The Pointed Sticks show in New Westminster a year or so ago was a pretty interesting night, even before the Pointed Sticks hit the stage. Joe Keithley and his wife had come over to chat; and his friend (and my sometimes editor) Jack Rabid of Big Takeover magazine had travelled up from a trip to Seattle specifically to see the Pointed Sticks, whom he had caught only once before at a power-pop festival in New York. Since it was likely the only time I was going to get to talk in person to Jack, I was kind of preoccupied with conversation with him, and we mostly chatted (sorry!) through both the opening acts. But my ears perked up and I realized that the band onstage was covering Slow’s “Have Not Been the Same”. And not only were they covering it, they were reinterpreting it. Rather than trying to recapture the twangy, soupy proto-grunge of the original, they had turned it into some sort of glimmery pop tune.
“Whoa,” I thought. “That takes brass balls.”
That band was We Found a Lovebird, fronted by Larry Lechner, formerly of Vancouver bands the Velveteens and Conrad, which morphed into We Found a Lovebird in 2009. Lechner seems amused at my phrasing, when I tell him the story.
“Brass balls? I don’t know about that, I just don't think anything should be off the table. We started covering ‘Have Not Been the Same’ back when we had a trumpet player [Dingo Hart] and a girl [Patrice Cake] in the band and we've just kept it in the set ever since. We may release our version of it, if Slow doesn't track us down and kill us first.”
We Found a Lovebird is also known to cover songs by artists as wide-ranging as Galaxie 500 and Drake, and will do songs by both (as well as their Slow interpretation) at their upcoming WISE Hall gig. Lechner’s music is much more delicate and textural than Slow’s—or at least it has gentler textures; it’s like running your hand over black silk, while Slow’s is more like punching rusty metal (you may not notice the textures so much if you do that, but they’re there). There’s a glimmery, ethereal quality to their music; for an example, check the video for “Mess We Call the West”, shot by local filmmaker Oz Yilmaz (currently working on a documentary on West Coast music that We Found a Lovebird will feature in, Lechner mentions).
The video - an odd combination of art and industry “was shot where I work, a former battery manufacturing site in Maple Ridge” (he doubtlessly means Moli Energy, where Uwe Boll has also shot feature films). “The guys jumping around are parkour dancers that were hired for the shoot.”
The song calls to mind the improv jazz scene that used to exist around the now defunct performance venue at 1067 Granville, especially JP Carter’s avant-pop/postrock project the Inhabitants. Lechner was at 1067 once or twice, it turns out, but has no ties to that scene.
“I think our stuff can veer into experimental or postrock territory but for me whatever we're doing it has to serve the song,” he tells the Straight.
Lechner started out, as a musician, “wanting to be a guitar hero along the lines of Jeff Beck or Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page. Then I got my heart broke and figured I needed to tell the world all about it in a song.”
His early band the Velveteens “were around in the '80s and '90s and played a dirge-y, dreamy kinda rock.” Their video for "Love as a Rule", off of theTallhouse EP, received a Juno nomination, Lechner reports. “Conrad came later and started out as more of an alt-country thing on the first CD and then transitioned to more indie pop on the second release, Never Would Have Guessed We Were All Blessed.”
Around 2009, Lechner was hunting around for a new band name, as Conrad changed shape. He was walking along the quay in New Westminster, where he lives. “One time I saw a sign taped to a garbage can that said 'We Found a Lovebird, if yours call...'. I suggested the name, thinking no one would like it but, surprise…!”
Apparently reactions have been positive. “Mike Usinger thinks it's the most adorable band name to come out of Vancouver ever, and he's an authority on these things. On the other end of the spectrum, a random woman once told me it's a pussy name.” Lechner gestures offhandedly. “I like it because it sounds positive and optimistic and colourful.”
We Found a Lovebird’s self-titled debut CD, from 2009, has a cartographic cover that brings to mind some of Eno’s ambient albums (“the trumpet player designed it and he was into maps at the time. It seemed like a cool mysterious image to use.”) There’s plenty of loungey ambience on it, between the popcraft. “That was with a different lineup,” Lechner explains; besides Hart and Cake, they had a different drummer, Wetzel Pickering. “I didn't think it was loungey at the time, but I can hear it now.”
Their newest album, however, is more guitar-centric, albeit a more echoey, artful, layered guitar than you usually find in rock (save for maybe Roxy Music’s “The Bogus Man”).
I take a stab at guessing the cover image of Lobby —a neon racehorse—is from Hastings Park, but no. “It’s the neon sign from the Turf in Surrey. It was and still is (I think) a biker bar. It's located just over the Pattullo Bridge on the Surrey side. To me it's a signpost that represents the transition from rural to urban. I grew up in rural Langley and had occasion to drink there when me and my friends were feeling especially adventurous, let's say.”
The album’s title reflects that the band “still sorta feels like we're in the lobby of the Vancouver scene,” not fitting in with the more readily identifiable genres or the preponderance of “jokey punk bands or retro roots outfits” one sees. But it saw the band long-listed for the 2016 Polaris Music Prize, which Lechner finds enheartening.
“It means someone is listening and thinks it's worthy. And that's what it's all about in the end, that connection to the listener.”
We Found a Lovebird plays the Wise Lounge with Tayt Modern on Thursday (October 26).