Shane Turner didn’t always have indie cred. Although the former Choir Practice member plays in a slew of buzz-worthy bands, including Woodpigeon, Fanshaw, and Shane Turner Overdrive, he was once a staple of the most woefully uncool scene around: the cover-band circuit.
It all started when he moved to Vancouver from Penticton a decade ago. Not knowing anyone here, he answered ads and was soon cranking out predictable sets of rock ’n’ roll standards for punters across the country.
Sipping a beer at Broadway’s Our Town Café, Turner laughs when recalling his former gig. “In most cover bands all five players sing, so they all just take turns because you’ve got to do three sets,” he explains. “I would do Michael Jackson or Prince—I would do the higher-singing party tunes.”
Although Turner isn’t proud of this aspect of his past—“It’s embarrassing,” he admits—there’s no denying that the cover-band scene has its perks. “In your average bar, which would pay an original band $200, they’ll pay you a couple grand just [because of] the fact that they know that everybody knows the tunes and they’re crowd-pleasers, which is kind of lame.”
For Turner, those hefty paycheques are a thing of the past, since he’s now fully entrenched in the grind of indie rock. In the spring, he released a self-titled album under the name Shane Turner Overdrive, a moniker he’s been kicking around since childhood.
“My dad gave me the name when I was 13, when I was in a band,” he recalls. “He was always pressuring me because he had a band called Danny Turner Overdrive.”
Rather than a homage to a certain group of blue-collar bar rockers from Winnipeg, the songwriter explains that the name is actually a tribute to his father. “I was done with the name, but then my dad passed away two years ago,” he says.
This loss inspired the album’s deeply personal subject matter, as Turner penned all of the lyrics during a whirlwind writing session. “I pieced all the record together,” he says, “and once I was almost ready to record it—even during recording it—I wrote all the lyrics in a couple weeks together, so the themes could be tied.”
Despite songs that deal with weighty topics such as death and the father-son relationship, Shane Turner Overdrive is anything but a downer. The vocals are buried low in the mix, placing the emphasis on crunchy guitars and jubilant melodies. Jittery beats and “ba-ba” backing vocals propel the energetic “Taped on Walls”, while Fanshaw’s Olivia Fetherstonhaugh provides angelic harmonies on the stomping “Age 25-29 Hairline”.
“It was meant to be a summer record,” Turner confirms, explaining that the lyrics were intended as a counterpoint to the sunny music.
Still, the album isn’t all bouncy guitar pop: the rockers are interspersed with several haunting song fragments, some of which clock in at under a minute. Three of these snippets, Turner says, provided him with a vehicle to showcase some of his favourite junk-shop finds.
“I bought three different chord organs from three different pawn shops or thrift stores or garage sales,” he says. “The five-dollar chord organ that broke right after we recorded it, and we couldn’t redo it for a second take, on ”˜Cyril Sneer’—I’m glad I made use of that and now I have it forever.”
The album came out in May, receiving a warm local response and shooting to number one at UBC’s CiTR radio station. Still, Turner confesses that Shane Turner Overdrive didn’t receive the attention he’d hoped in the Prairie provinces; ironically, this indifferent reaction may be because audiences mistook the BTO-alluding name for that of a cover act. “They think that it’s a tribute band or something like that,” the songwriter complains.
Now, the ever-versatile Turner has thrown himself into more new projects. He recently began playing bass for his brother, rapper Little T, and has embarked upon a project recording street musicians he’s met while working in the Downtown Eastside at a resource centre designed to build life skills.
“They get a hold of me and they trap me in the back one day and just start singing me their songs,” he says. “They’re actually great songs, and there’s a bunch of songwriters like that, but their drug addictions are their first priority.”
Meanwhile, the multitalented musician is still promoting Shane Turner Overdrive as much as possible and is looking to tour Canada and the U.S. later this year. South of the border, he says, he doesn’t expect to encounter the same resistance to his inherited band name.
“In America, where they might not have heard of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, it might have a new life,” he muses. “They might not care about it; it might just be a name.”
Shane Turner Overdrive plays the Rickshaw Theatre on Friday (August 13).