Factories and Alleyways knows no shame
As confessions go, it’s not the kind that’s going to endear a band to elitists who fancy themselves too cool for your school. And to their credit, that doesn’t bother Factories and Alleyways’ main songwriters Jeremy Allingham and Matt Denny-Keys in the slightest.
Over drinks at the Reef on Commercial Drive, the two bandmates spend the final stretch of an interview with the Straight talking about guilty pleasures. Except, quite rightly, they argue there’s really no such thing as a guilty pleasure: if you like a song, there’s nothing more pathetic than pretending otherwise because Pitchfork subscribers might disapprove.
A number of acts come up, some of them almost no one’s idea of egregious (Paul Simon), and others of the variety that won’t earn you any points on Main Street, even when the band’s T-shirts are worn ironically. (Factories and Alleyways keyboardist Josh Denny-Keys, who is Matt’s brother, evidently has an appreciation for Nickelback).
As for arguably the biggest name to surface during the conversation, both Allingham and Denny-Keys cite an unrepentant fondness for the most mega-successful band from the ’70s not named Fleetwood Mac. And, good on them, because anyone who will argue that “Hotel California” isn’t one of the all-time greatest driving songs, especially when you’re barrelling through the desert at sunset, is simply full of shit.
Yes, Factories and Alleyways has a thing for the Eagles, to the point where the bio for the four piece’s eponymously titled debut EP even namechecks the Me Decade legends.
“You don’t have to like all the coolest bands,” singer-guitarist Allingham argues. “When we talked about our influences, one of the bands that kept coming up was the Eagles. We didn’t have a huge conversation about this, but I do remember typing them into the bio, and thinking ‘Oh, should I do that?’ ”
“Like, ‘Do we really want to say this?’ ” Denny-Keys, who sings and plays bass, interjects with a laugh.
“But it’s whatever, man—they fucking write great songs,” Allingham continues. “I like the Eagles, and that’s fine. They sing like angels and have great hooks. It’s not like my favourite band in the world, but I’ll throw them on every few months for a few tracks. I think that can bolster your maturity as a songwriter, in not limiting yourself to ‘Oh, what’s cool, and what do people want to hear?’ ”
Lest all this lead folks to conclude that Factories and Alleyways aspires to nothing higher than regular airplay on The Bro Jake Show, rest assured that the band’s influences don’t stop there. Going back to that bio, you’ll also find nods to the Band, Bruce Springsteen, and Whiskeytown, the influence of those latter two shining through loud and clear on the blue-collar, bourbon-scorched “Without a Buck”.
Factories and Alleyways also leaves you thinking the quartet would have done well for itself in the early ’80s, when guns-a’-blazing country-punk was for a spell the hottest thing in pop music. That the group—rounded out by drummer Alex Glassford—would have fit right alongside Rank and File, Green on Red, and the Long Ryders on a C90 mix tape is a huge compliment. Denny-Keys takes it as just that, but points out that the Greed Decade wasn’t just about young gunslingers in bolo ties.
“It’s funny that you talk about the ’80s feel,” he says between sips of Red Truck Lager. “One of my favourite artists is Don Williams, and one my favourite eras of his is the ’80s. You’ve got a fantastic country legend, the gentle giant of country music—in the ’80s, people didn’t necessarily leave him, but he had this high, punchy bass sound and weird electric piano and synths. But what was always there, that natural thematic element, was melody, and that’s what we’re really drawn to.”
Factories and Alleyways also swings from back-porch sing-alongs (“1000 Beers”) to Brylcreem-slicked Sun Studios rockers (“Right Now”) to shimmering last-call slow waltzes (“Goodbye”). The EP’s secret weapon is gorgeous three-part harmonies, bolstered by hired hands that include pedal-steel jockey Doug Liddle, slow-burn fiddler Kathleen Nisbet, and horn players Adam Junk and Nick Wilson.
What makes the release doubly impressive is that three out of Factory and Alleyways’ four members are in some way new to the Americana game. Allingham, Matt Denny-Keys, and Glassford have all done time in local modern-rock outfit Like a Martyr, a band currently on hiatus so the musicians can focus on their new project.
What has the group’s members feeling good about their musical repositioning is that there’s traditionally been a devoted Americana scene in Vancouver. Still, noting that Like a Martyr was perhaps too mainstream for the underground, and too underground for the mainstream, Denny-Keys wonders if Factories and Alleyways is also straddling different worlds.
“We sort of did it to ourselves again,” he suggests. “We’re not doing the Bon Iver full-on, old-school country roots where it’s, dare I say, completely derivative. That’s a testimony to a natural songwriting process where, similar to what we were doing before with Like a Martyr, we just went and did what felt right to us.”
Allingham jumps in: “There is a burgeoning roots, alt-country scene in Vancouver…which I think is fortunate for us. But you can’t choose what genre you’re going to be put in.”
“And we certainly didn’t aim for it,” Denny-Keys continues. “It’s not like we sat down and said, ‘What is the new project going to sound like?’ ”
Factories and Alleyways is the sound of a group riding onto that scene—whatever you want to call it—fully formed, Eagles influence and all.
“I think my favourite artist in the whole world is J.J. Cale,” Allingham says. “I know it’s not quite there, but there’s some of that J.J. Cale country drawl type thing going on. And some Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and the Band. That’s the stuff we all listened to growing up, even though none of it is directly reflective of what we’re doing at the moment. But there are definitely parts of them in there.”
Factories and Alleyways plays an EP release party at the Media Club on Wednesday (June 13).