by Jack Derricourt
You could hardly pick up an indie rag this summer without seeing some blissful music writer’s account of The Ketamines‘ summer tour. Rightly so: with the release of their second full-length, You Can’t Serve Two Masters, and a fistful of singles out on Hozac, Pleasance, and Mammoth Cave Recording Co., The Ketamines have a lot to offer Canadian listeners.
The band is a pop brainchild, birthed from the foreheads of James Leroy and Paul Lawton. All the Ketamines material is written and recorded in the rolling hills of Lethbridge, where the band began more than a decade ago. While Leroy is happy remaining a solely creative force in the group, the Ketmaines material is driven all over the wasteland highways of Canada by a transforming cast of musicians with Lawton as the ringmaster.
The band kept their cool this summer when rampaging flood waters brought Calgary’s Sled Island to a halt: they ferried stranded musicians from the airport in their van, racked up more cash than originally anticipated at guerilla gigs, and unleashed a Weird Canada showcase at the city’s beloved rock and roll sanctuary Tubby Dog. Apparently Lawton wasn’t phased by a little water.
“It didn’t really seem that different,” said Lawton. “I’ve played Sled Island every year since it started, and I kind of favour the basement shows, and the house parties, and the Tubby Dog shows over the main stage anyway. So the fact that it turned into a series of people playing in houses was not that different from what happens anways, which is why I think it happened so quickly and why it was so well organized. It was kind of amazing.”
We played this one condo with Jay Arner from Vancouver, and it was packed. I’ve never seen so many people in one tiny condo ever, and they were just stuffing wads of twenties in a mason jar. We ended up getting paid better than what we were supposed to for [officially] playing Sled Island. Then we played Tubby Dog on the Saturday, which is the best place to play in Calgary anyways.”
The Ketamines finished off the summer road trip with another flood as they rolled into their home streets of Toronto. It must have been the smooth pop grooves of the new record that kept their minds off National Emergencies and all things weather-weird. The material on the new full length and the Ketamines’ most recent singles shows a departure from the determined grit of Spaced Out, the band’s first LP. The new single “All the Colours of Your Heart” follows a funky direction that goes way out beyond the Beach Boys of the Prairie atmosphere found on the majority of Spaced Out. But Lawton doesn’t see the new record as a breaking away from the band’s established sound.
“There’s no direction, ever. We like to describe ourselves as genre agnostic. I think we play with garage sometimes, but it’s never our intent to be a garage band, or a psych band, or a pop band. Whatever the songs are that come out, they are what they are. When we play ‘All the Colours of Your Heart’ live, I see people physically uncomfortable with it, thinking, ‘What is this? I thought this was a punk band. I thought this was a garage band.’ I want to see a band take chances and do something different.”
The Ketamines’ search for novelty shines through on the new releases. Every track on You Can’t Serve Two Masters has its own vibe, distinct from any other song on the record. The title track “You Can’t Serve Two Masters” is filled with echoing guitar fuzz that oozes a drunken swoon, while a determined cow bell drives the song forward. A deeper cut on the record, “Lawncare,” is filled with fat, bluesy guitars and bursts with all-out, suburban aggression. Anywhere you put the needle down on the new release by the Ketamines, you will find inventive of arrangements of sound. It’s all just part of keeping up with the times, and Lawton sees that as the chief task of any working band in this 2013 of ours.
“You’re competing with everything now,” says Lawton, “and if you’re just going to play the same structures over and over again and be a ‘garage band’ then why are people even leaving their house to come see you these days?”
Make sure you leave your house Friday, November 15th and check out the Ketamines when they play the Silver Dollar Room with BA Johnston.