Published May 28, 2011Toronto, ON's the Warped 45s burst onto the scene in 2009 with full-length debut 10 Day Poem for Saskatchewan, which instantly catapulted them into the top ranks of Canadian roots-rockers. It actually merited greater exposure ― an oversight hopefully rectified this time out. The band again recruited John Critchley (13 Engines, Dan Mangan) to produce and engineer, and he does a masterful job. The quintet already have a full-blooded, harmony-laden sound, one added to via guest appearances from the likes of Casey Laforet (Elliott Brood), Joshua Cockerill and Jaron Freeman-Fox. Samantha Martin and Annelise Noronha add vocals to the gospel-inflected "Grime of Earthly Glory," while a full cast of backing singers add to the raucous feel of "Live Bait," a show favourite. Guitarist/vocalist Dave McEathron contributes nine of the 11 songs, though it's a tune by cousin Ryan Wayne McEathron that's generating early buzz. "Grampa Carl" is the true story of his Prohibition, rum-running great-gramp, and its theme and infectious energy make it a Canuck equivalent to Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road." Another highlight is the title track, which showcases Dave McEathron as one of our most evocative lyricists. For proof, how about "hectares of hay bales like curlers in an old woman's hair"? No song here is quite as transcendent and gorgeous as "Radio Sky," from the first album, though many come close. The consistent strength of Matador Sunset confirms the Warped 45s as the real deal.
Was it deliberate to make this a more up-tempo record?
Guitarist/singer Dave McEathron: Any part of a writing process is part conscious, part subconscious; it is more up-tempo than when we started recording. We actually recorded 14 songs and trimmed down to 11. Those we cut were slower, singer-songwriter-type songs. We have been playing a lot of shows and I think the adrenaline gets going. You start writing songs for the environment you're in. If we went and recorded Saskatchewan now, it would all be a third faster.
Grampa Carl" is already a fan favourite. What led you to that song?
Guitarist/singer Ryan Wayne McEathron: Growing up, I was always intrigued by great Canadian stories, especially the ones closest to home. Carl Kennedy was my great grandfather on my mother's side and I used to love the stories told to me about his adventurous lifestyle. When I started writing it, I went back to my relatives for information in order to give it accuracy. Most were quite supportive and helpful. My grandmother actually gave me some books about Ontario's involvement in running booze into the U.S.
Do you bring songs in fully formed?
Dave: Ryan and I are bringing songs in earlier now. There is a trust there; it is getting more integrated. There are so many more options now with so many different voices. We all sing more harmonies now than we did in the beginning; we play more instruments than we did before. A big difference in the sound of this album is that Ryan got a lap steel. I think everyone has more confidence now in what they can do. Writing is a very solitary thing. You bring a song or ideas into the band then Hamal [Finn Roye] will come back with a drum part and you go, "wow," and that gives you the energy to finish it and come up with new ideas.
Excited about the impending release of the album?
Dave: Yes, very excited. I started getting feedback on the album in the last couple of week and then I felt relief. About two days after the last album came out, people were going, "you realise you have to follow this one up?" I was incredibly conscious of that, as the principal songwriter. With all the touring we did, we knew we didn't have a lot of time for writing. We did it really fast this time, compared to the one before.
The turnaround between albums has been pretty fast.
Dave: It was September '09 for the release of the last one. It felt fast, but we didn't want to wait; we don't see any real benefit to waiting. We said all along that we hoped to have an album out every two years, or just whenever we felt we had enough songs. By the time we did pre-production, we felt confident we could go ahead.
Ryan: Momentum is certainly important. As a band, we are constantly setting attainable goals and pushing towards them. Albums are a big part of this process. Bands today earn a career through a catalogue of strong music and rigorous touring. Having multiple songwriters in the band means that we are able to choose from a wider variety of songs when it comes time to recording an album. Hopefully this means we will also be able to record more often.
Are they all new songs?
Dave: Some of them were re-written for the band. A couple of songs were from a group of songs I had called "Back Porch of the Apocalypse." An idea I was going to work on for a solo project, but I gave up that solo thing. A couple made it on the last album as well: "Radio Sky" and "Why Have You Passed Me By Grim Reaper." It was something I rather abandoned, but then I substantially rewrote some others: "Pale Horse" and "Widows' Well." The longest one we had a band was "Live Bait." Obviously, 10 Day Poem for Saskatchewan wasn't as up-tempo as this album. That song always went over great live, but we were never sure how we could capture that; it would have stood out like a sore thumb on that album, I believe. It is still on the harder edge of anything we do, but I hope it fits.
Do you come up with imagery and stories first then build a song around that?
Dave: I think that is it. I used to have more, and different, ways of coming up with songs. I'd read books about musicians or authors and find their tricks for breaking out of slumps or staying inspired. I'd try them all. Like Leonard Cohen writes a novel to get four verses. I read that Bob Dylan had that phase where it'd have to be written in one sitting. That got your subconscious working. Way back in high school, I read that Jim Morrison had a notebook with him at all times, so I immediately started carrying a diary. I think that was grade ten. I still just about always carry a writing notebook. I tend to write a lot of lyrics then go back over them and find the lines that hopefully have some meaning to me, or double or triple meanings. I like to get enough lyrics to know where I'm going then get music that fits the mood. With that as a base, I try to keep moving forward. That is the way they tend to go now and I tend to write songs over longer periods. Some take three or four years. With "Matador Sunset," I wrote every day. I filled a 200-page writing book to get the five or six verses of that song.
Are you pleased when your lyrics draw attention?
Dave: It is satisfying, to me. There'll be a lot of people in the music industry who say, "lyrics don't matter; it is whatever sticks in someone's head for ten seconds. Music is disposable, just wallpaper." I have never felt that way. I've always thought it should be a bit more. At the same time, I have friends who are poets and they only have rhyme and structure to work with. I feel like I have a huge advantage by being able to set a mood and jump time and place with the wider power of music, and then with our band being able to spread it out even more. It is very gratifying when people sing my lyrics back to me, even when they're wrong! I still know a song has to have melody, energy, a dynamic and a good beat or I'd be playing solo still, writing ten-minute songs.
What fuels your songwriting, Ryan?
Ryan: I am very intrigued and inspired by the tales of those around me. I was fortunate to grow up around many storytellers: war vets, truck drivers, union men, musicians and joke tellers never quite able to decipher the difference between reality and fiction. That blurry in-between zone is what excites me the most. The uncertain truth is the beauty of a great story.
Do you think all the touring since the first record has strengthened you as a band?
Ryan: Absolutely. Touring gives you a focused opportunity to work on your weaknesses and hone your strengths, both individually and as a group, while learning to adapt to different settings and being fortunate enough to learn from other great artists along the way. The opportunity for five ordinary guys to get to experience such extraordinary adventures is a blessing. The fact that we get to play music along the way really is something. (Pheromone)