Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Dils Live! (Porterhouse Records, 2022): a newly expanded reissue of essential punk - plus Bev Davies photos

For whatever reason, you don't see a lot of records by the Dils up here. The people in Vancouver who know and love them (I think) are the people here who saw them live, knew them personally, made music with them when they played up here, or hung out with them at the Buddha or such during their window of initial activity, between 1976 and 1980: fans and musicians of first generation Vancouver punk, who are probably the only people in town who actually have their (count'em, three) singles - which they've hung onto, apparently, because you don't see them around very often. 

By contrast, people who came late to the game - like, uh, me, discovering punk at age 14 in 1982, when some of the best "first wave" Vancouver bands had already folded - likely heard of the Dils for the first time via the DOA cover of "Class War" (Dils version here). We did not have the opportunity to see the Dils during that initial burst and were never going to catch up based on their recorded output, since we would simply never cross paths with Dils' records, new, used, or otherwise. Eventually a few comps and live albums surfaced, beginning in 1987, but even these didn't show up all that often. I would have bought anything by them that I stumbled across, based on that DOA cover. Back in the days before the internet, following the thread from the cover to the original was one of the ways you learned things, got into different bands. But the opportunity never presented itself, and eventually I gave up.

Dils L-to-R: Zippy Pinhead, Chip Kinman, Tony Kinman, photo by bev davies, Smilin' Buddha, Nov. 24 1979

Ashamed to say, it wasn't until after Tony Kinman's death in 2018 that I decided to finally play catchup; Bev Davies had mentioned "The Sound of the Rain" as a favourite Dils song of hers, and maybe she had clued me in to "It's Not Worth It," as well - both released on a 7" called Made in Canada, featuring late Vancouver legend Zippy Pinhead - AKA Bill Chobotar - on drums. I heard these songs on Youtube and suddenly I felt I understood the Dils' reputation. These were great songs!

Still couldn't find their records in stores, but now I was back to looking. It was nothing too focused, jut a peek in the misc. D punk section at the stores I perused... never any Dils (maybe if I'd looked in the 7 inches...?). 

Flash forward to the Rickshaw, August 2019, when a version of the Dils featuring Chip Kinman as the only original member played Vancouver, actually opening for Montreal band Three O'Clock Train, who were playing songs by the Dils, Rank and File,  and other Kinman-related projects - Blackbird, Ford Madox Ford, I've forgotten exactly, but Chip joined them on stage for a few songs (which I shot video of here. Hey, that's Ferdy Belland on bass, and is that Brad of GRRL Circus on drums?!). There were some very well-respected Vancouver punks in attendance. I recall giving a wave to John Armstrong; Bev Davies was there; and a spiffily-dressed Ron Reyes joined the band onstage (I remember him doin' a little country-style dance across the stage to "Amanda Ruth;" sadly, Bev's photos don't reveal whether he was wearing cowboy boots, but he might have been. I kinda love the idea of Ron Reyes in cowboy boots). Perhaps the paucity of Dils' recordings around town explained why the show was simply not that well-attended, but maybe people were a bit bummed that Zippy had also passed, turning the gig not just into a fundraiser for Tony's widow but a de facto wake for Zippy, as well...? I believe he was supposed to be on drums that night, for at least one of the permutations that played, and Mary of the Modernettes was supposed to be on bass; she also was a no-show, present only on-screen during a sort of making-of video that played... 

Tony Kinman by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

There appear to be two current attempts to amend the lack of availability of Dils material around - a 2021 European compilation called Some Things Never Change, which I have not heard, but which apparently combines their released material with demos and live tracks; and a newly-reissued live album from Porterhouse, the expanded 35th anniversary release of a 1987 release on Iloki (or Triple X?) records , with which this review is concerned. The Porterhouse reissue is the more fulsome package. The Euro comp boasts 16 songs in total, whereas - along with new cover art built around the Bev Davies photo at the top of this page - the Porterhouse live album comes with 14 tracks on the vinyl and a bonus CD with ten songs. The press release explains that "9 of those are previously unreleased recordings made at their March 20, 1978 performance for the Miner’s Benefit Show at San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens," whereas the 10th is a jammy, nearly 10-minute cover of the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On," previously issued (I believe it's this version of the song, though the Youtube clip is a few seconds longer) and for reasons unclear not included with the download card (there is, however, a download card with 23 of the 24 songs total). 

Porterhouse Reissue, 2022

The press release continues to say that the LP has been resurrected "from the original 1/4" analogue master tapes and given... a complete re-mastering." Porterhouse "are only producing 500 copies of this special collection. The package streams at the Porterhouse website 24/7 and a digital version of  Live! Is available from the usual assortment of online music retailers." 

Some notes on the actual content of the album... Ten of the songs on the vinyl are taken from a 1980 performance, seven of which are on side one, with Chip and Tony on guitar and bass, respectively (and sharing vocals; not clear who is the lead on what) and John Silvers on drums. "Tell Her I Love Her" and "Tell Me What I Want to Hear" are not too far off, songwriting-wise, from early mid-tempo punk love songs by bands like the Ramones and the Pointed Sticks - not especially thrashy or political, but tuneful and boasting a bit more bite than your standard-issue radio love song. Silvers initially seems to overdo his flourishes on these tracks but calms down and finds the pocket soon enough. These two okay openers are followed by a stunning trifecta of high-energy punk, where the excitement of the gig comes through in spades; for my money these three songs constitute the real meat of the album: "It's Not Worth It" (prefaced by a weird introductory comment from a Kinman that it is the band's "KISS song": what?), "You're Not Blank" (apparently once performed in Cheech and Chong's Up In Smoke, but I don't think I ever knew that; great tune) and "Red Rockers Rule" (usually just given as "Red Rockers"). Track five, "Mr. Big," is a spazzy item that might have a good song in there somewhere, but doesn't really congeal on this performance (also true of the interesting, imperfect side-two closer, an earlier, faster, markedly less anthemic take on "It's Not Worth It" from a gig recorded "circa 1977" with a different drummer, Endre Algover, who is a bit less show-offy than Silvers. There is a similar but more effective early version of it on the Mab CD included, more on which later).  Chip's guitar and the brothers' harmonies come through perfectly; less audible on side one is Tony's bass, which, especially listening  over my speakers, I was squinting to hear and seldom could (it was a bit easier to pick out on headphones but still, I've heard Glenn Gould hum louder, if you know what I mean). The Buddy Holly cover on side two, "Modern Don Juan," makes the bass a bit more audible (that's a very fun song to include in their set and one of the various places on the album where the eventual move towards Rank and File's roots rock is somewhat prefigured). 

