Humility before success

NoMeansNo’s Tom Holliston discusses international touring and getting to know fans

NoMeansNo: A press photo where the band members’ faces aren’t even visible? So punk rock. Supplied

Prepping for another in a long line of Canadian tours starting on Oct. 15 in Calgary, NoMeansNo guitarist Tom Holliston is excited as ever.

“We’re fairly independent,” Holliston says from his British Columbia home. “We’re not beholden to record companies ... or trying to promote a product.”

NoMeansNo, which was formed in 1979 by brothers John and Rob Wright, will be free of distraction this tour because the band isn’t currently promoting an album. Therefore, they have the opportunity to possibly get some songs in shape for recording. 

Holliston says the band’s relationship with Wrong Records is great. Unlike major record labels who are constantly asking bands for photo-ops and in-stores, they deal with very few record executives.

However, he adds that the few they do deal with are “genuinely quite pleasant people.”

Not only does NoMeansNo get along well with its label; the trio also has a strong connection to its fans, especially on the road.

Holliston reveals that what he loves the most about live shows is the ability to be in the moment.

It’s true that unlike an album that can be listened to again and again, a gig is something that happens only once and can never be resurrected. Another highlight is getting to know his fans, even if they’ve never met before.

“(It’s cool when) somebody you’ve never met really enjoys what you do and you can have a conversation,” he says.

This is all part of NoMeansNo’s mindset that they are on the same level as the fans. It’s an ideal that is very inviting and may explain the band’s renowned success and legendary status among Canadian rockers, though you’d never hear it from them.

The band rejects any notion of celebrity status, even though they are immensely popular all over the world - including Europe.

Most would think that there are only a few main venues to play in countries like Poland and Russia. Holliston points out that in reality, there are four or five cities with numerous clubs and about 50 million people.

Being able to keep good relations with booking agents is one key to NoMeansNo’s success. 

“We have a good rapport with almost all the bookers we’ve dealt with for years,” he says. “(We’ve) even become friends.” 

With all this friendly talk, being in NoMeansNo isn’t always a love fest.

“There is always a friction between brothers,” he says, hinting that he’s usually the one who has to be the voice of reason.

And though they don’t see all that much of each other when they’re not working, Holliston says it’s tempered by “living out of each other’s pockets three to four months a year.”

Published in Volume 66, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 12, 2011)

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