saltspringunderground helps send the Pointed Sticks off to Europe

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      There are always good reasons to see the Pointed Sticks, none stronger than that the long-lived local band has some killer pop-punk tunes, which they always perform with energy and impeccable musicianship.

      The March 9 show at the Rickshaw will surely be no exception, though there are added enticements this time out, since the band is about to kick off its first-ever European tour.

      “There are fourteen shows spread across Spain, Switzerland, Germany, and Sweden,” frontman Nick Jones writes the Straight from his digs in Nanaimo. (There had been some discussion of Italian shows, but “the promoter turned out to be a flake”.) “We're looking forward to every show”—with special enthusiasm for the Fuzzville festival in Spain, he says. “We've never had more fun playing than we do now.”

      But when it comes to local press, Jones is more than happy, this time out, to direct us toward the opening acts—including saltspringunderground, playing their mainland debut, and two female-fronted bands, the Breeders-esque postpunk pop unit the Furniture,  and Alex Little & the Suspicious Minds.

      It’s “a great bill”, Jones says, and should be more than enough added enticement to hit the Rickshaw Saturday night.

      Saltspringunderground—also rendered SALTSPRINGUNDERGROUND—has an interesting connection to the Pointed Sticks, since frontman Chris Arnett, of the Furies, is cousin to Jade Blade of the Dishrags, two thirds of whom (last we checked) are partnered up with members of the Pointed Sticks.

      Also, for those who don’t know, the Furies were the first-ever punk band to play live in Vancouver, at a 1977 Japanese Hall gig alongside the Dishrags; so they go back even further than the Pointed Sticks, in terms of Vancouver music history.  

      So what does saltspringunderground, Chris Arnett’s new project, sound like? Arnett sends the Straight a couple of audio files, which are not what we were expecting. Whereas Furies songs tend to be two-minute rockers in classic New York punk mode, saltspringunderground, apparently, has a tendency to jam out songs into 11-minute explorations, in the mode of classic '70s rock. (Their band bio on Facebook describes them as “the Archies meets Crazy Horse”, but there’s a lot more Crazy Horse in evidence than Archies in the clips Arnett shares.)

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      “We all love Neil Young and Crazy Horse, definitely,” Arnett says from Salt Spring. “Always liked Neil Young since I was a kid, 'cause he was the first cool Canadian rock 'n' roll musician. Nobody’s come anywhere close since, that’s for sure! Zuma is my favourite record of his. He’s got a combined urban and country vibe which is what I’ve been living the past 30 years. Always been a fan of his guitar playing, and I try to channel when I can!”

      But long jams are not all that saltspringunderground does. “We have some great soundscape songs, and we love feedback—always have,” Arnett continues. “But we have a few songs that are like a one-and-a-half-minute punch in the head, so the punk thing is hard to kick. We’re recording in April and it’ll be live off the floor with a mix of tight and let-loose,” he says. “My fave album is White Light/ White Heat, so I’d like to make a 2019 version, push the levels, and make it sound more than the washed-out piss that passes for a lot of so-called rock or punk. We’ll see—we are a collective and the majority rules.”

      That collective also features Josh Cook of Barefoot Thieves, Marta Jaciubek McKeever of e.s.l.,  and Rich Hope drummer Adrian Mack. Since coming together last year, they’ve worked up some 24 songs, with more being added constantly, drawing from Arnett’s “backlog of songs from 45 years ago (about 70 good ones)”.

      Arnett is happy to walk me through the band’s history—which, I confess, I played a hand in, since I introduced Arnett to Mack when visiting Salt Spring for a Richard Thompson concert. “After your intro, we got together after running into each other at a Ganges art show. I went over and we rocked out. Songs sounded good. I was using an old mike duct-taped to a broom stick for a stand. We needed a bass and a p.a.…” 

      Enter Josh Cook, whom Arnett punningly calls “the base of the band”. “Josh and I go way back. My younger son Carl was in Salt Spring’s first punk band Steel Bananas when he was 12. Played bass. They played lots of shows and made a record, Glass Salad, which was all covers, except one song by Carl called ‘Granola Sandwich’. When Carl left, the band broke up and Jade and Jasper Snow-Rosen formed Barefoot Thieves with Josh. They put out three records and played all over.”

      That included a “rocking show” alongside Arnett at Salt Spring’s Fulford Hall, “in support of anti-pipeline stuff a few years ago,” Arnett remembers. “They're environmental/Indigenous activists behind the scenes like me,” with Jasper Snow-Rosen involved in an environmentalist/snowboarding film called The Radicals, which came out last year.

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      As for McKeever, “I first saw e.s.l. years ago open for Rae Spoon at the Biltmore and they rocked an Eastern European vibe.” (McKeever hails from Poland, Arnett explains.) “She’s a phenomenal singer, musician, and classically trained, so we have to go over and over the same thing again, which is cool, 'cause we never do it the same!”  

      Mack adds that McKeever’s old band Girl Nobody “would sometimes play with my old band, John Ford, and she actually sang on the first Rich Hope and His Evil Doers Album back in 2005—which I’d completely forgotten about until she reminded me about a month ago. So this is the second band we’ve been in together.”

      Mack was the impetus for getting her in the band, Arnett says, after McKeever, like Mack, made the move from Vancouver to Salt Spring. “She came, she conquered, we rule! Her awesome vocals and keys/guitar morphed our sound. She adds gender, awesome vocals, keys, and rocking guitar. We are a double Les Paul tour de force, baby!”

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      Arnett has other things in the works—including plans with Jason Flower of Supreme Echo for an EP of Shades songs, recorded in July 1979 at Gary Taylor’s Rock Room, and a 7-inch of the only Furies studio recordings from back in the day, done at North Vancouver’s Ocean Sound in June 1977. (One song, “What Do You Want Me to Be”—not to be confused with the Pointed Sticks “What Do You Want Me to Do”—kicks off the Zulu Records Last Call scene compilation, but has never seen release on vinyl.)  

      Arnett is also pleased that John Werner—long-time Furies bassist—was the subject of a recent Straight piece about his U.K. reunion gigs with the Pack. “John is an unsung hero and it’s great to see him getting some recognition. He’s having a blast, and the Furies will be playing some shows this year in town.” 

      Right now, though, saltspringunderground is where Arnett’s attentions lie. “We are really stoked for the show and will be hitting folks with eleven of our best songs.” There are also upcoming shows at Mobys, which Arnett calls “Salt Spring Island’s #1 rock and roll establishment,” on March 29, June 15, and July 13. “Those will be insane shows and worth the trip, man!” 

      (…though the Rickshaw is a bit easier for mainlanders to get to).

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