Notes from underground

Twelve of the Vancouver indie scene’s most promising acts reveal a few of their favourite things about living in the city.

Whether it's Hot Hot Heat on Jimmy Kimmel Live or the New Pornographers on The Late Show With David Letterman, it seems we can't turn on late-night TV without seeing Vancouver musicians. (Yes, we know HHH formed in Victoria and that NP honcho A.C. Newman just moved to New York, but we're still claiming them as our own.) That makes us proud, but we're equally happy to shine a little light on those local acts that, despite having released great records over the past year, toil in relative obscurity. So we tracked down 12 of our favourites and asked them some probing questions: where they grab a bite when money's tight; which venues they'd like to see stick around for a while; and who they'd like to stay dry with during the coming rainy season. Who knows–one of the following might just be the next to share the screen with Conan O'Brien.


A riot nearly broke out at Helen’s Grill when the members of Bison, the Pack, and Octoberman gathered for the First Annual Main Street Beard Festival and Dance Marathon. Rebecca Blissett photo.

Bison

You probably remember Bison's James "Gnarwell" Farwell from the defunct skate-punk band S.T.R.E.E.T.S., but that might change after a listen to Bison's debut album, Earthbound. Along with guitarist Dan And, bassist Masa Anzai, and drummer Brad MacKinnon, Farwell is bringing loud back to our sleepy little fishing village, with more-metal-than-metal songs rooted in deep, dirty blues riffs. S.T.R.E.E.T.S who?

Best local band, other than your own

"Do I have to say just one? No? Okay. Grass City, Cobra, and the China Creeps. Grass City makes me want to get drunk and eat steak. Cobra makes me want to smoke joints, even though I don't smoke joints, and the China Creeps make me wish I wasn't so crippled that I could still skateboard real good."

Even though the club owner stiffed you last weekend and rent's due tomorrow, where are we eating tonight?

"Kishu Sushi [Kishu Island Japanese Restaurant, 2509 Main Street]. I usually get yam tempura rolls and miso soup. I've never got anything crazy. I'm really safe."

Getting off the couch is hard sometimes. What gig this past year made you glad you did?

"It would have to be Richard Buckner and Eric Bachmann at Richard's on Richards [September 10, 2006]. It was kind of just, like, singer-songwriter stuff, but they're both super badass dudes. Richard Buckner is like a caveman who writes really beautiful songs; and Eric Bachmann was in Archers of Loaf. There were, like, 10 people there, so it was pretty tame on the volume, and the sound was beautiful. Richard's has the best sound in the city."

That inescapable Rihanna song has got us curious: which Vancouver musician is more than welcome to stand under your umbrella?

"This. Is. Beneath us. Both. Can I say my dog? He sang on the last S.T.R.E.E.T.S. record. Yeah, I'm gonna go with Milo. He's a studio singer. He's a Great Dane/husky. He's got a really deep baritone bark."

Which local venue would you step in front of the wrecking ball to save?

"The Cobalt. Why do I like being there? Because it's disgusting. They know what I drink, so I don't have to ask for it. And it's got a great sound system, actually."

We've pulled some strings and you're doing a split single with your favourite act of all time. Who are we calling?

"The Descendents. They were one of the first bands that taught me anything about girls and food. Which are the two greatest things."

> Elaine Corden

The Pack

The Pack came out of nowhere this year with a wintry, visceral, ferocious take on the guitar/drum blues format, and it didn't take long for Vancouver's scene whores and tastemakers to notice. The duo has just capped all the attention by inking a three-album deal with Mint Records, which will reissue its astounding debut, Tintype. Becky Black sings and plays guitar for the duo, which also includes drummer Maya Miller.

Best local band, other than your own

"Thee Manipulators. They sound like the Sonics, that total rockabilly, garage-rock thing that doesn't exist anymore."

Even though the club owner stiffed you last weekend and rent's due tomorrow, where are we eating tonight?

"Helen's Grill [4102 Main Street]. They have tasty burgers and little tiny jukeboxes. The meal is cheap, so you have the quarters to spare."

Getting off the couch is hard sometimes. What gig this past year made you glad you did?

