Weaponry and wonderment
The rock ‘n’ soul duo The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer has been busy. Shawn Hall and Matt Rogers have hit three continents in the last four months and its at times like these their unique name becomes more evident.
“Every once and awhile you’re reminded when you’re crossing borders that there’s ‘murderer’ in your band name,” Hall says from his home in Nanaimo. “You’re kind of like, ‘Man, haven’t we outgrown murderer? Isn’t this kind of like … this is a bad name to have.’ But it’s not, it’s incredibly memorable and it sticks out and it takes up a crap-load of letters on a marquee.”
Hall took time last week to talk about the band’s dark turn with its latest record, finally being recognized without the ‘blues’ label and the necessary ingredients to their success—including balance in all shapes and sizes. And above all—wonderment.
The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer’s (H&AM) fifth album, Apocalipstick, dropped a couple days after our interview, and a few days before the band hit the road for a full tour supporting the release, hitting Edmonton along the way.
“Anything creative … you need wonderment,” Hall says. “Trying to keep that wonderment in your life is something that you almost have to keep on top of like dishes … And it is really fucking hard to keep it present. You’re like, ‘Where did that wonderment go? Where’s that wonderment? Have I found wonderment?’”
“‘No,’” Hall hypothetically answers aloud, “‘you haven’t wondered about a thing in a month.’”
Hall is the Harpoonist, the harp wind, singer, connector and “a comedian by nature, if things are going well,” he says, while Rogers—the Axe Murderer—not only slays with a guitar and bass, but sings all while drumming with his feet.
Things are evidently better than not because the 41-year-old had no end of colourful one-liners. But the dark comedic depth is rooted in a brilliant sincerity, demonstrated while discussing the balance he and Rogers, two sides of the same coin, struck upon 11 years ago.
Rogers is the technical, details guy. He’s a composer, producer, mixer and writes charts to facilitate new avenues like adding horns, which they did on the ska-spiced single “Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To” from 2014’s release A Real Fine Mess.
Meanwhile, Hall is the “open heart,” starting conversations and creating living room vibes to connect with audiences because “once we get onto that level where we can share things and be open and show our frailties and all that, then that’s where love and compassion and all this great stuff starts coming in and flowing and people start feeling alive,” Hall says. “They start feeling again.”
This natural harmony was a chance meeting that easily could have never been. Hall was working on a jingle for an East Vancouver restaurant and needed a guitar player. A friend Hall was studying recording arts with introduced him to Rogers and it was a marriage made in musical heaven.
“I don’t know if our paths would have crossed,” says Hall. “He was in jazz school at Cap College, and later he did film composition at UBC, and it was just a chance meeting.”
Known and loved for unique, rootsy, kicked-up soul songs that inevitably awaken some body part to keep the beat, Apocalipstick slips into a fun, psychedelic fuzz surrounding somewhat sombre lyrics. The new material is far more stoner rock than past releases, while retaining the band’s signature, almost childlike play.
“The dark stuff is much darker than we’ve ever gone,” Hall says, explaining the new sonic territory includes a vocoder and synth. “Matt just tweaked around in the craziness of his head on the record for quite awhile and … it goes from groovy into this really heady space.”
Part of this is due to age and longevity, a fact the Juno-nominated duo has more territory to explore and honour than they did as a budding band. They also brought in Rogers’ brother Ben, who has done all the band’s illustrations, for more songwriting work than usual.
Ben set the album’s new trajectory and tone with the opening track “Get Ready,” which Hall tries to describe as the Wrigley’s Spearmint commercial on quaaludes.
“No, wait. What is that … ‘get your skis shined up …’” the jingle-pro hums. “Juicyfruit on quaaludes!
“The subject matter of it is very ‘end-of-the-world, pack your bags, get your water bottle filled cause we’re all going down.’ But certainly, if you don’t want to listen for that, you’re not going to hear it ’cause it’s a pretty joyful song.”
Along with Ben, H&AM has grown its sonic community to include numerous voices all the way to Winnipeg, the organ player from Saskatchewan’s The Deep Dark Woods, and now a second drummer hailing from the Yukon.
“The band is scattered like cockroaches across a kitchen,” says Hall. “Financially it doesn’t make any sense, but creatively it’s really a hell of a lot of fun.”
Sat., Apr. 1 (8 pm)
The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer w/ Ryan McNally
The Needle, $23 in advance