Canadian Spotlight: USS

“We haven’t made it yet. Wherever we end up, we’re still trying.” - Human Kebab. Courtesy of
“We haven’t made it yet. Wherever we end up, we’re still trying.” – Human Kebab. Courtesy of

What do you get when you mix quirky introvert Ashley “Ash Boo-Shultz” Buccholz with over-the-top extrovert Jason “Human Kebab” Parsons? Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker, also lovingly known as USS. USS have been riding the Canadian airwaves since 2008, after their debut EP Welding the C:/ was released. The duo have won awards garnering them clout within the music industry, but they aren’t doing it for the awards or recognition, they’re doing it for the fans. USS started as a happy accident when Ash and Kebab met at their summer job at a golf course. The self-proclaimed opposites have been creating music since 2004 and have since worked their way to the top of the Canadian music ladder. USS have toured Europe with Walk Off The Earth and have even helped on other Canadian artist’s albums, such as Light’s Siberia. I had a chance to talk with Jason Parsons, or “Human Kebab”, about everything from hockey to Justin Bieber, wedding songs to working the pipeline – I even got a Morgan Freeman impression. Riddled throughout our chat was evidence of a grateful and transparent artist who is not only talented, but genuine as well and always striving to put fans first. Catch up with the Canadian Alt-Rock heartthrobs below.

Why are you called the Human Kebab? Not even Wiki can answer that.

My alias came from a combination of a funny joke, doing stand up comedy, rapping and studying Vlad the Impaler in first year of university. Vlad the Impaler would impale his foes outside of his castle to scare off potentially warring tribes in Transylvania in Romania, back in the 15th century. I was so intrigued that his thing was to scare his opponents, so the Human Kebab came out of that. When I got my first performing rap gig, I got asked to open for this rap group in Peterborough when I was going to Trent. [The promoter] asked me what I was going to call myself, and I said “Human Kebab” and he was like “oh, that’s funny”, so then the name stuck. When Ash and I took off in 2008 on The Edge, it was just a natural fit to stay as Human Kebab. For me to have a handle, an alter-ego in alternative rock in Canada, there’s not many people who have a handle. It’s just a reflection of who I am as a person.

What did you go to university for? What program did Ash drop out of?

I went to school for business and Ash was in a musical prodigy program at Seneca in North York. He went there and got cheesed out because he’d go to a classroom and it was like “Learn to be a star in music,” and you can’t really learn these things, you just have to be it and hope that the world wants to embrace you while you’re trying to be it.

It’s so funny though too, I finished university and I had stars in my eyes and I was like “I’m going to do it, I’m going to get the great job and I’m going to be set.” And then it was interview, interview, interview, “Oh I have no experience, well I’m going to go back to my old golf course job doing logistics and inventory.” And then Ash drops out of college, broke up, like, his 10th band, didn’t even finish the program and ends up at the golf course for totally different reasons and, as fate would have it, we met. I was told about this huge weirdo in the golf club and he was told about this crazy hyper guy and then we met and I said, “Let’s do a song and see what happens.”

When you went out West to work on the pipeline, did you give up on your music career?

Neither one of us gave up. The thing is, with music in Canada in particular, to me, you can only go so far. At the same time, you have to live your life, you have to survive. I mean, if you live in Toronto you’re paying some of the highest rent in the country. Surviving in the city is tough as it is, and then trying to be a self-employed musician, you have to carry a job. I had a connection in the oil fields, and it was so inspiring because to go to Western Canada and to be the odd man out, everyone was like “What are you doing here, what’s your deal?”

You come back to Toronto, when you’ve removed yourself from the scene and you have this new bounce in your step, because you’re confident and comfortable financially. And then you have time to reflect on, “Ok what are we really doing here? How much do I really love the music? Have we actually gone forth 111%? Ok, no, no and no. So yeah, let’s go, let’s do this.”

Ash had enough time to reorganize artistically, think about what he wanted, write down some ideas, put together our initial EP and basically he asked me, “I really wanna go for this, do you want to join me?” And I was like “Yeah, I’m in!” It’s just one of those things that would’ve been a shame if we didn’t go through with it.

You frequently wear a hockey jersey representing the city that youre in. Who is actually your favourite team?

First of all, I’m a Toronto Maple Leafs fan until the day that I die, and this is the most exciting time for the Maple Leafs because we are absolutely kicking ass. Going into the Olympic break, huge win over Vancouver, couldn’t be more proud of the Leafs. My closet other Canadian team is the Edmonton Oilers. I put that jersey on at SonicBoom in Edmonton this September, it was wicked. When I came out with that Edmonton Oilers jersey on, 10,000 people were losing it. The Edmonton Oilers actually tweeted me about it. It’s so funny when you think of an organization tweeting you, cause it’s like you think the entire team is sitting together, “Oh, this Human Kebab guy from USS…Thanks for wearing our jersey, pal!” But really it’s just some administrative person sitting at a computer. But you will never catch me wearing another jersey, like Habs, or Canucks, or Flames. No other jerseys.

 If you had to create a 5 track EP with any of your songs, which songs would they be?