"The show I went to last night! The Hotel Lobbyists and the Stumbler's Inn at Pat's Pub [September 6]. We hollered a lot, and danced, and sang in the smoking room really loudly, and then they kicked us out, and then we took the party out to the parking lot. I ate two double cheeseburgers, and then it all ended somehow. And the music was good."

That inescapable Rihanna song has got us curious: which Vancouver musician is more than welcome to stand under your umbrella?

"I have to say Jordie Dammet from the Hotel Lobbyists, because I find his mangina sexy. I've only seen a photo, but it was wonderful. It was well kept."

Which local venue would you step in front of the wrecking ball to save?

"The Railway Club, because there's always a big crowd, the staff is awesome, and you always walk away at least 200 dollars richer, which is more money than you'd make at most places in Vancouver."

We've pulled somestrings and you're doing a split single with your favourite act of all time. Who are we calling?

"Robert Johnson. 'Cause he's the king of the blues, man. Simply."

> Adrian Mack

Octoberman

Run From Safety begins with the urgency of a film noir in which a framed man is forced to leave town under cover of darkness. Then Octoberman's second disc turns into a big-sky, modern-day western as Marc Morrissette's voice becomes wistful, trumpet blends with harmonica, acoustic guitar, and backup vocals, and songs like "No Qualms" roll by like tumbleweeds.

Best local band, other than your own

"Bells Clanging, which features Jason [Starnes] with Bontempi backing him up. I'm biased, because Jason and I used to play together in Kids These Days and I've always loved his music. It's got lots of harmonies, some Rhodes organ–it's kind of like Built to Spill mixed with Thom Yorke."

Even though the club owner stiffed you last weekend and rent's due tomorrow, where are we eating tonight?

"That pho place on Broadway near Cambie [Pho Kim Penh Xe Lua Restaurant, 540 West Broadway]. It's always open, the pho's really good, and at 4 in the morning it can help rehydrate you."

Getting off the couch is hard sometimes. What gig this past year made you glad you did?

"The Silver Jews at Richard's [September 6, 2006]. It was their first time touring a record, and I knew every single word to every song. It felt like those early days when you're seeing a band you've known for a while for the first time."

That inescapable Rihanna song has got us curious: which Vancouver musician is more than welcome to stand under your umbrella?

"StinkMitt, although you never know what they would do with the umbrella."

Which local venue would you step in front of the wrecking ball to save?

"Richard's, especially now that they're doing more shows and less dance nights. It has good sightlines, the sound is always good, and it's got the classic brick wall as a backdrop."

We've pulled some strings and you're doing a split single with your favourite act of all time. Who are we calling?

"The Traveling Wilburys, just because there are so many talented musicians. They're like the Wu-Tang Clan of rock 'n' roll."

> Shawn Conner


Montag, Lotus Child, and the Tranzmitors gather at Commercial Drive’s Café Roma once a month to play a spirited best-of-seven 52 Pick-Up tournament. Angela Fama photo.

Montag

Montreal transplant Antoine Bédard (aka Montag) has been busy this year. Since its June release, his latest synth-laden electro-pop masterpiece, Going Places, has seen him, well, going places all around the globe. Caught on a brief break from touring, Bédard reflected on what's so great about his adopted city.

Best local band, other than your own

"It's a brand-new project called Prairie Cat. The guy who leads the band is named Cary Pratt. I saw them in Toronto during my tour. He played drums on my record. I had no idea that he had his own project. I was completely blown away."

Even though the club owner stiffed you last weekend and rent's due tomorrow, where are we eating tonight?

"Sushiyama [371 East Broadway] is just cheap sushi that would probably cost three times as much in Montreal."

Getting off the couch is hard sometimes. What gig this past year made you glad you did?

"Sufjan Stevens at the St. Andrews Church [St. Andrew's-Wesley Church, October 14]. The costumes were probably the best part, and that he had 20 people on-stage. Who wouldn't want to have three cellos and five violins on-stage? It was such a beautiful sound."

That inescapable Rihanna song has got us curious: which Vancouver musician is more than welcome to stand under your umbrella?

