Friday, November 06, 2020

Pink Steel: Not Just the Same Old Conversation - plus lyrics!

Pete Campbell and Jeff Carter of Pink Steel, Nov. 2020, provided by Jeff Carter

Supreme Echo - the label, not the store - consistently puts out some of the most vital reissues of Vancouver and Victoria punk and metal, from their astonishing and essential two CD Victoria scene comp All Your Ears Can Hear, to releases by the Dishrags, the Dayglow Abortions, the Zellots, the Stiffs, Private School, Wasted Lives, the Antheads, Mission of Christ, Witches Hammer, and others (all 30 of which, not including the scene comp, can apparently be had in download form for a discounted price, so do check out that option on the Bandcamp pages for those releases). Their recent Pink Steel 7" - combining their two original 7" releases into one six-song EP  - is an excellent example, filled with photos and detailed liner notes about the forming of the band and their gig history. And what a unique band they were: a tuneful punk seven-piece formed in 1979 out of a high school drama class with unusually playful songs - my favourite is "Here We Go Again" - anchored by a drummer that sounds like peak-energy Chuck Biscuits (but isn't) and quirkily introspective lyrics. Here is, for example, "Here We Go Again" (the EP does not include the lyrics): note that these guys were young enough to be addressing "the grown up world" as a mass entity.

Here We Go Again lyrics

Somebody got shot down in verbal warfare
Words lie bleeding on the floor
Not tough enough to talk his way out of it
Frustrated he heads for the door

Same old thing happens over and over
Same people left shaking their heads
When I go out at night, I look for a difference
I get subjected to re-runs instead

Here we go again
Here we go again
Here we go again
Here we go again

Sit around, same old conversation
Year by year, same old conversaion

Here we go again...

Somebody got shot down in actual warfare
Man lies bleeding on the ground
The grown-up world has childish tendencies 
Outraged, yet we make no sound

Same old thing everyday that I walk by
Someone told me nothing changes at all
Don't accept cliched reactions
Some people want no change at all

Here we go again...

Of course, as readers of my blog well-know, though David M., I know Pink Steel's Pete Campbell, who went on from that band to play in the Wardells and the Sweaters before beginning his tenure with M. and with Coach StrobCam. I've interviewed Pete at length here, successfully begged him to play the Sweaters' "Hockey Sucks" with Coach StrobCam, helped set up a gig he played with Tim Chan when Paulina Ortlieb's doc about Victoria punk, Somewhere to Go, came out, and been delighted to hear a Coach StrobCam version of my own song, "If I Was a Bat," done not to the tune David M. wrote (at my request, to be performed at my wedding, but to my own, which I hadn't shared with M. when I made the request (thanks, Pete!). For this interview, though -  I mean, how many times can I interview one guy - Pete thought (and I agreed) that it might be fresher to talk to another member of Pink Steel, Jeff Carter, the band's keyboard player. Jeff didn't so much answer my numbered list of questions as structure a little Pink Steel essay out of his responses, which works just fine, too (I've re-inserted a few questions where they seemed to fit). Note for NoMeansNo fans: some Andy Kerr and Rob Wright stories here! 

Am I correct that all eight members of Pink Steel were in the same drama class? (Is this the correct Tony Burton, by the way?). Did you do plays and skits together as well? Was there any bleedover from things you did in drama class and things you did as a band?

We have always highlighted the high-school drama-class angle to Pink Steel’s origin because the influence was direct and we were consciously aware of it. The program was on a bit of a roll in the mid-seventies: four future members of Pink Steel were in the middle pivot year of three successive years of fairly numerous and fairly talented young thespians. Andy Kerr, soon to be an Infamous Scientist and later of NoMeansNo, was in the year behind us. In fact, we did a production of The Screwtape Letters - performed at the McPherson Playhouse - with the three male leads being Andy, Pete Campbell and myself. We participated in numerous great, ambitious productions, including a musical version of The Hobbit and the classic musical version of Peter Pan complete with flying apparatus. We did a killer Our Town one year, which consistently left some members of the audience in tears, and that’s fairly tricky emotional territory for a group of teenagers to take on. Tony Burton cast the productions extremely well, and that’s because he knew us well through the classwork, which largely consisted of improvisation games. I’m happy to say we never once had to lie on the floor and pretend we were pieces of sizzling bacon. 
Jeff Carter: "a photo from the Reynolds High School Drama Dept’s production of Peter Pan in 1975 with four future members of Pink Steel onstage"

What were you all listening to when you started hanging out? Did you all agree about what was or wasn't cool? Were there any schisms in the band? Pete says in the old blogpiece I did with him that "we all loved punk rock, especially The Clash, The Ramones and all the amazing Vancouver bands of the my mind, however these were just great rock bands, never mind the label they were given" Was anyone in the band more invested in punk as a lifestyle, act of rebellion, counterculture, etc? 

