Fri, Dec 27 (9 pm)
With Jessica Jalbert, Concealer, DJ Action Jackson, Carl Cassidy
It’s such a lie. A damn dirty lie. In fact, there’s absolutely nothing to quell good times from breaking out within 50 feet of the Betrayers, much less anywhere on its debut full-length, Let The Good Times Die.
What you will find on the disc (vinyl-only with a digital download) is a breed of rock ‘n’ roll that is at once muscular and melodic, driving (thanks to the holy rhythmic trinity of two sets of drums plus predatory-sounding bass) and trance-inducing (thanks to a psych-tinged Farfisa). The songs are pungent combinations of hallowed rock influences—Wall Of Sound girl groups, the Zombies, New York scenes from the Factory to CBGBs’ heydey, the Jesus and Mary Train, the Warlocks—rigged with funhouse flourishes. In places, the record suggests a collision between beach-film music and B-horror soundtracks. Or, like the music in movies or PSAs, those montages or flashbacks where kids are doing drugs in some skeevy/groovy underground club.
Now, doesn’t that sound like romping good times?
The bandmates are, likewise, romping good times. They roll in on a breeze of warmth and affability, three-fifths of the band: singer/songwriter/guitarist Travis Sargent, drummer Joe Stagliano and bassist and “musical glue of the band” Justin Zawada. (Not accounted for: Farfisa-wrangler Terry Fairfield and drummer Scarlet Welling-Yiannakoulias.)
Sargent’s been writing songs and playing music for nearly a decade, but has never really struck out as a solo player—other than on demos—preferring the company of colleagues.
“It’s no fun if you don’t have your gang with you,” he ticks off the reasons while his bandmates look on, amused and curious. “It would just be dull to do it on your own. I’d get lonesome, I think, without these guys. And I’m not a good enough guitar player—I’m no Billy Bragg. And I think the world has enough boring singer-songwriters, too. I don’t need to be another one, playing in a coffee shop somewhere.”
Zawada jumps in to tease him and singer-songwriters of the world: “Making mope music.”
They all laugh.
One suspects this is how lots of people think bands interact every day, at least until they blow up and get Lear jet-rich and tabloid-stalker-famous and turn to booze and coke and sleeping around to ease their mo’ money-related problems, and wind up screaming and throwing cognac at each other in some bajillion-dollar-a-day studio in, like, Panama or whatever, over whether or not to put in more high hat.
It’s not. Plenty of bands out there don’t hang out with each other in between shows and records. There are some who don’t even like each other much.
The Betrayers are horrified and confused when this is put to them, and for a moment no one says anything at all.
“That’s sad,” Stagliano offers, shaking his toque-topped head.
“That’s messed up,” Zawada adds. “This is less like a job, more like … ”
” … Hanging out with your friends,” Stagliano finishes his sentence. “When it stops being fun, there’s just no point. I think, anyway. If you don’t want to be there, you’re not going to perform.”
“All of us work hard or are in school and have a million things going on, and you devote so much of your free time to this one thing [music],” Sargent says. “And if you’re not enjoying the people you’re doing it with, there’s just no point. It’s just a job. I’ve never been in a band where it’s been 100-percent good times, like with this one. Ninety percent of the time we’re together, we’re busting someone’s balls and the other 10 percent we’re playing music.”
But before the band existed, there were songs.
“I’d done some dopey apartment/bedroom recordings, and Terry heard them, and sent me a message saying, ‘if you ever want to do this as a band, you should let me know’,” Sargent says.
Sargent and Zawada were already close friends wanting to be in a band together—an ambition that predated Zawada even picking up a bass, although he was learning the drums at the time.
“So it was me and Justin and Terry jamming in Terry’s basement for a few months,” Sargent notes.
Another mutual friend had a girlfriend who was a solid drummer and whose style the trio liked, so even though Welling-Yiannakoulias was trekking in the Southern Hemisphere, sporadic and glitchy emails as their only communication, they recruited her.
“We wanted to play with our friends, so we were, like: we should probably get her,” Zawada says. “We knew she would like what we were doing for sure. She was travelling, so we sent her songs, but she couldn’t get them, or make them play, but she was in anyways.”
The band started in earnest pretty quickly after Welling-Yiannakoulias returned home, in late spring of 2012, playing plenty of shows and releasing an EP, Treat Me Mean, later that year.
Around eight months ago, they lured another drummer, Stagliano, into the Betrayers. Two weeks later they were making Let The Good Times Die.
“So he had to learn the songs pretty quickly,” Sargent quips. “Joe brings a real swing to the band, I think. He’s got a total … ”
“Garbageman flavour,” Zawada suggests, riffing on the oft-bio quoted tidbit that Stagliano makes a living as a bona fide garbageman, an improbably grown-up career.
“Yeah, the garbageman swing,” Sargent agrees. “Joe just has a really distinct way of playing, I guess, and you can definitely hear it in the record.”
You can also hear it in the songs of the Lad Mags, the Betrayers’ “sister” group, in many ways. Stagliano also drums with them, and both bands have toured together and hope to record a split seven-inch soon. They are currently working on booking a jaunt to Europe, co-touring and representing for Edmonton’s ball-grabbing, subterranean rock scene.
“When I first started with the band, I just wanted to keep it simple and not complicate things too much,” Stagliano explains. “You know, keep it minimal, try to make that drum sound as big as possible.”
“You both locked in really quickly,” Sargent observes, turning toward Stagliano. “I think you and Scarlet had the same sort of way of playing, like ‘less is more.'”