"Veda Hille! She's a new friend of mine. We met maybe six months ago. Originally I thought the kind of music she makes wouldn't really appeal to me. I had a chance to hear the new record [This Riot Life, due out in January 2008] and I think she's going to be a star."

Which local venue would you step in front of the wrecking ball to save?

"It would be the Railway Club, although I've never played there. I've only seen a couple of shows. I just find it cozy and warm. It's got this atmosphere that you can't find anywhere else in Vancouver."

We've pulled some strings and you're doing a split single with your favourite act of all time. Who are we calling?

"It has to be Stereolab. I used to collect their split singles. It was due to their collaborations with other bands that I discovered different music scenes. If I could do that, I would be in heaven."

> Gregory Adams

Lotus Child

Lotus Child's Gossip Diet is an impressively assured debut, with pianist Tom Dobrzanski and guitarist Zachary Gray singing crystalline melodies over arrangements that are as purely pop as they are ingeniously complex. We asked Dobrzanski to tell us about a few of his favourite things.

Best local band, other than your own

"Have you heard of Prairie Cat? It's really cool. It's a guy named Cary Pratt, a drummer. I've had him in my studio drumming on some stuff; I guess that's how I heard about it. It's his solo project, which is piano pop. So it's pretty predictable that I'd like it."

Even though the club owner stiffed you last weekend and rent's due tomorrow, where are we eating tonight?

"Sushi King House [5333 West Boulevard]. We went there again today. You know you're going somewhere too much when you walk in and they're like, 'Hey, hey, over here.' They stuff you for cheap. The chef has an extra thumb, which is pretty cool. I think that's sort of his super power to make the biggest sushi you've ever seen."

Getting off the couch is hard sometimes. What gig this past year made you glad you did?

"The TV on the Radio show was great–the first one [Commodore, October 3]. The second one [Commodore, March 24] was like the same show all over again, but the mix sucked. It sounded better the first time."

That inescapableRihanna song has got us curious: which Vancouver musician is more than welcome to stand under your umbrella?

"It has to be Ashleigh Ball from Hey Ocean!, because she is adorable."

Which local venue would you step in front of the wrecking ball to save?

"Richard's on Richards. It's probably my favourite place to see a show. It's probably my favourite place to play a show. But I feel like I'm trying to distance myself from that place, just because they keep threatening to close down. You never know when it's actually going to happen."

We've pulled some strings and you're doing a split single with your favourite act of all time. Who are we calling?

"Radiohead. I'd love to see how those guys work. It seems like they're always about five years ahead of their time. So whatever they do isn't going to be instantly liked by everyone right away, but it probably will be what's popular in five years."

> John Lucas

The Tranzmitors

Remember the movie Somewhere in Time, in which Christopher Reeve wills himself 70 years into the past so that he can bang Jane Seymour? The Tranzmitors have done something similar. Led by vocalist-guitarist Jeff McCloy, the crisp power-pop quintet is getting it on with England's legendary Stiff Records, which came out of deep freeze to release the band's pogo-inducing eponymous gem of a debut album. Welcome back, 1978.

Best local band, other than your own

"Vapid. They have this singer who does these amazing theatrics, and apparently she knows nothing about music. Like, she doesn't have a record collection or something, so she's totally naive, but in all the ways that make it absolutely amazing. Unlike the rest of us, who fuckin' spend too much time studying things."

Even though the club owner stiffed you last weekend and rent's due tomorrow, where are we eating tonight?

"I'd go to the Café Roma [1510 Commercial Drive] because the coffee is spot on, and I just can't be bothered to eat much, anyway."

Getting off the couch is hard sometimes. What gig this past year made you glad you did?

"The Pipettes at the Plaza Club [June 15]. Why? Hot English birds!"

That inescapable Rihanna song has got us curious: which Vancouver musician is more than welcome to stand under your umbrella?

"This question is torture, but I'll take all of Vancougar under my umbrella."

Which local venue would you step in front of the wrecking ball to save?

"I'd say Pub 340 [340 Cambie Street]. It's got a good atmosphere and they show dirty movies in between the bands."

