The sound of stolen smokes

Tobias Romaniuk
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Elliott BROOD singer/guitarist talks songwriting, touring and where that guitar sound comes from

The members of Toronto alt-country trio Elliot BROOD play Club One with Wintersleep today and Wednesday night.— Submitted photo.

St. John’s should be on every Canadian touring band’s schedule, according to Casey Laforet, guitarist and singer in the Toronto-based alt-country trio Elliott BROOD. As for why it isn’t, he has an idea.

“I don’t think they know how awesome it is,” he said. “I think that’s kind of the problem.”

Laforet is mulling over why more touring acts don’t visit Newfoundland, citing cost concerns as a big factor. Let’s face it, getting on and off this rock isn’t cheap. But it’s worth it.

Elliott BROOD and Wintersleep are playing Club One for two nights — today and Wednesday. He said it’s a great way to start a cross-Canada tour.

“It’s gonna be a good one. I can’t wait,” said Laforet. “It’s our first show of the tour, so it’s going to be pretty awesome.”

He’s on the phone from somewhere in Toronto, getting ready for the next tour and rehearsing songs with guitarist/singer Mark Sasso and drummer Stephen Pitkin. They’ve been dusting off songs from past albums that don’t usually get played live.

“We’re trying to get out some of the quieter ballady stuff that we never do, that we’re going to try to mix in, because our show is usually pretty high-tempo,” he said.

Although there’s only three of them onstage, it can sound like a five piece at times.

Laforet plays sitting down, not by design, but because he doesn’t have a guitar strap. So when he saw bass pedals in a shop one day, he picked them up, realizing he could add them to the live show.

“It wasn’t thought out, it just sort of happened that way,” he said.

The band’s drummer is also a trained pianist, and plays piano with his left hand while drumming, something that evolved out of having piano parts on their last album, “Days Into Years.”

That album was the first to feature distorted electric guitar, mostly because Laforet had bought a Fender Telecaster before they started recording, and it was around to use, he said.

There’s a dirty, slightly fuzzy distorted sound mixed into the songs that matches the gritty, hard stories about young men aged before their time by war.

The source of that sound was delivered to Laforet’s doorstep years ago when he was a teenager by a kid who used to get into trouble more than the rest of them.

“He was like ‘you want this distortion pedal? Give me a pack of smokes for it.’ So I stole a pack of smokes from my mom and traded him for this thing,” says Laforet. He still uses the pedal, a Boss Heavy Metal pedal known widely for its bad sound.

The theme of adapting and picking up things as they go is in many of the stories Laforet tells, like how the band came to incorporate banjo into their sound.

One day, he said, Sasso picked one up, tuned it to the first tuning in the book that came with the instrument, and started playing it with a pick, strumming hard like it was a guitar.

Laforet takes the same guitarist’s approach to the banjo, resulting in banjo lines that don’t sound like what normally gets played on the instrument.

“I don’t think the instrument ... is stuck in this bluegrass style,” he said.

These days the banjo is making its way into music not often associated with banjos. Like indie-rock band Modest Mouse, which is where Laforet first heard the banjo in a pop music setting.

Kids who grew up on punk rock and bands like Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr. are picking up these instruments, and what’s coming out is a result of those influences, said Laforet.

“It’s a cool dynamic. It’s a cool thing for those instruments to sound different and be treated differently than they would normally,” he said.

Songs that start out as one thing and become another are familiar to Laforet, and Elliott BROOD has multiple live versions of many of their songs.

He picks out the song “If I Get Old” from their latest album as an example. It has evolved from a loud song into a quieter one onstage.

Songwriting is a joint effort between bandmates, and they discuss what each song will sound like by asking what it looks like.

“When we talk to each other about writing songs it’s always visual,” said Laforet. “Here’s the scene,  is it a death march, is it a war battle, and we try to paint the scene visually.”

The instrumentation, whether it’s banjo or mandolin or a distorted guitar, all comes secondary to the story of the song, he said.

“(We’re) trying to convey the look of that picture,” he said.

Elliott BROOD plays Club One with Wintersleep this today and Wednesday. Tickets are $27.99 in advance or $32.99 the day of the show, and are available at www.sonicconcerts.com.

Presale tickets for the Tuesday show are sold out.

tobias.romaniuk@gmail.com

Twitter: @tobiasromaniuk

Organizations: Cross-Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Toronto

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