ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 9, 1999
Local rock trio Removal doesn’t do things the way most recording groups do. For example, on its new CD, Hello, My Name Is Irrelevant, the band doesn’t have any actual song titles, per se. All I can say is that my favourite tunes are “Irr 2.06”, “Irr 2.10”, and the kick-ass opening track, “Irr 2.02”. There’s no photo of the band included either, even though drummer Ernie Hawkins—who shows up at the Straight with guitarist Bill Johnston—owns bright pink hair that’s screaming for attention. And the other thing that the band doesn’t have is a singer.
“There’s not very many good ones,” notes Johnston, so the band makes do with samples and tapes instead. They’ve actually got the somnolent voice of hypnotist Reveen kicking off the disc—“You will relax deeper and deeper and deeper”—but that’s not the most bizarre bit of dialogue these guys inject into their music. They’re always on the lookout for choice tidbits, and they don’t care where they come from.
“I went to a used shop that [SNFU vocalist] Chi Pig knew about,” explains Hawkins, “and this guy who just moved out from Montreal sold me a box of tapes for 10 bucks—about a hundred tapes in it! A lot of the hip-hop and techno bands rely on [samples] that people know already, and that’s fine, but I prefer to find things that I think are interesting, and Bill and I just sort through it all. Sometimes there’s no label, so I have no idea who it’s by, which is great.”
Hawkins and ex–Chrome Dog guitarist Johnston are joined in Removal by bassist Rob Clark, who played with Johnston in Ontario 10 years ago. When the two relocated to Van they hooked up with Hawkins through his recording studio, Big Midget, and the trio released the Remove All CD in ’97. Again, no song titles. And all that was seen of the band was Hawkins’s gut, Clark’s arm, and the back of Johnston’s head. Since their debut they’ve toured Canada four times, had songs included on the Skate Canada and Whiskey skateboard/snowboard videos, and been signed to Wrong Records, which is run by venerable B.C. alt-rock legends NoMeansNo.
The band also has songs on three more extreme-sport videos yet to come, and is celebrating the release of Irrelevant with a gig at the Brickyard on Friday (September 10). So don’t come expecting to hear any stinkin’ lead vocalists. Removal doesn’t need ’em. And they aren’t trying to be the next instrumental-rock gods, either.
“We play a lot of all-ages punk-rock shows,” says Johnston, “and that Joe Satriani school of wanking guitar players that came from the ’80s and stuff—most of these kids were 10 years old at the time. They don’t use that as a reference at all. It’s like the new school of punk rock, and we’re just something a little different from that.”
Although techno acts like the Chemical Brothers can do quite well without vocals, singerless rock ’n’ roll bands have their work cut out for them. But that’s why Wrong Records is a most suitable home for Removal. “They’ve sort of established an idea and a way of doing things,” notes Hawkins. “People know Wrong Records, they know NoMeansNo, and they know that they can count on the bands that are on the label to deliver.”
“It’s nice to see an operation that works successfully,” adds Johnston, “where it’s not like they’re out to sell you to some bigger label to make some cash. It’s not about that at all. I mean, I’m not lookin’ to get a bunch of money or anything, it’s more like a slow, sustained, honourable way to do it, where you can feel happy about it.”
“It’s also nice to be with an organization that operates outside of the FOX and some of the other standard formats,” says Hawkins. “We’re made fun of on the FOX for not having song titles.”
“‘Hey, guys,’” says Johnston in a mock CFOX-deejay voice. “‘Here’s an idea: put some song titles on your record.’ I mean, to me that’s like… Are they not getting the whole idea? The band’s name, okay, is Removal. And with us, we don’t keep song titles or pictures off the CD for any specific reason, it’s like, who cares? We’re just a bunch of guys with nothing profound to say. Whatever!”