We’re two hours from gig time, an hour and a half outside of Victoria, when Sean Baker, lead singer for Celebrity Traffic, gets the text from the band’s promotion company.
How did ticket sales go?
“Tickets? Did you get any tickets?” he asks bandmate Brandon Delyzer.
The ferry rocks precariously as we sip warm beer masked by styrofoam cafeteria cups—Baker, Delyzer, Joel Mellish, and myself. The three musicians make up Celebrity Traffic, an electro-rock outfit from Victoria B.C. They’re supposed to be playing a show at Vancouver’s Media Club at 8:30 tonight. And half drunk, two hours behind schedule, we’ve just learned that the band is responsible for a hundred tickets that never got sold.
When I first met Delyzer two years ago, he was finishing off a poetry degree at the University of Victoria. His writing was filled with male bravado—drugs, sex and rock’n’roll. Apparently not a lot has changed. When I called to arrange an interview, I was expecting something casual—a couple beers at the end of a rehearsal. Definitely not a three-day mini-tour of Victoria, Vancouver, and Whistler B.C. But Celebrity Traffic is a band of extremes: their music, loaded with screechy synth and industrial moans, is best played loud. Their lyrics drip with rockstar charisma: pills, booze, women, and cigarettes.
“If you want a real story, you’ll come on the road with us, see how we party.” Delyzer said. How could I refuse?
We sit on the upper deck of the 5 p.m. sailing from Schwartz Bay to Tsawwassen and watch peach-flavored cigarette smoke get sucked away by the wind. Delyzer’s going off about the industry—how this isn’t the first time that they’ve had tickets issues, how the hell are they expected to be responsible for a venue in another city anyhow? This is so typical bourgeoning musician, to make it halfway across the Georgia Strait, on route to a gig that you’ve promised to play for little more than gas money and a small cut of the door sales, only to have the promoter bite you in the ass at the last minute. And to top things off, Baker’s two days into a bout of strep throat.
“Fuck it,” Mellish finally says. The argument stops. “Tonight I’m actually excited to play.”
Celebrity Traffic is a band founded on dexterity. Mellish and Baker grew up in Shawnigan Lake, a community 45-minutes north of Victoria, where they cut their teeth playing in a series of punk, prog, and hardcore bands. When the two moved south, they hooked up with Brandon Delyzer, originally from Kamloops, B.C., as well as two other local musicians, and started Celebrity Traffic. The five-piece began as a rock’n’roll jam band that met weekly in a cheap warehouse space. But, one day, the lead guitarist and drummer quit unexpectedly. With a week left in their rental contract, the three remaining members decided to give things one final go. Delyzer brought in a computer and a few extra keyboards to flesh out the percussion section. After a six-hour musical metamorphosis, the band’s new sound was born.
The ferry docks with an hour and a half until doors. By now the beer’s run dry. The boys never play sober, so we race to Tsawwassen for a quick top up before sound check. There are a half-dozen hits of E in the back, but we decide those are best saved for the last night of tour. Delyzer drives for safety’s sake—his mid-’90s Volvo is packed so full of equipment that it scrapes pavement at every corner. A strong headwind causes the car to lilt to the right.
On route to the gig, music’s never talked about directly but permeates every conversation. Sean will be going off about his philosophy courses at UVic, then pause mid-sentence to comment on an inverted crash cymbal effect in a !!! song, that wobble bass that Justice loves so much, or why Chromeo’s success relies entirely on the sexiness of Dave 1’s perfect enunciation. The guys are subconscious theorists, whether they’d admit it or not. Everything played in the car is picked apart for structure and execution.
Earlier in the trip, I asked Delyzer about the group’s musical intention. Artistically speaking, what is the band trying to achieve?
“Our music’s about a lifestyle. It’s about having a good time,” he said. Celebrity Traffic has a sound meant for nightclubs—strobe lights and sticky dance floors. One half Death from Above 1979, one half Holy Fuck, Celebrity Traffic isn’t a band you put on to study intensely; you put it on when you’re ready to sweat. Delyzer gave a response that I’d yet to hear from a musician, but it made an odd amount of sense: “Let’s put it this way, people used to go out to dance all the time. They’d take the night off to tango or waltz or whatever. I want to get back to that. Well, obviously not the waltzing, but that ritual of it; going out, letting loose, and forgetting everything for a while.”
