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Interviews

Interview: USS Talks “Einsteins of Consciousness”, Farewell Tour, + Their Favourite Memories as a Band

By: Jessica Nakamoto –

In a heartfelt announcement last October, USS frontman and guitarist Ashley Buchholz and vinyl-spinning DJ/turntablist Jason “Human Kebab” Parsons revealed that all good things must come to an end.

For the iconic Toronto duo, this meant one last album full of tracks encouraging fans to reminisce, rock out, and maybe even get a little misty-eyed as they watch the guys ride off into the sunset in a funky spaceship, courtesy of the “Happy” music video.

Out today (Jan. 8th) via Coalition Music / Warner Music Canada, Einsteins of Consciousness is the culmination of over a decade worth of music and memories for the band. And while this is a bittersweet moment for the “Synergy Seekers” who have followed the platinum-selling group’s career as they traversed 12 countries and collected four CASBYs, two COCAs, and a JUNO nomination for Best New Group, USS is determined to deliver one more wild adventure before saying goodbye.

From the band that rocked the Toronto touring market and remain one of the only groups to sell out six nights in succession at six different venues throughout the city, audiences can look forward to a final thank you run once it is safe for live events to return.

In the meantime, make sure to check out our new interview with Ash and Human Kebab as we share some laughs and get an insider look into their new album, favorite memories as a band, and more!

I’m excited to chat with you about your new album Einsteins of Consciousness! This release must be exciting but also really emotional. What thoughts or feelings are going through your minds? 

Parsons: We’re stoked for the album! We’re considering it a celebration. We tried for months and months to internalize our thirteen-year journey and it’s amazing that we get one more record and one more tour when it’s safe to play shows again, whenever that may be.

The reception on the record being printed to vinyl has been overwhelming in a great way! The comments from friends, family, and fans from around the world have been humbling. We’ve been seeing messages in Cyrillic from Russia, Germany, the US, right across Canada, east to west. They [fans] were recalling lyrics, showing us new tattoos of the imagery of our music, and sharing their heartfelt stories. Just being able to speak to people like yourself reminds us that we’ve had the most incredible run known to humankind!

I was scrolling through Twitter the other day and the photos and memories people are sharing are really touching. It’s been a cool journey!

Parsons & Buchholz: Yes!

Buchholz: I would enthusiastically add to that! The experience that I’ve been having is like getting to be at your own funeral but you’re alive! You’re standing at the back beside people signing the guest book and they’re giving you a hug and saying it out loud as they’re writing it. That’s a really beautiful experience. There are so many metaphors about living in the moment or living like it’s your last day. To me, it’s like this living funeral party with bouncy castles! There’s a freedom because there’s a sense that we set out to achieve a goal and our mission was accomplished.

We live in a society in North America where professional sports are very popular and there’s a very definitive winner. But in terms of the metrics of how we gauge success in any of our chosen fields, functionally, it’s become up to us. In this particular case, I remember telling Jason oh so many years ago, that I wanted to make grunge, drum and bass music. Since then, we’ve put out x-many albums, written hundreds and hundreds of other songs and ideas, and I’m happy to report that with the final album of this Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker experiment, we achieved our goal!

In fact, going back to my first conversation with Jay, we actually wrote the song that I was thinking about sixteen years ago when we met! That was awesome. And look at all the stuff we’ve done in between. It’s like we really did it. Cool! Alright, what’s next?!

The titles of each of your records seem to have a thoughtful, almost philosophical, story or meaning behind them. How did you come up with Einsteins of Consciousness and what does it mean to you?

Buchholz: Well, I read it on a bathroom wall at a truck stop… I’m just kidding! (laughs) There’s an author by the name of Deepak Chopra. In one of his books, he was talking about the next major breakthrough. He said it isn’t going to be in this field or that field. Rather, it will come from an Einstein of consciousness. That always struck me and I wrote it down. Which album was it Jay? Was it our second one?

Parsons: Questamation.

Buchholz: Right! So, originally after our first album Welding the C:/, we were going to call our second album “Einsteins of Consciousness”. But I actually had the meta foresight to realize that a lot of what I was experiencing was just a blueprint. That music wasn’t prepared to resonate in the harmonic frequency of a mission statement that powerful. It wasn’t there yet. So, Einsteins of Consciousness was waiting. It was waiting for the right vibration to contain these songs. Jay and I just needed a bit more time in the cocoon. And now here it is!

That’s awesome!

