John Kastner – Doughboys’ Turn Me On Turns 20

Doughboys black and white
Image by Mark Dipietro, taken from the Turn Me On booklet.

Nicholas Friesen @Nicholastronaut February 29, 2016

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Turn Me On, the final album from Montreal punk/pop quartet Doughboys. Co-produced by Ted Nicely (Fugazi, Jawbox) in New York and Daniel Rey (Ramones) in Quebec, the record is credited to John Kastner (vocals, guitar), Paul Newman (drums), Peter Arsenault (bass, vocals) and Jonathan Cummins (guitar), but Kastner notes that when Cummins left the band midway through the recording process, he took his songs with him, leaving the band to record a few more with Rey.

“It was Jonathan’s idea, he really wanted to use (Ted Nicely),” Kastner says. “When we got into making that record, the producer wasn’t really that crazy about what Jonathan was doing. It really hurt Jonathan, it was kind of the beginning of the end for him in the Doughboys. Between the producer, the record label, the stress of what was going on, that’s what broke up the band.”

The record, which followed up the band’s mega hit Crush, got stuck in a shuffle of label egos when A&M was bought by Polygram.

“We had just come off of Crush which had taken the band to a completely different level all around the world,” Kastner says. “You’re talking about a band that toured, did 250 shows a year, signed a big record deal. We had done a lot of work to get there.

“When we made that record, up until making Crush, we never thought about making records. Turn Me On was the first record where we had a lot of pressure. We were actually over thinking what we were doing because we had 29 people in every country telling us what a ‘hit’ should be. It’s a fucking stressful time. Funnily enough, that record came out and, in Canada, I think it sold a little over 25,000 records in the first two months — and that was considered a flop. By month three, when they had expected it to have gone gold by then, they told us to just cut the tour and start working on the next record and we said forget that. We were pissed.

“The band just ended right there.”

Kastner went on to front All Systems Go!, releasing a trio of albums and EPs, while Cummins took his songs to craft the first Bionic record. Doughboys reunited its classic line up in the summer of 2011 for a brief tour with Foo Fighters, as well as the odd festival, but it likely won’t happen again.

“The shows were fucking amazing,” Kastner says. “I thought we played better than we ever had, but some of the same old problems that made the Doughboys not a band anymore were still there and we realized that quite fast. We get offered a lot of money every year to reunite, and every year me and Paul look at the offers, and it’s gonna be the same old thing. The playing stuff is super fun, but the stuff off the stage is the reason why we don’t do it.”

Kastner notes that while he still writes the odd song, scores a film or two, and plays the occasional reunion gig with his pre-Doughboys act the Asexuals, music just isn’t his focus anymore. These days he divides his time managing such acts as Sebadoh, Evan Dando and Gateway Drugs, programming Canadian Music Week, and running his California-based music distribution company, Cobraside.

“I always kinda managed my own bands anyway, I didn’t have somebody talking on my behalf, it was always me and how I did things,” he says. “When I stopped playing music a lot of my friends started coming to me for help, knowing that I could be a better manager than anybody else they could get because I was them — I was the guy driving in the van driving from city to city, the guy in the bus going from town to town, the guy in the plane flying from country to country.

“I enjoy taking care of people and working with all the bands I work with, I really believe in what I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be working with them.”

It’s that ethos that drives his passion for CMW, the annual Toronto music conference, held this year May 2-8. As programmer, Kastner enjoys bringing the music industry to Toronto to place the spotlight on homegrown talent.

“I booked (Toronto music conference, North by Northeast) for eight years,” he notes. “When I started with North by, it was in a much different situation than how I left it. Unfortunately since I’ve gone, it’s not in a great space from what I hear. Good luck to them, I believe in all those people and it’s a great festival and I’m hoping that they’re able to turn it around. I think with what’s happening with CMW and North by, is that they’re becoming drastically different events, and that’s positive.”

He notes that NXNE has dropped its conference-aspect and is not charging bands to apply to the festival this year, but believes that a submission fee is a risk worthy of the reward.

“You’re applying to play to the music business from around the world,” he says. “You’ll get a good agent, a good record deal, so what are these bands doing when they’re applying to a festival? What they’re getting out of it is huge, and we need to be able to have funding to bring these people to Canada.

“We bring the entire music business from around the world to the front steps of Canadians. Lots of great stuff happens every year at CMW, young bands get signed, it’s a very positive experience.”

Continue turning yourself on by visiting this Doughboys fan site.