ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MARCH 13, 1997
By Steve Newton
What better place to interview Odds singer-guitarist Craig Northey than at the Roxy Cabaret on Granville? Not only do they have beer there, but it’s also the old haunt of Dawn Patrol, the Odds’ alter ego house band, which played there from 1988 to ’91, delivering classic rock—and comical asides—to the venue’s party-hearty college crowd. In an era when such venerable music venues as the nearby Commodore Ballroom have closed down, the Top 40–driven Roxy just keeps packing them in.
“I think this place had an angle,” offers Northey, hunched over a table in a dark corner of the Roxy’s back room. “Original venues rely on promoters and people taking a risk on something new, and this is a different idea altogether. In ’87, when we [Dawn Patrol] started, there was nothing really happening—the Savoy had shut down, and the Town Pump was about the only thing happening, so the most you could pray to play was once every couple of weeks, maybe. And if you were gonna develop as an original band you had to have a plan to play as much as you could, ’cause that’s the only way to work out the kinks.
“But I’m especially sad about the Commodore,” he adds, “because that was a place that I dreamed of playing. At the first gig I played there, my parents showed up in tuxedo and formal wear, ’cause that’s how they remember it. They aren’t that out of touch—they wanted to do it anyway—but it was just a really cool thing. And as we eventually had records out there and people knew us more, to have the place fill up was just an amazing thing. I don’t know what’ll happen [with the Commodore], but I know it’ll be back.”
Northey’s faith in the rebirth of Vancouver’s best rock stage is typical of musicians who honed their chops on the local club scene; many of them also have hazy, beer-clouded recollections of gigs at such defunct venues as the Savoy. That old Gastown joint holds particularly keen memories for Northey because the original Odds lineup had its first gig there, on November 25, 1987.
The date is ingrained in Northey’s mind because it’s also the day that his longtime pal, former Georgia Straight concert photographer–accountant Liam Regan, became a dad.
“So the band has a son!” quips Northey. “It’s not biologically ours, but he represents how old we are, and when you look at him it just freaks you out.”
Also near and dear to Northey were the Savoy’s stage setup and its loyal clientele (“It was like Cheers for dysfunctional musicians”), but when the club closed down he and fellow Oddsballs Steven Drake and Doug Elliott continued to thrive at the Roxy.
Dawn Patrol played five nights a week and used the proceeds from its lucrative house gig to pay for the recording of original material during the day. Before long, the Odds had released their debut Neapolitan CD on Zoo/BMG, and when the band switched to the Warner label in ’95 and delivered Good Weird Feeling, it had a platinum success on its hands—much to its surprise.
“I think we’re always surprised,” says Northey, “because we’re operating on the basis of writing songs that we like, and just hoping that there’s enough people out there that like ’em. The record-label change was probably good, because they [Warner] really worked hard to make sure people knew who we were. And a lot of it had to do with the fact that we’d been around all those years and had songs on the radio—although nobody knew we played them still. After some gigs you’d be walking out and people would say, ‘Those last couple of songs you played were exactly like the record to me. Who originally did those?’
“But then we started that whole album off with the tour with the Hip—which is about the biggest thing that you can probably do in Canada—and you could see the Pop-Rocks in people’s brains exploding as they added up the math: ‘Oh, they did that song.’ ”
“Heterosexual Man”, “Eat My Brain”, and “It Falls Apart” are some of the catchy Odds tunes that have latched their hooks into people’s pop sensibilities over the years, and last October the band—with former Bryan Adams drummer Pat Steward replacing current Big Sugar drummer Paul Brennan in the lineup—unleashed 11 more irresistible tracks on its Nest CD.
That disc was immaculately recorded by co–lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Drake, whose other behind-the-scenes credits include coproducing 54•40’s Trusted by Millions and mixing the Tragically Hip’s Trouble at the Henhouse.
“Our philosophy in the beginning was really do-it-yourself,” says Northey, “and when we went in the studio with the money we made from Dawn Patrol we hired ourselves—we were like our own little Trebas Institute. And Steven was really enthusiastic and on the board early. He’s really into the tech things, and he’s also of course really musical, which gives him a sense for mixing and engineering.”
Highlights of Nest are plentiful, but songs such as “Hurt Me”, “Nothing Beautiful”, “Make You Mad”, and the first single, “Someone Who’s Cool”, show the band to be taking a punchier tack than before.
“There are a few more beats per minute,” agrees Northey, whose band plays the Rage next Sunday (March 23). “Maybe we’ve just been medium-tempo rockers for such a long time that we needed a new pair of pants.”
Chatting with Northey, you get the impression that he takes the Odds’ platinum status with a grain of salt; he comes off as a misfit-outsider who hasn’t yet accepted the fact that there are thousands of people who are nuts about his band. That self-deprecating attitude is at the core of “Someone Who’s Cool”: “It was the suit that got me the gig/it was the tear that got me the girl/I’m a sheep in this wolf clothing/I’m a picture that I’m holding of someone who is cool.”
“The whole idea is we’re not very cool,” he says. “We’ve always had a problem with that, you know. We can’t put on the Billy Joel leather jacket and glasses and then sell albums. We are what we are.”
Northey may be convinced that he and his mates are firmly rooted in Squaresville, but one listen to Nest is all the proof of inherent coolness that this scribbler needs. Forget about Billy Joel—these guys rock, and the addition of skin-slammer Steward helps a lot in that respect. Northey admits that it doesn’t take much to get the ’70s-rock maniac in a serious boogie mood.
“Pat is a major Foghat fan,” quips Northey, “so you can play on his tenderest, most sentimental pleasures by saying, ‘Pat, at the end of this can you run those Roger Earl crashes, like bang, bang?’ A big smile comes to his face and his back straightens up, and all of a sudden he doesn’t need coffee.”