The members of Bigwig are having a hard time believing that possession of B.C.'s sweet leaf is illegal in this city. Who can blame them? The last time the New Jersey power-punk quartet played here, they were amazed at how openly people toked up in public.
"I think the way Vancouver runs is totally different than any other part of North America that I've seen," says singer-guitarist Tom Petta. He's talking on his cell in the shitter of the band's RV, which is heading south from Montreal to Kingston, Ontario. "[In the Big Apple] you get busted for holding a pinner joint. I've seen kids get arrested for smoking weed outside a club in New York. There are so many other bigger issues going on in New York as far as I'm concerned."
One of the things Petta remembers most about his last Vancouver visit was talking with a local promoter who tried to convince him that the drug laws here aren't as liberal as Petta thinks. As they chatted away while cruising downtown looking for a cheap hotel, the Winnebago stopped at a red light. That's when he and his bandmates caught a whiff of skunk. They couldn't tell if it was the delightful smell of weed or the stench of a made-in-Quebec crusty.
It was both.
A squeegee punk couple trotted in front of the vehicle, pushing their Safeway carriage, which happened to have a metre-tall cannabis bush lying across it.
"We were just freaking out because obviously if you get caught with a pot plant in a grocery cart--or even if you're caught with a seed in your car, for that matter--you're automatically arrested in my town," he says. "And here they were, just walking all happy down the street with no cares or no worries and a big pot plant just sticking out. I just got a big smile on my face. People have been trying to achieve that [kind of lenience] for a really long time in the U.S."
Throughout the interview, Petta cuts himself off midsentence to catch his balance after getting bounced around the washroom walls. He seems distracted by the overwhelming fear that his ride is in imminent danger. This is evident when he starts talking about the metallic licks that propel the bouncing melodies on his band's third full-length, An Invitation to Tragedy.
"We've always been pretty big fans of metal but we've never been able to compile--
"I guess it was always the goal to--
"Oh my God! I hope we're not getting in an accident--
"I'm sorry, I hear, like, trucks beeping at us."
After regaining his composure, he continues: "Yeah, I think the production on our first and second records was really bad. I think that took away from the edge that would have made it sound a little heavier. We've always liked playing heavier stuff live so it just felt right. And, you know, we just wanted to mix it up [on this recording] a little because our faster stuff started to sound a little thin."
The songs on An Invitation to Tragedy are thick and layered. A portrait of a stereotypical, soulless, corporate pig, "Mr. Asshole" starts with a futuristic, high-pitched siren and ends in a dense windmill of power chords. Although Petta's little black book may contain the phone number of the beast, the group is basically a radio-ready punk band. For example, "Moosh" is a catchy three-chord tune that explores sophomoric love, which will surely be a hit with young betties when Bigwig plays the Purple Onion as part of the Canadian Grind Tour on Friday (May 14).
And once they make away across the country, Petta, guitarist Josh Marsh, bassist Brent Hamer, and drummer Matt Gray will be making sure to sample some of the West Coast's finest. "We're not a drug-oriented band--music comes first," the singer says. "But we're gonna party in B.C. Definitely."