Limblifter’s Ryan Dahle gets his T. Rex on for Bellaclava

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 11, 2000

By Steve Newton

In the CD booklet for Bellaclava, the new disc by local power-pop trio Limblifter, there’s a black-and-white photo of the unkempt band members casually posing beside a wall. They look like typical young Canucks, the kind you might see enthusiastically hoisting brewskis in one of those polished but let’s-try-to-look-alternative “I am Canadian” beer commercials.

But on the day that I enter Milestone’s on Denman Street to chat with the band’s singer-songwriter-guitarist, Ryan Dahle, I don’t recognize any of those nondescript types: what I notice first is a guy with orangey-red hair. “Now, that’s a little more rock ’n’ roll,” I think to myself as I slide in across from the pale but pleased-looking rocker who’s scouring the menu in search of a late-afternoon lunch.

We haven’t chosen this particular venue as a meeting place because Dahle has restaurateur relatives who are angling for a plug; it’s just a handy place to meet in the rocker’s West End stomping grounds. Dahle has lived in the neighbourhood for eight years, and finds it offers a lot in the way of stress-relieving options for the frontman of a major-label recording act.

“The beach is good to get away,” he relates between sips of a large cola, “and I walk around the park a lot. I think it just keeps me from going insane, that’s all. You know when you feel like you’re gonna have, like, a nervous breakdown or something? Walking’s good for that. And it’s a long walk, too.”

If you’re ever cruising the seawall and come across a fellow with orangey-red hair who looks as if he’s trying to contain his brain, it might just be Ryan Dahle. Or maybe not. He’s been known to change his hair colour “just to confuse people”. And other than the colourful ’do and a thick leather wristband—not a heavy-metal accoutrement but the watchband for the ’60s timepiece his dad gave him—there’s nothing about Dahle’s appearance that shouts: “Hey, I’m a regular on MuchMusic!” He’s wearing jeans and a grey-black T-shirt. In fact, he’s dressed a little bit like me. But that doesn’t mean he’s not portraying the Limblifter image on the sly.

“I think even AC/DC, when they put on a T-shirt, they know what they’re doin’,” he says. “It’s cold and calculated. And I don’t care how ‘indie’ a band says they are, or whatever, I don’t believe in that. I think that everybody thinks about the way they look.”

As we banter about the clothing habits of image-conscious rockers, Peter Frampton’s much-maligned ’70s smash “Baby I Love Your Way” finds its way onto the eatery’s sound system, reminding me of a query I had concerning Limblifter’s music. In Bellaclava’s opening track, “Count to 9”, the guitar hook brings to mind nothing as much as early-’70s T. Rex, but I’m not sure if Dahle—who was one when “Get It On (Bang a Gong)” came out—is even old enough to have heard of Marc Bolan.

“Oh yeah!” he says enthusiastically. “I’m totally into T. Rex. As a kid, especially, I was really into him. I think I had ’em mostly on cassette, except for Electric Warrior I had on vinyl. That was the first one I bought—I was like ‘Wow!’ you know. It was kind of scary to me, back then, too. But I was way more into them than, like, David Bowie in the same genre, or even Iggy Pop.”

Like “Count to 9”, most of Bellaclava—as well as the band’s 1996 self-titled debut—is short, catchy, to-the-point power pop, the kind that gets under your skin and then makes a quick detour to your subconscious (which it pops out of every now and again, causing you to hum the melodies of tunes like “Polaroid” and “Bullring” whether you want to or not). Unlike Limblifter, which was recorded in a single week over Christmas ’95, the band’s latest was the result of more than 100 days in the studio. But Dahle doesn’t feel that the extended recording time took away any of the immediacy and easygoing spirit that characterized the first CD and was especially evident on hook-filled hits like “Tinfoil” and “Screwed It Up”.

“I think it was a matter of trapping the right moments,” he relates. “And because it was the defining moment of the band—we were actually thinking about it, whereas before it just kinda came from nowhere—we had to work harder to write more songs and make things consistent. We were more conscious of making it, so it’s kind of like you had to go through that many days just to get the spontaneous moments and interesting parts out of it.”

Bellaclava was recorded by John MacLean, owner of Factory Studios, formerly Little Mountain Sound, the place where Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, and Mötley Crüe did their multiplatinum damage in the ’80s. Dahle says that MacLean contributed so much to the sound of the CD that they ended up giving him a coproducer credit.

