The sky’s the limit for Regina’s newest, sexiest and possibly greatest band
by Aidan Morgan
Gateway Festival Kick-Off Party
Friday night at O’Hanlon’s. The Florals are up on stage and coming to the end of their set. The audience sways along, raising beer bottles as singer Carl Johnson’s falsetto wail arcs over the crowd. Most of the people in the room know the material by heart; by some estimates, The Florals have played nearly 1,000 gigs over the last 20 years.
But tonight’s crowd isn’t here for The Florals (known affectionately as “Regina’s Led Zeppelin” for their longevity and recent triple album that consisted of one unbroken guitar solo). They’ve come for Regina’s newest and most blazingly hottest act: The Extroverts, a pack of brash young punks intent on kicking Regina’s sclerotic music scene right in the junk.
And they’ve got the metaphorical boots to do it.
As the Extroverts take the stage, practically pushing The Florals out of the way as they roll out their gear, murmurs of anticipation and pheromone-fuelled excitement ripple through the room.
To judge from their youthful faces and confident swagger, a casual observer could be forgiven for wondering how they slipped past the bouncers at the door. But as soon as drummer Hap Hazard lays in the beat for the opening number, “Placebo Effect”, it’s clear that these four young Reginans own the stage like they’ve been playing since 1979. Grant McDonald and Eddie Lester bring their instruments into the mix. A lithe Brent Caron in ripped denim and wraparound shades bounces out of the darkness and attacks the mic. The crowd starts to pinball back and forth like storm-tossed sailors. Suddenly, the room feels dangerous.
The Florals retreat to the patio. It can’t be lost on them that the Extroverts have gone from upstarts to headliners in the course of one summer.
“They just came out of nowhere,” Florals lead singer Carl Johnson says. “They’ve taken all these sounds from other bands of the last 20 years and repackaged them. They’re basically cheating.”
After the gig I had the opportunity to interview Eddie Lester, the scalp-baring guitar shredder of the group, as we relaxed in “The Schnitzel Cruiser,” which is the name they’ve given their battered but trusty van. Most of the interview took place as we drove through alleyways in search of discarded furniture to beat up.
Hi Eddie. Thanks for bringing me along. Is this what you guys usually do after one of your shows?
At first we hung out at the bar after our shows, but we got all the babes and overshadowed the other bands, so now we go out and have some fun on our own. Tipping over dumpsters, kicking old couches around, that sort of thing.
How did the Extroverts form?
Brent had the original concept for the Extroverts, but struggled to find the right players to complete his vision. We met via a “musicians wanted” poster he put up at the U of R, and we hit it off immediately. He had written piles of lyrics, handed some of them over to me to add some melody and chords, and a very fruitful and prolific songwriting partnership was born.
Extroverts have written about 80 original songs in the five weeks we’ve been together — some of which are great but most of which are really fantastic.
You play “punk” music. Some say it’s retro, but others claim that “punk rock” is the hot new sound that’s going to take over. Where do The Extroverts stand on this?
The Extroverts stand slightly off to the side. Punk began as a political musical movement in 1970’s England, and what transferred over to North America was the energy and DIY attitude that helped many “would-be” musicians like ourselves to become the “sort-of” musicians we are today. Punk then evolved further into hardcore punk, which is where the Extroverts got off the trolley.
Make no mistake — our songs and shows still have a lot of energy and power to them. But we really like melody, songwriting and arranging as well. So while we celebrate our punk roots and inspiration, we see ourselves more at the forefront of a, I don’t know, “new wave” of energetic, melodic, powerful rock music. Hmmm, I like that: “New Wave”…
I noticed that your guitar had six thin strings but Grant’s guitar had four fat strings. Is that a “punk rock” thing? Can we expect more bands to sport these “fat guitars” as part of their lineup?
The sad fact of the matter is that Grant comes from a very poor family, and growing up, could not afford all the strings. That was one of our original motivators, actually. We really felt inspired to rebel against the privileged musical establishment, with their eight-, 12-, 16- and 28-stringed guitars, their so-called “key” “boards” and “tuners” (whatever the heck those are). Grant and I actually started out with one and three strings respectively, until we started getting some sweet paying gigs. So yes, from a socio-economic standpoint, I would classify it as a punk thing. And no, other bands that can afford to play 28-stringed guitars will continue to do so.
WOAH. Brent! Stop here. I think I see one of those home entertainment units at the end of that alley! Let’s get our bats! I bet it’s just veneer and plywood.
[The Extroverts spill out and smash the unlucky home entertainment unit to splinters. They return with a slightly soiled Klimt poster fished from a dumpster.]
See this? People throw out some awesome stuff. We’re going to tape this to the ceiling of the Schnitzel Cruiser.
Yeah, that’s great.
At your concert, The Florals opened for you. Given that they’ve been playing for over 20 years, do you think they were okay with being the openers for a band as new as The Extroverts?
