Published Feb 01, 2000Despite having performed just two out-of-town gigs in almost as many years, Winnipeg pop sextet Novillero owes a debt of gratitude to fatigue. Bass player and vocalist Rod Slaughter was dog tired when he played the hiatus card on his hard-touring twosome Duotang in the spring of 99. The move served to keep the gifted songwriter off of the road, but not out of the rehearsal space Duotang shared with a handful of other local musicians, remnants of defunct outfits Transonic and Walter Paisley among them.
"Two years ago I thought, you know, this is it," recalls Slaughter, stomping his foot for effect. "Duotang is going to take a break and we're not going to play any more. Then I realised that I have to do it, even if it's just sitting around doing it in this crappy warehouse."
Transonic refugees Sean Stevens and Scott Hildebrandt shared Slaughter's sentiments, as did Walter Paisley alumnus Dave Berthiaume. It didn't take long for the tuneful collective's casual jams to blossom into a set of original material and a novel, melodic pop outfit touted by some as Winnipeg's super-group equivalent of Vancouver's New Pornographers. Keyboard player Roberta Dempster (Transonic) and trumpet player Rusty Matyas (Waking Eyes, Seven) round out the Novillero line-up.
While the group has emerged from its "crappy warehouse" on occasion to ply the stages of local clubs, performances outside of Winnipeg have been rare occurrences. Prior to a trip to Toronto for this year's Canadian Music Week, Novillero had performed just one out-of-town gig an abbreviated set in Saskatoon, at that. The roadwork hasn't been limited due to a complete lack of trying, though. A Western Canadian tour last fall was curtailed on just its second day after Berthiaume's van was totalled by an errant grandmother in rural Saskatchewan.
"Two days before, she had been told by her optometrist that she shouldn't be driving anymore," guitarist Stevens explains, the frustration still evident in his voice. "It was a perfectly beautiful clear day and she just decided to pull out in front of us on the highway."
The accident sent two people to the hospital and trashed a bunch of the band's gear an especially tough break considering Novillero had just lost a keyboard and three guitars in a warehouse burglary a couple of weeks prior. Bloodied but unbowed, the unit went into the studio shortly thereafter (with no shortage of borrowed equipment) and went about recording its debut CD, The Brindleford Follies. The disc's recent release has the band brimming with optimism once again.
"This is the first album in my long history of playing in bands that I have no complaints about," enthuses Slaughter. "I think it represents the band well, it sounds good and I have no complaint."
Slaughter has no gripe with his role in Novillero's collective scheme of things, either. Whereas he was responsible for the lion's share of Duotang's creative energy, Novillero affords Slaughter plenty of opportunity to sit back and let someone else do the driving. "In Novillero, I'm just one sixth of the band," he says, betraying the fact he still handles a narrow majority of the group's songwriting. "I'm just the bass player who happens to sing a number of the songs. It's very collective. Everybody contributes to everybody else's songs."
The coming months will see Novillero go for its road legs again, first with a brief tour of Western Canada in May, followed by a swing through Southern Ontario in June. The balance of the summer, however, could see Slaughter back out on the road with Duotang in support of that outfit's long-awaited third full-length CD. The formerly fatigued front-man says he's up to the challenge of maintaining two active projects. Beyond that, Slaughter prefers to save any additional Duotang details for another interview. "I like to keep the two bands separated as much as possible," he says.