Original 1987 cover

The high point on side two is a frenetic version of "Class War" with a different intro from the studio take and an uncredited female vocalist, perhaps an audience member, screaming along. That closes the 1980 recordings, after which the album is rounded out with the four 1977 ones - including a couple of energetic punk songs that I don't actually know so well, "You Can't Shake It" and  a song credited as "Baby, You're My Whore" - probably my fave of the songs I didn't know, a sharp-edged rip-snortin' jaggedy-ass rockabillyish tune, that I'm presuming to be the original version of the Dils' own song, "C.A.R." since the  music is pretty much the same (the lyrics, insofar as I can make them out, are different). That's followed by "The Expert," which is kinda like "Mr. Big" - might be a good song in there somewhere but it didn't grab me. No idea what the lyrics are about! Overall I'd agree with  Richie Unterberger's assessment on Allmusic, reviewing the original audio: "The fidelity, as you might expect, is not top-notch, but gets the job done as far as capturing their adrenaline rush." I would add that the bass is a bit more audible on the four 1977 cuts, but overall the sound quality on those is slightly rougher than the 1980 ones. 

L-R: Zippy Pinhead, Karla Maddog, Chip Kinman (behind Karla), Tony Kinman, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

I didn't spend as much time on the CD (yet), but there are a few songs not included on the vinyl - "National Guard," "Citizen," "New Kicks," and "I Hate the Rich." The Mab version of "Class War" also begins with that slightly different intro from the studio cut. And as I note above, the version of "It's Not Worth It" is also markedly different from the studio one on Made in Canada (or the live arrangement on side one of the vinyl, which is similar to the 7") but is catchier and more coherent than the closing track on side 2 of the record. It's interesting to hear that the band's catalogue was evolving throughout their four-year original lifespan, that they were revising arrangements, lyrics, what-have-you - though maybe that's what you get when you come to the legacy of a band mostly through their live recordings...?

Overall, it's just good to finally actually have a Dils record! (My first!). I'll be playing side one the most of any of these, for "Sound of the Rain," which only turns up the one time in the whole package. I'd still be tempted if that Euro comp - Some Things Never Change - ended up in front of me at a record store, with the studio versions of three of the tracks Zippy is on, including "Sound of the Rain" - but in the meantime, the Porterhouse Live! reissue is very welcome in my home. I've been curious about the Dils since I bought War on 45, back in 1982, so this is a welcome opportunity to scratch a 40 year itch. 

A final note and photo: I never knew Zippy Pinhead well. He made a big impression in Bloodied But Unbowed, of course, but I think I only saw him drum once, to my knowledge, at the Vancouver Complication reunion gig, and I remember Bev once introducing me to him and his wife, whom she called "Mrs. Zippy" (say it aloud) at Richards on Richards (forget who was playing - maybe the Dishrags?). That may be the only time we ever actually spoke, and it was very brief, though I think he shook my hand (I seem to remember his being huge and meaty). Mostly we were total strangers, though. Still, I was sitting at the Fairview with Erika, one night when (I think) the Wett Stilettos and the Furies were playing, and Zippy - whom I'd pointed out to Erika, as I usually did; Zippy's presence was one of those signifiers to me that we were at a good gig - came over to our table carrying two full shot glasses, which he set in front of us, giving that irrepressible smile. It had been some years since Bev had introduced me to him, so I have no idea if he even realized we'd met before. He certainly didn't want anything - just to give us drinks and a smile. Only time, I think, that a stranger, or near-stranger, bought me a drink, apropos of nothin'. I felt really privileged and happy (and enjoyed my drink). Thanks for the memory, Zippy... you did make an impression...

Zippy, Duff McKagan, and Randy Rampage, backstage at Velvet Revolver, 2007, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

More information on the Dils Live release - also available in a bundle with a Ford Madox Ford record - can be found on the Porterhouse website. Chip Kinman also has a new album of experimental, textural electronica, very different from his previous projects, which can be ordered here; tracks from it are on Youtube.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Steve Earle: a Vancouver welcome, with photos by Gordon E. McCaw... plus Bev Davies' Guy Clark photos!

Steve Earle by Gordon McCaw, Vancouver Folk Festival 2013, not to be reused without permission

So the other day, I gave my wife a choice: did she want to hear Steve Earle or Lucinda Williams? We'd been listening to a lot of Earle, so she picked Lucinda, and we ended up listening to Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (my old Straight review of Williams' revisiting that album in Vancouver is here). 

At one point, Erika asked me who was playing the harmonica, so I looked it up. Turns out it was Steve Earle. Ha! 

Truth is, Earle's presence on the country music scene runs a whole lot deeper than even I knew. For example, I've been listening a lot to Guy, Steve Earle's superb double album of Guy Clark covers, from 2019. But did I know that Earle's first recordings were done in 1975, backing Guy Clark on his first album, Old No. 1

No, no I did not.

Did I realize that Earle pops up in Heartworn Highways - a film dominated by the likes of Clark, Townes van Zandt, and David Allan Coe, released in 1976? No, I did not. (The person who points at Earle in that clip and says, "Listen to that song" - actually from the extras to the doc, not the film proper - is Guy Clark himself, by the way). Earle for me, like a lot of people, started with "Copperhead Road," from 1988; I didn't even realize til fairly recently that that wasn't even his first album! 

Earle has put out three albums since 2019's GuyGhosts of West Virginia, about a coal mining disaster; J.T., covering songs written by his late son; and most recently, Jerry Jeff, covering songs by Jerry Jeff Walker (including Jerry Jeff's best-known song, "Mr. Bojangles"). Earle's bio on his website - at this moment, anyhow - details his history with Jerry Jeff Walker's music.

But forgive me if I linger on Guy Clark for a minute; you'll see why in a sec. Clark wrote some of my favourite country songs ever, like "Cold Dog Soup," "The Cape" and "The Guitar." Even his love songs move me, like "Anyhow, I Love You" (Clark's version here, Earle's here). Steve Earle, Guy Clark, and Townes van Zandt recorded a live album together. You can hear one of Clark's songs, "LA Freeway," covered BOTH by Jerry Jeff Walker and Steve Earle - what was it that Fortune Block said, that the mark of a great songwriter is that you hear their songs through someone else? (Speaking of which, Kris Kristofferson - another great songwriter who is often covered by others - leads the Highwaymen in covering Clark's "Desperados Waiting for a Train" here; Clark's original here, Steve Earle's here - though why stop there, there's a David Allan Coe version too!). 

Anyhow, the reason for the Guy Clark digression is that I figured Steve Earle (should he see this piece) might like to see some photos Bev Davies took of Clark when he played the Vancouver Folk Festival back in 1985. The negatives have been sitting in a file for a very long time, possibly unseen since she took these pictures; it took some doing for her to find them - but she knew she was at the Folk Fest in '85, and knew Clark was there too, so eventually she hit paydirt... as ever, please do not re-use these without Bev's permission...

