Growing Pains seems an odd title for the second full-length from Calgary-based Bad Animal—that having everything to do with the group making a successful and seamless attempt to move forward from its beginnings as a loud and revved-up rawk unit.
Reached at home in Cowtown, singer Ben Painter suggests the band didn’t transition to where it is today without a few challenges. Original members left after the release of a 2016 debut album titled Tonight, with whatever friction having something to do with what’s commonly known as artistic differences. Painter and guitarist Trevor Stoddart were determined to soldier on.
“The album is called Growing Pains because we’d had changes within the group,” Painter says. “It was a mutual agreement because things were just not working. They wanted to keep going the harder, faster rock kind of direction. Me and Trevor wanted to expand our sound, branch out, and do something different. We wanted to make songs that you can’t really compare to other songs or a sound.”
That goal was successfully executed with help from Vancouver Island producer Colin Stewart, noted for his work with such acts as Dan Mangan, Yukon Blonde, and the New Pornographers. Bad Animal still knows how to come out swinging, with “Blackout” showcasing blazing postpunk guitars and “Oh No” going all-in with gang-chant vocals and rumbletone bass. At the same time, the band is anything but a one-trick pony. “Boombox” does postdisco with a panache that would impress the early Killers, while “Abigale” starts with space-transmission six-string atmospherics and then roars across the finish line like a full-blown sonic exorcism.
Finding his footing as an artist has been doubly gratifying for Painter. A few years back he was diagnosed with cancer while fronting an early incarnation of the band that evolved into Bad Animal. During the treatment and recovery process the singer lost almost all interest in the idea of making music.
“I got sick for a long time, and that kind of put everything on hold,” he says. “You’d think that would make you want to create, but it made me not want to do music for a long time. I felt like I couldn’t create anything. I had so many other things on my mind that writing a song was the last thing that I could think about.”
When he was ready to return to action, however, Painter—urged on by family and coworkers—was a man on a mission. Early shows painted Bad Animal as an act best filed under “unrelenting”. And, ironically, one of the major failings of the group in the months and years that followed was capturing that energy again.
“Our live show was cool, but all of our recordings didn’t translate that because we had no idea what we were doing,” Painter says. “We were trying to do it ourselves every time, and it sounded like shit. We were doing everything at home, and when I look back to what we were doing and compare it to what we’re doing now, those recordings really sucked.”
In case it’s not clear, that’s a tipoff that Bad Animal is justifiably more than a little proud of Growing Pains, to the point where Painter and his bandmates have decided they might have the stuff to make it in Vancouver, where they are about to relocate the band from Calgary.
“I just want to save up some money, with the ultimate goal of working on this band,” the singer says. “That’s the dream. Right now it’s all about trying to do more. We just want to elevate things and keep moving.”
Bad Animal plays Fortune Sound Club on Wednesday (April 24).