Mike Bell is a Calgary treasure. He writes incredible features on local music each week. It truly was an honour to chat with him and we couldn’t be happier with the results. Read it in full here.
It is a phrase that Calgarians say with a certain amount of acceptance and, also, something resembling pride.
“If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes.”
There is also, in the local music scene, a variation of that phrase, one that’s said with less resignation and a great deal of pride.
“If you missed a Napalmpom show, wait a day or two.”
Both are also relatively true. Especially the latter.
For the past couple of years, the quintet has been the ubiquitous Calgary good-time indie rock act, having, you could argue, supplanted The Dudes as the headliner and/or opener of record. Opportunities to see them, hear them, love them have been plentiful in their relatively short time together, something band members even acknowledge when surprise is registered at their mere three-year lifespan.
“We’ve played as much as bands who have been around for 20 years, just in a condensed time period,” jokes guitarist Shawn Petsche before using the word “ungodly” to characterize their gigging over the past year.
“We play too much, we know it, but at a certain point we just embraced it. I think our attitude on it is there’s so many things that make you not want to play music and the one thing that makes it worthwhile is to actually get out and play shows, and that’s really fun.
“And people are right that you shouldn’t play too much in your town if your goals are anything other than: become a good band and have fun. And those are our goals.”
Mission accomplished. Because, again, for fans of loud, proud, lascivious and mischievous guitar rock any opportunity to catch it done the Napalmpom way is never a waste of time, usually a wasted one.
Such will be the case once more Friday night when the band performs another marquee topping show at The Palomino — albeit one with a purpose. They’ll be celebrating the release of their nine-song ode to the power and glory of rock ’n’ roll, The Unconditional Love of Napalmpom.
It is a pretty thunderous and wondrous achievement, one that in a way kind of undermines the boys’ modest goals for the band and even diverges from the record’s modest beginnings.
Petsche says they initially just wanted to hit the studio as a way of documenting what the band was and what they had done together before Napalmpom’s original vocalist Ian Day “mov(ed) to the U.K. to do grown-up things.”
So they went and recorded in local producer Lorrie Matheson’s Arch Audio studio, a “quick and dirty” sampling of their songs and sound. Petsche credits Matheson with intervening and pushing them to go further.
“Essentially what he said when we finished was, ‘You know what, guys? I’m a huge fan of your band and we can do way better than this. And we should do way better than this. So if that’s something you want to do, let’s chat,’ ” Petsche says.
“We’d been playing shows where people have had fun and cheered for us … But this was the first time someone had said something that meaningful and talked about the music with a thoughtfulness and joy, it kind of just made us automatically take it more seriously.”
So sans Day and avec new fuzzy frontman P.J. Lavergne, the four scene vets — Petsche, fellow guitarist Craig Evans, bassist Ian Baker and drummer Matthew Bayliff — went back in and went wild, with Matheson, whom Petsche calls an equal member of the band, “not only let(ting) us, he encouraged us to chase the rabbit down the hole.”
That hole proves to be a pretty excellent one for rifftastic time travel, hopping across rock’s spectrum, with reference points and distance markers including everything from Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, MC5, The Knack and Cheap Trick to ’90s Canrock such as Tricky Woo, Sloan and Thrush Hermit.
But rather than ripping off those influences directly, the songs succeed in walking that fine line of homage where, as Petsche puts it, Napalmpom are “celebrating it, wearing it proudly, but not being a slave to it.”
That respect and reverence translates throughout Unconditional Love, from the music on its grooves — including superb opener Guided By Volume, the sweet ’70s song Feint of Heart, and album/every show closer Napalmpom National Anthem — to the retro LP packaging which is a black-and-white cartoon Schoolhouse Rock-like concoction by local designer Geoffrey Hanson that encourages some DoodleArt action on the purchaser’s part.
As Petsche says, it’s all part of making sure their modest goals with releasing a record are done with a relatively high standard that far too many bands don’t hold themselves up to.
“We’re such huge fans of the history of rock ’n’ roll when you put something out, I just want to make sure that it’s a positive contribution to that history. It doesn’t really matter if anyone else recognizes it as such, or anyone else buys it, but if I put something out I want it to be something I’m proud of and not something that the guys I look up to would be ashamed to listen to,” Petsche says.
“So it is a thing now and it’s a thing that I think we’re all really proud of.”
Not so much that, as great a record as it is, they have any delusions that the reaction to it will be so great that they’ll all have to quit their days jobs and hit the road to get it out to the waiting masses. They’ve all been doing it too long and have seen too much good stuff over the years not get its due to expect the big time will lure them far from their hometown.
No, other than an Edmonton release party on Saturday night, again, the plans for the Napalmpom boys are to just keep doing what they’re doing, playing for all the right reasons, for as long as they’re having fun and as often as they’re invited.
“It really is just the most fun thing that I’ve ever done,” he says. “So if someone says, ‘Hey we want you to play, do you want to do that?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Also we’ll give you some money.’ ‘What? Absolutely we’ll do it.’”
And, unlike the local weather, they always, always deliver.