Buchholz: Yeah! It’s really where science and spirituality mash together in a hat drawn collider, where the spoken and the unspoken just kind of high five and recognize each other. The journey that I’ve been on my whole life is like many others. We live in a science-based quantifiable “ones and zeros” society here, but coming over from Eastern philosophy and even just returning to natural living, there’s this sort of movement in life.

With the pandemic and with everything that’s going on, we see people returning to the roots of the simple building blocks of life. That whole process and journey of learning and research and understanding can be done with the tools that we have. With the research that’s available on the internet, the groups and the communities… wow, what a time to be alive for science and spirituality to go for a roller-blade by the lake, hang out, discover stuff, and share!

Speaking of spirituality, Ash, I heard you’re into yoga and meditation. That must be a great way to clear the mind and induce creativity, especially during quarantine.

Buchholz: Absolutely! One of the lyrics in our song “Happy” is “I had to go too far to know how far to go”. Like many people in this lifetime, I’ve really had a challenging time feeling comfortable in my own skin. You search for something to stop that feeling of “can I just be in harmony with who I am? Can I just feel at peace with my life and my being? Jeez, what is this constant, persistent restlessness?” Through yoga and meditation, I actually went all the way to the extreme of almost becoming a monk.

I lived at a monastery for months at a time and went through life in an entirely wholesome way, celibate and without drugs and alcohol. But I’ve also gone all the way to the other side and lived entirely hedonistically and not brushed my teeth for a year and drank Red Bull and coffee and all the other accoutrements that goes along with that lifestyle. So, I’ve done both. And all of a sudden, I’m here holding this album of ours realizing that I just found the sweet spot, the middle path. It’s what I was looking for. I found it! You know what I mean?

You’re a new man! 

Buchholz: Yes! Now, I just get to enjoy it. I haven’t bit my nails in four or five months. I feel free and I thank Jason for being on this journey with me. We started this company and it’s been documented to the public where we’ve made a living off of me trying to figure out how to be comfortable in my own skin and accept myself! (laughs) It’s kind of hilarious.

What about you Jay? What creative outlets do you reach out for or have enjoyed exploring during lockdown?

Parsons: I’ve been making a lot of music and just getting better at tracks, collaborating with people all over the place, and meeting various musicians through new and old colleagues. It’s sort of finding this new balance of being at home, getting better at my craft, and preparing for my next journey! It’s actually been very refreshing to go inward, hunker down, and find this inner-peace as a creative person. I try to regularly exercise, enjoy the city, get out to run and walk and really embrace my inner circle and everything that’s on the ground here in Toronto.

Buchholz: I would touch on what Jay was saying. We’ve worked in a very cyclical nature. In a lot of cases, Jay and I have been really busy and then we’re just kind of waiting. We’re like, “ok, it’s not going to come out until then, so we’ve got to sit tight until that happens”. To be liberated to make new patterns has been great. New patterns are fun!

I heard that you guys actually knew around last January that USS would be coming to an end. Was most of the music for Einsteins of Consciousness recorded prior to quarantine, or were you still tinkering on the new material during lockdown? 

Parsons: The album was one-hundred percent finished thirty-six hours before lockdown was announced! Everything was completed, ready to go, and the timing was hilarious.

That’s really interesting! I was listening to the record the other day and a lot of the songs felt particularly relevant. The lyrics from “Undivided”, “everyone’s connected but we’re so alone”, really hits home especially now.

Parsons: The gentleman that we wrote that with is actually in Texas! We were walking back to his studio and he looked down at his wife’s cell phone. He said that it was becoming a major issue in their relationship. He couldn’t spend five seconds with his wife because she was always on her phone. It was really bugging him. We just kind of jumped in the canoe and went down the river. He let himself feel those emotions and that’s the song that came out of it, just to feel “undivided”.

It’s a blessing and a curse of the internet age for sure.

I’d love to circle back around to a song you mentioned a little bit earlier. “Happy” is one of my personal favorites from the album. The music video is so nostalgic and you even had an “easter egg” competition for fans! How did the idea for that video come about?

Parsons: We’ve been working with a new film company called Tivoli. Back in May, Ash and I had been sitting on this song “Odd Times” for three years. We had done it with our producer of our previous three records, Tawgs Salter, and it was a song that both Ash and I loved but had just never found a place to release it properly. When the pandemic hit, strangely enough, Ash sang “odd times” in the chorus and you couldn’t have found a better word! It’s almost like Ash was being prophetic in the lead up to quarantine. We thought why not give our fans something like an “easter egg” from the past. A song they weren’t even aware of that didn’t make Einsteins of Consciousness.

