Let It Rock
The home of rock n' roll
by Mark Janz
With a name that suggests an arsonist’s high school pep rally, Napalmpom is here to deliver on that allusion. Guitar solos, Boston-like 9-part harmonies, and handclaps galore, one would hear it like a mix of Thin Lizzy swagger and MC5 intensity. You can’t forget to pepper it with ‘90s Halifax-like hooks, as long as you don’t say they sound like Foo Fighters. Napalmpom have been ablaze on the Calgary music scene for a few years now, but if you haven’t heard of them, they are truly an experience that needs to be had by any live music fan.
Speaking with Shawn Petsche, the first thing one would wonder is how the linguistic battery of a name Napalmpom came to be. It to me sounded so powerful and so raw, yet there was a rose gold gleam to it that I could not put my finger on. “Originally we were going with something else, like Green Tambourines, and I don't really remember why,” Shawn begins. “Our other guitar player Craig blurted out ‘Napalmpom’ one day and it felt right to us at the time. It takes an aggressive and macho metal naming trope and turns it on its head. That was kind of a mission statement for the band early on: proudly play to the clichés of rock music that rule, but subvert those that don't ring true for a bunch of music nerds with day jobs from Calgary 3/4 of a century after the genre started.” As far as a mission for the juggernaut, PJ Lavergne simply states that the goal is to get bodies dancing, and smiles flying. The band aim to create jovial rock n’ roll songs with a beating heart and a soul behind them. They cite artists like power pop darlings Big Star and the legendary Tom Petty as people who aggrandize this idea, and it is clear to hear when diving into Napalmpom’s setlist.
While Napalmpom are no strangers to Alberta’s music scene, and have had some incredible opportunities, they are far from ready to stop pushing further. Shawn tells me about his intriguing goal with the band: “I've personally just always wanted to write three full-length albums, at least, with this band. I don't even know why, but that trilogy just always felt like a marker of success to me. There are so many bands I love that put out one great record and quit, or one great record and a bit of a stinker follow-up. I just always wanted to have three albums that have a singular vision that I'm intensely proud of.” I found this to be such a cool goal to have, and one that I do not hear too often when interviewing bands. We can think back to Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and we can boogie with John Travolta’s essential dance trilogy of Saturday Night Fever, Grease, and Urban Cowboy (all of which I’m sure Napalmpom could vibe their energy with). After hearing about the slick writing process between the members, being instrumental demos from Shawn and Craig that are given melodic and lyrical icing by PJ, I have no doubts that the band can pull off a trilogy that would give us chills, and multiply them.
Napalmpom plays unapologetically joyous rock and roll music. The band have an array of influences spanning the decades, but they all shake hands over the notion of creating what the five buddies call “celebratory rock n’ roll.” So what is celebratory rock n’ roll? PJ tells me “I think it has so much to do with attitude. We're 5 buds that get to make big, fun rock n roll songs together. Sometimes over the top, but always smiling.” Shawn adds that “At different times it's meant different things to me, but I think more than anything else, it's about having no shame for the things we like.” He continues, “the best stuff comes out when bands aren't so rigid about what they are allowed to do within their genre, when they stop-overthinking and stop being precious about what they make.” The band’s tunes could honestly be at home on the soundtrack of Friday Night Lights, as it’s “not too heavy, but a fun drama.”
Regarding contributions to a soundtrack of a movie or show, I like Shawn Petsche’s idea of offering forward an original script for their original tunes. “Eddie & The Cruisers 3: Eddie Tries To Scrape By With Spotify Royalties During A Global Pandemic. His trash mound safe place would have a nicer post-apocalyptic edge these days and I'd love to see the ways Eddie's new social media accounts would get him in hot water. I am 100% available to write this script.” Personally, I think that would be my #1 binge this pandemic.
