Celebratory rock & roll from Calgary, Alberta.

Rokline – Interview With Napalmpom

Rokline went above and beyond with this not-so-ittle Q&A with our guitar player, Shawn. You can read it with links and videos and such here!

Photo: Cole Hofstra

Photo: Cole Hofstra

OPEN MIC: The Unadulterated Rock of Napalmpom [Q & A Session]

Rock music can be many things, and today’s indie rock scene embodies many intriguing forays into sub-genres like fuzz-pop, dystopian-punk, psychedelic-shoegaze, and the recent phenomenon banjo-rock, but one wholly gratifying constant is the galvanizing force of the pure, unadulterated rock and roll heart. In October Calgary-based indie rockers Napalmpom released, or should I say unleashed their debut LP ‘The Unconditional Love Of Napalmpom’, an earnest and audacious celebration of rock n’ roll eagerly antcipated by a legion of local fans, the initiated who’d already experienced being swept up in the sonic maelstrom of the band’s ubiquitous Live Shows this past year.

Over the course of this album it may seem like the band suffers from a musical identity crisis, but only because the album’s intended theme is to capture the essence of unbridled rock and roll bliss from bygone eras, an homage bolstered by a cross section of iconic influences that range from the irreverent punk-rock of MC5, to the big melodic riffage of AC/DC and Cheap Trick, and even some detectable strains of Canadian rockers Sloan and The Pursuit Of Happiness.

But more specifically, the songs cover a lot of bases here, like the arena anthem-ish opening track “Guided By Volume”, something akin to a pseudo art-rock opus called “Gregg Ginn’s Sweater” (destined to be a music trivia question), and the manic rock and roll attack of “Runnin’ In The Red”, “Seamtress”, and the “Napalmpom National Anthem”, with the latter three ranking as the only songs ever to resurrect my decades-old memories of 1980s R&R idol Herman Brood & His Wild Romance (the album ‘Go Nutz’ regularly occupied my Sony Walkman while barreling down the skihill … yes, I’m that old).

Frenzied fist waving, uncontrollable fits of air guitar, the ill-conceived act of crowd surfing … it may only be rock and roll, but what’s not to like?

The Calgary band is made up of relative indie-rock veterans Craig Evans, Shawn Petsche, Ian Baker and Matthew Bayliff (Forbidden Dimension, The Adam Brown, Beija Flor, The Silent Auction, Creeper ..) with frontman P.J. Lavergne being the most recent addition, plucked from a karoake hangout to replace recently departed original singer Ian Thomas Day (who’s alive and now lives in the U.K.).

There are strong Calgary connections all around, with the album having been recorded & produced by local music-scene veteran Lorrie Matheson at Arch Audio (released on Teenage Rampage Records), and album artwork courtesy of renowned art designer Geoffrey Hanson (Robert Plant, Kings Of Leon).

I recently had the opportunity to throw some questions at the band’s guitarist Shawn Petsche: Napalmpom’s Shawn Of The Shred, Festival Manager for Calgary’s prestigious Sled Island Music Fest, and someone who seems mildly obssessed with Tricky Woo.

NOTE: I abandoned some of my planned questioning due to the band’s thoroughness in providing an informative backstory for each song on their Bandcamp page (which I implore readers to check out), so while a few questions may be weak, Shawn’s answers certainly are not.

Here is the Q & Eh Session with Napalmpom’s Shawn Petsche …

* * * * *

ROKLINE: It may have been a slow build in terms of getting the album out, but you guys certainly have launched with a strong debut, and a strong Calgary-based presence around it: Engineer/producer Lorrie Matheson at the helm, renowned art designer Geoffrey Hanson, and a local reputation as one of the best Live bands around … so is world domination next ? Is there a foreseeable future for Napalmpom, or are you guys simply rawking out and enjoying the ride ?

SHAWN: Hey, thanks so much! We’re not ashamed to say how proud we are of the album. As for the foreseeable future? We’ve just announced a split 10″ with Public Animal coming out in Summer 2015. They are an incredible rock & roll band from Toronto whose debut album, “Habitat Animal”, should be required listening for any self-respecting rocker: thick, ambitious tunes about a character from an Alice Cooper song. Beyond that, we’ve got 9 or 10 songs demo’d in some form or another for the second LP that we’re damn excited about. Expect a good chunk of Western Canadian touring in the early winter to coincide with some BC and SK festivals and then we’ll likely hit the bigger, scarier roads to support that split 10″ in the Summer.

ROKLINE: What are the most memorable experiences of Napalmpom’s rock & roll journey thus far ? What would you say has been the rowdiest show yet ?

