When Todd Serious, singer for long-lived Vancouver punks the Rebel Spell, connects with the Straight on a video call, he’s wearing a Sea Shepherd hoodie in a Spartan, pale-green room somewhere in the desert climes of Lillooet, B.C. Along with the band’s first-name-only drummer (Travis), he lives there nowadays. Guitarist Wretched Erin and bassist Elliot (both of whom also have little use for their surnames) drive up on a semiregular basis to practise, with Serious and Travis making the trek in the opposite direction for Vancouver gigs. Seems a bit inconvenient; so why, exactly, does the singer want to live in Lillooet?
“It’s just a change,” he says, shrugging. “It’s small and it’s dry—totally the opposite from Vancouver. I did several Vancouver winters living in my bus, and you just get tired of it, of mould growing on everything. And I guess when I was a kid, being a skateboarder, rain was like the worst enemy you could have. And now I’m a climber, and rain is still a terrible thing. It’s sunny here all year, so that’s really nice.”
It’s not as terrible for band practices as one might think, either. “There is the inconvenience of Elliot and Erin having to drive up here, but we don’t have to pay to jam,” Serious says. “We can use my house. If I go to Vancouver it’s, like, $75 to jam. Rehearsals to tour would cost us $600.”
Counting the digital EP that came out on Propagandhi’s G7 Welcoming Committee label in 2007—Four Songs About Freedom—the new album, Last Run, is the Rebel Spell’s fifth release. It’s also their first time with Vancouver producer Jesse Gander, who has done amazing things with the band’s sound; never has Wretched Erin’s guitar sounded so clear.
“Jesse’s kind of known for that, for guitar sound,” Serious says.
Gander ran through several amps with the band at his studio, Rain City Recorders, finally settling, for primary tone, on the Marshall JCM 900 that Erin has used on every record the Rebel Spell has done since forming in 2002. “It was weird watching him work,” Serious observes. “He was really fast with the guitar stuff, but he just nailed it, right away.”
Last Run is an ominous title, suggesting that it might be the Rebel Spell’s final stab at saving the world before it descends into embittered Phil Ochs–like alcoholism and despair. But Serious reassures fans that that’s not where they’re coming from.
“If anything, I knew this tour was probably going to be the last run for the bus we’ve been running for so many years,” he says, noting that he’d personally converted it to run on vegetable oil. “So that’s a little personal note in there.”
But you can extrapolate it into a much bigger picture, he adds. “We don’t have a lot of time left with this particular arrangement we’re living under. There’s going to be a big messy change soon. We see these little economic failings, like the U.S. falling to its knees momentarily, but these are just the symptoms that are building; we’re going to have a real big one that’s going to go global. And when everybody has the same economic problems at the same time, they’re not going to be able to pick each other back up.”
Besides the dire state of the world, Last Run touches on cheery topics like police brutality (“Ten Thousand Years”), prisons (“Fight for the Sun”), and genocidal colonialism (“The Tsilhqot’in War”, featuring violinist Jeff Andrew). Then there’s the title track, which also touches on Serious’s passion for animal rights.
“That song started out being about the wolf culls in northern Alberta,” he notes. “Then I realized they were doing the same things with seals, blaming them for the collapse of fish stocks. It’s just absurd.”
If the band’s idealism remains intact, there’s also a sense, especially with songs like the opener, “Hopeless”, that it’s costing Serious more to maintain it—an observation he readily acknowledges.
“If you remember on Days of Rage [the band’s 2005 LP], there was that song, ‘Sit With Me Anger’, about how as you get older, you start to think about things more, you see all the nuances, it’s not so black-and-white anymore, and you can’t just split good and bad. I’m finding that more and more difficult,” he admits.
“I Heard You Singing”, perhaps the most chilling song on the album, even finds the singer acknowledging that he may not have the courage to live out the life he envisions to the fullest.
“The lyrical theme of it is almost very literal, walking out into the woods, into the mountains. There’s that primitivist ideal of leaving everything, and going to live in the hills, and it’s about hearing that call, and being too scared to take it. It’s right there. It’s right here—I can walk out now,” he says, gesturing at the forest and the mountains outside his door. “In a way, that would be the ultimate realization of a lot of the ideals I hold.”
The Rebel Spell hosts an album-release party for Last Run at 333 Clark Drive on Saturday (October 11).