ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 28, 2002
By Steve Newton
There are a ton of rowdy, punk-edged rock tunes on the latest Headstones CD, The Oracle of Hi-Fi, but the one that really stands out on first listen is “Tiny Teddy”. A rollicking, three-minute tale of shady characters, cocaine, and revenge, it’s reminiscent in style of Bob Dylan’s “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”, which the Headstones raunched up to fine effect on their ’93 debut CD, Picture of Health. This time, though, singer Hugh Dillon worked a little bit of himself into the story of guns and hosers.
“I had a gun to my head when I was younger,” he relates from his Hogtown home. “I had to fuckin’ take off and leave the country. And the Tiny Teddy character’s kind of a cross between a coupla different guys—one who was just a very ballsy, big drug dealer. He wasn’t big in stature, he was just a really intense, well-thought-out individual.”
While cranked-up guitars are the overriding force in “Tiny Teddy”, the track also sports a trumpet solo by Andy Maize of the Skydiggers, which gives it a touch of that Tijuana Brass–gone–bad vibe. The bright idea of using trumpet on the tune wasn’t Dillon’s, however. “I’d love to take credit for that,” he says, “but to give credit where it’s due—which I’m not fond of—that was [coproducer Colin Cripps’s] idea. And it works, you know. Like, I was into doing whatever we could that made the record interesting yet stay true to the idea that we’re a rock band, and we wanted to make a rock record.”
To help get that impression across, the band enlisted former Teenage Head guitarist Gord Lewis, who contributed a raw, Sex Pistols–style solo to “Tiny Teddy”. “That was my idea,” brags Dillon. “I was a huge Teenage Head fan. Trent’s a huge Teenage Head fan too; Gord Lewis’s solos were the first thing Trent learned when he started playing guitar. So for us to be in the studio with this guy years later, with one of our heroes, it just makes everything worthwhile.”
Ian Thornley of Big Wreck is another guest picker who makes his mark on The Oracle of Hi-Fi, but for the most part it’s Headstones guitarist Trent Carr who does the six-string damage, with help in spots from former Crash Vegas member Cripps. As well as producing and contributing additional guitar, Cripps also cowrote its first single, “Reframed (Every Single Failure)”. “I hate workin’ with producers,” blurts out Dillon, “’cause I always feel ripped off to a certain extent. They fuckin’ take the money, they take off, you never hear from ’em again. But Colin’s a singer-songwriter, so it’s just like one of the other band guys helping push the button. And he really is interested in the band. It wasn’t just ‘Thanks for the money.’ ”
Cripps coproduced Oracle with Brad “Merlin” Nelson, whom Dillon left a comical surprise message for at the end of the CD. After the final track, the foreboding “Devil’s Road”, there’s five minutes of silence before the inebriated-sounding voice of Dillon comes on, threatening to “smash Merlin’s guitar into a million little fuckin’ pieces”. But Nelson didn’t take offence when he discovered the message.
“He laughed his ass off,” claims Dillon, who admits that the axe-bashing threat was only that. “He’s proud of it. And you know what? This is a guy who’s been workin’ on records for 10 years or more—he’s worked on Alanis Morissette’s records, a ton of stuff—and he said that making this record was the most fun he’s ever had making a record in his life. For a jaded fuck like that, that’s pretty impressive.”
The Headstones will be bringing tunes from Oracle to the Commodore Ballroom next Thursday (December 5), in the company of local earbusters the Spitfires and Morning Maker. Then they’ll play a gig at the Boot in Whistler on December 14, with guests Honeysuckle Serontina, as part of the Extreme Sports Series. And after that—now that Dillon’s been legally pardoned for previous unspecified convictions—they might even set their sights on the multitudes of hard-rock fans in America.
“As of now, when the border guys go to make a background check, nobody has criminal records,” he relates. “And that’s a big deal. I couldn’t get into the States before September, and now I can.” It’s not as if the group expects to take the U.S. by storm and become the next Nickelback, though. “Hopefully something will happen,” Dillon ponders, “but, you know, to make it in the States at a giant level, the odds are slim to none. And the God’s honest truth is, we’re one of those fortunate bands that are lucky to carve out a place for ourselves in this country and sustain it. We continue to have support from people who really, as far as I’m concerned, understand authentic rock ’n’ roll.”
Dillon is quick to wave the flag as far as Canadian bands go. The last CD he actually went out and bought was Copyright’s Hidden World. “You know, people always go, ‘Well, if you haven’t done anything in the States, or let alone your own country, you must suck.’ And that is bullshit, because oftentimes people fuckin’ overlook genius. I love that band and that record. And what’s funny is we’ve been covering [Copyright precursor] Slow’s ‘Have Not Been the Same’, and it rocked. That was one of the first Canadian rock records that I bought that I loved. And so I followed them, because I’m a huge rock fan. If I see a guy in a band that impresses me, and then he goes on to do something else, I’ll follow him.”