When folksy garage-rockers Capitol 6 released their new LP, Pretty Lost, back in June, the band could very well have been summed up by the album’s title. As its amiable frontman, Malcolm Jack, explains over drinks at the Princeton Pub, Capitol 6 wasn’t even necessarily a real band until the new lineup assembled, after the record was already finished. After surviving a cross-Canada tour, on which the quintet narrowly avoided being swept up by a rogue tornado in Saskatchewan, it’s safe to say that the new recruits have been successfully initiated.
“It was kind of a transitional time during Pretty Lost,” says Jack, whose bandmates are bassist Matt Krysko, lead guitarist Chris Alarcon, drummer Neil Corbett, and keyboardist Henry Beckwith (who moonlights in Chains of Love). “For the recording of the album, it was still our original lineup, but our guitarist Dave Pullmer left halfway through. So we were mixing the album when we didn’t even have a guitarist. We weren’t totally lost, but we were pretty lost.”
Now that Jack has regained his bearings and put his other musical project, Sun Wizard, on ice, he’s ready to commit to what was more of a casual venture during the recording of Captain Rehab, Capitol 6’s 2011 EP. Talking with his hands, Jack traces the map-patterned tabletop like some impassioned cartographer as he describes how the current incarnation of the band came together, which was mainly through random friendships and serendipity.
“This kid Chris, we didn’t even know him that well—he was just working with me at the Biltmore,” he explains. “But then the Biltmore had a kind of battle of the bands where all the employees drew names out of a hat and played together for fun. I didn’t even realize that Chris played music, but when Henry and I saw him playing these insane Jesus and Mary Chain–style, shoegaze leads on guitar, we looked at each other and said, ‘Dude, what the fuck.’ So then we got Chris.”
Alarcon, who’d never really been in other bands prior to joining Capitol 6, has brought a revitalized sense of harmony to the group’s sound with his jangly, melodic fretwork, which is perfectly suited to Pretty Lost’s lo-fi, retro-coloured rock ’n’ roll. So he can be forgiven for forgetting his guitar in Edmonton at the end of the band’s recent tour—and driving all the way home to Vancouver without it. “Like, a patch cord is one thing, but…” Jack laughs. “It’s okay, Chains of Love went out there and grabbed it for him.”
Fittingly for our interview, much of which is spent discussing the present versus the past, Jack is framed by the wooden spokes of an old ship’s wheel mounted on the wall behind him, and our window seat looks onto a railroad where chugging trains frequently rumble by. With his fisherman’s tuque and frothy pint of suds, Capitol 6’s helmsman doesn’t look too out of place in this blue-collar neighbourhood watering hole. And he definitely has a penchant for days (and sounds) gone by.
“I write a lot of the songs on my acoustic guitar, at home drinking tequila, so my influences have been mainly ’60s stuff like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Neil Young,” says Jack, who has the band’s influences listed on Facebook simply as “1968”. “I want to write songs like they did—take time, focus on lyrics, put a lot of thought into the songs and really craft them. I don’t want to be a total ’60s-revival singer, but rock ’n’ roll definitely had a heyday. By bringing in modern sounds, ideas, and lyrics, you can take that ideal and make it new.”
Likening Capitol 6 to San Francisco psych-pop bands like White Fence, Real Estate, and the Fresh & Onlys, Jack admits that it’s a challenge to make sure that nostalgia and romanticism don’t translate to rehash, but he’s not one to be afraid of a little experimentation. Recorded partly in an actual studio and partly in the band’s “recording shed”, Pretty Lost is in no way a one-note affair. Its opener, “Playing Dead”, starts off with honky-tonk piano-plunking before launching into a rollicking garage-rocker with arpeggiated country riffs. And further down the line, “Autumn in the Wind” underpins a lilting folk-pop melody with bittersweet, bluesy licks and Jack’s heavy-hearted rasp.
“People have ideas about how music’s supposed to sound, even us, but we can do anything we want,” says Jack, promising that Capitol 6’s next album will be more experimental. “We don’t have to stay stuck in 1968. If you want to play rock or pop music, you’ve got to mix and match to make something new, because everything has been done before. And we are just a rock ’n’ roll band, but we all have faith that the band is not just a sound, it’s got substance. We all want to make a lot of albums and create something unique. We’re a proper band now.”
Capitol 6 plays the Biltmore Cabaret on August 14.