Published Nov 20, 2020
For 15 years, Greg Jarvis has led the cross-Atlantic space rock orchestra the Flowers of Hell. The band's sprawling, psychedelic compositions are heavily inspired by cannabis — although, according to Jarvis, the band always record and perform totally sober. Listeners should be able to get a buzz of the group's music regardless of whether they are partaking, as Jarvis says, "I reckon music should be able to take the listener to the other side without the need to indulge in whatever the artists making it took."
With the Flowers of Hell releasing their retrospective compilation, Outlanders — containing 15 years' worth of non-album tracks — Exclaim! caught up with Jarvis about growing cannabis, his favourite strains, and how pot enhances his synesthesia when writing music.
What do you smoke and how do you consume it?
Honouring Ontario's "A Place to Grow" slogan, I've been cultivating Master Kush in what I call my Trudeau Garden (a mixture of flowers, veg, and weed plants — I mean what other country do you get that in?). One of my weedlings grew 13 feet tall — so when the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair want to modernize their agricultural contests, I'm ready to enter! But still, ya gotta buy for variety, so I'll go hunting for Lamb's Bread (an indica quad Bob Marley apparently dug), or the elusive Purple God's Green Crack — if anyone can hook me up with that, DM me on the Flowers' Instagram! Both particularly enhance my audio-visual synesthesia; they make the shapes of the sounds I see more prominent.
For consuming, I've taken to stuffing RAW Lean Cones for a smooth draw, though with some of this year's harvest being a bit harsh (one plant hermied and knocked others up), I'm considering vaping — I guess there are health concerns either way. During the March lockdown, I learned to make cannabutter and got on alright adding it to a Martha Stewart cookie recipe, so I've been shifting a bit to homemade edibles.
What do you like to do when you smoke?
There's nothing more relaxing or grounding for me than having a spliff and playing away on my guitar and pedals, or painting the room with the sounds of the keyboard-controlled digital orchestras I've been programming. I find 'jazz cigarettes' are great for mixing! My brain slows down and my mind melds into the music — the sounds, the visions, and my hands on the controls reach a kind of enhanced synergy. Conversely though, rehearsing, recording and gigging are all things we Flowers of Hell do stone sober. Throughout our 15 years, we've had a policy of only one rehearsal before anything we do, which keeps us laser-focused when we play — and it's just a better energy.
The end of the evening is my smoke-and-put-on-some-tunes time — I've never been a wake-and-bake person. Self-managing a trans-Atlantic space rock orchestra while holding down a day job is a ton of work that keeps my mind racing, and the weed helps me turn off that brain tap quickly, drift away into a sonic world, and wake up fresh after a good night's sleep, ready to dive right back into the rejections, triumphs (occasionally) and logistical nightmares in my inbox.
What do you think about the recent changes in cannabis culture?
I lived through legal weed before when I worked in the Czech music business in the '90s. The country was run by a Beatnik playwright, Vaclav Havel, who'd peacefully overthrown the communist regime with the help of students and his Velvet Underground-loving dissident artist pals. They made it legal to grow and possess pot, but illegal to sell it — a model that was far more along the lines of the hippie dream than Canada's new corporate cannabis industry.
Regardless, I think the de-stigmatization that's happening here is great and I'm doing this interview to try to help with that. Since my Prague years, it's always just been an alternative to alcohol in my eyes. In my day job as a music biz prof, I tell my students, "I don't do anything Trudeau and his mom haven't." But with de-stigmatization, I reckon it's hugely important we stop underplaying weed's addictiveness; there wouldn't be an organization called Marijuana Anonymous if there wasn't an issue — though it's probably better for folks to be hooked on pot than on pharmaceutical pills, no?
Where in your city is great for cannabis?
Oh, Toronto Island, man, nowhere is better with its trees, beaches and the lake — and food and bev if you get the munchies or want a beer. Energetically, it's quite special; I've heard that's where the Indigenous folk used to go to chill, which says a lot. Arriving and departing by Tiki Taxi — these thatched 10-person water taxis that usually have good tunes playing — bookends an island trip with a harbour cruise. Another top destination for me is the aquarium! In the dead of winter, to Uber down there and walk around is truly transportive and wonderful.
Are there hidden (or not-so-hidden) cannabis references in your music?
Most of the Flowers of Hell's output is instrumental (we try to communicate our feelings with sounds rather than words), but the warm, relaxed, drift-off-and-lift-off feel of a good joint is definitely something much of our music conveys. The title of our signature tune, "Opt Out," is partially named after that feeling. Though I reckon music should be able to take the listener to the other side without the need to indulge in whatever the artists making it took. That's definitely something I learned working on our early stuff with Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom, whose philosophy at the start of his career was Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To.
Who is your Canadian cannabis hero?
My childhood air cadet buddy's dad, Mike Drimmie — who I jam with sometimes! After playing up and down the Yonge Street Strip in the '60s, he hitchhiked from Toronto to California to work on shrimp boats like he'd seen Elvis do in a movie — and he joined on in with the hippie revolution there. For me growing up, he was the only adult I knew who was semi-open about pot. His acoustic guitar, folk rock records and Stones LPs sitting around completed the lifestyle picture! That said he was always discreet, bar the Halloween he made himself a Captain Cannabis superhero outfit with a giant joint prop — some heroes do wear capes!
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