We've pulled some strings and you're doing a split single with your favourite act of all time. Who are we calling?

"The Jam. I'm a big fan of storytelling songwriting, and I'm a sucker for anything English, and so the Jam totally personified that, even more than the Kinks did."

> Adrian Mack


According to Elizabeth, the Big Bad, and Redgrass, Main Street’s Wing Nuts is the only establishment in Vancouver that will tolerate their zany antics. Angela Fama photo.

The Big Bad

Gitta Ziercke sings and plays guitar in East Van punk powerhouse the Big Bad. Middle of the Night, the trio's raw debut, finds her–along with bandmates Geoffrey Stratton (drums) and Mikey B (bass)–sounding badass enough to impress Pretty on the Inside–era Courtney Love.

Best local band,other than your own

"Rio Bent. They give it all they have and I really respect that. I think they are great people, too. We recently asked them to play a homecoming show with us after we came back from tour and they were awesome."

Even though the club owner stiffed you last weekend and rent's due tomorrow, where are we eating tonight?

"If I'm broke and I need some good food, Uncle Fatih's at Broadway and Commercial [1685 East Broadway]. The potato pizza is the shit–there's nothing else to say. With ranch dressing, it doesn't get any better for a buck twenty-five."

Getting off the couch is hard sometimes. What gig this past year made you glad you did?

"I saw Murder by Death at the Commodore [May 5] with the Reverend Horton Heat. The reason I chose them is that I appreciate bands that push genres. I couldn't pigeonhole them and I appreciate that."

That inescapable Rihanna song has got us curious: which Vancouver musician is more than welcome to stand under your umbrella?

"Brody Ratsoy. He used to play in Glasshead. He's, um, a great guy. And he's super sexy. Nice tattoos, great hair, and tall, dark, and handsome. God, does it get any better?"

Which local venue would you step in front of the wrecking ball to save?

"Pub 340. I'm originally from Edmonton, but when I moved here four years ago from Kamloops I fell in love with the place. It's a great place for a show, for food, or if you just want to go for a pint. They have the best and dirt-cheap pub grub going, and the entire staff is really something else."

We've pulled some strings and you're doing a split single with your favourite act of all time. Who are we calling?

"Social Distortion. There's no other band that I've consistently loved since I was 17. Every album is the same formula but it works. It's no bullshit. What I like is that I wouldn't really call them punk rock, I wouldn't call them psychobilly, I wouldn't call them rockabilly, or rock 'n' roll. They flirt with everything. And for me, that really does it."

> Mike Usinger

Redgrass

Steve Charles is front and centre in Vancouver's fast-growing roots-music scene, and cofounder of new bluegrass and old-time trio Redgrass. On the band's excellent biscuits-and-gravy debut, On That Good Road, he plays guitar and banjo while singing like an angel with a dirty face.

Best local band, other than your own

"I did a gig with the Borealis String Quartet this summer and was really impressed by their musicianship. The tone they produced from their instruments was so powerful and their attention to detail was an inspiration. They're all exceptional players and have a special synergy."

Even though the club owner stiffed you last weekend and rent's due tomorrow, where are we eating tonight?

"Au Petit Café [4851 Main] near my house is a Vietnamese place that serves up quintessential pho–that's raw sliced beef in a steaming noodle soup, with chili, lime, and bean sprouts. And make sure to order ahead for your Vietnamese sub, as they sell out by noon."

Getting off the couch is hard sometimes. What gig this past year made you glad you did?

"Kelly Joe Phelps at Cap College [January 27]. He played guitar and sang fantastically, though his diction was so slurred I could hardly understand any of the lyrics, so I made up my own. It was pretty surreal."

That inescapableRihanna song has got us curious: which Vancouver musician is more than welcome to stand under your umbrella?

"Mine's a parasol and there's lots of room, so I'll start alphabetically: Ajineen Sagal from Whiskey Jar, Amy Clausen from the Pretty Sad Band, Anna Lumiere from Mimosa, Brendan McLeod from the Fugitives–and his mom, too."

Which local venue would you step in front of the wrecking ball to save?

