For the record—and contrary to information published on Wikipedia and in numerous articles—the Constantines are not named after author Alex Constantine. In fact, vocalist-guitarist Bryan Webb confesses to having only a vague knowledge of the self-styled “antifascist researcher”, whose incendiary book The Covert War Against Rock examined the deeper mysteries behind the killing of John Lennon, among others.
“Honestly,” he tells the Straight, as his tour bus glides into Edmonton, “the name came from a Coast to Coast With Art Bell episode where he was playing recordings of ghost voices in static, and the guy’s name was Constantine. Ultimately, it just became something like the Ramones for us, like a family name.
“So,” he continues, “I can tell you that we haven’t been influenced by that book. Yet.”
Wikipedia editors, please take note. It would seem that the five natives of Guelph, Ontario, take a significantly different view of their industry from the muckraking Mr. Constantine. As an acclaimed Canadian indie band, the Constantines are also a long way from the life-and-death game he’s bent on exposing. Still, Webb allows, “Some corners are darker than others, I guess. You just have to be careful who you give your music to. The best thing for us has always been finding people that listen to what we want.”
For the Constantines ’08, this means the relatively cozy environment of Toronto label Arts & Crafts, which released the band’s fourth album, Kensington Heights, in April. Like the Constantines’ previous work, Kensington Heights is defined by aggressively played and exhausting guitar rock, a doggedly sincere lyrical bent, and Webb’s increasingly impressive and heartfelt bark. The miracle of numbers like the acid-rain-on-a-tin-roof opener, “Hard Feelings”, and the clamouring and buzzing “Our Age” resides in the amount of empathy one can extract from the unyielding noise and energy.
In particular, critics have glommed on to “I Will Not Sing a Hateful Song” and “Do What You Can Do”, two earnest epics that play like the model for all future rock anthems. In both numbers, Webb’s poetic sensibilities hit the head and heart, while the driving music pummels the limbic region.
“We came from a punk-rock background,” Webb states, “and certainly from a generation of irony, and I think it just felt kind of punk to not be ironic. Some people are really good at writing funny or cynical things, but it’s not who I am, and I’d be kidding myself if I tried to do that. It wouldn’t come out very well if I did.”
Like many of his songs, “Do What You Can Do” was written “for a friend”. In this case, one “who was going through some bleak times”. In pursuing the only honest course he feels is open to him, however, Webb habitually seems to hit upon the universal. “Thanks,” he says in response to this suggestion, “but I’m never trying to be grand. I’ve said it before, but I think anger is such a temporary emotion to write a song on, whereas love and affection tend to last. That’s why those songs have the sentiments that they do.”
The Constantines play Richard’s on Richards tonight (June 26).