For all things alt and indie
by Mark Janz
For fans of: Chameleons, Have a Nice Life, Fields of the Nephilim
For the one month of the year that universally drips with horror, it was only fitting that we cover an artist with a name that harkens to a landmark film of the genre. Much like the 1982 ghost story Poltergeist, the post-punk project Poltergeist conjures up chilling imagery and a cadaverous silhouette for the audience. Unlike Poltergeist, this project is not helmed by the harrowing mind of Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and the sentimentalist gleam of Steven Spielberg (everything classic ever, basically). Rather, it’s piloted by the lesser known, but equally visionary and ambitious mind of Kalen Baker. The two main things that Poltergeist and Poltergeist have in common is that they should both be checked out this month, if you haven’t already.
Before creaking open the stony cellar door on Poltergeist, just like any horror film, it’s best to begin with the lore. Poltergeist’s brand new EP “Yesterday Fades” is festooned with the fingerprints of early albums from The Cure, reverb soaked cadences of Black Marble, and enough distorted growl to fit seamlessly into a Sisters of Mercy record. While gothic ghouls of the post-punk realm cavort gracefully in stereo, the origin story of Poltergeist is from the spellbook of heavy metal. Kalen Baker may be a recognizable name for those in the Calgary scene, if not for being possibly the most enthusiastic live music supporter I’ve ever met, definitely for fronting the scintillating heavy metal band Whyte Diamond. While Whyte Diamond enjoyed throwing down on stages including Distortion (R.I.P.), Baker admits general bustle of life caused a drift for the band. “With Whyte Diamond, I didn't have as much of an artistic focus or goal until around when we were recording Scream In The Dark. Unfortunately, that's about when life got busy and we started to drift apart. I also never liked the idea of writing personal lyrics so a lot of Whyte Diamond lyrics were just what I thought Heavy Metal lyrics should be” Baker explains.
When I first met Kalen Baker, he was a starry-eyed tenth grader shuffling down our busy high school hallway in a Pantera tee. “A lot of my music tastes have often been centered around music from the late ‘70s to the early ‘90s. ‘80s metal was really my biggest love in high school, but once I started to explore post-punk and its subgenres, I started to realize all these different things you can do with the atmosphere in music” he tells me. I wondered what made a banner waving headbanger crawl into a gothic post-punk sound; as in my experience, most people who worship at the altar of Bruce Dickinson often spit on the shrine of Robert Smith. “I think there's a lot of overlap between post-punk and heavy metal that often goes unnoticed” Baker addresses. “Both are broad umbrella terms for a very diverse range of sounds, yet they also have very distinct characteristics that are instantly recognizable. A lot of gothic rock and heavy metal tends to focus on the darker side of life. With themes of death, evil, and melancholy, both genres portray similar concepts but with a different mood. Post-punk is also rooted in punk rock, so both still come from a rock and roll background. In a way, post-punk is the cousin of heavy metal. Heavy metal is still a huge influence on Poltergeist. Bands like Angel Witch and Bathory will always be important to me.”
Poltergeist’s EP “Yesterday Fades” has many picturesque, atmospheric moments in it. Definitely not picturesque in the sense of a Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles, but more in the vein of a Friday the 13th sequel. While Poltergeist’s ‘80s influence permeates through the tracks, the lyrics are anything but anachronistic. “I recently realized that the song ‘Yesterday Fades’ ended up being an accurate representation of a lot of people's feelings about the COVID-19 crisis: very uncertain about the present, and longing for the past.” Baker begins. It is very fitting to keep this crisis in mind when listening through the EP, as the 5 songs almost act as the average journey throughout the months. From the chilling urgency of the title track, to the bereft tranquility of ‘Ocean,’ the EP acts as somewhat of a soundtrack and score for the pandemic. “For the most part, though, I don't really think about themes or meanings as I write lyrics. I just write what comes into my head and then ascribe my own meaning to them afterward. Just as a listener may do with a different piece of music they didn't write. A lot of lines are inspired by literature though; I read a lot of Michael Moorcock, J.R.R Tolkien, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.P Lovecraft. So certain themes from those authors often make their way into the lyrics.”