"St. James Hall. It's all wood inside, and the acoustics are pretty good–plus, where else can you sip whiskey in church?"

We've pulled some strings and you're doing a split single with your favouriteact of all time. Who are we calling?

"If I'm going to fantasize I might as well do it in the plural–that means roping together Lhasa, Hermeto Pascoal, and Eminem. No explanations due."

> Tony Montague

Elizabeth

After releasing its debut album, First Excommunications, earlier this year, post-punk quartet Elizabeth has fulfilled all the promise of its 2004 EP, Blick. Not content to be hometown heroes, lead singer Reggie Gill and his bandmates have been hard at work in 2007, earning critical acclaim abroad with a highly successful spring tour of the U.K.

Best local band, other than your own

"I'm going to have to go with the Book of Lists, even though I heard they're not playing together anymore. I heard their album [2007's The Book of Lists] and I really loved it. I was also a really big fan of Radio Berlin. I guess I just really like anything Chris Frey does. So, Book of Lists, even though I'm pretty sure they broke up."

Even though the club owner stiffed you last weekend and rent's due tomorrow, where are we eating tonight?

"The only two places I ever eat are Denny's, and Wing Nuts on Main [4444 Main Street]. Denny's is the only place that's open late, and I really love their white gravy. Yeah, I got food poisoning there once, but I keep going back. Wing Nuts is great. I think the most wings we ever got was 100 between four people; I ate, like, 39. There were so many that they got cold while we were eating them, and they had to take them back and reheat them."

Getting off the couch is hard sometimes. What gig this past year made you glad you did?

"Gogol Bordello at the Commodore [September 2] was actually really great. The music was cool, and the lead singer was really into it. The crowd was amazing, too. Everyone was having fun, and really getting into it. Vancouver would be more fun if all shows were like that."

That inescapable Rihanna song has got us curious: which Vancouver musician is more than welcome to stand under your umbrella?

"I'm gonna have to go with Andie [Maddalozzo] from Gangbang. She told me I didn't have to say that, but I want to."

Which local venue would you step in front of the wrecking ball to save?

"Richard's on Richards. It just has the best sound, and it's the venue that's the best to play. It's the most conducive to a good vibe”¦ Every few months you hear about Richard's maybe shutting down, and then they say they're going to keep going for a little bit. It's like the Stones' last tour. A total lie."

We've pulled some strings and you're doing a split single with your favourite act of all time. Who are we calling?

"Let's just call the Beatles and the Clash up, and we don't even have to play. We'll just hang around and listen. Do I even have to explain this one?"

> Elaine Corden


The members of Mohawk Lodge, Lightning Dust, and Parlour Steps picked up some choice rec-room art at Mount Pleasant hipster haven Budgies Burritos. Rebecca Blissett photo.

Lightning Dust

When not hobnobbing with Coldplay as the drummer of Black Mountain, Joshua Wells busies himself playing organ and Wurlitzer in Lightning Dust with vocalist-guitarist Amber Webber. The duo's eponymous debut presents downbeat indie rock at its most shimmering and beautifully spine-chilling.

Best local band, other than your own

"I'd have to say Ladyhawk. I love the guys, I love their music, and I like the way they are on-stage. They have a very particular personality when they're playing together. They're like a rock band should be: a band of extremely colourful bros."

Even though the club owner stiffed you last weekend and rent's due tomorrow, where are we eating tonight?

"Hawker's Delight [4127 Main Street]. It's my favourite place to eat. It's got the best hot and spicy bowls of noodles with sauces, and probably the best spring rolls I've ever had in the city."

Getting off the couch is hard sometimes. What gig this past year made you glad you did?

"Bjí¶rk at Deer Lake Park on May 23 fulfilled all of my expectations and then some. It's amazing what can become of the combination of whacked-out creativity and commercial success."

That inescapable Rihanna song has got us curious: which Vancouver musician is more than welcome to stand under your umbrella?

"I would say Brad MacKinnon, the drummer from Bison, is more than welcome to share an umbrella with me anytime. It's his luscious locks. The guy practically oozes sex."

