They didn’t expect their record to be so timely. But less than two weeks after millions of British public sector workers took to the streets of London in the country’s biggest general strike since the Great Depression, and against the backdrop of a maturing worldwide social movement at odds with the global economic system, St. John’s punk-rock outfit Two Guitars Clash are right on schedule.
Fusing time-honoured punk stylings with nouveau rock guitar licks and honest yet optimistic lyrics, Doug Rowe (guitar, vocals), Brad Dooley (guitar, vocals), Adam Giles (bass) and Sean Power (drums) will celebrate the release of their first full-length album “The New Economy” Friday night at The Levee.
Despite punk’s teen ire repute, however, it’s not likely the room will be filled with your 19- to 25-year-olds.
“Our fans’ age bracket is big because we have people that I grew up with and played with in their 40s who like our band. Then we’ve got people in their 20s too,” says Rowe, a veteran of the local punk music scene, as he sips a pint of Guinness at a downtown pub.
The lead singer’s black leather jacket, slicked back hair and gold chain around his neck belie the compassion behind the subject matter of his songs.
With an honesty and optimism that recalls The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers (the ’70s Irish punk band that inspired the band’s name), Rowe and company are faithful to the punk tradition, but aware of the perils of uncomfortably principled music making its way into the mainstream.
The opening track, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Radar,” has already gone to air on local rock radio, but the catchy punk-rock anthem also happens to be the only song that doesn’t speak to an injustice.
“Everything’s tied together, even ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Radar,’” Rowe explains. “We’re using that as our single because radio stations aren’t afraid to play it. They’re not going to play ‘China Price’ on the radio, at least I don’t think so. Even though there are songs I think are radio-friendly on it, the other songs are about something pretty heavy duty, not radio friendly in their content.”
“Cost of Doing Business,” the album’s second track, is inspired by the miners of the Burin Peninsula, in Lawn and St. Lawrence, says Rowe, and “how they had to struggle for years for compensation because of poor ventilation and diseases they got from working in the mines.
“It shows that something can be done, things can move forward, people can make change,” he continues. “I want to show that optimism without being negative. I think a lot of punk groups can be very negative … and I don’t think that’s productive at all.”
“China Price” addresses globalization and the tendency of big companies to outsource factory jobs overseas, a current reality for the workers in Marystown who are occupying the Ocean Choice International fish plant with the hope of maintaining their livelihood.
“They’ll send (jobs) wherever they can to pay lower wages, and it’s not doing any favours to workers here,” says Rowe.
“Look at ‘The New Economy’ all the good jobs that are lost that allow people to buy houses and raise families. You got your middle class shrinking, right? Anybody can go out and get a minimum wage job, but they’re not going to go out and get a good factory job because they’re all over in China somewhere.
“There should be regulations in place where companies shouldn’t be allowed to do this, because if everybody had a decent job over here maybe people wouldn’t mind paying a bit more for (things) that are made here.”
Former Stiff Little Fingers guitarist Henry Cluney makes an appearance on “Wall Street Welfare,” a fact that still has Rowe in disbelief.
“Here’s a guy who influenced The Edge in U2, and he’s singing words that I wrote? That just blows me away,” he says.
“The Stiff Little Fingers song we’re named after, Henry wrote that. So when the EP came out … I found him living in Minnesota playing in a band down there.
“I sent (the band) a message … and the next thing you know I get an email from Henry saying he would love to hear our stuff,” Rowe continues.
“He said he’d do whatever he could to help the band, and so agreed to play guitar and sing on ‘Wall Street Welfare.’”
Though Two Guitars Clash calls a spade a spade, Rowe says as he was penning the songs he often succumbed to feelings of despair when faced with the immensity of needed change.
He describes the album’s title track as an “idealistic viewpoint” that he thought most likely would never come to fruition.
“I could never see it being a widespread movement where people say, ‘We’re not gonna have this no more and we’re going to go down to the docks and not let the container ships go, and we’re going to take our jobs back and we’re going to move all the shit back to the factories and bring everything back to life,” he says.
But now, as the Occupy movement continues to evolve, Rowe says he is embodying more of the optimism in his band’s songs.
“Maybe it could happen now, you know?” he says.
“The New Economy” is a solid collection of catchy, punk-rock tunes that, with their spirited pugnacity and astute lyrics, are both distinct and true to their roots.
How rock radio will respond is another question. Are catchy tunes with impressive guitar licks and meaningful, relevant lyrics too much these days?
If you’re in St. John’s, celebrate Two Guitars Clash’s release of “The New Economy” with them at The Levee on West George Street.
Showtime is 10 p.m.