It wasn’t going to come out, and then this company, based on pictures of the globe of empty streets and skyscrapers and all the major metropolises of the world, took all these images and made this video. It was so impressive that between Ash and I being apart during quarantine, Tivoli was kind enough to put together a treatment for “Happy”. It involved us being animated because, of course, we were trying to be safe and respect government suggestions about social distancing and whatnot. So, it made the most sense to do something where we weren’t together. They said hey, we have an idea for a video where you’re basically out in the desert which is an isolating place.

They thought well, why don’t we take all the nuggets from the USS repertoire and include memories from our journeys around the world? There’s everything from a poster of Ash in fisherman’s garb in Halifax, Nova Scotia on this ship that we filmed the video for “Shipwreck” to all these other little things for fans. Basically, USS in a nutshell for thirteen years. They nailed it! It was amazing because they put the video together relatively quickly and we were able to get it out in time for the release of the single. Ash and I weren’t even together, so we were grateful that we had that opportunity.

I was trying to pick out the “Easter eggs” as I watched it the first time. I got the postcards and I think the sweetest one, which almost made me tear up a little bit, was the date on the calendar when Matt first joined.

Parsons: It’s funny because we didn’t even think about that! (laughs) 

Buchholz: What was the date on the calendar? I didn’t even see that!

Parsons: It was the date of the first show Matt Murphy played drums for us.

The film company was very clever on what they picked. Obviously between us and our team, we laid a whole bunch on them. Our Wikipedia page is pretty extensive and I forgot that there’s a sentence on there that a fan put in when Matt Murphy seriously started drumming for us. He actually texted me and asked if that was what the significance was.  And I said yes, it was. I was like, how would they have known that? But they actually got it from Wikipedia which was hilarious!

Looking back at all the memories, do you guys have a special highlight or story that stands out either from creating this album or over the scope of your career?

Buchholz: Yes! We like to go to Knoxville, Tennessee to write music for a plethora of reasons. One time we went, we got introduced to a songwriter named Todd Clark. If you remember elementary school dances…I don’t even know if they have them anymore, pandemic aside, but everyone’s kind of lining the walls and someone has to make the first move. Who’s going to ask who to dance? It’s like when you sit down with a new songwriter and you kind of chit chat. Who’s going to throw out the first idea? Who’s going to open it up and how’s it going to start and what’s going to happen? Well, it turns out that Todd Clark, this guy from New Zealand, that’s in Nashville, who we’ve never met before, winds up growing up ninety seconds from my house!

He had gone to a different high-school and I didn’t know him. He’s this six-foot three New Zealand guy with long curly hair. You wouldn’t miss him! So, we’re sitting there and he’s like, “no way, you went to Brother André? I went to Unionville!” I was like, “dude, I lived right around the corner from you. My older brother was in a band”. He goes, “what was his band called?” I told him and he said, “I love them!” I thought, how do you know my brother’s band that put out like two-hundred cassette tapes in 1992? Nobody on earth would know them, how is this happening?! So, we’re sitting in his studio and I start playing one of my brother’s songs. His band was a rock group from the early 90’s and it was a kind of grungy guitar riff. I start playing it and Todd Clark starts singing along! (laughs) I began to move the chords around. Then, all of a sudden, Jay starts singing a song that I wrote over the grungy 90’s guitar riff that went (sings) “I feel like a zombie again”. I’d written it as kind of a loud G sad, lonely, rainy day sound. And when Jay reminded me of it, voila! “Medicine” was born. So, you never know! You just have to get out there!

How funny! What about you Jay? Are there any special moments or memories that stick out to you? 

Parsons: Oh man! (laughs) A lifetime’s worth! It’s just so humbling to see where our travels have taken us. I could tell you a million stories about our fans. I just love all the little things.

Ten years ago, we got to go to India. We didn’t even play a show! We went there as part of a campaign for Smirnoff where they were doing a cultural exchange program between Canada and India. Ash and I were flown to Mumbai and Bangalore and we got to meet a massive MTV host/house DJ who showed us around his country. It was the first time we both flew first class and we got to do so domestically in India! Being able to meet people, experience their nightlife, see the streets of Mumbai, and eat their local food was great!

Buchholz: What festival were we there for again?

Parsons: Diwali!

Buchholz: Yeah! They put lights up in every single possible place, across every street, attached to every single thing, and everyone believes the same thing. It’s not like here where even between households, you have a Buddhist, an atheist, an agnostic, and a Christian living together. Each person practically believes the same thing, so they’re all celebrating in the city together. Great call on that story Jay!