Guy Clark by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Bev never took photos of Justin Townes Earle or Jerry Jeff Walker (tho' her photos of Townes van Zandt are in the folk festival piece with the Fortune Block interview). Nor has she photographed Steve Earle before, but she'll be present next Monday, when Steve Earle plays the Vogue. It'll be the first time either of  us have seen him, in fact. I have loved a few of his songs over the years, like "Ellis Unit One" - one of the greatest politically-engaged bits of storytelling set to music that I've heard; and I share Dave Bowes' admiration for a certain song off Jerusalem, too (I'll let Dave talk about that).  But I never really committed to Steve Earle fandom until now. Apropos of the show, I've been doing a deep dive into Earle's back catalogue, cheating via Setlist FM to see if I can figure out what he's likely to play (no Guy Clark or Townes covers this time out; looks like when he tours an album of cover tunes he mostly focuses on the artist in question, so we'll be hearing four or five Jerry Jeff Walker songs, most likely at the start of the night, and a lot of originals, closing with encores of songs by the Grateful Dead and the Band). 

Fortunately, for the purposes of this blogpiece, other Vancouverites have vastly more experience of Steve Earle than I do. I've collected a few of their stories, by way of welcoming Steve Earle to the Vogue and maybe helping plug the show. Not everyone I asked had a story; Rodney DeCroo and Joey Only went on a bit of a joking exchange about how they never met Earle, but know each other; Paul Pigat - recently interviewed here - never met Steve but met Justin Townes Earle in Australia at the Byron Bay Blues Festival ("He was totally together and really personable," Paul told me. I think he had just cleaned up. We talked about fingerstyle guitar, his new record and stuff and both were looking for Peter Green who was also playing the festival..."). Alex Varty pointed to an article he wrote about Earle and said that "whenever I've had the chance to talk to him we usually go off the record to talk guitars. He has—or had, as he was selling a bunch of stuff a while back—a really remarkable collection."

...But the best stories are as follows...

Steve Earle at the Vancouver Folk Festival, 2013, by Gordon McCaw, not to be reused without permission. Is that a Whitmore Sister?

1. Jeanette McConnell: Steve Earle visits the Picket Lines

Jeanette McConnell has been a volunteer for Coastal Jazz and Blues "since the early 2000's," she tells me via email. "I also work at Canada Post a letter carrier, but in 2011 I worked inside at 349 West Georgia and was the Chief Shop Steward." Earle was coming to town, and CUPW were on strike. Jeanette's story follows; you can also hear Steve Earle talking a bit to the picketing postal workers here

Photo courtesy Jeannette McConnell
When the list of performers was released for the Vancouver Jazz Festival in 2011, I had been a volunteer for them in artist hospitality for years and knew that I could basically pick any show. I saw that Steve Earle was playing at the Centre for Performing Arts and immediately signed up as the Crew Chief in Artist Hospitality. At my day job, Canada Post imposed a full-scale national lock out that lasted 13 days. It was on one of the last final days of that lock-out that Steve Earle was headlining - June 26th, 2011. When I left the picket line, I went directly to the Centre for Performing Artists (across the street for the Main Canada Post building), where Steve Earle, the Dukes and his then wife Allison Moorer were just concluding their soundcheck. I approached Steve and told him that I was a postal worker without saying much more he asked: "Are they still filibustering the Legislation?" I laughed and said they in fact were. (Then leader of the opposition NDP National Party, Jack Layton, had introduced the filibuster regarding the rights of postal workers to negotiate and strike which went on for 58 hours). I told him that we were picketing across the street and if he would like to come over and join our picket. He was more than happy to oblige. In fact he had been following the story rather closely (thus how he knew about the filibuster). He told Allison: "Hey, I'm going with this lady across the street to a picket line!" He was very gracious and shook everyone's hand. He told us that sometimes just having a union isn't enough and that we have to fight for our rights as organized labour. He shared how his father and brother had been air traffic controllers when Ronald Reagan had fired them all when they had went on strike. He was so generous with us - signing a few autographs. He asked if he could keep the picket sign which we were more than happy to give him. The CBC sent a news reporter, who attempted to get a statement from Steve. He adamantly refused, saying that he absolutely supported the rights of locked out postal workers and that the reporter should be talking to us because we were the real heroes here. During his performance that evening, Steve made reference to the CUPW (Canadian Union of Postal Workers) labour dispute before declaring: "If you have a boss, you need a Union."

The next time I saw him (a few years later at some casino show - place?/date?) I brought him the magazine with the photo of him on our picket line. He kept it and gave me a signed copy. He told me that he still has the picket sign in his studio. He has remembered me every time since then. I have gone to all his shows - actually prior to 2011 I went to a show of his at the Commodore. I was working 9pm - 5am - my boss who was a fan let me go and I wasn't docked pay. So I basically got paid to go to a Steve Earle show. The last time he was here at the Commodore - he was very happy to see me and I was going to send him a piece of art. He had his assistant give me his number, I was very excited and closed my phone before I saved it. All in all I have met him about 5 or 6 times. He is always gracious, kind, and always on the side of organized labour.
Having written that, Jeanette sent me a final coda via Facebook about the possible fallout of getting Earle to visit the picket line: 

I was worried that the Jazz Fest or my Union would be upset with me. Both were ecstatic! Also when we were ordered back to work a bunch of Canada Post management were like Holy fuck, you brought Steve Earle to your picket line!!

2. Dave Bowes, concert promoter (Stable Genius, Dancing Sawhorse)

I try to see Steve every time he's here. Remember him elevating in my mind above the country pack with the release of "John Walker's Blues" not long after 9-11 and the start of the war in Afghanistan, a haunting song and a brave political statement for a country artist in America at the time. Highlight of his 2003 Commodore show was his performance of it, for sure.

Last time I saw him at the Commodore, 2018, finally hung out long enough after for meet and greet. Have a picture of us together somewhere , coincidentally both wearing his earlier tour shirt, the communist death head attached here. Since we'd "met" over "John Walker," I felt it was somehow appropriate!

3. Connely Farr (invited to the conversation by Tony Lee; thanks, Tony!). I am assuming this is the same person who records as Robert Connely Farr, though his Facebook ID is different... looks right...!

RCF: [I] met him in the Jackson, Mississippi airport. Then after he got on his plane - I went thru airport trash can for his Starbucks cup that had Steve written on it. Of course Airport Security wasn’t crazy about it. I just told them I was looking for Steve Earle’s coffee cup.

AM: Do you still have it?

RCF: unfortunately not. I had it for about 6 years on my mantle back home in Mississippi. My mom actually thought it was trash and threw it out!!! Can you believe it?! haha. The day was amazing tho.
When my wife and I first saw Steve - she was like - I think that’s Steve Earle! I said “naw looks like a pretty rough individual - maybe homeless…” she said “I’m googling Steve Earle's tattoos!”
When my wife and I first saw Steve - she was like - I think that’s Steve Earle! I said “naw looks like a pretty rough individual - maybe homeless…” she said “I’m googling Steve Earle's tattoos!”

Well I snuck up behind him and seen the “Steve” written on his Starbucks cup. I told my wife - she about flipped and I was like - I gotta go say hey. So I walked over and said “Mr. Earle?” He looked up and said "Yeah!" Then I start stuttering like a pansy - he was still sitting - was very polite.

