The Truth and Old Reliable

The Truth and <b>Old Reliable</b>
Shuyler Jansen gophers up last from the tight basement of the 100-year-old house Old Reliable have bargained their practices into. He looks more like an interstate trucker than ever, but in this topography of feedback-fuzzy country rock, that's better than sweating out the air of a responsible dad — which it turns out he actually is, even putting his new baby girl on gig posters around faraway Ontario during an "educational" solo tour. Maybe so he'd see her occasionally on strange streets that way. "Being on the road is way harder now," he says. "Just emotionally."

Old Reliable recently turned ten on the stage of Edmonton's practically TM'd "greatest live venue" — an annual indoor bush party — as always enjoying a packed house of seriously beautiful girls in rural dresses spinning non-ironic loops while real country bars across town play Kid Rock duets. It seems a strange thing to celebrate your band's age so publicly.

"Because people can make fun of you?" Jansen smiles. "Whatever. We don't play that often, so we like to have a reason when we do. Four of us are Scorpios and the band started on my birthday, so we celebrate it all in one. Not to sound too callous, but it's a good angle."

If you think of music ten years back, one of the latter things to pop up is country, even in Alberta. Jansen explains the band's inception: "Edmonton's the only city I know where the metal guys hang out with the country and jazz guys. You get a lot of second chances here. It started from the ashes of the Naked and the Dead. Mike [Silverman, drums] and I were practising as a two-piece and Mark [Davis, vocals, guitar] had been writing some songs, so we offered to back him up. Scott Lingley joined us after Mike left — he just wanted to get the fuck away from us at that point. It's not that we weren't being productive, we were just a bunch of drunken assholes.

"I kinda liked it back then. There wasn't a lot going on in Alberta with the whole electric country thing. It was basically Corb [Lund] and us playing sorta cute little gigs in these weird little places. It took us five or six years to make our first record."

Old Reliable's productivity since isn't bad: four solid albums. The latest of which, The Burning Truth, is a return to "your move" form after each of their two vocalists enjoyed mic-exclusivity on each of the last two albums. Both those discs were tremendous works: The Gradual Moment, about how the death of his girlfriend made singer Davis feel (with help from Howe Gelb); Shuyler's Pulse of Light/Dark Landscape finally nailed down the floor-polishing hits we'd been craving for years. And new songs are already evolving in the musty basement.

Walking along the same picket fence as Corb Lund's outfit, a decade has made OR this city's primo country band, a tremendous elemental mix of Sonic Youth, Gordon Lightfoot, Bill Monroe and whatever music smarter chickens might peck into the dirt if they weren't so busy playing tic-tac-toe over at the AgriCom.

It's a time of great upheaval for the band. After nine years, Lingley was vaporised to bring founder Silverman back in time for SXSW. But there is a greater phase shift. Because both Jansen and keyboardist Shawn Jonasson (also lead singer of the Swiftys) have young babies, as Shuyler puts it, "it's definitely shit or get off the pot at this point. We've always maintained making music is the main thing, even before Swifty joined. Now that we're chasing the dollar a bit more… it kinda sucks in a way. You do the odd thing for money because you need it.

"I used to get the horror stories from my family, jokes about writing the ‘Legend of the Chevy Farm' commercial. But after seeing a million great bands playing at SXSW, it makes me want to get out and play even more. No matter what happens."