Twenty-four hours before Prairie punkabilly trio the Farrell Bros. plays Vancouver, the legendary Stray Cats will cruise through town on an arena triple bill. Shawn Farrell is thankful that the two acts aren't booked for the same night, because he's aware that most rockabilly freaks would opt for Brian Setzer's world-famous combo over his. And he wouldn't blame them.
"The Stray Cats were one of the first bands that inspired us to pursue music," says the 33-year-old singer-guitarist on the line from his hometown of Selkirk, Manitoba. "When we were kids we were really big fans of stuff like Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, and we didn't really care for a lot of stuff that was popular at the time. So when we discovered bands like the Stray Cats that were heavily influenced by rockabilly and the early Sun Records stuff–but had a punk edge–that really inspired us."
On independently released CDs like their latest, Dead End Boys, the Farrell Bros.–Shawn, his younger brother Gordie on standup bass, and drummer Nuke Norval–create a rowdy rockabilly-based sound that Setzer would be hard-pressed to ignore. Shawn Farrell even plays the same type of guitar, a big red Gretsch, as the fast-picking Cat. He has to settle for reissues, though.
"The actual vintage Gretsches are so hard to come by now," he explains. "You pay an arm and a leg for one, and by that time you're afraid to play it, 'cause every time you drip sweat on it, it's devalued by a hundred dollars."
In recent years, the rockabilly scene has branched out with the psychobilly and horrorbilly trends, the latter often causing pompadoured dudes to don zombie makeup and croon about eating brains. Farrell doesn't swing that way, but he appreciates the genre's theatrics. "That's fun," he says. "I mean, there's a lot of bands that do it well, and there's a lot of bands that try to do it and just look a little bit foolish. It's one of those things where, if you're not doing it well, you're gonna look kinda silly up there with blood dripping off your face."
While he avoids any ghoulish accoutrements, Farrell is right in there with the standard rockabilly getup: the black leather jacket, sideburns, and mile-high hair. That's all you need to get unwanted attention from rednecks in the suburbs of Winnipeg. "We've gotten hassled from day one," he points out. "It's a pretty common thing, especially in Selkirk. But it's gotten to the point where I don't even notice it; it's always people that we're with who notice it. And we've been doin' it long enough that people recognize us now, so it's not just a random 'Hey Elvis, it's not Halloween' kinda comment."
The Farrell Brothers play Pat's Pub on Friday (August 24).