But when my wife walked over he stood right up and extended his hand!!! Haha she always jokes about that - said Steve was excited to see her not me!

He was real polite and we had a great chat. 

[Afterwards,] I was so stoked to get that cup that when my wife and I were leaving the airport, we passed a guy - random stranger (later found out it was actor Brad Carter of Sons of Anarchy etc…) with an Amoeba shirt on holding a banjo - I walked up to him - adrenalin still pumping from meeting Steve then dealing with security over going thru the trash - and I go up to this guy, point at my cup, nod my head forward and go “Steve Earle's coffee cup - I just got it out the trash." He looks at me and starts laughing - said “I’m shooting a movie with him and faith hill next week, he's gonna crack up when I tell him.”

4. Erik Iversen (photographer)

I've seen him live, but never met the man. I did talk to his sister Stacey at the merch table when she opened for him in 2001. She kindly autographed a copy or her CD, "I'm your gearle!". Get it?
She was very friendly and appreciative of her fans.

Doors for Steve Earle and the Dukes are at 7pm. Opening act is The Whitmore Sisters. Tickets are available here! BTW thanks to Tim Reinert for hooking me up with Jeanette and her great story...

Friday, August 05, 2022

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Punk Rock Variety Show at the Anza with the Campfire Shitkickers and the SLIP~ons (and others), plus Ziggy Sigmund Memorial

So I don't know all the bands playing at the Anza this Friday. After a quick peek, Pilsgnar's bandcamp first song sounds like metal-inflected contemporary political hardcore, kinda akin to the Rebel Spell; their second song, "East Second," goes kinda Descendents by way of Minneapolis. Didn't get an overall sense of their music but both of those impressed me. Total Shock seems a bit poppier but hooky and fun, sounding like west coast punk before hardcore; like Landmark 20, to someone whose prime consumption of punk occurred well before "the year that punk broke," they sort of sound like punk by way of its more commercial, more recent manifestations (I mean, Green Day, the Vans Warped tour, Sum 41, Blink 182, and all them newfangled punk bands are beyond me - I was off listening to John Zorn when that was happening, having lost the taste for punk rock for some time after the Nirvana phenomenon; the underground had been turned inside out and those of us with an investment in it needed to dig deeper, and Green Day wasn't it). Even if there's some sorta punk rock generation gap at work, there's enough hooky popcraft at hand in all three bands that I could see myself enjoying them, depending on their live performance, which in no case can I speak to... yet... 

But the Campfire Shitkickers I have seen and vouch for with GREAT ENTHUSIASM. While it is not all they do, by far, they bring the vulgar wit of classic sea shanties into the realm of folk punk, which has often been, in a way, a bit too polite. Maybe there are some shamelessly vulgar tunes in the repertoires of some of their peers - I mean, the Dreadnoughts give the measurements of the "Hottress," for example, but it's nothing on "The Winnipeg Whore" by Oscar Brand, say. Mostly bands I associate with folk punk seem pretty civil, even serious at times, but the Campfire Shitkickers bring a bit more of an old-timey, humorous rudeness to the fore, though I don't know how politically incorrect they get (I'm pretty sure calling sex workers "whores" is off the menu as a lyric these days). I mean, they invite you to climb aboard their "Salty Dog," so...

My first interview with frontman Philly Roach below. 

And the SLIP~ons, speaking of Minneapolis, are a favourite local live band, whom I previously profiled here (well, really Brock Pytel, but he's their singer; I talked to Rob Matharu apropos of the Spitfires here). Checked in with Brock to see if he had news, so that will be part two. 

Be aware that any congregating indoors these days comes with the risk of COVID exposure! Judge your own risk factors as best you can and try to act accordingly. 

Campfire Shitkickers by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

Campfire Shitkickers: interview with Philly 
(I'm in italics, he is not).  

AM: I love the band name, but I am not sure what a "campfire shitkicker" is - a type of boot? A type of shitkicker who hangs out a campfire? A person who kicks the shit out of campfires, perhaps on beaches? ...What's the origin/ meaning of your bandname?

PR: Going back a few years, I veered away from the hardcore punk-rock stuff I’d been playing my whole life. So, I was playing the solo acoustic stuff I’d written over the years, and I acquired an upright player, who brought in a cajon player. We’d change the name at every show, not taking it too seriously. We were playing a show - and still have that manic punk rock energy - and after the show, some dude comes up to me, all stoked, and says, “Man!!! You guys are like campfire shitkickers!!!” And that was that. The angels did sing! A campfire shitkicker is someone who kicks the ever-lovin’ SHIT out of a campfire situation!

Can you give me a history of the band? I saw you with Doug Andrew & China Syndrome at the Flaming O in Surrey a few years ago... loved it... very funny... but I hadn't heard of you before that.

Well, I moved to Vancouver 7 years ago, and I really didn’t know anyone aside from a couple friends, and I’d been writing & collecting songs which didn’t fit with the bands I’d been playing with over the last decade or so. So I started playing open mics & shit, wherever would have me, hoping to meet some likeminded musicians. After I was approached by an upright bassist, we started jamming & he had a friend who was at all our jams & shows, so I told him if he was gonna hang around, he had to do something. I told him to grab a cajon, and he did. We were a 3-piece for 1 show & got approached by an accordion player. We recorded our first self-titled album in that formation, then acquired a mandolin player, & a banjo player. We recorded an EP - The New Crusty Minstrels, with that formation and a new upright player. We played with that incarnation for a while, then the pandemic hit. We’d slowly been evolving as a band, but the pandemic was a tectonic shift for us. With nothing to do but rehearse & write, we evolved exponentially - out with the acoustic, and in with the Gretsch. Josh, our drummer, upgraded to a full kit, and our sound was born. It was all very organic. We got signed to Batcave Records out of LA, and recorded our latest effort, Parole Models. We’ve since trimmed the fat a bit, into a high-octane 4-piece, infusing our acoustic beginnings with our current electric vibe, with a punk-rock injection.

What's your history with Mr. Chi Pig?

That’s a big one. Obviously was a huge SNFU fan, being a Calgary boy & all. He was - and remains - one of my all-time favourite lyricists growing up, then when I was in The Dabblers, we opened a few shows for them & I kinda got to know him. Played a few more shows with them when I was in The Turrettes, and by the time I owned The Distillery, I was booking them and taking care of them whenever they rolled through Calgary. So by then we had a pretty solid respect for each other. I’d be rolling through Vancouver with The Turrettes & he’d bring us pizza, telling us how bad eating on the road was, hahaha! Fast forward to 2 years ago, and the Shitkickers were covering "Cockatoo Quill," and were planning on recording it. So we called him in the ICU & played it for him, you know, get his blessing & all, and he told me I sang it better than he did, looooool! And that was the last time I talked to him. 2 weeks later he left this dirty rock. Rest In Peace, Piglet.

