The Constantines Are Your Neighbours

The Constantines Are Your Neighbours
What do the Constantines have in common with the Guess Who? The same custom-made Garnet amplifier — Randy Bachman’s Herzog, to be exact — that gave "American Woman” its legendary fuzz. The Constantines’ new record, Kensington Heights, is dedicated to Gar Gillies, the man behind the device.

"[Keyboardist Will Kidman] wanted to get one, and some dudes in Winnipeg knew how to get a hold of Gar,” says guitarist/vocalist Steve Lambke. "He said he had parts to make one more — he hadn’t made this particular unit in years — and he said he’d be happy to make one, and he did. Will bought it from him, and then not too long after that, [Gar] passed on.” Canadian iconography has often been a theme in the Constantines’ output — their last release, 2005’s Tournament of Hearts, was named after the Canadian women’s curling championship — but now more than ever, the band seem directly involved with the symbols they pay homage to.

"I love regionalism in art and music,” says lead singer/guitarist Bry Webb. "To me it gives the author more credibility, or the speaker more of a solid place to stand. You read Crime and Punishment, and the city is a character in the book.” The Constantines’ various hometowns are scattered throughout Southern Ontario; if the region were to choose an anthem, it might do well to peruse Kensington Heights. The album bridges the band’s signature drive — "Fugazi fronted by Joe Strummer,” as the cliché goes — and the unexpectedly subdued approach that made Tournament of Hearts the odd one out in their catalogue. There is a balance of urban and rural sentiments: the wrenchingly earnest, community-based punk that brought the band early attention was borne of small town living, but the cultured, self-aware songwriting that the band have lately mastered is analogous to Toronto’s relative sophistication.

"When we started out — in terms of where we were, and the places we were playing — we were a punk rock band, playing community hall shows and church basements. Now we get to travel all over the world,” says Lambke. Toronto’s Kensington Market is an apt metaphor for the union of cosmopolitanism and grassroots ethos: "I didn’t really want to live in a big city ever; Toronto was kind of a practical move,” Webb says. "And then I loved it. It was because I was living in Kensington, and I didn’t feel the need to get out of that area. I had everything I needed.”

The Constantines have been playing together for almost a decade, and while contributing to an internationally successful act is a full-time commitment, band members have felt the need reassert their independence. "Shortly after [we] started, three of us were living in a house together. Hanging out, doing the same things every day, going to the same bars,” says Lambke. "Now we live all over the place, and have different relationships, friend groups and stuff.” The band has dispersed a little: Lambke and Webb have both moved to Montreal, and 3/5ths of the band have their own musical projects (Lambke’s Baby Eagle, Kidman’s Woolly Leaves, and Webb’s Harbour Coats). Distance has given the band a better sense of their collective assets. "It’s like living at home for most of your life, and you realize at some point you have to get out,” says Webb. "You’re not going to cut off that relationship at all, you just need to find some independence or some sense of self within this constant small family.”