We did not have older brothers with Stooges or Velvet Underground records, so our common formative experience with music was essentially the classic rock soundtrack of the mid-70s. There were albums at that time which were ubiquitous - everyone had them: Frampton Comes Alive, Fleetwood Mac's Rumors, the first Boston LP, Steve Miller's Fly Like An Eagle, Nazareth's Greatest Hits etc. I personally also liked early Queen, Yes, and with Pete I shared an affinity for the Endless Summer Beach Boys. No one was in bands, there was maybe one cover band formed at our school made up of guys a few years older. Then in January 1979 I picked up the Clash’s second album, based on a review in Rolling Stone, and about half of my record collection was made instantly obsolete. Pink Steel had already been going for a few months, but this was a shot of inspiration. In the spring we were able to have band practice at bass player Ian’s house and his parents were never around. So we would practice and then go upstairs, smoke pot, and sit around listening to all the new music we had suddenly discovered - Clash, XTC, Magazine, Television, we liked the first Joe Jackson album too - so much energy and diversity. (Both Joe Jackson and XTC would play gigs in Victoria within a year of all that) Andy Kerr was on this tip as well, he was recommending Elvis Costello, and fellow future Infamous Scientist Kev Lee was also hip to it all. Kev was at the Clash show at the PNE Forum later that year, which Jim Mazerolle and I also attended. D.O.A. opened that show and were an astonishing revelation, not just because they were great but that they were from Burnaby. It hadn’t yet really occurred to us that there were various local scenes or that you could be a great band and not live in Los Angeles or London. The Vancouver Complication compilation LP very quickly became a common reference point amongst our peer group. However, within Pink Steel we still liked the top-end classic rock and were never ideological about music taste, and weren’t particularly political.

We were aware of criticism that the band had too many people - one of our first performance reviews recommended “careful pruning” - but it was never really a topic of conversation internally. For example, it was perhaps easy for others to suggest that second singer John Robbins wasn’t absolutely necessary, but from our POV the band was inconceivable without John in it. I suppose we had realized a sort of functioning alchemy that was more important than adherence to conventional notions of band personnel. The size of the group has come up again in some comments on the Supreme Echo re-release. The one time there was a conscious personnel discussion within Pink Steel was when Tomo, the third guitarist (the lead guitarist), moved on and we decided it was best to have Dean and Jim figure out how to contribute lead parts themselves, slimming down from eight persons to seven. That was successful, and we remained a seven-member group until Tim left after the second recording session. John then took over the bass duties and we were a bare-bones six members.

We wrote a fair amount of material, as the set list more or less completely changed three times over the course of four years or so. The earliest songs were pretty primitive - it took about a year to figure out what a bridge was. The middle period featured what would become the recorded songs, and relied on the huge sound allowed by our rhythm section. And there was a whole new collection of material in the last year, largely developed after Tim the bass player moved on. In the summer of 1982, the two Robbins brothers and I joined Jim Mazerolle in recording a set of his own songs, which represented the sort of sound Pink Steel was gradually evolving to but never realized beyond that. 

Come in Your Hand lyrics

You want to fly, you want to die
You want everything you can get your hands on
You want to play, do what you may
You want lots and you can't wait too long
You come to me, what's the matter can't you see
I'm not your saviour

You've got the brains to go insane 
Peek around the corner, I'll follow you there
And I'm the fool who broke a rule
You don't  need me anymore
Your friends are zero

But it won't come in your hand
Though you think it should
It just won't come in your hand
Though you wish it would
It won't come in your hand
Though you think it should, wish it would
It won't come in your hand

Well you're the kind of seedy
But oh so greedy
If you were a sponge
I'd use you to clean up the mess

And now you're rising by compromising
Selling yourself for fame
Going to bed with producers named Fred
And you don't feel shock as you hold onto his cock
As if his pleasure were your rise to the top

But it won't come in your hand
Though you think it should
It just won't come in your hand
Though you wish it would
It won't come in your hand
Though you think it should, wish it would
It won't come in your hand

In the spring of 1981 we helped form a very loose record label called Alandhiscar Records which went on to release singles and EPs by ourselves, the Infamous Scientists, NoMeansNo, and The Neos. NoMeansNo had previously released a 7”, which may have been the first local release at the time. John Wright also became a member of the Infamous Scientists, which helped cement the connections between the bands. Rob Wright owned a Portastudio (which some might remember was a ground-breaking four-track recording system which taped to common cassettes), responsible for a lot of local recordings. We recorded a four-song EP (in an 8-track studio) in late April 1981, and then a two song single in November. Those recordings are featured on the Supreme Echo release. We made one more recording in the late spring of 1982, a song called “Say Goodnight”, but it does not feature on the new release as the inclusion of the first six songs already seriously pushed the time limits of 7” vinyl.