I love a good vulgar sea shanty or bawdy ballad... Do you have favourite rude folk songs or artists, or do you mostly gravitate to folk punk?

Nah, I just fucking love music. Although we have a few shanty-style songs, we didn’t really grow up with it. Like every other genre, it left an impression on us & that comes through in our music. We’re just fortunate that our style - lovingly dubbed ‘Clusterfolk’ - has put us on the same stage as some of those influences; Flogging Molly, The Dreadnoughts, Gogol Bordello, Mahones, etc. It’s good company to keep!

I've seen you at the Bowie Ball but most of what I heard you do in Surrey seemed to be originals... besides Bowie and Chi, what other covers do you do?

Oh, man; we’ve done a bunch over the years!!! "The Rodeo Song" (Garry Lee & Showdown) is a crowd fave, but we’ve done everything from Sinead O’Connor to The Misfits, Mr. Bungle to Frank Sinatra & everything in between. We like to keep things fresh.

"For All the Dickheads" has a kind of oi!/ streetpunk vibe to it - is it targeting that genre specifically - the skinhead contingent and such - or is that a coincidence?

It’s just more of our influences coming through. I grew up on that shit, so it’s gonna come out every now & then. Our music runs the gamut.

I don't know your bandcamp album as well as I should but could you walk through a few songs? What is "Sweetest Fruit" about? Whose head is up their ass in "Shitbox to Nowhere?" Any favourite songs you want to give some backstory for...?

"The Sweetest Fruit" - which was re-vamped on Parole Models - was written around a relationship I was in. It’s a nutshell version, from the beginning to the end, wrapped it metaphors. "Shitbox" is just about the general public - a song for them asses, as I like to say. That one was also re-rooked for Parole Models. My favourite lyricists (Chi Pig, Mike Patton, Leonard Cohen, etc.) always had something to say, and I take a lot of pride in my lyrics, which is why I always include a lyric sheet in the albums. You can read them however you want - again, metaphors are everywhere - but they all have meaning to me. And that could be vastly different than how you read them.

Do you have history with Saturna Island? Is the band actually some way "seafaring," or is that metaphoric? "This one's for you Jacques" - is that Jacques Cousteau you're talking about?

We sure do! When we were more of a folk-based band, we’d play there several times a year! Love that place! We wrote that song on the ferry over one time, so its quite literal, hahaha! Jacques is the fella that runs The Lighthouse, where we’d play. He’s a good man!

The "Cockatoo Quill" single is the only physical media I've seen from you, I think. Are there other albums? CDs? Is anything planned? (Is the Batcave stuff more recent than Bandcamp? Is having a label still meaningful for digital-only product when you could just distro your own stuff through Bandcamp?). 

We had a run of vinyl for our 1st self-titled album, which has long since sold out. We did CDs for our EP, but CDs are fucking stupid & I'm never doing THAT again. We waited out the pandemic to press our most recent album, Parole Models (Batcave Records) to vinyl, but it’s on order now. So we’re gonna have a proper album release, with 5 or 6 bonus tracks on double vinyl. It’ll be a shaker!

What have been your best tour experiences? (You played Hands in the Air, right? How did that go?).

Man, the yahoos in this band are a fucking riot, so everywhere we play is the best time ever. And the music we play attracts the rowdiest, kindest motherfuckers - the kind that pick you up when they see you’re down - so yeah, it’s hard to pick. That being said, the Sail Away party on Flogging Molly’s Salty Dog Cruise is a pretty unbeatable memory, no matter how hazy.

Who is in the live band at this point? Any specific plans for the Anza Club show, notes on the other bands - points of intersection with their members, history with them? Have you gigged with the SLIP~ons before?

We’re a trimmed down, hi-octane 4 piece these days. Myself on guitar/vox, Nick Foreman on the upright, Josh Samorodin on drums & Cowbell on the banjo & mandola. I’m a big fan of all the bands on the bill, but aside from playing the occasional show with them, I don’t really know them personally. When running a bar is your thing, it’s tough to make it out to all the cool shows you’d like to see.

 Anything I've missed you want to tell people about?

Our album release will be in December, or maybe even NYE! Not sure where, yet, but we’re on it! It’ll be Parole Models, backed with our new EP, Neo Maxi Zoom Dweebies, on double vinyl! Other than that, I think it’s covered! Thanks for the questions, and find us on all the platforms! Cheers!

SLIP~ons by D. Ballantyne, not to be reused without permission

The SLIP~ons: Mini-interview with Brock

Brock Pytel, reached quickly by email, tells me the band has "No really special plans for these gigs," referring both to the August 5th gig at the Anza Club and the August 20th tribute to Ziggy Sigmund at the WISE Hall, which will also involve Sunday Morning (written about here and here), Crummy (here and here) and Trailerhawk (who I liked better when Tony Walker was in the band, but who do a polished country-rock that has a lot of fans locally).   

He has no Ziggy Sigmund stories. "I don’t think I ever met the man, so I feel the best way to pay respects is to play as hard as I can with joy in my heart... There has been a lot of loss lately in the community. Olivia Quan’s sudden passing has been particularly challenging to understand and accept for me. I heard about it five days after our last session with her."

Brock tells me that of the Anza Club gig on Friday, "We are playing last so the biggest challenge will be staying sober enough to play a set starting at 11:50pm (I’m looking at YOU Shane Wilson)." Brock says "the odds are strongly in favour of at least one of us being effectively hammered by the time we go on, so the most likely outcome is that we play everything really fast…"

The SLIP~ons upcoming EP is all done "and the mixing is in Dave's hands," Brock says. "It’s probably safe to expect a spring 2023 release."

Brock's having had COVID "definitely made tracking vocals more challenging (finished recording EP for Cursed Blessings). I needed two sessions to get performances I can live with. That said, I just don’t feel like I have the luxury of time to wait any longer before performing. I’m super fortunate to have talented bandmates and a handful of people that want to hear what we have to say, so that makes the risk of infection worth it for me. This is what I’m here for!"

More info on the Punk Rock Variety Show August 5th at the Anza here

More info on the Ziggy Sigmund Memorial (August 20th at the WISE) here

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Paul Pigat and Cousin Harley: the Rickshaw Return!

Paul Pigat with Cousin Harley, photo by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

The last time Cousin Harley played the Rickshaw, it was one of those windows where gigs were allowed, but mandates on gathering and masking were in place. You had to show a vaccine passport at the door, the show was only sold to half-capacity, there were probably those feckin' folding chairs everywhere (spaced out to ensure physical distancing) and everyone was required to wear a mask. 

Even despite giving him some press, I apologized to Paul and bailed on the show; with cancer surgery then looming, surgeries being cancelled left and right, and the knowledge that my tumours - bleeding, painful, and increasingly interfering with chewing - would continue to grow in my mouth unless I did something, I could not afford anything that would interfere with getting operated upon. I have no doubt it was a rip-snorting rock'n roll show, even with precautions in place, but I was not there.  