I wind up mentioning Prince a lot in my articles, no matter what the genre of the artist I’m writing for is. This is because technology has made it so much easier for artists to really sit in the driver’s seat of their albums….and the passenger’s seat, backseat, trunk, roof, and hanging on to the bumper on a skateboard. Kalen Baker is no exception, producing and performing all of the parts on the EP. “I do a lot of my writing simply just by recording. I usually start with a guitar riff or a bass line and will try to lay out the loose structure of the song in my DAW (Digital Audio Software). Then I'll start to add the other instruments and layers and fine-tune different parts as it comes together. I've always really loved the arrangements of songs and how different pieces fit together. In terms of recording, I keep re-recording different tracks until I have good takes then I just mix it myself. I think that the production is a very important and underappreciated part of the creative process. Doing it all by myself gives me the freedom to make changes or sculpt out certain ideas any step of the way.” Baker explained to me how he conceived Poltergeist while living in Grande Prairie, partially due to the lack of musicians he could find to jam with. While he takes care of all performance duties on his recordings, he confirms that he does intend to have live members to hopefully grace the stages of The Palomino and Dickens. He also gushes to me how excited he would be to share the stage with the bands Spell and Idle Hands, both of whom have found success in blending the vibes (to varying degrees) that Poltergeist is chasing.
Poltergeist can be expected to release a third EP in the coming year, and Baker disclosed plans for a full album down the road. In the meantime, crawl into your cavern for a second wave of COVID-19 cases, but be sure to find sanctuary this month not only in your favorite Halloween season movies, but the icy post-punk of Poltergeist.
by Mark Janz
A long time ago in a city far, far, away (from the coasts)….The Galacticas reigned in two very distinct universes. One universe worshipped at the altar of Joey Ramone, and hung on the teachings of the chosen collectives known as Blink 182, Against Me!, and The Gaslight Anthem. The other universe was festooned with the literary works of multiple philosophers, going by names like George Orwell, Samuel Burgess, George Lucas, and James Cameron. The Galacticas joined these universes, creating peace among outcasts, wallflowers, punks, and geeks. This is their story….
The Galacticas are a pop punk band in Calgary with a geeky twist. Much like Calgary band Betaboys, film plays a huge role in the sound of The Galacticas. While the band express adoration for Blink-182, they also find inspiration from Star Wars, Back to the Future, and Aliens. The band set out to capture two frontiers musically and lyrically: they aim to write about real topics like heartbreak and disillusionment using geek allusions, as well as creating “music for robots to punch each other to.”
After his former band Black Earth played their final show, guitarist Anthony Janicki set out to create a pop punk group where he could be the lead singer and songwriter. Anthony quickly caught drummer Will Cowan bashing it out at the now closed New Black Centre, which was an all ages venue in Inglewood. Will was playing with the hard rock band Vulture Row at the time, and I personally remember cranking up their single “Two Dollar Brew” frequently as a high schooler. Anthony managed to get Will in his tractor beam, and after sharing the stage with The Bandolier Brigade, the lineup was completed with Mark Ferguson on bass.
The band’s name, music, lyrics, and visual material are all peppered with callbacks to 20th century sci-fi. I was curious as to what The Galacticas' idea was regarding the relationship between the galaxies of Lucasfilms’ narratives, and of Joey Ramone’s punk rock howling. “If you're a popular kid in school then you don't need things like sci-fi or punk rock,” Anthony begins. “You've usually got enough friends and support to keep you happy. Sci-fi and punk rock are both forms of media that tend to attract outcasts. They offer a form of escape that can be challenging at first. I certainly remember finding so many of the kids I'd meet at punk shows as a teenager also had a geeky side. Something about the creative and exploratory nature of both genres seem to attract similar sorts of people.”
The band detail how they would love to see their music accompany the upcoming Dune movie, but feel that their songs would best fit on the soundtrack to the 1986 Transformers film. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe there are many songs out there that can rival the spirit of Stan Bush’s “The Touch.” I will say though that upon diving into The Galacticas’ discography, they would certainly feel at home in such a collection alongside “The Touch.”
The band’s song “21st Century First World Problems'' does exactly what they set out to do, capturing the real world around them with nods to the worlds of science fiction. “That song is the footprint of our old bass player Dan Wollach,” Anthony explains. “He wrote and sang the verse sections and what he was talking about people who hide behind their phones. How certain people are keyboard warriors who make little to no real sacrifice in their comfortable lives. I wrote the chorus sections to convey how this vapid mentality is just the price of progress.” The grip of technology is palpable in our modern world, and the topic has been ubiquitous across many sci-fi works including James Cameron’s The Terminator and T2: Judgement Day. The Galacticas show exactly what they set out to do, they show a community for the outcasts and geeks, and they tie it all off with catchy pop punk tunes ``for geeks, by geeks.” Upon taking all of this in, one thing can be for certain if your curiosity had you stumble across this article: these ARE the droids you’re looking for.