Sunday, April 26, 2009


I did this one for Monday Magazine and was pretty happy with how it turned out. Building character in these small pieces is a challenge but I was pleasantly surprised with this one. Of course, when it's metal legends Kreator they pretty much build character all by themselves.

A quarter-century of violence
Kreator just keep on thrashing

It’s strange talking to Mille Petrozza. Petrozza, vocalist/guitarist of pioneering German thrash-metal band Kreator, is the man responsible for countless amounts of incredible guitar riffs and obscenely catchy songs that have been the backdrop to many a night spent drinking beers and talking metal shop with the pals. But Petrozza is a mild man when not on stage, and as we chat, this legend of Teutonic thrash is sitting on a bed in a hotel in Cleveland; “We’re in Cleveland today. The shows are all very good,” he says in a monotone at the beginning of our conversation, with the mannerism of a very polite man who’s done a lot of interviews in his day.
But polite does not a thrash album make: with album titles like Violent Revolution, Enemy of God and, their most recent, Hordes of Chaos, comprising the band’s new-millennium catalogue, you’d be right to guess that lyrics about relationships or drunken nights at the bar would be a bit misplaced. This is serious stuff, and this is where Petrozza starts to open up.
“The thing is, playing this kind of music, playing extreme metal, demands extreme lyrics, otherwise not only would it not fit, it would make the whole music sound ridiculous and pointless,” he says. “I think it’s just necessary to have these lyrics if you want to make sense in your music and what you want to get across to people.”
Looking back, Petrozza pinpoints 1988—four years after the band formed—as the year his lyrical focus shifted from fantasy to reality but is quick to add that he’s not here to preach.
“It’s not that we want to spread a message or tell people what to think but we do want songs that make sense, you know?” he says. “We want to be happy with the music and the lyrics so we can perform them more convincingly.”
In a better world, this man wouldn’t be in a quiet hotel room in Cleveland waiting to play an okay-sized venue as he trucks across North America in less-than-perfect conditions. He’d be rewarded for 25 years of uphill battle, 25 years of thrashing good times, 25 years of being at the forefront of an underdog of a subgenre. Maybe next time around, Mille. But until then, you should stop worrying about trying to convince anyone—your music already does that just fine.
-Greg Pratt

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I wrote this piece for Boulevard Magazine in Victoria.

Where’s the Beef?
To vegans, it’s nowhere to be found

By Greg Pratt

If you’re looking to spice up your eating habits, one way to add more is to take away. To take away the meat, that is, and switch over to a vegan diet (abstaining from any animal products, including dairy: bye-bye, cheese!). It’s healthy, it’s fun and it’s tasty. These days there’s no shortage of information and organizations to help out; the worldwide vegan scene has come a long way in the past 20 years.
And the face of the local vegan scene is certainly Sarah Kramer. Kramer has written (or co-written) four vegan cookbooks and has become something of a celebrity in food circles. As Kramer and I sit down to eat and chat at a local cafĂ©, she is recognized by someone who asks, “You write the vegan cookbooks, right?” After Kramer accepts some compliments, she tells me about her growing up vegetarian.
“My mom raised me vegetarian since birth in Regina in the ‘70s, so it wasn’t easy,” she says, as we dive in to a delicious vegan lunch of huge yam crackers with various dips (it may not sound like much but, yes, it’s very filling and very tasty). “There was one health-food store, in the basement of our friend’s house. And there weren’t products; my mom had to make everything from scratch. I think that’s part of where my love of creating stuff in the kitchen came from. I was vegetarian my whole life, except for a small period in high school where I did a little experimenting, like teenagers do,” she laughs.
Kramer, now 40, was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in her early 20s; she says switching to a vegan diet helped her beat the condition. These days she feels and looks great, and goes non-stop promoting the vegan lifestyle. When we got together to chat she had just returned from a book tour for her latest, Vegan A Go-Go!, and is busy putting together a 2010 calendar and unabashedly debunking the myth that you won’t have any energy if you don’t eat meat.
Another myth is that veganism is inherently more expensive than a meat-based diet. Kramer says that if people are buying a lot of fake meat products or other pre-packaged food this may be the case, but if you’re making more meals from scratch, it’s not an expensive way to eat.
“I can make a giant pot of chili for six bucks if I go out and buy all the ingredients,” she says. “But a can of Amy’s chili is four dollars. Making your own wheat-gluten fake meat products is so easy and you can do it for pennies. It just takes a little time.”
The biggest vegan-related myth is that all vegans eat is bread and peanut butter, maybe some twigs for flavour, a bit of dirt as a spice . . . the truth is much different. Chatting with Kramer, we dive into a date/avocado/chocolate vegan cheesecake of sorts, which is almost too tasty for either of us to handle.
“Bland food is bland. So bland vegan food will be as bland as bland non-vegan food,” says Victoria’s Dave Shishkoff, the Canadian correspondent for Friends of Animals, a 50-year-old organization that promotes respectful treatment of animals through animal rights and vegan advocacy. “The most common way to de-bland foods is to spice them up, and luckily the all herbs and spices I can think of are plant-based. Veganism actually opens up a whole new world of flavourful delights for many people. Suddenly, the entire produce section of the grocery store is more in focus, and there is a very wide range of fruits and vegetables out there. Veganism encourages people to expand their horizons and try them all.”
I ask Kramer what her favourite vegan dishes are and it sounds anything but bland: Portobello Mushroom Bake, a side of Edamame Hummus and Vegan Nanaimo Bars or Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie for dessert. So Kramer and Shishkoff (who has been vegan for over 18 years) agree that vegan food doesn’t have to bland; they also agree that vegan living doesn’t have to be expensive. He says it can work well on a tight budget and can offer many very healthy and nutrient-rich foods.
“I favour and recommend a whole-foods diet, with a big focus on greens,” he says. “Since I buy primarily organic produce, it’s a bit pricier, but it’s worth it. One can be vegan and extremely frugal—think of how cheap dried beans, flours, fruit and other bulk items are, along with produce like potatoes and carrots.”
And consensus is having a vegan diet isn’t hard work like some may think it is. Shishkoff says that it takes some effort and a lot of commitment in the beginning, but don’t sweat it: it gets easier.
“It’s like any endeavour one might take on and requires education and adjustment,” he says. “One needs to spend some time learning about all the ‘secret’ animal ingredients in food, such as whey or casein, and apply this knowledge by reading labels and possibly finding new brands that are vegan.” “It can be tough but I think the trick is to be prepared,” says Kramer. “We’re really lucky in Victoria; there are a lot of places downtown where you can get vegan food.”
She’s right: one visit to local restaurants like Bliss (where Kramer and I eat as we talk), Mo:Le, Green Cuisine, Lotus Pond or the Joint, to name a few, will open up your taste buds to a whole new array of delicious, animal-free foods.
And good news for those who are vegan or thinking about making the switch over: things are getting easier. Local organizations like Vancouver Island Vegetarian Association (go to for more info) help people make the transition. Grocery stores are carrying more and more speciality products, and you’re no longer speaking a strange, impenetrable language when you tell your restaurant server you’re vegan.
“I remember back in the day when I’d be hanging out with my friends and all I could order would be salad and a baked potato,” says Kramer. “It’s not like that any more, at least on the west coast, for sure. We’re really lucky.”