As Pete said in that interview, Dave Robbins is, indeed, a stunning drummer, and he IS very Chuck Biscuits-like. If someone played me one of these songs, and I didn't know what it was, I would prolly guess it was Chuck Biscuits on drums. Any stories about Dave? (Can you provide a few links to what he's done since?)

Our drummer, Dave Robbins, was John’s little brother and was entirely sensational from the start, when he was fourteen years old. In fact, he was still in high school during most of his tenure with the Pink Steel. Today he is part of the Capilano College music faculty and is generally described as one of Canada’s top jazz drummers. He’s released a few CDs of big band material under his name ( He is one of those natural born musicians who can play almost any instrument given a minute or two. But he also bought into our concepts of energy and feeling being as or more important than technique, and was open to the punk rock idea even as others with music pedigrees would dismiss it as crude and unsophisticated. He came along to see D.O.A. when they played Victoria in June 1980 and walked up to Chuck Biscuits after the show to say: “I used to be able to play as fast as you.” And then he worked hard in the following weeks to get faster. 

The Robbins brothers - John and Dave - had come from a musical family, and during the high school years were in Band instead of Drama. So they could play multiple instruments, read music, etc. Jim Mazerolle and myself were in Band for one year (grade eight) then we shifted over to Drama, (our high school was grade eight through twelve), so we could read music but weren’t accomplished by any stretch. I had taken piano lessons for a few years as a child. Jim had, I believe, some rudimentary lessons on guitar but afterwards was self-taught and developed a unique off-beat approach before Pink Steel. Pete Campbell and Ian, our first bassist, started from zero - renting and first trying to play their instruments on the same week as our first “jam session”. Pete rented a guitar and although he would quickly become just a singer, he was eventually writing a lot of the music with that guitar. Pink Steel’s entire first year was about, basically, learning how to write and arrange songs. When Tim Russell joined as the new bass player, he was already gifted with the Entwistle-like virtuoso talent. How he developed that is anyone’s guess, but rumour had it as the result of many many hours in his room with his bass, a bunch of Rush albums, and illicit substances.

Pink Steel gig poster, Xmas 1982

What were your proudest, most memorable moments as a live band? 

The Victoria punk/new wave scene in our day (1980 through 1982) was largely an all-ages experience, meaning it wasn’t based in clubs or bars. There were several venues of various sizes open to event rentals. So Pink Steel several times rented out a place called The Norway House, invited other groups to fill out a show, and hoped the door would cover the rental cost and pay the bands at least something. We played there with the Infamous Scientists in December 1980, which launched a fairly regular schedule of local gigs with a growing number of local bands. A downtown venue called the OAP Hall would usually host out-of-town bands, which included at that time Vancouver groups like Subhumans and Modernettes, and also Black Flag, Husker Du, and X - usually put together by local promoters who were also active in the “scene”. The Husker Du show was memorable as they were an unannounced addition to a Subhumans concert which was also the final performance by the classic Subhumans lineup. Husker Du essentially performed the set which later formed their Land Speed Record LP, and were swarmed after the show by a number of very excited fourteen year olds who were already under the influence of local speedcore trio The Neos. Both Husker Du and The Subhumans crashed that night at the Pink Steel band house. 

Were there particular record stores that played a role in forming your musical identity (either you as a person, or Pink Steel's)? Was Lyle's Place around back then? What formative influences came from record stores? (Was there any one record, for you, that opened your ears to punk?).

Indirectly assisting the local scene was a small independent record store on Government Street called Richards Records. They would stock the Vancouver bands’ singles and LPs, and featured many extremely interesting “imports” on the display wall. They would stock the local 7” singles as well, as they became available, and also sell advance tickets to the shows. That led to a spot of trouble with Victoria’s civic council, who tried to make the store owners responsible for the “defacing” of city property with posters advertising upcoming gigs solely on the basis of being listed as the advance ticket vendor. The city eventually backed down from that threat, and that was the only official disapproval I can recall. 

What did you do after Pink Steel, Jeff? What do you do these days? If you could trace what happened to the band members after Pink Steel broke up...

Pink Steel’s demise was a matter of attrition. Both Dave and I had left Victoria at the end of the summer in 1982 to attend school in other cities. Then Jim announced he was leaving town a few months afterwards and that was about it. Of course, John and Pete decided they were not satisfied with down and out and so they proceeded to form The Wardells which continued through the decade and would record an LP for Zulu Records. Pete would afterwards form The Sweaters - both groups performing as trios, amusing in light of Pink Steel’s bulk. John unfortunately developed an aggressive form of MS, and struggled with his health through the 1990s, passing away before the millennium. His memorial service was the first and last time all the core Pink Steel members were together since 1982.