Flash forward a year, and times have changed: COVID is still around and spreading more easily than ever, albeit in a milder (?) variant. Despite this, there seem to be no mandates of any sorts, no passports, no restrictions on venues, and almost everyone who does go to gigs or play seems to eventually come down with COVID, from touring acts like the Circle Jerks and Bob Mould to both my wife (who probably caught it off Eugene Chadbourne) and I (who probably caught it at a Ford Pier gig, though whether I caught it off him or he caught it off me or whether we both caught it off someone else remains unclear). It's almost become a sort of rite-of-passage for local musicians, though I've noted several who have come down with it, bounced back, and are gigging again. Things are not normal, however much we may wish them to be, but it seems nothing is being done (at the moment, anyhow) to protect public safety, and in the absence of regulation, there seem to be two choices: to say "fuck it" and embrace live music and life and just hope whatever variant you get is mild and passes and doesn't open the door to stronger symptoms, or to stay well away from gigs or any places the maskless congregate and rage at how irresponsible they are (we all have a few Facebook friends like that, don't we?).  

I feel torn in both directions, but I've resolved that - barring another health emergency - I'm gonna see Cousin Harley this September 17th, a week shy of the anniversary of that previous date. Here's an interview with Paul Pigat, about the upcoming show; I am in italics, Paul is not. Note: the bassist in the photo below, Keith Picot, is no longer in Cousin Harley, which is in fact where the questions begin...

AM: So what happened with Keith Picot? I have not followed news with him - how did you end up with a new bassist? What's his history with Vancouver music/ you/ other bands...? (What's Keith up to? I'll miss his expressive face)...

PP: Man I really want to make up a crazy story about him being abducted by aliens or something but i guess the real one is crazy enough!   Keith has always been a fan of solitude which of course is surprising considering what a performer he is. Six months into the pandemic Keith packed a suitcase and some tools and left for Ecuador. He is currently homesteading in the Amazon rainforest with his wife and a gaggle of stray dogs and cats he has found. He is doing quite well and loves his new life living off the grid in the Amazon.

The bass player chair in Cousin Harley is hard to fill. Keith was my 3rd bass player but has been with us for over 15 years. We were really lucky that Jeremy Holmes was interested in joining the band. Jer has played with tons of bands in town including Bughouse 5, Terminal Station and Steve Dawson to name a few. He's doing an awesome job fitting in and learning our book which is pretty extensive, considering I've had this band together since 1998.

There seems to be a consensus among a lot of people on FB that it is too soon for gigs, but I'm eating them up. Are you nervous about COVID? Have you had it already? Any impressions of the weird "culture war" that seems to have developed over responses to the crisis? Do you miss mask mandates? Are you taking any precautions? 

This is a tough question. I want to create a safe environment for the shows but I want people to have fun too. finding the balance with that isn't an easy task. I'd like to think that our audience is pretty conscientious and will self-monitor before shows. I must admit, I don't miss the mask mandates but if they come back I'll be on the lookout for something stylish this time!

What Festivals are you playing this year? How do you tour BC Festivals - do you have a bus, a van, or do you fly... or...? Is it just the band, or do you bring road crew or such? How many vehicles?

HA! A road crew would be awesome but unfortunately we are not there! It's just the three of us on the road. This year was only western Canada dates, most were contracts for 2020 so I'm really glad we were able to finally honor them. I knew early on that it was too soon to start booking tours around anchor dates. There are just too many variables and unforeseen problems (I didn't expect the shitshow the airlines and rental car companies became!). All gigs were one offs this summer and we flew in. We were lucky with the flights as I bought the tickets ages ago and didn't have any cancellations! Whew!!! Hopefully we become road warriors again next year

Speaking of road stuff, how do you pass time touring? What do you listen to (and how do you apportion who gets to play what)? Do you pack books? I know you build guitars - do you ever pack guitar projects you are working on, or do you have no space? Any other "road pastimes" of note?

We listen to a lot of comedy and jazz when we were touring in the van. There's usually a banjo and a mandolin as well. It gets a bit hillbilly. Guitar projects stay at the shop. There's enough dust there and we don't need anything else to stink up the van any more than it already does!

Are there places you love to play because of non-musical considerations? "I am really glad to be playing at __________ this year, because I get to eat at ______/ shop at ______/ visit _________?" Do you ever go out of your way to get booked into particular festivals because of such considerations?

Its always about people. We've been out doing this for so long that we've met some great folks and this is our way of keeping in touch with them. Our road touring is fast and tight so not a lot of time for fancy dinners etc. We used to look forward to great thrift shops but not so much anymore. That being said, if there's a good guitar shop in a town you know you will find me there.

Were people all supportive of the "more rock than billy"" direction you've been heading? I have been under the impression that there are some real rockabilly purists out there - do they come to shows and shout "Judas," or...? Where does this trajectory end up?

I think we established early on that we were never going to be a trad rockabilly band. We can do it, we just choose not to. It certainly has put up some roadblocks for us with the big Euro festivals and such. They seem to like the nostalgia part of it all. I like the punk part of it all. I kinda think that's where it comes from. Its ok. We do what we do. Like it? good! don't? That's OK too.

Have you ever considered covering any well known rock songs for a Cousin Harley approach? I think Lemmy would have loved the idea of rockabilly-ish covers of Motorhead songs, but me, I'd love to hear a Cousin Harley arrangement of Iron Maiden...

I haven't but now I want to!!! "Murders in the Rue Morgue" as a fast train beat!!!!

Is there a new album, and will it be available at the Rickshaw?

Since we put out Let's Go! during the pandemic we are still touring that for now. Its definitely got a bit more "rock" than some of our previous recordings but there is another CD brewing in my head right now. I keep listening to Jesse play banjo though. I hope it doesn't affect me!

Any word yet on a Cousin Harley full-length vinyl LP?

Well if I put in the order now I should have hardcopies by 2025! We did do a vinyl release with a company in Europe about a year ago I have a few of those kicking around.

Just a silly question, but do you have any favourite movies about music or musicians? Documentaries, fictional features, whatever you like...?

Sweet and Low Down. the fictious story of Emmett Ray, the worlds second best guitar player (next to Django Reinhardt).  Sean Penn is truly brilliant as Emmett and Howard Alden performs all the guitar music in the film. I'm not normally a Woody Allen fan but this movie really stuck with me. I find it truly hilarious and the music is fantastic!

