If punk rock is good for anything anymore, it’s keeping pretension out of rock music. Indie has replaced prog as the go-to style for ambitious intellectuals, but punk remains the torch-bearer for having fun, going crazy, and removing the distance between artist and audience.

Halifax quartet Cold Warps does this in a number of ways, including playing house parties and abandoning the vacuum-sealed CD format for old-school, DIY releases. Describing their music as “Joey Ramone beating Paul McCartney over the head with songs about science fiction, teenage apathy and summer love” may seem like an overly colourful byline, but it’s also weirdly accurate.

In advance of the band's appearance at NXNE, we phoned up frontman Paul Hammond (with band mate Dom Taylor off to his side) to talk about his appropriation of classic rock, the music community in Halifax, and the appeal of cassette tapes.

Check out Cold Warps in Toronto tonight - Wednesday, June 13 - at Parts and Labour.

How did you get the Who to appear on your album cover?

I’m really interested in punk art from the ‘70s and ‘80s, the mixing of drawing and collage. The [album design] started as a joke - we originally released it on cassette. We were trying to figure out what to put on the cover and we wanted it to resemble old punk records with band photos, but we didn’t have a picture of ourselves. So we thought it would be much funnier to use the Who.

Do you fit into the punk rock community in Halifax?

The punk scene out here is interesting. It’s fairly eclectic. The East Coast seems interested in lo fi sound and, though we don’t fit into this, there are a lot of more experimental punk acts. [Bands are] pretty open-minded about what they like.

I visited Halifax about ten years ago, wasn’t a big fan. Tell me something great about the city.

It’s reasonably small, and yet there’s a lot going on. You get very tight-knit art communities. Super-supportive. There’s a real built-in, DIY mentality, with people willing to do whatever they need to do to make their [artistic pursuits] happen and create a good scene.

Was there a good live scene while you were growing up?

Well, I’m originally from Ontario so I can’t really speak to that. I know no one really tours out here. Bands from the States won’t go farther east than Montreal. You get some touring bands but it’s just not the same as a place like Southern Ontario.

Do Cold Warps still play a lot of house / basement shows?

Yeah. We really like playing those kinds of shows. They’re more fun, it’s nice not having a separation between band and audience.

Ever caused any serious damage?

No, we’re pretty respectful. [Aside] Have we caused any serious damage, Dom? No, he says no. Our shows can get pretty wild, but it’s all very respectful.

If I can say so, you’re much more soft-spoken than I expected from the music.

All of us are soft-spoken kinda guys. Playing punk music is a way to release [yourself], you get to go crazy.

Something else you share with old-school punk: you haven’t released anything on CD, correct?

I don’t think we ever will. I don’t see a reason for it. Our first two releases were on tape, and then compiled those onto an LP. We just did a 7” [vinyl single], with two more coming out this summer. We’re working right now on a material for a full-length album.

Do you remember the last CD you actually bought?

It might have been a Hot Snakes CD. That was a while ago, six or seven years!

What is gained / lost, sound-wise, when you record onto cassette?

I like them a lot. There’s a warmer sound, with slight loss of fidelity. CDs sound too sharp and clear. I’m not into crystal clarity, hearing every tiny little string squeak.

They’re like books, in that [while listening] you can stop and start again at the exact same point.

And they degrade after a while. We’re living in a time when almost all physical formats are collectors items, but tapes are so cheap that doesn’t really matter. [Our tapes] come with download codes too, so there’s that.

Does releasing music in that way belie your ambition for Cold Warps?

The focus has always been on having fun and making fun music. We do spend our time and energy making the songs, and I want people to hear them. That is satisfying to me, a good measure of success. I don’t think any of us think this’ll be a career band, a money maker – Dom is looking at me like, “It’s not?” – but I dunno. It’s not a way to make a living, it’s something we truly enjoy doing and will keep doing as long as that is the case.

How many shows will you be playing at this year’s NXNE?

Two, one at Parts and Labour with the K-Holes, from Chicago [June 13 @ 11 p.m.] and we’re playing an afternoon show at a Korean taco place, JangBang [June 14]. I’m very psyched about that. 

What else have you got planned for the summer?

The “Slimer” 7” was just put out. Our next should be out on Noyes Records.

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