Myself - I moved to Vancouver in September 1982 to attend SFU’s Center for the Arts as a film student. Great timing, as it was a high period for the program. I’ve always made films since I was a kid, and that continues through Ocular Tip. I also did a series of no budget music videos for both the Wardells and Sweaters (and eventually Coach StrobCam), and, later, worked with high-concept cover band Powerclown and then with local musician Chris Gestrin (who I was introduced to via Dave Robbins). Chris just re-assembled our 2009 film project “Inside Passage” on his website ( I had also developed a technical skill, recording location audio for film and television, and have done that professionally for the last 25 years, including happily many homegrown productions from our local film community. One of the films I worked on was Tom Scholte’s Crime and I remember coming across your review of the film and immediately forwarding it to Tom, who was so happy that someone so totally “got” what he was trying to achieve. [Allan's note: I would later interview Scholte about Crime here]. We were very pleased with that film, and had enjoyed its production immensely. I had met Tom through Bruce Sweeney, who is also a longtime colleague as I’ve recorded sound on all his films since 1998’s Dirty. That’s one of the better movies about Vancouver ever made. I also work with Julia Kwan, whose NFB doc Everything Will Be is another great film about Vancouver.

Pink Steel, Autumn 1981, provided by Jeff Carter

Any stories of record collectors from far flung corners of the world surprising you with their love of Pink Steel?

Nothing really far flung, but various former members have been contacted by curious strangers. There remains an immense interest in the explosion of energy and creativity, directed into punk and new wave musics, from the late 1970s and early 1980s. I’ve been interviewed a few times for books and articles. One of those was for Sam Sutherland’s Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk, which I really enjoyed for its coverage of the individual city scenes across the country. There seemed to be a common thread in the origin stories, in that one band would step forward to put on a city's first show/gig and perform rather awfully, but their fumbling would inspire the formation of more groups. That was us, horribly out of tune at our old high school (autumn of 1979) which led directly to the Infamous Scientists getting together in response.

A few years ago I was tracked down by a guy in L.A. who had taken on some internet sleuthing to find a representative of the band. He was originally from the area near the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and was assembling an online compendium of recordings from the era which had nuclear accident themes. He had somehow come across information that we had recorded a song called “My Girl’s Radioactive” and, acting as a completist, made a pitch for its inclusion. There are literally dozens of radioactivity songs on the webpage, it’s an impressive curative effort. Definitely pleased to contribute to clever online projects (

My Girl's Radioactive lyrics

Walking with my girl in the fields outside of town 
I forget about the things that they bury in the ground
Now every time I kiss her, I get a buzzing in my head
And the doctors say, "Hey boy, pretty soon you're gonna be dead."

My girl's radioactive
My girl's radioactive
My girl's radioactive
What about yours?

Don't talk to me about safety
I think that that's a lark
We're easy to see when we're in a crowd
Because we glow in the dark

My girl's radioactive
My girl's radioactive
My girl's radioactive
What about yours?

The government wrote a letter
When they found out what went wrong
They're gonna fly her over Moscow
They're wanna use her as a bomb

My girl's radioactive
My girl's radioactive
My girl's radioactive
What about yours?

 If people want to buy the original 7 inches, are there any available?

The original 7” releases are fairly rare. I can’t remember how many were printed at the time, but they only appeared in independent record stores in Victoria and Vancouver. There was no other retail option available. I personally have about half a dozen of each, but all the rest were dispersed. We had heard some years ago that the records were selling for $40, although one of the recent reviews stated they were listing for $100. There are online sites where this commerce takes place.

How does looking back on Pink Steel feel for you? Any comments or thoughts about the Supreme Echo reissue?

Pink Steel was a focal point for all of us for about four years in our late teens. We started from almost nothing and finished with seven recordings that we remain proud of, and enjoyed the lived experiences which were intensified because they were shared between us - our gang - and because it was a creative effort which had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Participating in the Victoria scene, which also grew out of nothing, and participating in the wider punk era with the opportunity to have enjoyed live shows and at times interact with so many vital bands at their peak - it was all fantastic.

Extremely happy with the Supreme Echo release. Pete and I had a sort of silent project for many years of trying to establish some kind of legacy for the band and this seems to have finally happened. Jason Flower did a fantastic job of seeing through the assembling of the material, and then putting together the accompanying booklet. It’s satisfying to hear total strangers disconnected from us in time and space express positive feelings towards the material. That the Victoria scene from our day has assumed a bit of a profile, not least from the bands associated with our loose record label, is actually the most satisfying part of all. It’s a manifestation in a way of the fusion of collective energies which was the big eye-opening life lesson passed on doing productions through the drama program. The rewards are shared and beyond merely the individual self.

Pink Steel's Here We Go Again is available at local record stores (I know for sure Red Cat has it, but call around) and through the Supreme Echo bandcamp page. There is also more on Pink Steel on the Ocular Tip website. Thanks to Pete Campbell, Jason Flower, and of course, Jeff Carter! 

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