Saturday, April 18, 2009

New Kids on the Block

Sure, laugh: I think this is one of my favourite pieces. This was for Monday Magazine.

Regret, divorce, compromise
It’s not all good times with the New Kids on the Block

Donnie Wahlberg, he’s got my back against the wall. I’m about halfway through a shockingly candid and interesting interview with the New Kid on the Block/actor and I ask him if he wants to write more serious lyrics than those found on the band’s comeback disc, the Block. I bring up a particularly taste-offending couplet in “2 in the Morning,” where Wahlberg sings “I gotta know if you’re mad at me/before Grey’s Anatomy.”
“What do you mean?” Wahlberg asks after a silence; I don’t really know what to say. I mutter, “It just seems so… kind of…” I fear this could be the end of the interview, but Wahlberg sets the record straight.
“It was written about my wife and my break-up,” he says. “We basically spent a summer not communicating. Pretty much every night we wouldn’t talk until two in the morning. I was sleeping on the couch and she was up in the bedroom. I’d send her a text saying, ‘Are we gonna talk or do you wanna sleep?’ And most nights she said, ‘I’m going to sleep.’” Wahlberg sounds distant and intense; I realize I’ve brought up the wrong lyric. “I just couldn’t compete with Grey’s Anatomy that summer,” he says.
He admits that although the lyric I mentioned is not a good example, there are plenty of “goofball lyrics” on the disc. It’s something he feels the band didn’t really think about: people might not want to hear a 39-year-old man singing about being “your boyfriend.”
“Music comes on certain stations and it’s young people listening to it; some of them are gonna like it and not care, and some of them are going to say, ‘I don’t wanna hear those guys singing it, I want to hear the Jonas Brothers sing that shit.’ But if we do another [album], I think your point is well taken and we may take a different approach, but certainly not because we have regret.”
Regret: something Wahlberg does feel about some of the decisions the band made when they were younger. Not that, say, pillow cases negate musical credibility, but . . . they didn’t help.
“We tried to stay as on top of things as possible,” he says. “It’s just . . . it was so big, you know? When something gets that big it’s really out of control; you have to do all you can just to keep your sanity and not forget who you are. Our mentality started to be, look, it may not last forever but we’d like to have some dignity when it’s done. So enough with the bullshit. Enough with the pink slippers and the cereal and the cartoons. It’s enough . . . it’s enough. We made enough compromises and did enough things that we look back on with some regret . . .” Wahlberg pauses, sounds intense again; I find it hard to believe this is the once-teen heartthrob of a time past; he sounds like a man whose eyes are locked in the thousand-mile stare as we speak; a man who may be talking about his divorce or may be talking about his band’s past when he finishes his sentence: “at some point we said enough is enough.” And he says it with such intensity that I just leave it at that.
-Greg Pratt