Open Letters

Most of us remember the frustration that came with being simultaneously a music fan and a minor. When you’re barred from attending most shows, there’s a gap left between the artists and the appreciators. While not the first band to exclusively play all-ages shows, Open Letters are helping the music community be accessible to everyone, regardless of their date of birth.

Open Letters | | photo by Yulia Badayeva
Open Letters | | photo by Yulia Badayeva

No punk elitism, no bullshit, Open Letters has a strict all-ages show policy. The band, comprised of bassist Kyle Shields, guitarist Reuben Houweling, and drummer Trent Otter, recently wrapped up their American tour — five states and no breaks, with Open Letters playing 13 shows in 12 days — down the West Coast and through Arizona and New Mexico.

You could call the music emo-punk, but it avoids the kind of early-2000s hair flip revivalism you’d expect. There’s an emotional slant, but all of the members have played in punk/hard-core bands in the past, and don’t take themselves too seriously.

They recently released the superbly acerbic and head-grinding Snuggle Split seven-inch collaboration (their two songs on it titled “Have you Tried Xanax?” and “Regarding Drunk Shitheads Ruining Venues For Everyone”) with a handful of other bands, including recent tourmates Jelly Boyzz. Open Letters also have a full-length in the works.

Where did you guys feel the most not-at-home when you were on tour?

Shields: Tucson.

Houweling: Tucson felt like Coaldale, Alberta.

Shields: When we pulled up to the venue in Tucson, there was the hickest dude standing outside with a huge fucking dog just staring at us and we didn’t know what to do. It was pitch black and there were no streetlights and it was a back street in an industrial district in Tucson. The dude looked so sketch, the house looked so sketch, and he had bars in front of his door. He looked at us and walked into his house, closed the barred door, and kept looking at us from inside. But the dog was still outside and we didn’t even want to unload our gear. We were thinking about just driving away.

Open Letters | | photo by Yulia Badayeva
Open Letters | | photo by Yulia Badayeva

Do you guys consider yourselves promoting a sort of radical sobriety?

Shields: It’s not that I hate drug users, but at shows, especially all-ages show, it needs to fuck off. People need to stop getting smashed at shows and doing stupid shit. People can ingest whatever they want to, for their own reasons. But I still think that it’s a tool that people use to control each other and hurt each other; if it’s used in that sense, then it’s not okay. If a group of dudes want to smoke weed and play Mario Kart, more power to them. They’re not hurting anybody.

We’ve literally lost like nine or 10 venues in Abbotsford since we got into the music scene. Some of them four or five in a year, and all from the same thing: a group of people that get fucked up at shows and get in a fight or smash bottles outside a rec centre.

Open Letters | | photo by Yulia Badayeva
Open Letters | | photo by Yulia Badayeva

Your Facebook page mentions Drei Dunkel Jungen — any explanation?

Shields: It’s German… I’m a huge Tim and Eric fan, like a scary Tim and Eric fan. There’s a sketch where they have an industrial noise band called Zwei Dunkel Jungen, which is translated into German as “Two Dark Boys.” They dress in full goth face paint and play a show on Richard Dunn’s “The Dungeon.” Tim and Eric’s band is Zwei Dunkel Jungen and I just changed the “Zwei” to “Drei”, which is three in German so we get “Three Dark Boys.”

Open Letters | | photo by Yulia Badayeva
Open Letters | | photo by Yulia Badayeva

All the money from your albums on Bandcamp goes to the WISH Drop-In Society. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Otter: It’s a women’s drop-in centre, a shelter where they can feel safe. They can go in and get clothes. They can get meals. They can get their nails painted and a bunch of different stuff.

I get the impression sometimes that there aren’t that many underage kids at all-ages shows — do you think that all-ages shows are fulfilling their purpose?

Houweling: We try to make all-ages shows really positive and try to promote them as much as possible. Sometimes I feel like I’m spamming, but at the same time people need to know because it’s something we really care about.

Otter: You want to take away that stigma of “I’m too cool to go all-ages shows” because that’s the problem. People are like “Aw I don’t feel safe drinking around kids” then check yourself at the door. If you think you’re going to rape someone, don’t go. Or don’t drink.

Houweling: Yeah, enjoy a show without drinking. It’s like [smiling]: “If you drink, you gotta do it at all times.” But it’s possible to not drink at a show and it can be fun… If I didn’t have an all-ages scene to go to when I was younger, I’d be fucked. Everything I believe now was shaped through punk and hardcore. The fact that we as a band could deny somebody what was the most positive thing in my life, that seems like robbery.


See Open Letters performed on March 1 at 333 alongside fellow punk-rockers Run Forever.