Michael Nathanson: Two Bands One Drummer

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      Not sure if it is normal for drummers to play in two bands on the same bill, but it’s normal for Michael Nathanson. “I've had this experience perhaps a dozen times in my musical career,” he tells the Georgia Straight—and he’ll be having it again this Wednesday at the Roxy, where he’ll be playing with both Paranoid Romantic, one of several projects helmed by unsung genius and suspected libertine Betty Bathory, and the Imperial, his new sort-of local supergroup, a Los Popularos for the 21st century if you will.  

      Besides being “physically demanding,” Nathanson explains, being drummer for two different bands “also requires focus as the material is different and you're taking and sharing cues with a different group of players. As well, the drum kit set up may need some tweaking to reflect the requirements of the material. Fortunately, my set up for both Paranoid Romantic and the Imperial is almost identical. Notwithstanding the physical requirements, it's really quite enjoyable for me.”

      Nathanson is also in two other bands at present, which makes him one shy of his record of five bands at a time. But he notes that the Imperial’s bassist Richard Katynski—who also plays with No Likes and Daddy Issues—and Betty Bathory, who fronts both Paranoid Romantic and Daddy Issues, among many other projects, “hold greater records in that department than I do. Prodigious talents, they are!”

      Bathory, indeed, is an amazing performer, whom we once glimpsed transforming in the course of a single evening from a female Johnny Rotten (for her Sex Pistols tribute act the Fuck Guns) to a more-or-less anatomically correct GG Allin (for BB Allin and the Stabbers, a band who really need to be given a chance to perform again; if it helps make it happen, I’ll stay around after the show and clean up Betty’s fake poop, which, by the way, smells great and tastes all right too). Her original material has a bluesy snarl to it that surprised us, when we first caught one of her other original bands, Daddy Issues. She’s definitely just more than the front of a half-dozen superb punk rock cover bands, though that alone is impressive in its own right.

      So how did Nathanson first get together with Betty Bathory? “I had seen Betty perform many times,” he explains. “We officially met when she and Tim Packford”—of Gold Stars are For Suckers, and also of Paranoid Romantic—“were putting together a band for a one-off show a few years back. That brief project had a spark that Tim wanted to pursue and Paranoid Romantic was born. Around this time, Betty also asked me to drum in her Misfits cover band, Fistmiss.”

      Bathory “must be experienced on stage” to understand what she does, Nathanson says. “She is supremely talented, is gifted with a brilliantly dynamic voice, and she's a wonderful bandmate.” Does it seem to him that she hasn’t fully gotten her due in Vancouver? “Well, those that know, know, and know it—or her—well. And yet, you are right: not enough people have experienced the magic on stage that is Betty live. Lucky me: I get to hear and see her perform all the time!”

      Paranoid Romantic had an album release the other week at the Fairview, the weekend that the reunited Black Halos were holding court for two nights at the Rickshaw. Does Nathanson have a favourite song on the EP?  “I love them all. But I have to say 'Step Out of Line' is my favourite song. A musical gem! Catchy as hell, too. The band locks in so well and it grooves wonderfully. Just tonight at rehearsal, I was remarking how great it sounded. It's not even that long a song, but it is so fucking head-bobbingly rockin'—the guitar lines are a joy to play to and Betty just kills it!”

      The Imperial, meanwhile, began in June 2019, when Bad Beats vocalist Cam Alexander started writing with Van Rays, Big Top, and Frank Frink Five guitarist Scott McLeod. “I believe it was their desire all along to have Rich and I anchor the band rhythmically; after we left Bad Beats this became possible. The name, like most band names, materialized after an intense period of brainstorming ideas. We sought out ones matching our objectives and concepts of the band. We settled on the Imperial as it just made sense given our musical style and it works excellently with our graphic direction, which is handled very capably by Rich. Like I said, he's one talented lad!”

      The Imperial is in fairly early days, so there’s not that much out there online yet, but the band refers to their music as “souled-out murder disco,” Nathanson tells the Straight. “It has been described by the producer of our soon-to-be-released record (Jason Corbett, from Actors) as ‘Otis Redding fronting ZZ Top circa 1972.’ There’s a bit of Exile on Main Street in there as well.”

      Nathanson and McLeod go back “a fair distance”—about 25 years, the drummer says; but they have never played together before now. “We met back in the mid 1990s when I played with roots rockers Happyman; we shared a space near Granville Island with Scott's band. More recently, he'd come to Bad Beats shows and I'd watch him when he was with the Van Rays and Big Top. Finally, we have the opportunity to collaborate. He's an incredibly talented player and I love his songwriting. I'm very fortunate to play in bands with really great songwriters.”

      McLeod is the main musical force behind the Imperial, while Cam Alexander—who also fronts the Bad Beats—writes the lyrics, after which “the band collaborates to form the songs into tighter pieces. None of the songs are mine but there are some interesting rhythmic excursions I am able to contribute, to compliment the songs. 'Mince' is a favourite for me to play; my syncopated hi-hat work dovetails well with Scott's guitar line, and Rich's bass, of course.”

      The Imperial has not yet played the Imperial, Nathanson tells the Straight, though we admire their chutzpah for not flinching at naming their band the same name as a venue. “We very much want to play the Imperial room—I mean, how perfect would that be?!! If there are any folks from the Imperial (the venue, that is) reading this, please contact us via our Facebook page!”

      Paranoid Romantic and the Imperial play an early show at the Roxy, Wednesday night (March 11). Advance tickets are only $6. More information here.