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|Written by Kevin Johns|
|Tuesday, 24 November 2009 00:00|
When I call to speak with Idlers, I catch them barreling down the highway on their way to Fredericton in a van they describe as "the Big Green Pickle." The phone is answered by one band member, and then passed from hand to hand through the vehicle. I can hear voices speaking in varying degrees of thick East Coast accent. The phone finally comes to rest with guitarist Paul Schiralli-Earle.
The St. John's band was started by Schiralli-Earle, along with frontman Mark Wilson, in 2006. The group soon swelled to include eleven musicians. What drew such a diverse group of nearly a dozen individuals together? The answer is easy: "Our love of reggae," says Schiralli-Earle.
While a group that size makes sustainable touring difficult, Idlers overcome the challenges they face collectively. "Everyone has their say. It works out well," explains Schiralli-Earle. "There has never been any major conflicts."
Of course, having eleven people to bounce ideas off during the creative process creates challenges in its own right. "We figured out certain things in the writing process pretty early on. You're not going to come in with a song partly finished and say, 'Let's work on this.' We tried that and it doesn't work. But you get three or four people together to write, and it gets pretty interesting and fun. You never know what you are going to get!"
Named Best Live Band in The Scopes Best of St. John's Reader Survey, the "you never know what you are "There are always people being exposed to reggae for the first time and falling in love with it." going to get" approach applies to the band's live concerts as well. On their new album Keep Out, they tried to recreate the dynamic live vibe in the studio setting. "That's probably the biggest challenge for any band: trying to get your live performance on record," notes Schiralli-Earle. "The big difference isn't the sound or the quality of the music, but the spontaneity."
Keep Out was produced by Bad Brains bassist and Bedouin Soundclash producer Darryl Jenifer. "We sent him twenty odd demos, and he pared it down to ten," says Schiralli-Earle. "He definitely had something in mind when he was knocking them down, because, when he came back, we were like, 'Oh, those tunes. That's what he wants us to be.' He chiseled it down to a fine sword, instead of a block of marble." The recording process went smoothly, largely because Jenifer was so easy to get along with. "He was great. We drank with him, ate with him, smoked with him, and we laughed with him."
The result was a more mature album than Idler's debut record, Corner. The songs on Keep Out are shorter and more hard hitting.
Recording for twelve days in a church in Woodstock, New York, the band couldn't help but acknowledge the area's musical legacy. "I don't put a whole lot of value on the significance of a place and who was there before, but at the same time you could definitely see why all that stuff happened there," says Schiralli-Earle. "I'm a big fan of The Band and Music From Big Pink was recorded close to where we were. That was definitely in the psyche. We really felt like we were part of something."
While experiencing momentary spikes in popularity, ska and reggae music have never sustained mainstream interest for long periods of time. "I think it's because of money," says Schiralli-Earle. "Every once and a while someone with cash will decide, 'I'm going to put my money behind this and push it into the mainstream.' It's not anything to do with people's taste or the value of any type of music. People listen to reggae all around the world every day. It's sustained in the underground. There are always people being exposed to reggae for the first time and falling in love with it."
You might think that performing reggae in St. John's, a community known primarily for its Celtic music, would leave Idlers feeling out of place, but the band is quick to dispel any such notion. "That's a misconception that the rest of Canada has to deal with," say Schiralli-Earle. "There's all kinds of different styles of music in "The rest of Canada needs to catch up with what's going on in the East Coast." Newfoundland. It's like any other city in Canada. The only difference is there was never a Jamaican diaspora that ended up in Newfoundland and brought the culture there. It's unique in that sense. But you go to Fredericton and they've got a Wednesday reggae night. Halifax has a Thursday reggae night. It's all over the East Coast. The misconception of it only being Celtic is kind of twenty years old. The rest of Canada needs to catch up with what's going on in the East Coast."
Idlers are on tour in Ontario and the Eastern Canada throughout the month of November. Come December and the Christmas season, they plan to focus on what is most important to them: their families. Newfoundland's coastal whether makes leaving the island difficult during January and February, so the new year will be spent writing new material. "We'll take all those ideas generated out on the road and put them into play," says Schiralli-Earle. "Being on the road is inspirational. Any time you are in a new city playing in front of a new audience, you get part of your brain and part of your heart tingling and meshing together . . . it's a blast."
And with that, the Green Pickle was back the highway, headed east to shows where Idlers tunes are sure to set hearts and brains a-tingling.
Tags: can con, darryl jenifer, east coast, halifax, idlers, interview, live music, newfoundland, reggae, ska, the band, tour, woodstock