Canadian metal band Imonolith discusses cannabis and creativity

The lazy stoner is an archetype, but how much of an issue is this for musicians who use weed regularly?

Imonolith-cannabis-creativity

Imonolith. Photo by Erich Saide

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Cannabis and music go back together a long way. Writers and performers enjoy the creative benefits of using weed, and listeners and audiences appreciate its enhancement of their musical experiences.

But is there a downside for musicians from a productivity standpoint? The lazy stoner is an archetype, but how much of an issue is this for musicians who use weed regularly? I spoke with guitarist-songwriter Brian “Beav” Waddell and bassist Scott Whalen of the Vancouver metal band Imonolith to explore the question, and the conclusion we came to was more nuanced than you might expect.

Let’s start by getting to know Imonolith a little. Coming together in early 2018, its veteran heavyweight members have variously toured and recorded with several long-standing rock and metal groups, including Devin Townsend’s bands, Econoline Crush, Threat Signal, Arkaea, and Tommy Lee’s Methods of Mayhem.

The band’s hard-hitting debut album, State of Being, was released on March 27 and is concise at just over 40 minutes, ranging from heavy to crushingly heavy. Vocalist Jon Howard nails all the many clean-voiced hooks on the album and owns every scream and growl. There are also two guest-vocal appearances from members of metal titans Meshuggah and Avatar to provide contrast to Howard’s impressive diversity. The guitars chug, crunch, and moan, the bass slices and pummels its way through the mix, and the proggy but never extraneous drumming makes you sit up and take notice in every song. Legendary U.K. metal magazine Metal Hammer labels the album and Imonolith “a force to be reckoned with”.

The COVID-19 pandemic ended up postponing their April European tour, but Waddell and Whalen were both in good spirits as we began by talking about all things Imonolith.

We covered favourite musicians (Ace Frehley, Dimebag Darrell, Eddie Van Halen, Les Claypool, Lemmy, Geddy Lee), fingers or pick for bass (pick for the sharp attack Imonolith’s music requires), whether newest member Whalen endured any hazing (“They were easy on me, unfortunately”), and how Waddell enjoys working with second guitarist Kai Huppunen (his own “style and background adds a different flavour”). Both were full of praise for their bandmate, master percussionist, lyricist, and motivational expert Ryan “RVP” Van Poederooyen. (“I’ve never met anyone like Ryan,” said Whalen. “He’s amazing.”) Ontario-based vocalist Howard was also singled out for their appreciation, particularly for his video editing and production skills, which have been put to good use lately as Imonolith has kept a steady stream of content on its social media. “Being a new band, I think we have to push harder than everybody else because nobody knows who we are,” said Waddell.

From there, we rolled right into the main reason we were speaking: a conversation about the benefits and potential pitfalls of using weed in a band context. Starting off by discussing favourite strains, self-professed “chronnoisseur” Whalen enthused about the buzzy euphoria of classic sativas Jack Herer and God’s Green Crack, but declared indica-dominant Blueberry to be his desert-island strain: “I’ve smoked long and hard about this.”

Waddell is less choosy strain-wise but had strong feelings about bongs being his preferred consumption method. Whalen enjoys his “holy trinity” of “90 percent joint, vape pens, and lately I’ve been crushing heroic doses of gummy bears.”

With these housekeeping questions answered, I relayed a story from about 10 years ago when I attended a songwriting Q&A. Craig Northey of Odds was a panelist and responded to a question from the audience about his thoughts on cannabis and songwriting. Northey acknowledged that it can be inspiring creatively, but cautioned: “I’ve been in bands with heavy pot users and you end up taking a lot of breaks.”

