Rifflandia 3 Opening Night: That Festival You Like is Coming Back, in Style!

23 09 2010

Victoria’s third edition of the Rifflandia music festival kicks off tonight, and there’s a bunch of great shows going down. K’naan, Aesop Rock, Dayglo Abortions (have you seen them live?—you should), Lee Ranaldo—all these guys are set to headline at different venues scattered throughout downtown.  My dream was to hop around and catch a few songs from several of these artists, so I could bring you an overview of opening night, but there’s a hairball clogging my sonic vacuum cleaner’s flow:  no media pass. Rifflandia isn’t providing media passes for anyone this year, which means I’m likely to encounter sold-out performances, and I’ve got no bone to throw to the bouncers. I will just have to see how much leverage a VIP pass and an air of general entitlement can get me, I suppose.

One thing’s for sure—I won’t be missing my chance to shake it unti I get the funk and disco dry-heaves at Lucky Bar tonight. I’ll club my way in with a road cone if I have to—I’m that excited to see Vancouver’s Neighbour (aka Matt Dauncey) blow up the floor. But I hope it won’t come to that, because I would hate to leave a neon-orange spank-mark on any doorman’s cheek. Besides, I’m interviewing Dauncey in a few hours, so I think it will probably all work out. Now, speaking of interviews. . . .

Ballgag n’ Chain Gang

I sat down yesterday with Victoria’s own Ballgag n’ Chain Gang to talk about the gospel of “The Tonk”, the shamefullness of bacon bits, and the importance of practicing playing the guitar behind your head. Adam Zonnis, Steve Craik, and Brendan Pye joined me on the patio at Union Pacific coffee house, and I enjoyed a montreal smoked meat panini while we chatted. Do you remember cafe Vieux Montreal? Now that was a smoked meat sandwich. But I digress.

Jay Morritt:  Um, ok, so tell me about “Ho-Tonk.” Yeah, I wanna hear some proselytizing about the Ho-Tonk.

Steve Craik:  Oh God, should I start from the beginning of it?

JM:  Please sir, start from the Genesis.

SC:  I was in University studying avant-garde composition, and this buddy of mine, a guitar player, the two of us went down to Beacon Hill Park with a didgeridoo and a guitar, and we just started playing honky-tonk tunes. Then we went downtown to play, and people danced, and so we started busking. We did that for a year-and-a-half, and we called it digi-tonk. We developed a language, a vernacular, like we’d say “let’s go and dole out some tonk”, so we can “get some spoils” and go buy “some fixins”.  Then the guitar player got busy, and I started a one man band with a plastic digeridoo and a guitar, and started doing open mics, and that’s where I met Adam, who was doing a banjo and didgeridoo thing—it was kinda like we were separated at birth or something—and then we got asked to do this Fringe play.

JM:  Well that was actually my next question, because I’d read that Ballgag n’ Chain Gang started at the fringe. Tell me about that.

SC:  We formed a three piece band for this play about the worst Dominatrix from Thunder Bay—

JM:  The worst one! how many are there up there?

SC:  Have you ever been to Thunder Bay? (laughs). So anyway we were like the house orchestra for this play, and that’s where the Ball Gag n’ Chain Gang comes from.

JM:  It’s such a great name. People just like to say it.

Adam Zonnis:  Yeah, and no matter how bad people mess it up, you still know who they’re talking about.

SC:  We’ve been called some funny things:  Chainball and Gang Bang; Gagball and Chain. . . .

AZ:  So after the fringe thing we got a drummer and a bass player and the band developed into what it is now, and we took Ho-Tonk and made it  into a whole philosophy for living.  And so we’re here to spread the Gospel of The Tonk.

SC:  The way it works is, you can do pretty much whatever you want—if you look at the dancefloor at one of our shows, we encourage everyone to dance like an absolute jackass, and not to take life so seriously.

AZ:  But we do take our songwriting very seriously.

JM:  Well, the reputation of your live show precedes you. That’s why we’re sitting here together, actually, because so many people have told me to check you guys out, that your live show is just fabulous.

AZ:  We have a song called “White Guy Dance Party” and we reward the audience for who can pull the best white guy dance moves. But we usually win.

JM:  I’ve also heard you sometimes feed the audience bacon.

SC: Yeah, we’ve fed strips of pipin’ hot bacon to people on stage, or cold bacon, or bacon bits—that was kinda lame—people got mad at us for that one.

JM:  They were like “posers” (laughs).  On your myspace page I saw a video where one of you is playing guitar behind his head. He was really good at it—I thought, wow, he must practice that!

SC:  That’s Tony. He does practice it—he does that quite a bit actually.

JM:  Ok, so what’s next, what’s on the horizon for the band?

Brendan Pye:  Tour. Rifflandia first, and then tour.

SC:  Well be spending a few weeks doing the old BC/Alberta loop. We’ve been doing that every four or five months.

BP:  This will be our fourth tour to Alberta in thirteen months.

SC:  We’re trying to put together a tour over to Japan for next year, in March or April.

AZ:  And we’re going to step it up on the next album. More production, moving away from the raw sound of the last recordings. The new songs are way better than all the old songs.

BP:  The next album is going to be great—I can’t wait to start recording it.

I thought the interview was over at this point, but as we said our goodbyes outside of Union Pacific, something caught one of the guys’ eyes—a toy in the window of the sex shop next door, something called “The Squeel.”  It looked like an overized mentos mint cracked in half, with a fleshy waterwheel sticking out. We started to walk away, but the woman running the shop came out on the boulevard and wanted to know what we were looking at, and would we like a demonstration? Well this was too good to pass up.

Sex Shop Saleswoman:  This is the Squeel. Feel it—it has little tongues.

The pink paddles protruding from the wheel spin at a disturbingly quick pace, while the machine’s little engine wheezes away in its plastic case. Each of us takes our turn getting “licked.”

BP:  It looks like it was made by apple.

SSS:  The case is really hard to get back on, but I mean, do you really need to close it—you’re gonna use it again soon, right?

BP:  Yeah, it’s like trying to get me to shut my mouth!

Catch Ballgag n’ Chain Gang at Club 9One9 on Sunday, 7:30pm, with Big Muff, Humans, Lazers, and Bucan Bucan.

Jay Morritt




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