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"A Change of Tune" Interviews The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer

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Leigh Righton

Every week, “A Change of Tune” host Joni Deutsch will have one-on-one conversations with emerging talents and give Spotify-like music recommendations in a new feature called “Recommended If You Like.” This week we'll hear from Vancouver-based band The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer’s Shawn Hull (aka “The Harpoonist) about the state of the music industry, fan experiences, and the band’s new record, “A Real Fine Mess.” If you like The Black Keys, this band and interview are recommended for you.

Joni: Congrats on the new record and also on your first U.S. tour!

Shawn: Thank you! Yeah, it was a tough one. We had six states, and we ended up doing the places that most bands probably wouldn’t play for their first tour. We found out that Kansas has absolutely butt-kicking storms, and Matt [Rogers, aka “The Axe Murderer] looked like he was in a Vidal Sassoon commercial in a wind tunnel during the show. But people didn’t flinch! They thought we were kitty cats. I guess that’s how they roll in Kansas.

J: Tell me more about 2014 for you all. What’s been the most exciting thing, aside from the first U.S. tour and your newest record, “A Real Fine Mess?”

S: We were really honored to play at the Continental Club in Austin, Texas, during South by Southwest. That was incredible, and we got to play right up there with heavy hitters like Luther Dickinson from the North Mississippi Allstars, Rich Robinson from the Black Crowes, and one of The Neville Brothers’ children. And going to New York City was cool. We played in the smallest club we have ever played in our lives.

J: Was it the size of a closet or something?

S: It was ridiculous. Only New Yorkers would get away with this stuff and then say, “What? What are you complaining about? This is New York. This is how it is.” It probably held 20 to 24 people, and when you finished playing, the next band came in and you had to get out onto the street to pack up your gear, even if it was raining. At first I thought, “I can’t believe we flew across the continent to play in the smallest place ever,” but the experience was incredibly intimate.

J: So what do you think makes your music Canadian, if anything?

S: Watching similar bands doing swampy funk rhythm and blues in the States, we feel like being Canadian gives us a perspective where we’re not in that melting pot. We’re able to pick and choice a little bit differently because we’re not born into the same demographics and don’t have to be cookie-cuttered into genres. Since we’re not born in Chicago or raised in a strict, conservative culture of Chicago blues, we don’t have to completely immerse ourselves in one particular thing just because that was what we were born into.

J: Tell me a little bit about the cover art for “A Real Fine Mess.” From what I saw, it was a PSA about the dangers of drinking and tightrope walking over the ocean.

S: That could work. I actually think it looks a little Monty Python-esque to show the bizarre contrast of this glamorous, almost circus type-like life against normal day-to-day functions. For us, it’s a balance between the type of life and energy attached to our wild, rock and roll world and the straight reality of having a mortgage and being a parent. I’m not sure if the kid and mortgage are meant to be the shark and octopus, but it’s that kind of dichotomous life that we’re trying to project.

J: So is there a certain message or theme attached to “A Real Fine Mess?”

S: [Laughing] You won’t find any parenting themes on the record. There’s no great heartache, but there are themes of relationships thinning out, longing for the past, and looking back at those lustful romantic days and ignition starters at the beginning of relationships. It’s not like a particularly themed record where we’re going down and exploring the 1955 crisis in Cuba… even though I don’t think there was a crisis in ’55.

J: In my mind, your record was similar to The Black Keys’ style, but you went all out with a kind of “blues that gets you in the crotch,” as one reviewer put it.

S: [Laughing] That came from a journalist in the Yukon from a couple years ago. People are obviously going to draw parallels to bands like The Black Keys because they’re doing blues-esque rock, but when you look at our songwriting and melodic approach, it’s just so different from that style of band and those instruments. It’s a great parallel to make because it’s a nice to have a point of reference to bands like that.

J: What would be a dream collaboration for you all?

S: You know what would be a great collaboration because we haven’t seen it yet? Questlove. Danger Mouse’s sound is all over the last decade of music, and he’s been doing his thing and doing it incredibly well. But if we want to bring our music into a new rhythmic realm, someone like Questlove would be a huge addition.

J: So outside of your own music, what are you listening to right now?

S: Straight up, we’re listening to The Greyhounds, an indie soul blues band by J.J. Grey. Austin-based singer-songwriter Hayes Carll is on the playlist. We’re really digging Dr. Dog right now. Royal Canoe, which is almost like Canada’s version of Frank Ocean, is on the list, so are Sam Cooke and obscure Robert Palmer from the ‘70s.

J: On another note, I really like the band’s name, and I love how The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer’s acronym is “HAM.” You could develop meat-based products to give out at shows.

S: And if we ever develop a “Deadhead” fanbase, I guess they would be HAM-sters? [Laughing] You would be the first to put that down. I don’t think it’s up to bands to decide fanbase names, so you would need to make it up for us.

J: That is an absolutely brilliant exclusive. Thanks! So what’s next for you all?

S: We are going to Disneyland! No, but we do have a music video that is being made by Matt’s brother [Ben Rogers] for our new single, “Don’t Make’em Like They Used To,” and he’s going to put together an incredible story of a world that used to be. It might be stop-motion animation, and that’s going to be one of the neater, creative things to come out of the band. We’re a very family-based operation, and Matt’s brother does all of the band’s illustrations and has helped pen a few of the band’s songs, including “Don’t Make’em Like They Used To.”

The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer are currently finishing their summer tour for "A Real Fine Mess." You can follow their musical hijinks on http://www.harpoonistaxemurderer.com. To get a sneak peak of their record, tune in to Joni Deutsch’s “A Change of Tune” this Saturday at 10 PM EST on West Virginia Public Radio.

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