They said they were cool with it, but I heard a little bitterness when Carl sarcastically said to the audience, “It’s a real ‘honour’ to play with the Extroverts.” I think he was sneering at the time. I mean, we have nothing but respect for the Florals and everything they’ve accomplished in their long career — come on, 32 albums in 20 years is pretty amazing. Although I have to say, that six-album live set was a little pretentious (please don’t print that).
Hold on a sec. We have to stop here and get some gas.
What do you mean? We’re nowhere near a gas station.
Just — just be cool.
I love your song “Government Girls”. Can you imagine ever working for the government? Like, ever?
No disrespect to people who work in government — it’s a noble calling with long hours, terrible pay and is probably boring as hell. But no, how could we be the free-flowing rivers of creativity and imagination that we are while constrained by the shackles of servitude and oppression that is government? As we say in the song: “And it’s a HA HA government (girls).”
What do you see for the future of The Extroverts?
The future is bright, wide open, and paved with all of the possibilities and opportunities that all of us here in the new Saskatchewan feel palpably hanging in the air like humidity. We are young and full of energy, and will not take “NO” or “PERHAPS” for an answer.
We will keep writing and rocking, waiting patiently in our basements for the phone to ring and some large mega-record company like Capitol or A&M to sign us to a multi-record deal, which I think we can all agree, is just a matter of time. We’ll keep the pedal to the metal, although in this case, it’s more punk than metal. Or new wave — do you think that term will catch on? I quite like it.
[At this point in the interview, Hap Hazard accidentally set his clothing on fire in the midst of siphoning gas from a station wagon on Retallack Street. Brent and Grant pulled some blankets from the van and tackled him. “Stop, drop and ROCK AND ROLL!” Hap screamed as they drove off into the night, leaving me on the Kiwanis Park footbridge to deal with the approaching sirens.]
The Extroverts will play the Gateway Festival Kick-Off Party along with Shotgun Jimmie, Indigo Joseph, Harlan Pepper and Slow Down, Molasses. Tickets are available at the door; opens at 7:00.
The Extroverts: An Alternate History
What if Regina’s hottest young act was actually a reunited late-’70s punk/new wave group whose members are now late middle-aged men? Chris Morin and Eddie Lester find out in a fanciful, improvised “interview”.
Back in 1979, Regina didn’t exactly have the spit and bluster of the burgeoning, safety-pinned punk scenes of Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. Even so, this city had a pocket of misfits who found refuge in the hardcore riffs of the era.
The Extroverts, a self-styled punk band that maybe fell more on the side of new wave, were billed as one of the Queen City’s first groups that dared to inject their songs with the piss and vinegar of contemporaries such as Teenage Head or Young Canadians.
Playing the first-ever gig at an impromptu space called The Schnitzel Haus — which would go on to become The Distrikt, one of Regina’s most storied venues — The Extroverts would go on to terrorize Saskatchewan and western Canada, including a gig in Moose Jaw that ended in a riot.
When the group originally broke up in 1982, they left behind only one recording, a 7” 45 RPM record with the songs “Living in Poverty” and “Political Animals”.
And, following a reunion gig in 2009, and an appearance at O’Hanlon’s earlier this month [see feature], the original members are back together for good, reports guitarist Les Holmlund, A.K.A. Eddie Lester.
“The instigator of this was that D.O.A. was touring again, and we had played with them and are longtime friends with Joey [Shithead],” says Holmlund. “I knew the drummer would be fine with it. Our bass player only wanted to do it if the singer was going to do it, and he was banking on the fact that the singer wasn’t going to do it — he hadn’t been on stage in 25 years.
“The singer wasn’t really interested at first, but I convinced him to come to a rehearsal and we felt all the same energy, whatever that connection was originally,” Holmlund says. “It was really rugged sounding, I won’t lie to you. But it really energized us all. And we decided at that point to do this again, in preparation to open for D.O.A. back in 2009. And we decided to continue because it was so much fun.”
Charging up simplistic songs with plenty of vitriol and snot, The Extroverts took the rock formula and pruned its excessive frills. Even so, songs like “You Gotta Lose” are total, pure pop; vocalist Brent Caron likely wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but there is a sense of melody in his delivery.
And while they are reviving the punk spirit of ’79, Holmlund says that the band are currently at work on the full-length album that never surfaced during their heyday.
“We jam once a week and we continue to work on new material,” says Holmlund. “When we got back together in 2009 we went through the archives of stuff and discovered a pile of unused lyrics. On our first go around we probably cranked out 75 or so tunes, just learning how to play as we went along. We got more developed as songwriters toward the end.
“So we found this batch of lyrics that never got put music to. We probably have about seven or eight new songs now with those lyrics, which has been fun. And there are some songs that are still intact from the first go around. And, of course, we mess up a few covers as well.” /Chris Morin