Central Alberta band Punch Drunk Cabaret continues to shape its compelling approach to making music, and a growing legion of fans is taking note.
The guys play The Vat on March 16.
It’s been a busy few months since the band released their debut disc last year, and in the fall they had the opportunity strut their stuff at the Alberta Touring Arts Alliance in October. “This was for people that manage theatres and various venues from all across the province,” explains Randy Bailer, who fronts the band and used to be the driving creative force behind another indie group called Screwtape Lewis for about a decade.
“There are about 200 people that you showcase for and it lasts a whopping 15 minutes,” he adds with a laugh. It’s indeed a challenge to capture the essence of what you are about as a band in such a tight time frame, but this gifted trio pulled it off.
“People were both thrilled and frightened,” he laughs. “Many were just not used to that level of energy.” Some pointed out that there just wasn’t a stage big enough in their particular town for the band. “It was interesting how it was interpreted.”
Those who liked what they saw promptly started booking the band for shows in their respective communities. Before long, Bailer, who teaches history and English as well as playing with Punch Drunk Cabaret, said the phone was ringing steadily.
“It’s been good, and it’s taken the band to a new level,” he says.
“Already in the first two months of 2013, we’ve booked as many shows as we played all of last year. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to see this grow.” It’s also no easy feat without the back-up of a label, or investors, sponsors or management services either. “It’s three guys and a roadie. But it’s growing because people are talking to others about what’s happening.”
Drawing on elements from ‘rockabilly, outlaw country and steampunk swing’, Punch Drunk Cabaret released their aforementioned self-titled debut disc early last year.
After Screwtape Lewis wrapped things up, Bailer found himself writing tunes not on behalf of a group, for primarily for himself. He tapped into music he had first heard as a kid, and all kinds of inspiration surfaced. Today he notes that he’s not so much attracted to what’s happening musically in ever-shifting pop culture, but draws inspiration from a bevy of classic tunes from earlier eras.
Punch Drunk Cabaret’s debut CD was produced by Ross Nykiforuk (Sheepdogs, Northern Pikes), and their tremendously entertaining video for their first single, Two Brown Bottles of Beer, was shot at the historic Bailey Theatre in Camrose.
Rounding out the group are Reverend Robin Eklund on drums and Terry Sawbones Grant on 12-string bass. They’re all veterans whose resumes include supporting high ranking acts like Nickelback, the Tragically Hip, 54-40, and the Northern Pikes, landing national radio play, touring in the U.S. and Europe, and even appearing in an internationally released movie.
Meanwhile, there’s no place Bailer would rather be than taking the band’s music to the masses. There are 10 cuts on their first CD, and he and the guys are busy building up a solid repertoire representing the terrific, bold sound that defines Punch Drunk Cabaret.
The band will essentially test out a new batch of tunes this year before heading back to the studio in the autumn. Bailer said the guys have penned about 20 new songs, and ultimately it’s up to audiences as to what ends up on the next CD.
“We’ll be road testing those songs until the fall, which is exactly what we did with the first album. Basically it’s the people in the seats that choose the songs. So we’ll try to play a bit of everything that’s new to try and get a feel for what flies and what doesn’t.
“The best description I heard about songwriting is that it’s kind of like putting up an antenna or lightning rod, and something strikes it. You’re given something – that’s really what it’s like. It’s a mysterious process.”
For Bailer, the rather unpredictable life of a musician is utterly rewarding – no matter the demands and challenges that inevitably surface along the way. “It really is one of the deepest forms of fulfillment that I have ever experienced,” he says, reflecting particularly on performing and connecting with fans in a ‘live’ setting.
“To see (your music) affecting other people – you see how music is a language. That never gets old or tiring.
“It’s also all about growth and reinvention,” he explains. “It’s what makes it interesting.”