Parsons: It’s just amazing that we got to do that! This was right on the cusp of EDM becoming an absolute number one genre in mainstream music. It was a time when you still went to a festival or you went to a rave or a nightclub at your house, and dubstep wasn’t even big yet. Drum and bass was in the UK and a little bit here in Toronto.

We got to go and represent our country, see India, and teach people about our world as we learned about theirs. It was like the fruits of our labor, all the years we put in up until that point, with our energy, our creativity, and our honest selves, led the two of us to Southeast Asia for the first time because of our band that started in Stouffville and Markham, Ontario!

Music connects people, it’s crazy!

Parsons: It really does!

I love that you guys always stress how fans play a central role in USS. Part of your website even has a page dedicated to the “Synergy Seekers” and their band tattoos! What would the ultimate USS tattoo look like?

Buchholz: Oh wow! Jay, has anyone done the full detailed cover of Welding the C:/ ? Like all the animals in full color?

Parsons: No, I don’t think so. But that would be insane if someone did that!

Buchholz: I’m very interested in and love Ojibwe artwork. I worked with a woman who had native roots and told her I wanted this picture of a rabbit, a crow, and another animal. If you look at the cover of our first record, Welding the C:/, you’ll see what I mean. There’s planet Earth as the nucleus inside, and she drew the whole thing in the black, white, and red Ojibwe colors!

It’s really the magic of asking. There’s an artist named Amanda Palmer who used to be in a band called The Dresden Dolls. She wrote a book and did an incredible TED Talk called The Art of Asking. You realize it’s amazing when you trust people and you ask. I had that vision and I could see it, but I can’t draw! So the artist went, “here, do you mean like this?” I was like woah! Holy crow! (laughs) That would be my tattoo idea!

I think it’s neat everyone will get to share one final tour with the band once it’s safe to do so. You guys are known for your live shows and just celebrated the 4th anniversary of the “Six in the 6ix”. What can fans expect from your goodbye run?

Parsons: Hopefully one day live music will come back for starters! Not only do we all await the time when we will safely have live shows again, but there’s a question of “who’s going to go first?” because everyone and their grandma is going to tour at the same time!

Buchholz: (jokes) And my grandmother would mostly come with a bag of dirt, she’s decomposed! Sorry if that just got really dark, I just mean that she wasn’t cremated! It’s not like you could bring an urn! (laughs) But she could still come!

The Six in the 6ix was great! One of the most special shows of my entire life was when we played at the Opera House because we had never played there before and the first show that I ever went to was at that venue, going to see my brother’s high school band. It was the first time we went down to the city by ourselves. So that was unbelievably special. During soundcheck on the acoustic guitar, I played my brother’s band’s ballad to the empty Opera House and it was such a sacred moment. It was my favorite song and one of the first that I learned how to play on the guitar.

We also played a song off of Advanced Basics called “Built to Break”. It was the only time we played it in our whole career. We did it at that show and the roof almost exploded off the place when it dropped!

One thing that I would guarantee is that while we only played that song once, lots of people have asked me why we’ve never played it or how much they want to hear it. So, I’m here to say that when we get my grandmother all dug and bagged up, “Built to Break” will be in the setlist when we come back and play!  

Can’t wait! (laughs) 

You guys have toured 12 countries now, won several CASBY awards, were JUNO nominated, and will go down as one of Toronto’s most iconic duos. If you were to write the history books, how would you like the band to be remembered?

Parsons: That we did it! We kept technology and tradition in mind! A notebook, an acoustic guitar and a laptop computer!

Buchholz: And that we put the “oddity” back in “commodity”!

New Spotify bio right there!

Buchholz and Parsons: (laughs) Yes!

Alright guys, one of my last questions is, individually or together, are there any projects that you’re currently working on or are excited for in the coming year?

Parsons: Ash, tell her about your yoga aspirations! That’s exciting!

Buchholz: Yeah! One week after our album drops, I start training to become a yoga instructor! That way I can focus on creating music for yoga. I’ve always enjoyed sacred drony temple music and I go to temples to hear the harmoniums, the tablas, and things like that. I’m really excited to move into a different state of vibration and be surrounded in a new environment. That’s definitely on the agenda!

Excellent! Well, to wrap things up I have a few fun fill-in-the-blank questions for you both! I’ll say the beginning of the sentence and you can fill it in with whatever comes to mind. 

My favorite winter activity is…

Parsons: Cross country skiing!

Buchholz: Polar dip!

An alternate song or album title we thought about but never released is…

Buchholz: Oh, that’s a good question!

Parsons: Wait, I got it! It’s “Divergent Opposites”!

Buy Einsteins of Consciousness here

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