SHAWN: We played a house party about a day or two after the Alberta floods devastated the city, destroyed homes and lives and cancelled the festival I work year-round on, Sled Island. Because there were a lot of bands in town, and a lot of venues that couldn’t house them, and a lot of pent-up festival-goers and music enthusiasts, and, to be fair, emergency workers and police that had more important things to tend to than DIY rock shows, a spontaneous house party culture kind of popped out of nowhere. We played one such party, which was cathartic for I think everyone…and I had a lot of devastation to work out, seeing a year’s work drift away, not knowing if the festival we had worked on so hard was done forever. I think the house party should’ve held 50 people. I believe 400+ showed up. It was the sweatiest, rowdiest show we ever played and we all decided that the minute the music stopped, that we’d get the hell out of there.

ROKLINE: I was thrilled to discover that a synopsis/backstory was provided for each song on your Bandcamp page, so now I’m even more intrigued with my 2nd favorite song on the album, Greg Ginn’s Sweater … does the band have a favorite ‘behind the music’ story, and what do people inquire about most often ?

SHAWN: Until the LP came out, all anyone asked was “when is your album out?” Honestly, people rarely talk to us about our music. I have a hard time thinking it’s because we seem unapproachable, so it must just be that post-show we seem too drunk to string together a proper sentence. We kind of addressed this by making a Chixdiggit-style album commentary track which folks can download from our website. It is just the five of us and producer Lorrie Matheson recounting the recording process…everything from the intent of a song like Greg Ginn’s Sweater to the time we derailed a train with a particularly loud riff. But yeah, I know we all love talking about music … so if anyone out there ever wants to know ANYTHING, just ask!

ROKLINE: If you guys could pick just one album to play in the touring van, presuming you have a van, plan to tour, or just like to ride around in a van together, what would it be ?

SHAWN: Consensus is not our strong suit. Lately we’ve been listening to a lot of Guided By Voices and Radioactivity, but if I had my preference, we’d just listen to the Best Show [podcast: Tom Scharpling] archives all the time. It was/is a touring musician’s best friend: a 3 hour podcast that twists the talk radio call-in show format into a mix of the greatest comedic and musical musings around. There are a lot of things that can get a musician down these days, the way music is treated/written about, but it was all okay as long as Scharpling and Wurster were talking up Zeppelin or imaginary bands from New Jersey. The Low Times podcast is a good companion.

ROKLINE: How did Napalmpom come into being, and was there ever a conscious decision not to have a girl in the band ?

SHAWN: We never made a conscious decision about having a woman in the band or not – in fact, there wasn’t much decision-making process in putting this band together at all. Before we were a band, Ian Baker was putting together a fundraiser show where local bands would choose their favourite band and learn a set of their songs. He was in a bind and needed a fifth band and asked me if I would do a Rocket From The Crypt set with him. Knowing that learning a set of RFTC songs, complete with horn section, was a tall-order, I counter-offered covering Tricky Woo. From there, we assembled our closest friends who fit the double bill of: knew/fans of Tricky Woo, who could learn the songs on 1 or 2 practices’ time. We had so much fun playing that we decided to just keep on keepin’ on with it as Napalmpom.

To be honest, there are so many incredible women making music right now in Alberta that we’d probably be a far better band had we put some thought into our members. You know, replace me with someone who can actually sing? We have been trying, as of late, to avoid the kind of testosterone-heavy rock bills we often get offered on and have been trying to play more diverse and inclusive shows. That mostly involves *trying* to play with awesome Alberta-based bands, some of whom feature talented women – Tee-Tahs, Switches and The Lad-Mags – some of whom don’t – Night Committee, The Mandates, Camembert.

ROKLINE: If the band was given an opportunity to play just one show anywhere you wanted, on any stage, what would it be ? And given the choice, what artist-or-band would you most want to share the bill with ?

SHAWN: Selfishly, I want to play with Tricky Woo because they are, in a not-so-roundabout way, the reason we are a band and playing with them would mean they re-united and I could see them one last time. Thinking bigger, I want Kiss to open for us. I think that would be hilarious.

ROKLINE: Finally, the open mic question where you can address anything or mention anyone you like … care to weigh in on the Scott Stapp saga ?

SHAWN: Mental health issues are a sad, sad thing – one that our society doesn’t fully know how to deal with. Scott Stapp made some terrible, terrible music and from most reports, did some pretty terrible things in his life, but to me, coverage of his fall should … either focus on mental health education/help…or if someone is thinking of spilling ink on yet another smarmy tear-down piece, I would encourage them to instead pick a band that they love … one that fills them with joy or confounds and humbles them, and write a piece, a thoughtful, critical piece that champions that band’s music instead. There aren’t enough music articles about … music these days. I’d like to see more of that and far less tabloid stories about indie rockers writing diss songs or shitty rock stars breaking down.

Less VH1’s Behind The Music series, more BBC’s Classic Albums series, you know?

* * * * *
NAPALMPOM is:
PJ Lavergne – Throat
Craig Evans – Strings
Shawn Petsche – Strings
Ian Baker – Big Strings
Matthew Bayliff – Skins
For more info on the band check out their Bio Page at napalmpom.com/bio
Download the album’s commentary track featuring members of NAPALMPOM and producer Lorrie Matheson as they go behind the music.

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