napalmpom and public animal

Party starters Napalmpom and Public Animal wax poetic on blood, touring, the MC5 and pizza

CALGARY — Shawn Petsche of Napalmpom on Public Animal: “Oh, it’s the kind of rock and roll I love. There are huge riffs and it’s heavy and (Public Animal guitarist and vocalist) Ian Blurton’s guitar tone is just thick and musical, so it’s not just muddy and distorted. There are trade-off vocals, male and female that make every other rock band a little jealous.”

Ian Blurton of Public Animal on Napalmpom: it’s “HOT SHIT ROCK AND ROLL!”

Blurton has been playing alternative, independent music since the members of Napalmpom were infants. The flagship alternative/genre-melding act Change of Heart kickstarted his musical career in the ‘80s. The bands he has since played in and produced (far more than can be listed here) have influenced contemporary Canadian music in a thousand ways. He currently fronts and plays guitar for Toronto quartet Public Animal, a kind of meta-rock ‘n’ roll, omni-genre act that swirls together stoner-glam guitars, gospel church organs and Sabbathian levels of heaviness.

 

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Chieftain

Calgary sludge storytellers Chieftain talk barbarians and bears

CALGARY — Georgia Meadows has to be coaxed into telling the ‘Bear Story.’ Onstage she’s a willowy, mystical presence in wide-brimmed Stevie Nicks hats, with a coruscating roar and a sweet croon. In person she’s funny and self-effacing, and has to have her hat wrestled off her head by Tanner Wolff, the band’s drummer, after claiming to have a bad hair day. One of two singers for Chieftain, she was recruited by singer, guitarist and high-school friend Rhys Friesen despite never having played music before and the reason, he says, is the ‘Bear Story.’

“When I was living in Canmore I went for a run and came across a grizzly bear. I couldn’t remember what you do when you come across a bear. Are you supposed to look it, curl up into a ball, punch it in the nose? So I decided to stand up on my tippy-toes and put my hands up in a claw shape above my head and I roared at it. It kind of looked at me like ‘what the fuck?’ and then it lunged at me. I roared again and it ran away. That’s my bear story.”

If the roar was terrifying enough to scare away a 600-pound apex predator, Friesen reasoned, it was right for the project he had started with Andrew Trueman, a project that would become Chieftain.

 

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Big Ups

New York City punks Big Ups talk nerdy to us

CALGARY — In 2015, it isn’t just acceptable to be a nerd; it’s one of the paths to real success. Two of the three most successful films of all time are hard sci-fi about blue cat-people and a superhero epic set in a labyrinthine extended universe, while the latest movie about bros being total dudebros, bro, has languished at the box office. The world has become so complex, knowledge so specialized that a degree from the University of Life with post-graduate work at the School of Hard Knocks isn’t going to get you far. Ostentatious, obnoxious displays of masculinity and conspicuous consumption will make anyone with a clue swipe left the minute you swagger in reeking of Axe. Modern life has but one commandment: don’t be a douchebag.

Most of the bands you’ll read about in these pages might seem like paragons of cool, but get them talking about the intestinal tangle of patch cords on a synthesizer or the right way to mic up a drum kit and you’ll realize that the guys in vintage tees and skinny jeans are as true to their geekery as any Calgary Expo cosplayer.

I write all of the above somewhat frivolously yet seriously. This is because the next band in these pages is Big Ups, whose six-word descriptor could be shortened to the ‘epitome of everything cool.’ They are a New York based post-hardcore band. Beyond that, though, they really love them some Magic: The Gathering.

 

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Catholic Girls

Calgary’s Catholic Girls are dirty, spooky, soulful synth-punk personified

CALGARY — “Being in a band is like being in a marriage,” says Erin Jenkins, guitarist and vocalist in Catholic Girls.

“The first part is all fun and puppy-dog love, eventually you move out of that phase and have to work at keeping the magic alive.”

“The magic” being dirty, spooky, soulful synth-punk with a heavy debt to goth and waves both new and dark. Calgary’s very own Catholic Girls, three quarters of whom are boys, might be too young to remember much of the ‘80s, but they’ve got the decade’s queasy mix of populism and idiosyncrasy down. Since forming two years ago from members of just about every Calgary band that wasn’t Tegan and Sara, they have released two EPs of first rate synth-punk: 2014’s Sheila Joined a Cult, which was heavy on the punk, and the excellent April release Psychic Woman, in which the synths come to the forefront.

 

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Screaming Females

Everything New Under the Sun: Screaming Females

Imagine it’s 1988 and somebody puts a copy of Fugazi’s EP Margin Walker in your hands. Hell, imagine it’s 1967 and you get a record with a livid yellow banana on the cover that barely includes the album’s name, The Velvet Underground and Nico. You’d know from the first spin that by all rights, the band should be huge. As the years passed you’d see them continuing to toil away at the edges of popular culture, avoiding the easy ways to make a quick buck. They aren’t an institution, but somehow they are the kind of band that eventually is offered ridiculous sums of money to re-form and they turn it down, being more interested in letting the music remain a motive force.