This story elicited a long and thoughtful response from Waddell: “Depends on the person, 100 percent. If I had been asked this question 10 years ago, I would have had a much different answer. I first started experimenting with weed and guitar at the same time. Everything back then to me was new. All these new sounds and experiences were mind-blowing, and I think now I use weed as more of an excuse to say ‘Yeah, it’s writing time.’ I don’t think it’s quite as effective inspiration-wise. I feel like that in a way, over time, I know the guitar better so there is less mystery, and with the weed as well. You know where it’s going to take you, you can get to that writing spot easier. That’s about the only thing I use it for now; when I’m high, I can really zone in or focus on one thing. If I’ve got a bunch of things to do I’m all over the place, but when I’m high I’ll focus on one thing all day long. It can make you lazy, it can make you inspired.

“With Devin, early on, when he was smoking we were more sporadic, less focused, and when he quit I stopped doing it live: ‘Okay, let’s be a laser beam.’ You could see it in the videos. I don’t know whether that’s a case of being sober or a case of taking it seriously—there’s a few questions there.” Indeed there are.

Whalen: “Also there’s different types of weed for different things. If I smoke a heavy indica I’m going to be slow moving, I’ll be loose, but I won’t be as inspired as if I smoke a sativa, where I’m more creative and active. I definitely agree with what Brian said about honing in on one particular thing. When I smoke weed I feel like I’m inside the music, it’s more flowing through me than something I am doing technically. It takes the mind out of the situation. It always has its place, but sure, it’s probably annoying for people who don’t smoke weed being in bands with potheads, and they’re like ‘You’re taking another break?’ or ‘You guys reek.’ ”

Whalen added, “If I get super stoned first thing in the morning, that’s usually not a great idea because then I’m out of it for the rest of the day.” Waddell concurred: “Now, you pick your spots. If I’m just blazing all day long I won’t be as productive as I would have been if I had decided what to do and gotten it done first and then had a hoot after.”

There are other reasons to lay off the weed in a band context. Whalen volunteered that “If I’m singing I don’t smoke weed because it affects me and I know it. But like Brian said, 10 years ago, I didn’t care and I would just smoke weed before a show and go up there and scream my ass off and wonder why I couldn’t talk for three days afterwards. So now I’m more aware of that, I smoke all rehearsal long, but I probably won’t smoke before a live show because of the vocal thing.”

Some common threads are emerging in this conversation: one is that regulating your consumption and choosing your strains strategically can offset potential productivity loss while retaining the creative benefits. “I appreciate the plane of creativity [cannabis offers], how it opens my brain up,” Whalen explained, “and I don’t always find that I need to get stoned for it to be effective.”

Cannabis products and other drugs, including a variety of psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin, are increasingly being used in a health-and-wellness context, and the bandmates each passionately endorsed this aspect.

“I don’t believe in taking a pill for depression or anxiety, I don’t want something that’s made in a lab,” Whalen said, “where[as] if I have a panic attack and I smoke a little bit of weed it diminishes that and brings it down. So I definitely use it as a therapeutic thing. And then sometimes it’s great to just smoke a huge joint and get messed up and watch a movie. And that’s great too. I definitely use it for both.”

Waddell: “I think everyone is different; [people say] ‘Use this, use that,’ but every person is different and everyone is medicating themselves differently, which is the way it should be, because we are not all the same and what affects me might not affect you the same. Whatever works for you, I’m all for it.”

It seems one could substitute many things for weed and describe their pros and cons the same way. Have a couple of drinks and loosen up; drink too much and throw up and pass out. Use microdoses of LSD to regulate your mood and destress; take three tabs and watch colours run for days. Talk about productivity loss. Shop for some items online to save the stress of visiting three stores and indulge yourself a little; shop online too much and deal with the retail-therapy blues and trash your credit rating.

My maternal grandfather was very fond of saying “Moderation in all things.” That feels like a fitting adage here. On a related note, my father used to settle down to enjoy a drink or two after a stressful day and declare “Never underestimate the therapeutic power of alcohol.” Which, when alcohol is used moderately and responsibly, is a perfectly reasonable statement, as most people would agree. Strategic, responsible consumption habits are an easy and effective way forward to maximize the benefits of cannabis and minimize its downsides.

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