When we arrive at Media Club, there’s already a line-up outside the door. The band has about 15 minutes to haul things on stage and perform a quick line check, so we back onto the curb and strip the Volvo in the middle of the crowd. A couple young Mexican girls snap photos, and once we’re inside the guys admit that setup has always been the most stressful part of the show.
“After that, it’s all easy.” Delyzer huffs as we lug all five keyboards onto the stage. The guys shoot ideas back and forth on how to lay things out—what makes the most sense for this particular venue.
“We discuss the setlists for gigs over a month ahead of time.” Sean says. “The first song is always sort of a jam.” The group’s aware of its eclectic sound and wants to get an idea of what the mix is like before moving onto the hits. How much reverb is needed? How much sustain? “We’re constantly acute to what the crowd wants,” he says. For a band so focused on its live show, this makes sense. Performance is the reason they write these songs—the reason for their existence. Once the crew is setup, a DJ kicks things off. We sneak to the back of the bar, into solace of thick dark lager.
This gig goes well, and the despite the lack of tickets sales the bar fills up. We grab a few more drinks and wait until the crowd dissipates to repack the gear. One of the Mexican girls from out front pesters Baker, who waffles on whether or not to tell her about his strep throat—we do need a place to stay after all. Finally the boys get a proposal from the few girls that we’d met earlier in Tsawwassen, and we head back there for the night. Some sleep, some don’t.
The next morning things look better. We grab a late breakfast, go over the night’s setlist, and leave mid-afternoon for Whistler. This time the promotion company has taken care of everything, including a room in Whistler Village. Or such was the plan… We’re still in downtown Vancouver when Delyzer receives a text message from the manager: He’s decided to pull chute on the Whistler show—for personal reasons. So has the supporting DJ for the night.
The band can take door sales, but they’ll have to pay the sound guy out of their own pocket. The room at the Holiday Inn has been paid for already. There’s nothing specified about gas money.
“Don’t text back.” Baker says, “We’ll deal with this once we get there.”
The car is silent for a few minutes as Mellish, now driving, continues north. One gets a sense that the band has dealt with this sort of upset before.
When the trio released its first record, a six-track self-titled album, back in 2010, everything came out of the group’s pocket. $4,500 in studio time, materials, and post-production. Delyzer had to sell his motorcycle to pay for the CD.
“I wouldn’t do a physical again. It’s not worth it. But we wanted to have a CD. At least we’d have something to give to people at shows.” In the last few months, Delyzer’s scored a fulltime job managing a local studio, Monster Records. He’s honed his skills mixing such acts as Bigger Fish Than Guns and The Opera Club and has begun to apply his savvy to his own band. With that overhead substantially reduced, the band is just beginning to get back on track.
“Let’s just take advantage of this. This just became a Celebrity Traffic show, we can play for as long as we’d like.” Baker breaks the silence in car. The boys nod in agreement.
The smallest show Celebrity Traffic ever played was a gig just outside of Edmonton, Alberta. There was no local opener—a crucial draw when a relatively unknown acts comes from out of town—and the bar was about 20 minutes from the downtown core. The boys ended up performing for an audience of three. Nonetheless, they claimed it was one of the best nights of their western Canadian tour.
“The key is to just go with it. Realize that you’ve got the stage and equipment to yourself. We just rocked it. It was the best jam we’ve ever had.” Mellish said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to make the most of things and have fun.”
If the band can cut costs, Whistler’s still a possibility. Mellish calls his girlfriend, who’d hoped to work the door for a small cut, and tells her not to come. They figure they’ll negotiate with the venue, see if they can split the sound guy two ways.
“I’d just like to be able to pay for my beer,” Mellish says.
And with that it’s decided. We’ve got six hits of E, a few dollars in gas allowance, and a pre-paid room at the Holiday Inn. The car rumbles and the fuel gauge lights up as we pull into the one-way lane snaking its way across the Lions Gate Bridge. February rain pounds the windshield. There’s no going back.
Celebrity Traffic will be touring extensively this summer, including a high-profile festival slot at this years Shambhala. Check out their Facebook Page for tour dates as well as info on their upcoming record.