For more information on the September 17th Rickshaw gig (with support TBA), see here

AJ Devlin, Leonard Schrader and The Yakuza

When I interviewed VIFF Centre programmer Tom Charity about the Ragged Glory: Summer in the 70's series, ongoing at the theatre, he was grateful to see that I'd picked The Yakuza as a must-see, because it was the one film he'd had some doubts about, not having seen it. In programming it, we presume he went with the availability of the film on DCP and the list of names associated with it, which have some big checkmarks indeed beside them, from stars Robert Mitchum and Ken Takakura to director Sydney Pollack (who had made such estimable 70's thrillers as Three Days of the Condor and Jeremiah Johnson, but who was otherwise absent from the programme). Then there's probably the biggest draw for Tom: the fact that the story was written by Leonard Schrader (who wrote Blue Collar, also in the series) and the screenplay co-written by Robert Towne (Chinatown) and Leonard's brother and Blue Collar director Paul Schrader (who also wrote Taxi Driver, also in the series, and co-wrote Old Boyfriends with his brother, also both set to play). That's four other films in the series that The Yakuza ties into, while giving a chance to include a major American filmmaker (there's no other Pollack in the programme) and allowing for a little diversity checkmark (not sure if that was actually a factor, but programmers do have to think about such things these days, and - while probably Tom would not have known this - The Yakuza is a vastly better representation of Japanese culture than is found in the other crime film Ken Takakura is known for over here, Ridley Scott's Black Rain).

At this point, it sounds like Tom was on the page of crossing his fingers and hoping the movie was as good as the credits. "But then I had super luck," Tom writes. "I reached out to a local crime novelist to introduce it, AJ Devlin, and this was his reply:
This is almost serendipitous for me — Leonard Schrader (Paul’s brother) came up with the idea for The Yakuza while teaching abroad in Japan in the late sixties and early seventies. Len was also my late professor, mentor, and great friend. I studied under him for years, we wrote numerous screenplays together, and he and his wife Chieko (who passed herself in recent years) used to refer to me as their “literary son” since we were so close and they never had children themselves.

I even had the honour and privilege of dedicating my Crime Writers of Canada 2019 Best First Novel winning debut Cobra Clutch to Len’s memory.

As a result, I happen to have a great deal of little known insight about the Schrader brothers writing The Yakuza together and its journey to the silver screen so if that movie is still available I think I would be uniquely suited to introduce it (and I can keep it to a tight five minutes or whatever time is allotted). Sam Wiebe is also a friend so it would be fun to introduce a film the same night as him. [Wiebe will be introducing another great 70's thriller, Night Moves].

Finally, I also appeared as a special guest on a podcast discussing this film back in 2020 when I was promoting Rolling Thunder the second book in my “Hammerhead” Jed pro-wrestler PI mystery-comedy series. [Rolling Thunder is also the title of a film co-written by Paul Schrader] Here is the link if you are curious:

Tom himself suggested I interview Devlin. It's a good idea; we embark in a moment (italics are me, non-italics AJ). Of course, AJ have more to say about the film at the ViFF Centre!

We begin with a question about his three novels, Cobra Clutch, Rolling Thunder, and Five Moves of Doom, set respectively in the worlds of pro-wrestling, roller derbies, and mixed martial arts...

AM: How do you research your novels? For Rolling Thunder, did you decide on the topic then start going to roller derbies, or were you already involved...? Do you ever try the sports in question - have you ever wrestled or done MMA?

AJ: I like to research my novels as old school as possible, which means I enjoy getting out there to the events and seeing them in person. I’ll never forget my first independent wrestling show at a Russian Community Centre in Kitsilano. It was a pretty bare bones facility, quite dated, with old school parquet flooring and the scent of stale popcorn and butter lingering in the air. Needless to say both of those details made it into my first novel Cobra Clutch, in which my pro-wrestler turned PI “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead is forced to revisit his roots in sports entertainment while honouring a debt owed to his former tag-team partner Johnny Mamba, whose precious pet snake and ringside gimmick has been stolen and held for ransom.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate that my neighbour and friend Joel Johnston, a 28 year retired Vancouver Police Department sergeant, MMA and Shotokan Karate practitioner, writer, and Use of Force, Defensive Tactics, Confrontation Management, and Violence Prevention expert — who now runs his own prestigious consulting firm which specializes in training law enforcement in Canada and internationally — has advised on all my books. Joel also took me on a ride-a-long in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside while still on the force, which was an experience that is still paying dividends to this day as I continue working on my mystery-comedy series.
With my sequel Rolling Thunder, I wanted to showcase roller derby and was able to get out to some games before COVID shut such gatherings down. Just like indie wrestling, roller derby is something that needs to be experienced to do it justice. And as luck would have it I also went to high school with Jenna Hauck — aka “Hydro-Jenna Bomb” — a former Vancouver roller derby star turned journalist who not only gave me invaluable insight into the derby world, but also generously did an edit of the book herself which was key in getting a lot of the details of such a badass, renegade, and counter-culture sport accurate.

For my most recent novel Five Moves of Doom, Crime Writers of Canada member and veteran jack of all trades promoter Bob Harris kindly put me in touch with legendary local fight promoter Gerry Gionco, who in addition to my police officer / mixed martial artist friend Joel, provided some essential feedback on not just the fight scenes I had written but also the MMA lifestyle.

Finally, with regards to the sports in question, I do have some experience with wrestling and MMA. As a teenager, I spent several summers in SFU freestyle wrestling camps, wrestled in high school, trained in Judo, and then later in university took an Aikido class, which is a Japanese martial art which focuses on holds, throws, and using your opponent’s own movements against them. So it’s safe to say the limited combat training I have received is definitely wrestling-based, which likely played a role in my decision to craft a squared circle sleuth as my series protagonist.

How have people on the wrestling scene in Vancouver responded to your novels? Do you do anything to market your novels within the "sport subcultures" involved?

The professional wrestling scene in Vancouver is great and was very welcoming when I initially reached out to them. As a result, I was able to connect with the likes of ring generals such as “Uncle Daddy” Tony Baroni and “Joshi Slayer” Cat Power, who enthusiastically blurbed Rolling Thunder. Of course now there is NEW (Nation Extreme Wrestling), a relatively recent promotion that has been doing some really exciting things with professional wrestling in the Lower Mainland, including hosting the city’s first ever outdoor wrestling event at Nat Bailey’s Stadium later this month. In the past I’ve even been able to attend some pro wrestling shows as a vendor, including a couple at the Commodore Ballroom, where I was able to meet and greet many local wrestlers while promoting and selling my books.

In terms of marketing to the “sport subcultures” featured in the “Hammerhead” Jed novels, it all starts with making a concerted effort to capture the passion these athletes have for their respective sports. As an aspiring storyteller who grew up loving books and movies that offered escapist entertainment, I like to think I can relate to the feeling of having such potent enthusiasm for something that comes with no guarantee of ever finding success, but you feel compelled to pursue it anyway because you just love it so damn much.

Based upon the feedback I’ve received from people in these athletic subcultures, my efforts to accurately capture the heart of their respective sports seems to be appreciated, which makes me very pleased. Personally, I believe that if someone is going to be generous enough to come on an adventure into my imagination, the least I can try and do is to get the details of these unique worlds right, while simultaneously showcasing the environments in which I set my stories and treating them with the respect that they deserve.

Leonard Schrader

Tell me your history with Leonard Schrader? How did you connect? What did you collaborate on with him (any screenplays that got made?). How did The Yakuza come up between you? Can you track any influences from him into your current writing...?

