Idlers keep busy

Tara Bradbury
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11-member band has CDs, gigs and tours on its schedule

Mark Wilson of The Idlers sings during the band’s performance at Harbourside Park in St. John’s during the WreckHouse International Jazz and Blues Festival.

For sale: one big green pickle. Not just any pickle — The Idlers’ trusty green van, which has taken them across the country and back on tour.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it; the St. John’s-based band has just come through what members describe as a bit of an evaluation period, and they’ve decided they don’t need it anymore.

Not that they’re no longer going on road trips — they’re taking a little one next week, when they visit Bonavista for a gig at the Garrick Theatre. They’re just going to make do with their smaller, individual vehicles.

It’s one of a few changes The Idlers have seen over the past year; most notable was the departure of guitarist Paul Schiralli-Earle and guitarist Craig Millett, and the arrival into the band of Brad Power.

“To round out the Powerhouse trio in the band,” says trombone player John Duff. “We have Luke Power on keyboards, Chris Power on drums, who’s the younger brother, and Brad on guitar. They’re a rhythm section that acts as a mind meld — they communicate just by looking at each other.”

The Idlers was founded in 2006 by Schiralli-Earle and trump­eter/vocalist Mark Wilson, and has grown to include 11 musicians.

In May, they released their third album, which is self-titled, featuring not a pickle on the cover, but asparagus — a group of asparagus heads in suits, as a tribute to The Idlers of the United States Coast Guard Academy, an American a cappella ensemble with which they’re often confused.

Eleven people means a lot of fun onstage, but the need to be organized when writing music, and on this album, The Idlers chose to take a school project-style approach, dividing themselves into groups with a week deadline. Out of that came three songs: “Change Gone Comin’,” “Say No” and “Sunder,” and all three made the cut for the record.

“Working on ‘Change Gone Comin’ there was a lot of wine. Wine and scotch,” Duff said, laughing.

“Say No” happened quite basically, adds Wilson, although his group never actually met in person to write.

“It came out of Craig playing guitar,” he said. “He laid down a guitar and bass line, and Chris eventually added some horn on top of it and lyrics on top of that. It was literally done over email. I don’t think we really hung out on that one. We were all busy. The inspiration came from the music itself, for sure, because it was like, ‘Holy cow, that’s awesome.’”

The song “No Thoughts” was inspired by some random advice on the street given to Wilson by a friend, during a rough period in his life.

“I was going through a difficult time and he basically said, ‘Listen man, no thoughts, no emotion,’ for how to get through that kind of time. That was neat,” Wilson said.

Although The Idlers’ debut CD, “Corner” was roots-reggae-fuelled, the band has matured, with a sound that now includes folk and rock elements, with lots of ska.

They’re not even calling themselves reggae anymore, Duff and Wilson said, but they will hold onto their reputation as one of the province’s most fun live bands.

The fun aspect is never forced, even after all these years, but Wilson says there was a time when it was a little more stressful — hence the re-evaluation.

“For a while there, we were going on tour, we were making very, very little money. There were points where it was getting more stressful than it needed to be,” he said. “I think we needed to take a step back and evaluate every aspect of it. I think we’re at the completion of that process and I think we’ve been able to have so much fun and stay together. There are so many of us, it’s like being in a maze. You just keep going. We’re not tired of each other. We’re happy with each other. We like playing music together and there are so many intricate, different ways we can get through that, and they’re all fun, really.

“We’re at that point now where we were before, where there’s no stress, everything’s pretty chill and it is 110 per cent fun.”

The Idlers played at the Levee last weekend, and will hit the Garrick Aug. 31. After that, they’re planning to take a little break. They’ve got songs recorded that haven’t been released yet, and they’ve got a stockpile of music written — enough to fill at least another record.

“We dream lots and we’re still scheming,” Duff said.

In the winter, they hope to do an Atlantic Canadian tour — and if there haven’t been any takers on the Big Green Pickle by then, they’ll take it, too.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Garrick Theatre, United States Coast Guard Academy

Geographic location: Bonavista

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