This is the Best, Pornostartrek, Hollow Point Sniper Hyperbole, Anti-Venom, Yo Hello Hooray.

I could say other songs, but Yo Hello Hooray makes people happy. The general consensus that we’ve seen is that people like that song because it makes them feel good. So in its own way it’s like medicine for the soul for some people. Anti-Venom is the hardest we went in the direction of rock and roll and drum and bass and people have lyrics from it tattooed on their bodies, so that song clearly worked. That song is also a mosh pit, crowd surfing, dance party song for us. This is the Best is our biggest song to date. This is the song that opened up a whole new world for us outside of Canada and it’s our highest charting song ever in Canada. It’s also the quickest song we ever wrote in our career. It was us going in a direction we always knew was possible, but we just did it without even thinking of it, we just wrote a song. It became the hallmark of Advanced Basics. Pornostartrek is the song that we based our wedding package on our pledge campaign around. We’ve probably had almost as many requests to play people’s weddings, to play Pornostartrek, as we’ve had to actually play shows.

Last night, here in Quebec, I had a girl told me that when her sister got married, Pornostartrek was their first dance. That is a wedding song for a lot of people. Hollow Point [Sniper Hyperbole] because it was the first song Ash and I took a chance on and spent money to record, in hopes that people would actually like our music, and apparently we did a good enough job, because 102.1 The Edge made it the single on our first record and they put it into heavy rotation when I was on the oil fields.

Whats your favourite venue to play? Festivals, grungy little bars?

It’s funny, because obviously on a maximum output level, the festivals, especially the festivals where we’re known, or trying to win a group of people over, are so rewarding in the long run, because you can actually quantify, “Ok, we just played to 20,000 people.” And you then you go on Facebook and Twitter the next day and the numbers have jumped a couple hundred numbers. People are saying, “saw you here, saw you here, saw you here.” Cool, 20 people actually took time out of their day to go on Facebook and write us and saying that they saw us at EdgeFest or something. But like I said at the start of this interview, when we played The Alex in Brantford, that show was absolutely like… I remember for a time Ash said that was his favourite USS show ever, because it was like a greasy, punk-rock throw-down, where the audience was falling into our equipment, and people are crawling on each other to crowd surf, and everyone’s yelling the lyrics. Just pandemonium. Glasses are getting smashed, people are yelling, collars are getting stretched. And like that’s equally as powerful, if not more powerful than getting 20,000 people to jump at a giant Rock ‘n Roll festival. One’s in your face and the other one there’s a barricade with 50 security guards blocking you from it.

On award shows…

Music cheeses me out, like I get really cheesed out when we’re at award shows. It really bothers me that we’re put on a pedestal and we’re supposed to be holier than thou, and greater than everyone else. When in actuality, it’s like, I love the Monster Truck album, those guys are wicked, give them the award and let’s go drink beer. Other than that, who cares about all the rest of it. Let’s get on stage and try to make as many people as we can build this circle pit, like that’s way more exciting to me than all the accolades and the bullshit.

What accomplishments in your musical career are you most proud of?

…When you come and play a show, and you meet two people from the Canadian military who are huge fans, that are based in Fredericton, and it’s like, “Wow. I didn’t see that one coming.” Or you meet some couple that had to move there for school, and they were huge fans in Victoria, and they can’t believe that they’re talking to you, in the bar in Fredericton. When I’m sitting there thinking like, “ I just can’t believe you came out to the show, while you just easily be at home doing something, and now you’re buying the t-shirt. And you’re gushing cause you couldn’t talk to me in Victoria cause there were two thousand people at the show.” When I’m still like, “Wow I can’t believe you actually bought a ticket and came out to support us in Fredericton, by way of Victoria.” Yeah, may be that’s our biggest achievement. We connected with people.

Ash talked about your last albums being orange and yellow and red and the new one being blue, and purple and green, how were your experiences in creating these albums different? What influenced that contrast?

To be completely honest, Welding the C :/ was like, “You have your whole life to make your first record”, so that’s what happened there and that’s great. Questimation was a continuation of that, except we learned a lot more, we sort of knew what worked for us and we went a little bit further in the rock direction-and the branding, the lightning bolt, was just a really attractive image at the time. We used our logo, because we believe it’s so impactful. Approved was back to the basics, because when we made the record we were in such a weird spot as a group because we started working with a new producer/ songwriter for us and he was a big shot in the music industry. So we sort of had to surrender our creative control, insofar as we were opening a new chapter to the start of USS. We were so immersed in the song writing and production that we weren’t really so concerned about the branding because we didn’t know where we wanted to go next, we just went with it and it was like “maybe the songs will take us this time,” instead of just everything else being crazy. It’s really interesting because after that experiment, going into Advanced Basics, it was a combo of “We’ve got the songs, now we’re going back to some of the sounds that made us who we were in the beginning, bring it around full circle.” You know, “Who are we now and can we marry everything that we’ve experienced at this point, with where we want to go?” And the answer to us was yes. We absolutely maintained our own integrity on this record, it sort of feels like we’re starting up for the first time, all over again. It’s taken us nine years to get here and this is actually us arriving.

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