Culture & Conversation

West Coast blues

If you haven’t yet experienced the raunchy blues sound of Head of the Herd, you might want to head over to Petit Campus on November 10 and check this Vancouver band out. But you don’t even have to wait that long to listen — their second album, By This Time Tomorrow, was released Tuesday, and it’s every bit as gritty and intense as their first. Both albums can be streamed on the band’s website: headoftheherdmusic.com.

The title single from the new album, featuring Jasmin Parkin of Vancouver-based indie band Mother Mother, has been getting a lot of airplay in Montreal for a few months now, and was used by the NHL during the 2013 playoffs. More recently, their new single “Ain’t My Day” has hit the airwaves as well. But my hunch is that HH live will be another story entirely. If you were lucky, perhaps you caught them in July at Metropolis, when they were booked last minute to open for a sold-out Guns n Roses show. If not, well, now’s your chance.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Clayton Frank, half of the song-writing duo that is HH; the other half is Neu Mannas. Clay emphasized that the band’s music is all about story-telling. The swing and strong rhythmic sensibility that define their sound almost disguise the fact that he and Neu are writing deeply personal songs, songs that are inspired by or based on personal experience.

For example, Clay wrote “Knock me Down” (from the first album, On The House) after having just gotten out of a long relationship, when he was in a very dark place in his life. But rather than write a mopey breakup song, he chose a metaphor that allowed him to focus on strength, on the positive things in his life: “Gonna wake to see the day, no idle hands, no devil’s play. I will return, I will get up, cause in my life, is too much love. Knock me down I’ll always fight, lay me down I’ll be alright.” I was hoping to get a little insight into “Erinyes” (“So she said sleep baby sleep, so I let my blood pour, from the pillow to the wall, to the floor and in she crawled…”) but no luck — that one’s too personal, I guess.

Wailing harmonica riffs, anguished screams, driving bass lines, and raucous hard-core guitar playing: the sound is unique, but the influences dramatically wide-ranging, from Lil Wayne to Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf, from Queens of the Stone Age to The National to Johnny Cash. In fact one of the best songs on the first album is a Cash cover — “25 Minutes to Go.” Live, the band does some other covers as well, including The Doors’ Roadhouse Blues.

Neu and Clay have been working together for a few years now, composing and recording in studio. The writing process is very much collaborative — they both write lyrics and they both write music — when one is stuck the other picks it up. Each song has its own process. On The House was released in February 2011, before they’d ever played live. Once they got a band together and started performing live, all their songs took on a new life. The second-album single “Ain’t My Day,” for example, was originally on the first album. But after playing it live, it slowed down, and took on more of a steady groove. In the version on the second album, the funky djembe beat is mixed down while a full drum kit augments the rhythm section.

Clay says the band is very much looking forward to playing Montreal. Don’t miss this chance to see them in a small venue— I don’t think they’ll be playing them for long.


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