How much do you love the Boom Booms? If you’re reading this (which you are), the answer is probably “A whole lot.” That’s a safe bet, given that, in our annual Best of Vancouver poll, Georgia Straight readers have named the Boom Booms their favourite local unsigned band an impressive four times in the past five years.
If you suspect that the “unsigned” part makes that a somewhat bittersweet honour, well, don’t feel too bad for the Boom Booms.
“At this point, independent life is good,” says singer Aaron Ross, sitting down for an interview at a South Granville coffee shop along with his brother and bandmate, keyboardist Sean Ross. How good? It bears mentioning that the Boom Booms have managed to put out three excellent and well-received albums without the backing of a major record company, and they have logged an impressive number of miles touring. (More on that last point later.)
“If it was the right label, to put us in touch with certain artists, to put us on tour opening for a certain artist, that specifically would be something that would be a terrific asset,” Aaron says. “Like, put us on tour with a great band, opening. Or make it easier for us to get to Europe and potentially the States—those areas I think a label could help us with.”
But would an A&R team even know what to do with an act as eclectic as the Boom Booms? Sean suspects not. “People have a hard time putting us into a category—which can be a good thing but, from some of the people I’ve talked to, makes it tougher to find a lane with a label,” the keyboardist notes. “A lot of times they do things that are very specific.”
If it can be a challenge to categorize the Boom Booms, that’s because the group draws upon a wide array of influences. The band’s first LP, 2011’s ¡Hot Rum!, was spiked with liberal doses of Latin-American and Caribbean rhythms, whereas 2014’s Love Is Overdue saw the Boom Booms pushing old-school R&B and Motown soul to the foreground.
For A Million Miles, released just weeks ago, Aaron envisioned a world-groove-oriented outing, but as the songs began to take shape, it became clear to all concerned that, rather than leaning too heavily on the sounds that inspired them, the Boom Booms were feeling inclined to sound like, well, the Boom Booms.
“I think it all got synthesized a lot more on this one, and we went in a lot more open-ended,” says Sean. “The songs that Aaron had, we kind of just played them and then listened to it, and the direction wasn’t pushed as hard, and so I think we ended up with something that was more honest to what we like, or just honest to where we’re at right now. I really like listening back to it, because it just kind of is what it is, which I really dig.”
“That’s always been the challenge—how you synthesize all the influences and make it into one distinct sound,” Aaron adds. “When you listen to Arcade Fire or U2 or Coldplay or whoever it is, when you hear that band you get that feeling, and it’s one thing that’s consistent throughout the record. I think we’re definitely closer to there after this record. This record is still very eclectic. It still dips into a lot of styles, but I feel like we’re one step closer to whatever our thing is.”
A Million Miles is indeed wide-ranging sonically, kicking off in spartan fashion with the raw unplugged lament “Song for Noni” before rolling through (among other delights) the smooth modern pop of “All Day All Night”, the sweaty funk of “Masterpiece”, and the downtempo-jazz vibe of the instrumental “Pandora”.
Lyrically, Aaron tackles some tough subjects. The album-closing gut-punch “I Am” is a real-life-inspired cautionary tale about a deadly drunk-driving incident. “Otherside” is less easy to parse, but its opening verse suggests it’s a stream-of-consciousness response to life in the age of U.S. president Donald J. Trump: “Are you selling God or merchandise?/Are you working for the man?/He’s got snipers all around/The White House lawn’s as washed as your pocket.”
“The lyrics are quite vague and open-ended and kind of float around from thing to thing,” the singer admits. “I wanted it to feel like someone’s psyche in 2017, where you’re a bit overloaded by information and you’re trying to process all the things that are going on, including Trump, including climate change, or bad news that you’re getting—just that inundated feeling. I want it to feel like a cathartic kind of thing, where you’re chanting all these things off your chest, in a way. That was kind of the vibe I was going for.”
Throughout A Million Miles, the group only ever truly sounds like itself, which is a testament to the considerable chops of the Ross brothers and their bandmates—bassist Geordie Hart, guitarist Tom Van Deursen, and drummer-percussionist Theo Vincent.
Long-time fans will notice one name missing from that list. The Boom Booms’ other percussion man, Richie Brinkman, has taken his leave of the band. It was an amicable departure; Brinkman decided that the group’s hard-touring ways—the Rosses estimate that they have covered some 500,000 miles to date—didn’t square with his vision for his life.
According to Sean, “We had been touring for so long, so I think that year he had kind of been weighing whether or not he wanted to stick with the band. We took about a month break after the Commodore show we did [in October of 2015] and he just called and said ‘Hey, guys, I’m ready to pack it in.’ And he moved back to Ontario, and he’s got a little family and he’s living with his dad and he seems really, really happy.”
“Yeah, he really wanted to lay down roots,” Aaron adds. “He felt bad about it. He felt like he was letting us down, and we said, ‘Nah, man, you’ve done your service here.’ ”
As for the Boom Booms as a whole, they’re not going anywhere. Actually, let’s amend that to say that they have no intention of quitting, but they are definitely going somewhere. The title of their latest record ought to give you a clue as to exactly how ambitious these guys are when it comes to touring, which they are planning to do next spring. In the meantime, Vancouver fans—including all of those who dutifully vote for the Boom Booms in the Best of Vancouver survey every year—can catch them at a soft-seater this week.
Sean promises it will be a hell of a show. “I think we sound better now than we ever have,” the keyboardist says. “We’ve been rehearsing like crazy for the Vogue show next Friday and I’m really getting impressed by us. It just sounds really good. It’s been a lot of work. We’ve worked really, really hard this year, so it’s nice to see things bearing fruit. Like, people enjoying the record obviously feels great, and being able to do the thing we’re doing musically live is just really satisfying. It’s just nice to see the work pay off.”
The Boom Booms play the Vogue Theatre on Friday (October 20).