“He and I were scheming constantly,” he says, “and the result of that is more of an experimental sound. Plus, it’s just a great-sounding room. We usually use all old equipment to record, like an old Neve board from the ’70s, and he’s kind of got that combined with really good mixing stuff—the best of old and new combined. Because of that it was the best place to record for us. We just really lucked into the right situation.”

While the Limblifter CD was recorded with very little outside assistance, the trio—which includes Dahle’s older brother Kurt on drums and Nova Scotia native Todd Fancey on bass—called on several friends to help give Bellaclava its winning vibe. Change of Heart’s Ian Blurton gets credit for “making up the guitar line” on “Shoot But Don’t Miss”, but the Toronto rocker didn’t actually play guitar on the song. Dahle copped note for note what he describes as a “brilliant” guitar bit that Blurton laid down while performing with the band in concert.

“We wanted to see what it would sound like to have another guitar in the band, without committing to somebody, so Ian said that he’d help us out by playing a few shows. We did one in Toronto with him and a couple here, and it was awesome to have a guy that you respect so much doing that. I mean, he’s way overqualified to be in our band.”

Dahle reports that Limblifter is still looking for a guitar player, but expects it to take a while to find the right person. It seemed to take forever for the band to find a replacement for Ian Somers, who played bass on the debut before returning to his own Vancouver band, Brundlefly. “After we parted ways with Ian we didn’t know what to do as far as finding somebody,” Dahle says. “It took us about a year to find somebody that we could work with.”

You’d think that a band of Limblifter’s status would have no problem finding a bassist in Vancouver; one glance at this paper’s Musicians’ Classifieds section bears that out. But Dahle wasn’t interested in the idea of advertising. “I don’t know,” he ponders, “I guess maybe we thought it was too public. And I don’t like the idea of trying people out or turning people down; it just creates a bad feeling. So it was more like sifting through people that were our friends to try and find somebody that would work.”

Fancey only joined the band in time to play on three of Bellaclava’s 13 tracks, so while the group was bassless, Dahle handled the bottom end on some tracks, and Doug Elliott—from those much-missed local hooligans the Odds—did his bit on three tunes. Another Vancouverite who helped brighten Bellaclava was vocalist Janele Woodley, who gained notice last year for her solid performances on Tom Cochrane’s X-Ray Sierra CD.

“She’s a friend of my roommate’s,” Dahle notes, “and when I was putting down ‘Hostess’ on a demo she was there, so I said, ‘Can you sing this part?’ And I got her to sing in, like, two minutes or something. When I mixed down the demo to cassette we listened to it for probably six months before we recorded it, and once we heard the voice on there so many times we just had to get her to come into the studio and record it.”

Holly McNarland is another singer friend who just happened to be around when the Limblifter cause was in need of a lift. “She and her husband, Jay, would always come down to the studio with their dogs, so they’d always be hanging around. And she’s pretty distracting; she’d always be making a nuisance of herself, so we’d put her to work instead of being distracted.

“But it’s good to have people around to kinda distract you,” adds Dahle, who recently returned the favour by flying down to Malibu and playing on a track for McNarland’s upcoming CD. “It gives you ideas, and a lot of the things that help you create is input from people being around. I mean, our friends help us decide what songs are gonna be on the record and stuff. So it’s a good feeling.”

The Dahle brothers seem to have acquired plenty of musical compatriots since moving here from Regina in 1992 with their previous band, Age of Electric. And the siblings still profess to have a lot of pals in the Prairies, too. A week after playing the Commodore Ballroom as part of NewMusicWest on Friday (May 12), they’ll be returning to their hometown for a gig at the State. “All of our friends come out when we play there, so even if we didn’t do well, it would sell out with just them going to the gig.”

Dahle says that his band gets treated like hometown heroes in Regina “a little bit”; at least his mom has stopped telling him to go back to school. But would Mrs. Dahle be pleased to know that Ryan only let Kurt sing lead on one of Bellaclava’s tracks, cutting him back from the four he sang on the debut?

“I kinda got a little greedy on this record,” Dahle admits sheepishly. “But I was always in the studio, and he was kinda hard to get down there, so it just ended up that I sang most of it. I mean, he’s a better singer than I am, so usually he’d sing more, but I was just really obsessing about the whole record, so I guess it’s my baby.”

With four full-length albums to their credit—including two for Age of Electric—the Dahle brothers have accomplished quite a lot already. But there’s no stringently laid out game plan for them to garner international rock stardom in the 21st century.

“I think the less we plan, the more we get away with,” Dahle says with a shrug, “so basically we’ll just do what we do and see what happens. Keep on playing. It’s kind of a standard idea, but…oh well.”

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