Which local venue would you step in front of the wrecking ball to save?

"Richard's [on Richards] is the best venue for music in Vancouver. It's got all the things that really matter: it sounds good, it's fun to watch a show there, and there are really good sightlines."

We've pulled somestrings and you're doing a split single with your favourite act of all time. Who are we calling?

"Portishead. There's something about their music that captivated me when their records first came out. But they've really stuck with me till today for the way they used sound to such great effect. They managed to be a band of its time that absolutely transcended everything else that was like them."

> Mike Usinger

Mohawk Lodge

Whether rocking out or plaintively assessing life's ironies, Ryder Havdale proved himself a songwriter to watch on Wildfires. The second album from his band the Mohawk Lodge, the disc shows Havdale and company as adept at ennui-soaked ballads as they are at artfully arranged, sweeping guitar epics.

Best Local band, other than your own

"No Gold. They live below me, or one of them does, but that's only by chance. They used to be called Yukon. They're super fun. It's like Caribbean indie rock."

Even though the club owner stiffed you last weekend and rent's due tomorrow, where are we eating tonight?

"Budgies Burritos [44 Kingsway]. They keep me fed. I eat there just about every day. It's good folk running it. It's seriously like my kitchen."

Getting off the couch is hard sometimes. What gig this past year made you glad you did?

"Into the Woods [August 18]. It was in the forest at UBC with the Ephemerals, No Gold, the Rub, and Sean Travis Ramsay. There were about 100, 150 people there, right in the middle of the woods–with kegs."

That inescapable Rihanna song has got us curious: which Vancouver musician is more than welcome to stand under your umbrella?

"It's a three-way tie between Shira Blustein from Blood Meridian and the Gillis sisters [Carla and Lyn ­ette] from Bontempi. Actually, I'm just going to say the Choir Practice. They're just great. They can sing in my living room any day."

Which local venue would you step in front of the wrecking ball to save?

"The Railway Club is the best to musicians, it's always a good time, it's usually packed. And the door guys don't let anybody in without paying."

We've pulled some strings and you're doing a split single with your favourite act of all time. Who are we calling?

"Please call me when the Sea and Cake come to town next. I'd love to open up for them. They're just heavy. John McEntire has produced some of my favourite records, and he's a machine on drums."

> Shawn Conner

Parlour Steps

Caleb Stull calls the music he makes with his band Parlour Steps thought rock. It's a label that has confused some critics, but it suits the group's latest CD, Ambiguoso, a collection of songs that manage to be clever and wordy without being pretentious, and pop-centric without pandering.

Best local band,other than your own

"I'm going to have to say Veda Hille. Her music is like an onion, always peeling back layers, always finding new things to be intrigued by and surprised by. It's horrifying at times–it embraces the darker side of life and art–and it's also beautiful, pretty, and engaging."

Even though the club owner stiffed you last weekend and rent's due tomorrow, where are we eating tonight?

"Pho Hoang [3388 Main Street], baby! It's good and cheap, down the street. Noodle soup. Uncomplicated. Very stripped-down service. No frills, just good food. And it's where the locals eat."

Getting off the couch is hard sometimes. What gig this past year made you glad you did?

"Sufjan Stevens at St. Andrew's–Wesley Church [October 14]. The musicians were all decked out in butterfly costumes, the acoustics were exquisite, the setting was awe-inspiring, and the audience was completely awestruck. And quiet ­–the quietest audience you ever heard in your life."

That inescapable Rihanna song has got us curious: which Vancouver musician is more than welcome to stand under your umbrella?

"Dan Mangan. I like him in that scruffy sort of bear-lovin' way, you know? If my life leaned toward that direction, with a few beers and the lights turned off, who knows?"

Which local venue would you step in front of the wrecking ball to save?

"The Railway Club. It's like an old boot, man: comfy, a little bit smelly, a little bit worn down, but still serves a great purpose, and it's always there."

We've pulled some strings and you're doing a split single with your favourite act of all time. Who are we calling?

"The Pixies. Their record Doolittle motivated me to take part as opposed to just listen."

> John Lucas

Comments