THE BANDOLIER BRIGADE
by Mark Janz
For fans of: The Sweet, David Bowie, Muse
“As a consumer of music, it has never been easier to listen to any artist or band on your radar. As a producer of music, it has never been easier to create, record, and share your music with a wide audience. Where the struggle lies is in live music - specifically in a term in the industry known as ‘draw.’ Live music has a lot to compete with these days, and I think the recent venue closures we've seen in the city reflects this.” While I agree with The Bandolier Brigade on their thoughts on the modern state of the industry, I have a hard time imagining it would be a competition for these guys to get people to one of their famous Vern’s or Blind Beggar shows as opposed to a Netflix night in. The Bandolier Brigade are a power trio, emphasis on the power, rollicking through the city for the last decade with cues from ‘70s songbooks, modern hooks, and an unmistakable look. The band turn up to every show dressed to kill, jackets and ties festooning their long haired rocker appearance. Unconventional? Yes. Against the norm? Completely. Symbolically displaying exactly what rock n’ roll is all about? Absolutely.
“Playing hopscotch with a loaded gun” is a lyric from the song “Loaded Gun” from the band’s latest album “But A Walking Shadow”, and it creates the imagery of what I imagine the trio’s childhoods were like. Three rock n’ rollers close since childhood, Mark Ferguson (guitar and vocals), Brett Halland (bass), and Johnny Handsome (drums) proverbially spit shook as kids to be a beacon of Calgary rock n’ roll. And not just any type of rock, either; “Our sound is a combination of classic and modern rock,” Ferguson begins. “(It’s) classic in the sense that you'll hear the traditional sound of a power trio in our music, but also modern in that we don't follow all of the old rules or norms for rock music. We don't see ourselves as a "rock revival" band, but as a group forging a new sound with vintage roots.” An early main influence being Muse, the band has cast their net across the genre since by tipping their hats to players such as Bowie, The Sweet, Rush, Devo, and Midnight Oil. The Sweet’s Brian Connolly gets his acknowledgement in tracks like the new albums “A Time Alone,” with a dizzying falsetto from Ferguson that barrels through the air like an angel with razor wings. “Time To Feel Alive” follows in the tracklisting, showcasing the precision of Halland on the bass with the taste reminiscent of the bass line of David Bowie’s “China Girl.” The band even dip into the theatricality of Meat Loaf with “I Am The Law,” but in a shorter run time with all the hooks to make Queen smile. Johnny Handsome’s drumming serves as a driving heartbeat in each of these tracks, one that would make Blondie drummer Clem Burke proud (and possibly feeling the pressure, if he had to share the stage with the group).
The album title “But A Walking Shadow” is rather intriguing, and upon listening to the album front to back, there were many moods expressed that made the title even more of an enigma. The source of such a lyric surprised me a lot for a rock band that wasn’t currently in a grade 11 english class. “The lyric is derived from Shakespere's "MacBeth", Act 5, Scene 5” Ferguson explains. “MacBeth is making a statement of reflection upon his life here, and we felt the themes of identity matched the lyrical content of our songs well. Sometimes we know what we want to title the album as we are creating it, such as with our previous album ‘The Last Horizon’, but on this one we waited to put a few more of the pieces together to see the picture it would make before making a decision.” A personal favourite of mine from the album is the violently catchy sing along “November Skies,” which prompted me to ask about the band’s lyrical objective. “Our lyrical objectives range from one song to another, but as a general rule we aim for our lyrics to be rich with imagery and metaphor, communicate stories, and ultimately be catchy enough to sing along to.” Ferguson continues, “We strive to explore different lyrical ideas from song to song and one of our approaches to this is writing from the perspective of a character, or several in some cases. In a track like ‘We Are The Law’, each member of the band takes on a persona to sing from and the character they embody becomes an integral part of the song.”
“First and foremost, our mission is to give our audience a great experience. We are humbled by those who choose to come out and support our shows, so our goal is to keep them happy. Behind the scenes, we also hold ourselves to a high standard when dealing with venue owners and sound technicians. They are as much a part of the show as we are, so we strive to make their interactions with us amicable and hassle-free.” The Bandolier Brigade have been hard at work since they formed; busting out multiple albums, multiple shows, and making all the right moves behind the scenes. The band expressed that they would love to hit the road someday with an artist like Mother Mother, which I frankly think would make for one of the coolest concerts of the year. Post pandemic, one can expect another brand new album, as well as many other special surprises from the Brigade.