ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 10, 1996
It’s times like this—when Punchbuggy’s Jim Bryson calls from the chilly wastelands of Saskatchewan—that I feel good about being an observer of rock instead of a participant. I’m cosy at home while he’s shivering at the side of the Trans-Canada Highway, the intermittent swoosh of passing vehicles clearly audible. I take another comforting swig of Irish cream–laced coffee, content in the knowledge that I’ll probably never have to suffer the icy autumn bite of Saltcoats, Saskatchewan.
“It’s cold here,” Bryson attests. “I’m at an outside phone booth, and it’s really windy. And here comes an angry dog. Oh, maybe not.”
What Bryson doesn’t need right now is to get trapped in a small enclosure by some frostbitten version of Cujo, because he’s still smarting somewhat from a recent bite by one of Saskatchewan’s finest. Just 15 minutes ago the Punchbuggy van was issued a speeding ticket for $102, and according to Bryson they were only going 72 in a 50-kilometre zone!
“Not very much over,” gripes the singer-guitarist, “so I don’t know what the deal was. But the officer was an Elvis fan. He just went to Memphis, and as he handed us the ticket it was that ‘Ha-ha-ha, fuck you’ kinda thing.”
While Bryson doesn’t sound thrilled by the sarcastic cop’s pricey intrusion on Punchbuggy’s trip to a two-night gig in Saskatoon, he’s probably a lot less upset than bassist-vocalist Darren Howe, who was driving at the time of the infraction.
“People pay their own speeding tickets in this band,” Bryson points out. “The band pays parking tickets, but the individuals pay their speeding tickets, because it is their individual choice to go as fast as they want to go. We’ve got lotsa time to get there.”
Bryson’s laidback approach to life on the road is in keeping with Punchbuggy’s apparent credo, which is to have as good a time as possible under the circumstances. The Ottawa quintet certainly seems to be having a riot on its new CD, Grand Opening Going Out of Business Sale, and the upbeat vibe is highly infectious.
Take “Yoda”, a two-minute pop gem written by the band’s other guitarist-vocalist, Andrew Kieran. “I’d rather be tossin’ off with Yoda,” sings Kieran, evoking the image of self-abuse in the company of a cute but seriously bug-eyed space creature. But, according to Bryson, Kieran’s twisted tune is instead a cynical indictment of trendy nightspots in the nation’s capitol.
“There’s an alternative dance bar in Ottawa,” he says, “and it’s just Andrew sayin’ he’d rather be home wankin’ off than going into the dance bar, I guess.”
“Yoda” has the catchy goods to topple Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” as the surprise sing-along hit of the ’90s, but it’s only one of 16 fine tracks on Grand Opening, which the band will showcase when it opens for tourmates Furnaceface at the Town Pump on Saturday (October 12). Opening is the group’s second release on the Montreal–based Shake the Record label, which also handles product by Australia’s Hunters & Collectors and former Lowest of the Low member Ron Hawkins.
“It’s an independent label,” says Bryson, “but it has really good distribution in Canada and in the States. So it’s a very good position to be in, because we get to dictate our own mandate. They give us a budget, and we record within it, anything we want. There’s no advances or anything like that, but when we get in trouble, they’re there for us. Like last year we blew a motor in our van on tour and they helped us out a lot.
“If we were on a big label, we might have the full promotional push behind us,” adds the 27-year-old rocker, “but we believe in longevity, and we’re not in any hurry to do anything. I mean, we don’t even have a manager yet. Why give your money to someone when you’re doin’ the job just fine yourself?”