New Odds mix lightness and darkness

odds

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, SEPT. 3, 2008

THERE ONCE WAS a Vancouver band called the Odds, which rose up from its night job as a cover band at the Roxy Nightclub to win over the hearts and minds of pop-rock fans far and wide. Between 1991 and ’96 the group released four major-label discs that spawned several radio hits, but in 1999 the quartet called it quits. Sort of.

Three of the members—singer-guitarist Craig Northey, bassist Doug Elliott, and drummer Pat Steward—continued performing together in various incarnations, until they hooked up with a guitarist named Murray Atkinson in 2007. So instead of calling themselves Three Old Odds and a New One, they just went for the more streamlined the New Odds. Or TNO for short.

Like their previous incarnation, the New Odds are a study in contrast. While the music heard on the band’s new CD, Cheerleader, sports the upbeat vibe suggested by its title, there’s a darkness running through several songs. The Vancouver music-scene veterans best known for poking fun at randiness (“Heterosexual Man”) and whimsically wondering if you’d eat their brains is now taking lyrical cues from actual murders and suicide attempts.

Outside an East Hastings practice space, Northey greets the Straight clad in a “More Cowbell” T-shirt, which probably saves him time issuing instructions to skinbasher Steward on-stage. Inside is a typically grungy rock ’n’ roll room crammed with guitar cases, drums, and numerous amps, plus the obligatory—but sadly empty—beer fridge.

The darkened doorway to a back room doesn’t invite exploration. “It looks like where they filmed the end of The Blair Witch Project back there,” warns Atkinson, making his own retro statement in a ZZ Top Afterburner T.

afterburner

According to Northey, the practice space is a convenient meeting point. “You can drive the van up and get everything,” he explains, “although you need a sentry.” It does seem like a sketchy neighbourhood, all right. Leave a Strat unattended around here for 10 seconds and you’ll spend the next week scouring local pawnshops.

But Northey has yet to compose an ode to the inherent social problems of the Downtown Eastside. He’s been too busy commenting on the life-or-death scenario he encountered a few miles away. The Cheerleader track “Jumper” was inspired by his observation of a potential suicide on the Lion’s Gate Bridge.

“If you see somebody poised to jump off a bridge,” he relates, “those are images you can’t really erase from your mind. I was there at the early stages, and I’m hoping everything worked out okay, but you sort of play the whole scenario over in your mind, and it becomes fodder for a tune.”

Another Cheerleader tune that winds along the dark underbelly of urban life is “Come to LA”, which includes a verse recalling an execution-style slaying that Northey and Elliott witnessed in broad daylight in Venice Beach, California, in the early ’90s.

“I hear the cap gun but it’s real and it’s through his head,” sings Northey, “People run from the site like the dirt around a meteorite/Then they rush back to see what the mess is like.” The song’s jaunty rhythms and vibrant horn section are at odds with its grisly subject matter. “You can cleverly disguise hideous ideas with pop melodies and nice chord structure,” Northey contends, “so that’s kind of what we’ve done.”

Cheerleader is not all death and depression, though. You won’t find a more cheery, get-your-ass-up rock ditty than “My Happy Place”, which Corner Gas fans will recognize from the TV show’s end credits. (Northey also cowrote and sang the comedy series’ rousing theme song, “Not a Lot Goin’ On”.)

The fleshed-out version of “My Happy Place” that appears on Cheerleader includes a soaring guitar break by Atkinson, who first joined the group for a four-day musical cruise of the Caribbean that their friends in Barenaked Ladies were organizing last year.

“He didn’t care less about being in the band,” Northey quips, “he wanted to be on a boat on the high seas.”

Although Atkinson is a decade younger than his bandmates, age hasn’t really been a concern, because he has pretty well the same musical influences: mostly ’70s rock and old R & B. “He has these ’70s hands,” notes Northey with a wry smile, “and you can hear it on the record, in the vibrato and the feel. There’s a wee bit of Ace Frehley in there.”

Atkinson fills the spot previously held by original Odds guitarist-vocalist Steven Drake, but Northey doesn’t spend much time pondering how the member switch has altered the group. “Well, it was great before,” he says. “You know, not being egotistical about it, but it was a good band, and we had a good run. But I don’t think any of us look back and compare it too much. I know that Murray’s background is a bit different, and it’s considerably more collaborative than it was before.”

When it comes down to it, music-wise the New Odds aren’t a whole lot different from the old Odds—apart from the fact that they’re on an indie label, Toronto-based Pheromone, for the first time. They’re still just four cool dudes making really good, melodic pop-rock.

“We’ll stay new,” offers Northey when asked what’s next for the band. “And we’ve been on the road, letting people know that we’re back or we’re new, one of the two. We’re confusing them with our presence, and we’re gonna keep doing that for a while, then start writing, ’cuz there’s that liquid Internet, and we could do four songs and just put them out on iTunes.

“That means we can keep being creative all the time, instead of sort of stop-start, so we’re gonna try and get those wheels in motion again. I don’t know how you make money from any of it, but we’re gonna keep trying.”

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