the band has always suffered from this dual musical personality.  

“It’s just a problem with me.  I can’t commit to anything.  I want to have a little bit of Kyuss and a little bit of Pennywise or NOFX.” confesses Don. 

When Eric Ratz produced Holding Patterns, he called Don out regarding his dual musical personality.  The result was that the band trusted in his guidance to simply play what came naturally.  “I want it to feel like it’s not trying so hard.”  

With the latest batch of songs, The Motorleague had to trust their instincts and they have finally developed their signature sound. 

“Just when you don’t think it couldn’t go anywhere cooler, it does.”  chimes in Brian about the new sound.  

Even the older songs give Brian goosebumps, such as All The Words.

“There is a feeling in those songs.  You feel something, it’s not just aggression and tempo.  It’s all of the delivery that makes it whole and beautiful.”  

Brian will joke with his wife that Dave Grohl would love to write a song like All The Words.  

The Motorleage played their last live shows with The Trews in February, pre-COVID and two shows in October during the Pandemic, because of the relative safety of the Atlantic bubble.    

“It was weird…really weird.” shares Don about those pandemic shows.  Here is the band, playing their hearts out, but the crowd is seated.  That’s enough to burst the bubble!

Then you have three people being really rowdy, seated at a table, “it’s weird because nobody else is, so you are only looking at them.”  

If that was the new normal, they would adapt, but there is nothing like having a full crowd going nuts in a beloved venue.   

Their main goal was to support the venues that supported them in their journey.  “Can we do this ethically and safely?” was their primary concern.   

Back when shows were filled to capacity, when Don is in the pocket, so to speak, he loses track of time and the whole experience is a blur.

Some might think it’s simply running on autopilot, but I am more inclined to believe that this is the moment when a band is playing in its purest and most raw form:  instinct. 

“Like that thing athletes experience; you are in the zone.” shares Don.  

Being On The Road

Don once said: “Your measurement of wealth is the number of miles on your odometer.”  

The most memorable road trip for The Motorleague was going all the way to B.C., crammed into a Dodge Caravan with as much gear as they could fit.  “There was nothing safe about it at all.  If it was my kid, I would not let them do that.”  

The road trip was shared with Gordie Johnson’s band Grady.  

It reminded Don of the Thrush Hermit song The Day We Hit The Coast.  From Atlantic to Pacific, you have no choice but to follow the ritual of dipping your feet into the opposite ocean.  

“Coming down Roger’s Pass in the Rockies, we thought we were going to die.”  relates Don of their winter ride.

Both new friends and new memories were created, that last till this day.  

“Every single band in Canada has a Roger’s Pass story.” relates Brian.  

For Brian, his most intense road tour memory was in PEI where he was so sick with fever, he felt he had no voice and was unsure how he would perform.  “I don’t remember the show at all, not one second of it.”  

Yet, even thinking of one of the worst moments of one’s career, Brian starts to miss being on the road.  

It’s those moments where one surmounts improbable odds that, when reflected on, reminds you that the journey is worth the price. 

The Horse

The artwork for the new songs features a horse.  

After exhaustive touring, the band asked themselves if there is any point going on.  Don and Nathan Jones felt the departure of their drummer and bass player and asked themselves if they were beating a dead horse.

Finding their replacement rejuvenated the band and “no dead horses” became their new motto.  

The singles each feature a different take on the horse, whether it be armor or a COVID mask.  Both the horse and the band will carry onwards, through trials and tribulations.

Fantasy Rock Band

To end our conversation, I asked Don & Brian to recruit musicians, dead or alive, to be in a fantasy rock band.   

For Don:

Vocals:  Brian Byrne

Guitar:  Danko Jones

Bass:  Ben Richardson (Big Sugar)

Drums:  Brant Bjork (Kyuss)

For Brian:

Vocals:  Freddy Mercury

Guitar:  Keith Richards 

Bass:  Robert Trujillo (Metallica) 

Drums:  John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)

Gaining insight into what bands each draw upon for inspiration, I can’t wait to see The Motorleague perform live again.  The band that caught the attention of Brian Byrne will surely also catch your attention, once you give them a listen.

From coast to coast, they have put kilometers on the odometer and sacrificed much to do what they love.  As they settle into their signature sound, not trying to be their heroes, but striving to be themselves…the band now find themselves in a league of their own.  

One thing for sure, I will be cheering them on, alongside Brian, in the front row. 


Writer: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music.  You can follow him on InstagramTwitter and YouTube. His Podcast RockStar Today helps musicians quit their days jobs with out of the box advice from Ted Talk Speakers, Best Selling Authors and other interesting Entrepreneurs and Creatives.

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