There are a lot of people who have picked up one of the six Screaming Females albums released over the last nine years and had that moment, or who have seen one of their energetic live show, including high profile sets at Calgary’s own Sled Island. They are, according to Stereogum.com and plenty of others, “one of the best rock bands on the face of the earth.” Their new record, Rose Mountain, is the perfect jumping-on point for new listeners.

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Cro Mags

Hardcore crossover trailblazers Cro-Mags still living, breathing and fighting

CALGARY — New York in the ‘70s and ‘80s, pre-Giuliani, pre-The Disney Store opening in Times Square, is easy to mythologize. It’s a city where Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle can wish for a rain to wipe the scum off the streets as easily as it is for Woody Allen to worry in Annie Hall (1977) that “the rest of the country looks down upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers.” The skinhead subculture can be composed of devotees of black ska and reggae, or it can be neo-Nazis. Hardcore bands can be muscle-bound, martial arts practicing, straightedge vegan Hare Krishnas.

The latter adjectives, and probably a few more, apply to John ‘Bloodclot’ Joseph McGowan and the legendary hardcore outfit he fronted. Like the city that spawned them, the Cro-Mags are marked by a overabundance of stuff: over 20 musicians that could be called members, whole albums that the current line-up disavows (2000’s Revenge has nothing to do with the band as it stands), a knife attack, songs written by former members picked up and reworked by current members, dozens of aligned and associated acts. It all devolves into round after round of he-said-he-said stretching back to when those involved were children.

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Detached Objectives

Calgary post-punk duo Detached Objectives gears up for the ‘Shuttle Launch’

CALGARY — After punk, there was post-punk. Maybe. Post seems to be a prefix used when things are happening that are so eclectic that it’s easier to describe them by what they’re not (see Postmodernism if you want to give yourself a nosebleed.)

Colin Christopher and Slava Nartakhov are Detached Objectives, a name Christopher chose to indicate the pair’s no-nonsense approach, as this project was a departure from both players’ current bands. Long-time fixtures on the Calgary scene (Nartakhov play(ed/s) in the Reckless Heroes, Tekhnotron and others; Christopher runs Dreaming of the Past records, has played in numerous metal bands and regularly plays live with local artists), their origins are more prosaic than their dark, pummeling music would suggest.
“I had a couple of electronic, industrial music projects running but at the time I had started having more interest in this indie-influence, darker post-punk scene and I was just looking for somebody to start a side-project with. Colin and I met up, chatted about music and it turned out that we had a lot in common,” says Nartakhov.

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Classic death metal titans Obituary go on and on and on and on

Obituary has endured thanks to a classic formula of simple, family made death metal. Death produced amazing records, but was firmly in the technical death metal camp by their third album. Carcass and Cannibal Corpse have gore; Deicide has Satan. Possessed actually invented the genre but only stuck around for two full-lengths. All are great, but Obituary is definitive old-school death metal, sticking with cacophonous guitar tones, whip fast integrations of ‘80s thrash and lumbering sludge, and gurgling howls juxtaposed by piercing screams. Throughout their 30-year history (26 if you don’t count the time they spent as Xecutioner, 20 if you consider the hiatus) they’ve recorded nine albums and played host to 14 members. They are, all told, a huge fucking deal, and their fans love them for it.

It was those fans who Kickstarted the band’s forthcoming ninth studio album Inked in Blood, funding the entire project in less than 24 hours and going six times over the band’s $10,000 goal. At $20,000, those fans got videos of a live set recorded over three days at the indomitable Morrisound Recording (another family institution) in Florida, the centerpiece of the regional phenomenon. At $35,000, Obituary put out a making-of for the album that didn’t even have a title. The total kept on rising until topping out at an eye popping $60,000. Take that, Orgy!

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False Flag does everything but suffer in silence

The cover of False Flag’s 2013 debut EP Orobas sums these four Calgarians up nicely: there are skulls, horns, guns and an occult design that readers who spell magic as ‘Magick’ might recognize as the seal with which King Solomon allegedly bound the demon Orabas. Orabas, as False Flag’s vocalist and guitarist Russ Gauthier notes, is something of a anomaly for one of Satan’s minions: he is incapable of telling lies or betraying whoever summons him and can tell you whatever you want to know about the past and future.

“He seemed like a more positive demon, and I really liked that because demons are seen as bad things, but there are different kinds of demons with different traits.”

Occultism has been with metal since the beginning, but so has politics. False Flag’s name refers to the act of fabricating an attack on your own country in order to justify an attack on one’s enemies. There are real examples of false flag operations in history, but Google the term and, as Gauthier says, “you’re going to find a lot of weird shit,” mostly from the fringes of the American right, who use it to describe every terrorist attack, school shooting and dangerous weather condition that happens; literally, every single one.

 

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