“I think it was the best fit, too,” Zawada concurs. “We tried to play with some guitar players.”
Sargent nods. “Yeah, we practiced with some guitar players, but it would never really work out. Tara from the Switches played with us for a while, but she was trying to start her own thing, and good for her. Joe was just a natural fit. I think if you’re adding people to your band, it’s more about being able to hang out than it is being able to play.”
“If you can’t sit around and talk to them, you can’t be in a van with them for a month,” Zawada concludes.
Or a studio. Recording over a weekend with Patrick Michalak at Riverdale Recorders proved to be a pleasant way to craft an album, especially when peppered with Tony’s Pizza.
“He’s just a good dude. We were looking for someone good to do it—in a cheap and cheerful way—and we kind of knew him and Terry thought we should ask him,” Sargent shrugs. “He took us down to Riverdale to show us the room, and the vibe was right. It was the right neighbourhood to do it in, and the right guy, and it was a really relaxed time. We did it almost all live off the floor, so there wasn’t a lot of fucking around. He worked really hard on it—harder than any of us did. But he knew what we wanted. He’s a smart guy and he knows a lot about music, so it seemed like an obvious choice to go with him.”
Everything the band had went into Let The Good Times Die. Literally.
“We recorded everything we had for this record, pretty much,” Zawada admits.
“I think we used every song, yeah,” Sargent acknowledges. Our idea was to probably trim a couple of songs we weren’t happy with, but we wound up being happy with all of them, so we used all 13 of them.”
Sargent laughs when asked if there is an over-arching theme for the record. “I dunno; I guess desperation,” he laughs harder, ruefully, and then emits a groan. “A lot of the songs were written when I was living in London and I just didn’t want to be there anymore. I just wanted to come back to Edmonton: my home is here. My friends are here. A lot of the songs are about that—the struggle of living in this big city where you don’t really know anyone and you feel totally isolated.”
Not wanting to appear sadsack-ish, he quickly adds, “Other songs are about my girlfriend, and my boss, who is one of my best friends. I write a song about whatever; every song that’s on there isn’t necessarily about something that happened to me.”
And he doesn’t just mean the album’s cover of “White Horse,” which is about precisely nothing that happened to him.
Sargent groans. “You caught that. I’m worried that Laid Back are going to sue us because we forgot to give them credit. I hope Seymour Stein doesn’t come after us and sue us for doing their tune.” Fretting aside, he continues, “We did another cover; it’s going to be part of the digital download – we recorded ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog,’ by the Stooges.”
“You can’t get blood from a stone, Sargent laughs. “What are you going to do—sue us for the $5000 debt this band has? Go ahead.”
Songwriting muse-jizz also came from other sources.
“You just get inspired by people you meet or books you read,” Sargent ventures. “I was reading this book, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. A lot of the songs are about that. It’s about this kid who lives in this Northern town in England and works in a factory, and he’s just kind of living for the weekend, I guess, just working hard for that relief.”
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a groundbreaking modern classic by Alan Sillitoe that critics regard as a moment of departure for literature and culture: the arrival of a certain kind of modern, disaffected young man in the UK in the late ’50s and early ’60s, the same as there was the western world over, each burning with locally conditioned rage, along with the more general international malaise. (Fun Fact: Morrissey was influenced by the same book.)
“It just sort of crept in,” Sargent shrugs. “I was reading it when I was writing the songs and I loved it, and I think it was almost a subconscious thing. I didn’t write the songs to be … ”
“A concept album?” Zawada interjects helpfully.
“No,” Sargent says. “You can’t help but be inspired if you’re reading something great while you’re writing.
From the sounds of it, the Betrayers’ release show will also show the album’s title to be one big fat lie.
“We’re hoping lots of people who moved away are back for Christmas,” Sargent says.
“Who maybe haven’t had the chance to see us yet,” Stagliano adds.
“And we want to throw a nice Christmas party for the Edmonton rock ‘n’ roll community,” Sargent continues.
“Yeah, right, when you get sick of family shit and need a drink!” Zawada posits.
“I want it to have a real party vibe and not just have it be any old show that’s forgettable,” Sargent says. “There will be some surprises, some guests. All of our friends play music and some are joining us, so that will make it more special.”
Dancing will not be mandatory, but the Betrayers hope it will break out nonetheless.
“It’s hard to move people’s feet in Edmonton,” Zawada laments. “It’s a no-dancing city. Just bobbleheads.”
Oh, times have changed. For a few years there, you couldn’t prevent Edmontonians from dancing, given that there was a good beat, alcohol, and some space on the floor. What gives?
“I think cellphones in general,” Stagliano conjectures. “Everyone’s too busy checking their shit to get into it.”
“Or making videos,” Zawada reckons.
“It seems like it’s harder to keep people’s attention nowadays,” Sargent concedes. “Everyone’s fucking around on their Instagram or whatever when they should be with the show. We try not to fuck around too much on stage. I don’t like it when I go see a band, and for every minute of music there’s three minutes of them tuning guitars or screwing around.
Zawada can’t resist. “That’s not you,” he says to Sargent, grinning wickedly.
Sargent gets the joke immediately, and laughs.
“Yeah, I’ll play an out of tune guitar for an entire set, and I almost always do.” He turns serious again. “Money’s not easy to come by, especially in this time we’re living in, so if someone’s going to pay 10 bucks to get into your show, you’d better entertain them. You’d better do a good job. So the whole thing is just—try hard. Like, that whole slacker band etiquette, I don’t get it at all.”