From Peterborough to Port Alberni, COVID drives Punks on Pizza from promotion to podcast

Punks on Pizza began as a way for Tyler Smith to get his band booked in his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, but thanks, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been reinvented as a podcast where he chats with friends and heroes from his new home base in Port Alberni, British Columbia.

 What is Smith doing in his new home on Vancouver Island?

“I’ll just say I work for the mayor; I’ll just leave it at that,” he laughs.

Mayor Sharie Minions owns a restaurant, and Smith works in the kitchen.

“You never know when you could use that card in your back pocket,” he said. “I’m the one who makes the inappropriate jokes to make her chuckle.”

About six years ago, Smith started his first band, Bath Salt Zombie Cats Meow.

“We put the band together simply to aggravate the open mic crowd at the pub below us, McThirsty’s Pint in Peterborough,” he said. “We were just sick of hearing “Freefalling” every night, so we played The Cramps and stuff along those lines, but we could not get booked at the local punk venue … The Spill – it was a great bar, a great community. I went to PCVS, the high school just up the road from there, spent my youth at all the all-ages shows.”

Spite has always been hugely motivational to Smith, so he went out to find a venue to host shows. He heard people say that Southside Pizzeria hosted live music. It turned out they didn’t, but they wanted to.

“I booked the first punks on pizza show with them March 26, 2016,” he said. “They were open to 4:00 am. That first night at about 2:00, a guy came out and grabbed the microphone, ‘anyone that pre-ordered drinks can come to get them now, but we have stopped selling after that.’ Nobody had pre-ordered drinks because everybody flooded the bar, they sold them all booze, it was a complete shit show, and they were just a diner. They hadn’t sold that much booze in a single night ever before. The punks generally do drink.”

The first interview that Tyler Smith took as seriously as he should have was with Phill Calvert, the drummer from Birthday Party.

In 2018, Smith decided to hitchhike out west with a friend.

“We went to Tofino on Vancouver Island,” he said. “I stayed at Poole’s Land. It was like a hippy commune. It was a great time, and I knew leaving then that I wanted to get back.”

Back in Ontario, in late 2018, he ended up in a serious relationship, and his partner became pregnant. The lockdown hit, and booking live shows stopped.

“That’s where the idea to go online came from,” said Smith. “Those first two episodes I shot in my apartment in Peterborough like the Tom Green live show out of his house at the time. I thought that but with more of a showcase for a performer and then an interview and then another performance, so kind of an interview sandwiched between performances more akin to the Letterman style.”

Then the pandemic got more serious, and the mandates tightened up so he couldn’t have people over. Life was getting more hectic with a baby joining the household.

“I got to the webcamming part of it once I was out here already, which was just out of necessity,” he said.

In August 2021, there was a perfect gap when Ontario was loosening restrictions, and the lease on his apartment was ending, so Smith decided it was the ideal time to head back to the west coast.

Since going online, he has had a wide variety of guests worldwide.

Tyler Smith interviews Winnipeg musician Greg Rekus in the flesh.

“I shoot for the moon a lot, so a lot of the time, I don’t even get a response like I’m still waiting to hear back from Les Claypool,” said Smith. “I have the two people in relation to Nick Cave, the first one Heiner Mühlenbrock, a director from Germany. Getting him was a complete fluke. He commented on a video somebody put up on a Tracy Pew tribute page, the bassist of Birthday Party, and he said he wished people would ask for permission before they chop up footage.”

Smith replied to the comment with an invitation for an interview.

“He was more than pleasant,” he said. “He gave me about an hour and a half of his time.”

Smith has a few interviews he is excited about lined up and another one in the banks to edit, so it’s certainly not dying down for him. He did not want to drop any names yet.

“I plan to do the Punks on Pizza live shows again from my backyard in the summertime,” he said. I don’t know if that will interfere or if I will just set up the cameras and incorporate that into the live thing. I haven’t thought about that yet.”

At first, Smith wasn’t into the webcam part of it, but the opportunity to talk to people worldwide has swayed his opinion.

“You know Jackie ‘The Joke Man’ Martling being one of them to do this is huge in my mind, but he’s very humble,” he said. “I mean, the guy is internationally known. Such things like that have pushed me towards keeping at it. If it hadn’t been as ‘successful’ as it is, I might not have continued, but it would feel like a disservice to not at this point.”

Smith has had to step up his game in preparing for his interviews.

“That was the first time I took an interview as seriously as I should have was the one with Phill Calvert, the drummer from Birthday Party. I wrote eight pages of questions, and I sweated over them all week. I was a nervous wreck doing it, but it doesn’t come through in the video.”

The earlier episodes shot with friends are noticeably laxer than an interview with a goal in sight.

Tyler Smith, host of the Punks on Pizza podcast.

Smith admits that talking to members of the Birthday Party is a massive passion project.

“I’ve been harassing Nick Cave’s manager since about 2019, trying to get an interview every time he comes through the neighbourhood, so it’s all kind of working towards that,” he said.

Smith met Cave in person for a moment in March, but he knew better than to solicit an interview as part of the crowd.

“Oh, I have a podcast I want to interview you – that could kick off 20 other people who also have podcasts that want to interview him,” he said.

Smith enjoys his new family life on Vancouver Island, cooking for the mayor, podcasting and potentially booking live music again.

“The best way I could describe the vibe of the island that got me is that when I was working at Schooner’s in Tofino in 2018 when everybody was off work, it wasn’t like let’s go downtown and get hammered, it was like, let’s go to the beach and eat mushrooms,” he said. “I just think that’s a much calmer existence for a community … southern Ontario is a different animal.”

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