I first met Leonard Schrader in my senior year at Chapman University, when I was assigned to his Advanced Screenwriting Class. I remember immediately being captivated by his enigmatic energy, tremendous knowledge, and screenwriting stories, so I realized pretty quickly how lucky I was to have the opportunity to study under him. While in Len’s class I began work on a gritty revenge thriller that I would go on to option to a production company, and I guess my love for vengeful stories across all genres like Death Wish, The Crow, and For a Few Dollars More, not to mention novels and comics like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Punisher, came through and caught Leonard’s attention. The next thing I knew the occasional pop-in visit during his office hours turned into weekly hours-long fanboy sessions where we would recount our favourite films and he would regale me with incredible tales not just about his own body of work, but also the films that struck a chord with him growing up and put him on his path to becoming a master storyteller.

The Yakuza was one of the first of Leonard’s film’s that I had ever seen, and unpacking and dissecting the movie with him sort of kick started a joint trip down a crime and noir rabbit hole together. I was fascinated by his time in Japan and affinity for the culture, and while it was something I mostly learned about through Len and later his wife Chieko, the reverence he had for this distinctive style of creative arts was immediately apparent. I suppose I learned to carry that respect for source material with me as I began my writing journey, not to mention that he was a brilliant tactician of the craft of storytelling, whose understanding of narrative structure was so commanding and vast that it never even occurred to me to try and construct a story any other way.

While my time at Chapman University and The American Film Institute was amazing, the cherry on top was without a doubt collaborating with Len outside of the classroom as student and mentor, co-writers, and eventually very close friends. It was during those many late nights at the 101 Diner in Hollywood, which was walking distance from Leonard and Cheiko’s Hollywood Hills home, where he gifted me with the experience of getting to watch him work in real time. Although we wrote several screenplays together, unfortunately none were produced, but for a hungry Canadian ex-jock turned wannabe screenwriter it was the thrill of a lifetime. Having grown up as the son of an Olympian and Canadian basketball star, writing with Leonard felt like the equivalent of getting to play one-on-one regularly with a professional basketball player while chasing your dream. You’re definitely in over your head and going to get schooled by their greatness, but you will learn more than you could ever imagine and pick things up faster than you thought possible just by interacting with someone at that skill level.

Is there a connection between you and Paul Schrader? The title
Rolling Thunder of course connects with a screenplay he co-authored... just a coincidence?

The connection between Paul Schrader and myself is just that we both loved his brother and, in Paul’s own words that he spoke at the memorial, he also considered himself a student of Leonard's. I was able to meet Paul because I had the honour of being tasked to speak at Len’s service, but definitely did so through the prism of being wide-eyed and wet-behind-the-ears wannabe scribe. Nevertheless, like many of Len’s proteg├ęs, his guidance, wisdom, and wit have stayed with me long since our time together.

The Rolling Thunder connection is kind of funny in that there’s no real connection at all — other than the fact that it was one of Leonard and I's* favourite films that Paul wrote. Since I had conceived of “Hammerhead” Jed being a pro-wrestler PI who is drawn into cases set against the backdrop of fringe sports and / or unique subcultures, I had always planned on spinning off a lady wrestler character from my debut novel and her being the link that bring’s my sleuth into the roller derby world for the sequel. Throw in the fact that “Rolling Thunder” is also the name of an aggressive aerial move popularized by ECW and WWE legend Rob Van Dam, and that like all the wrestling move titles in my series it doubles as a metaphor for where my detective is in terms of his character arc, it seemed like a no brainer to use it for the title of the sequel as well as serving as a little nod to my late professor and the Schrader cinematic legacy.

Any past encounters with Japanese culture, the Yakuza, or Yakuza cinema? Any interest in doing something centered around a Japanese sport like sumo? 

I have no experience with nor have I ever been involved in the writing or development of any Yakuza movies or stories, or anything remotely related to Japan. Perhaps I instinctively knew that anything I even attempted to come up with would pale in comparison to what the Schrader brothers had created so there was no point and I had nothing in particular that I wanted to say. However, when I took Len’s teachings and began to apply them to an idea for a narrative that explored athletics, something that had been such a huge part of my life until I hung up my sneakers and moved to Southern California for film school, I really felt like I was onto something and that was definitely the beginning of the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series.

While far from an expert on Japanese cinema or Yakuza flicks, there are several films of which I am a big fan — including Shogun Assassin, which was co-developed by David Weisman, Leonard’s frequent collaborator and Academy-Award nominated producer of Kiss of the Spider Woman (for which Len was nominated for an Oscar as well for Best Adapted Screenplay), the Schrader brothers second Japanese film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters and, of course, Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which was the basis for The Man With No Name Spaghetti Western trilogy, and possibly my favourite film of all time, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

That being said, now that you’ve suggested it, how could I not consider sumo wrestling as the foundation for a future mystery? Jed’s sidekick — his ex-IRA operative cousin Declan who tends to get too much enjoyment out of often tagging along into these atypical athletic environments — would certainly have a blast should it come up in another novel down the line.

Any other angles we should explore - connections with the cinema of Sydney Pollack or Robert Mitchum?

No history to speak of with Sydney Pollack or Robert Mitchum, although Leonard and I were both particularly big fans of the latter’s chilling and riveting performance as a serial killing preacher in The Night of the Hunter. As he was raised in a strict Dutch Calvinist household, I think the overarching religious themes had particular relevance for Len, and I know for myself I was fascinated by a story featuring such a heinous and villainous main character the likes I had rarely seen before.

Do you know what sport culture your next novel will be set in?

I do have other fringe or unconventional sports I’m hoping to explore in future novels, but am also very much looking forward to delving into more unique subcultures as well, some that are completely outside of the world of athletics. I definitely dabble in these circles in Rolling Thunder and Five Moves of Doom, and have even begun flirting with taking “Hammerhead” Jed away from Vancouver — which up until now has been pretty intrinsic to the series — and putting him in less familiar but hopefully still engaging and entertaining surroundings as I continue to try and find new and fun ways to challenge my grappling gumshoe.

Thanks, AJ! See you Thursday. People wishing to see
The Yakuza as introduced by AJ Devlin can purchase tickets here! (A mere $10 each, and there may still be series passes available, with lots of movies left in the series to make it worth your while, if you go to a bunch). 

*AJ had written "Leonard and mine's favourite films" which doesn't work, but my alteration might not fix it either! You know that you're in trouble when you find yourself on Stack Exchange, trying to sort out niceties of grammar, but "Leonard's and my favourite films" - which would seem to be the preferred variant - just seems wrong to me, so I am opting for something that colloquially feels correct, without being secure what the "correct" variant is. Someone maybe ask Ken Eisner?**

**No, don't, that is a joke offered for the amusement of Tom Charity and Graham Peat alone. I hope I made them spit some coffee. If you don't get it, don't worry about it. Peace!