Throughout his career as a musician, Jason Corbett has moved through a number of genres, sometimes following one project with another in a radically different style. Corbett first came to prominence on the Vancouver music scene in the late ’90s as a member of the Saddlesores, whose somewhat tongue-in-cheek take on cowpunk and rockabilly was funnelled into tracks like “Redneck Punk” and “Garbage Truck of Love”.
Sitting down with the Straight at West Broadway’s tiny Dose Espresso Bar, Corbett recalls that an abrupt genre swap left some soon-to-be-ex-fans confused.
“After I left the Saddlesores and I started Speed to Kill, we played a show at Liquid Lounge in Edmonton, I think,” he says. “And it was billed as ‘the new band from the singer of the Saddlesores’, so all these rockabilly guys showed up. And they were fuckin’ pissed. One guy picked up a chair and threw it across the room and then stormed out. Because I was on-stage in a silky shirt and a tie, and it was rock. It had nothing to do with rockabilly or psychobilly or anything like that. They were just disappointed, and they had probably spent 10 bucks to get in, so I can relate. Change is hard.”
These days, Corbett has fully embraced his darkwave side as the frontman for ACTORS, a band that dwells on the black-nail-polish side of new wave, all throbbing synths and lost-in-a-forest guitar lines. He lists Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Gary Numan as formative influences, but Corbett admits that his sonic shift to the aptly theatrical sound of ACTORS wasn’t a smooth one. It was, however, a necessary one. This, he suggests, is the music he has always wanted to make.
Corbett has been joined on his journey to the dark side by a couple of veteran players: bassist Jahmeel Russell, who currently plays in Red Vienna and who has a CV that includes stints with the Black Halos and KEN Mode; and drummer Adam Fink, who brings the beat to Gang Signs and Girlfriends and Boyfriends, among others.
Also along for the ride is someone with considerably less experience. Keyboardist Shannon Hemmett was previously better-known around town as a talented graphic designer and photographer. Although she plays a number of instruments, Hemmett had never been in a band before Corbett recruited her. (The two also work together as a duo under the name LEATHERS.)
“I brought her in to play a show,” Corbett says. “People responded to it well. She really enjoyed it. It felt really good to have a female in the band. It’s the first time I’d played with a woman in the band, and I felt like it kind of balanced out the masculinity.”
Why offer such a plum gig to a relative novice? Corbett says he just had a feeling about Hemmett, a sense that she was the perfect person for the role.
“I saw the potential there, because I knew we had similar taste in music,” the singer-guitarist notes. “I could see from her Instagram posts that she was musical, so I started her off doing DJ stuff, and she went from owning a couple of records to having a whole ton of really cool records. I thought, ‘Okay, she puts her focus where her mouth is, too.’ And that’s rare. You know, there’s a lot of people who are like, ‘I wanna do this and I wanna do that,’ and you have to drag them along, but she was just awesome. As soon as I said ‘Hey, come play keyboards with us,’ she was at Long & McQuade buying a Prophet Rev2 and a new Fender Deluxe amp. She’s the real deal.”
This week sees the release of ACTORS’ debut full-length album, It Will Come to You, by the Toronto-based label Artoffact Records. Later this month, the band will head across the border for a West Coast U.S. tour. That will be followed by dates in France, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and the U.K.
If that weren’t enough to put Corbett in a joyful frame of mind (a slightly ironic one considering the nature of his music), there’s also the fact that he’s doing it all sober. He quit drinking several years ago, and in addition to the financial benefit—money not spent on booze is money that can be invested in his creative endeavours—Corbett says sobriety allows him to focus on making music in a way that was never possible before. And it also just makes him feel damn good.
“Shannon doesn’t drink, I don’t drink, Jahmeel hardly drinks, and Adam doesn’t drink before we play, so it’s the first time where I’m in a real sober band,” he says. “Just the amount of love and fun and excitement we have on-stage while being, like, razor-focused, it’s really exciting. And it’s the first time in a long time where I’ve been like, ‘I’m going all in with this.’ ”
ACTORS plays an album-release show at the Rickshaw Theatre on Saturday (March 10).