ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 8, 1997
By Steve Newton
Age of Electric is a unique band, in more ways than one. First off, it’s comprised of two sets of brothers: you’ve got your Kernses (singer Todd and bassist John) and your Dahles (guitarist Ryan and drummer Kurt). The only other band with two sets of brothers that I can recall is the Kentucky Headhunters.
And then there’s the fact that main songwriter Ryan Dahle is also the leader of another band that has recorded for a major label, Limblifter. As if that weren’t enough, you’ve got Kurt Dahle sharing in the formation of yet another major-label act, the Bloody Chicletts.
What a bunch of bleedin’ overachievers!
As guitarist-songwriter for Age of Electric and singer-songwriter-guitarist for Limblifter, Ryan Dahle is the most prolific member of AOE, which moved here from the tiny town of Lanigan, Saskatchewan (population 1,500), five years ago. The 27-year-old tunesmith is a virtual wellspring of catchy riffs and infectious melodies, but he hardly sees himself as a walking pop-rock hit machine.
“It’s weird,” he relates by phone from a Toronto tour stop, “because almost everything I write goes on a record—which is kinda scary, really. But I’m really not very prolific. I have a lotta friends who write constantly and have a million songs, so it’s sort of discouraging when I only write a certain amount a year. But I guess you can’t really push yourself.”
If Dahle views himself as a slacker in the songwriting department, it’s hard to agree upon hearing his hook-filled songs on either last year’s Limblifter CD or the new Age of Electric disc, Make a Pest a Pet (both distributed in Canada by Universal Music). His skill at writing, arranging, singing, playing, and producing infectious, radio-friendly tunes has the potential to make him a wealthy man—especially if he were to quit the rock life and start his own jingle company. But even though he’s the main motivator in two up-and-coming recording acts, Dahle doesn’t expect to be retiring soon.
“Shit, no,” he says, laughing. “I wish! But being a musician in Canada, you have to be a huge star in order to make any money. Having just a mid-level career in Canada doesn’t pay off in huge amounts, so we’ve always focused on getting our records out in America.”
Currently managed by the Invasion Group out of New York City, Age of Electric has made serious headway into the lucrative U.S. market, and it achieved some of that via stints at Music West, which it plays for the third time with a show at Graceland on Friday (May 9). The president of Mercury Records saw the band perform during its second Music West outing, and it subsequently scored a U.S. deal with that company. (The group recently parted ways with Mercury, but expects to have another U.S. deal in place for Pest to be distributed stateside in the fall.)
If the melodic, T-Rex– and Cars-influenced material on the latest AOE effort is any indication, the chances of the band making it outside of Canada are more than fair. It doesn’t hurt that the band recruited hotshot producer Gil Norton (the Pixies, Foo Fighters, Counting Crows) to helm two tracks, including the upcoming single, “I Don’t Mind”, a potent blast of pure pop graced by the mixing talents of Phil Nicolo (Urge Overkill).
“He just made us work a little bit harder than we usually work,” says Dahle, referring to Norton. “We have this tendency to believe that the first take is the best take, and that fuckups should be an integral part of every performance, and he just made us think about things a bit more, like a producer would.”
Recorded at Vancouver’s Mushroom and Burnaby’s Greenhouse studios last year, Pest features a slightly more streamlined version of the raucous guitar-bass-drums noise delivered on the group’s self-titled indie release of ’95, with Dahle’s curiously skewed lyrics coming to prominence. For example, on “Cranky” there are repeated references to being beaten with a baseball bat, making you wonder if the lyricist might be relating an unfortunate incident from personal experience. But Dahle is happy to report that he’s never seen the business end of a Louisville Slugger—or taken one to somebody else.
“The whole idea of that song is to have a really nice little melody with incredibly violent lyrics that set it off,” he says. “It’s something that sounded good at the time, and that’s the most appealing thing to me—just to write something that really turns you on and freaks you out because you don’t know where it came from. That’s kind of what I’m striving for now, just to find things I’ve never heard before.”