Deftly drawing on elements from ‘rockabilly, outlaw country and steampunk swing’, Punch Drunk Cabaret is gearing up for a performance at the upcoming Alberta’s Own Indie Music Festival. The event runs Aug. 24-26 at Lacombe’s Michener Park.
Randy Bailer, who used to front another indie group called Screwtape Lewis, is thrilled with the unique nature of the relatively new group and its superb reception. Having released their self-titled debut disc early this year, Punch Drunk Cabaret is currently being featured weekly on CKUA’s Untapped series, and has also been selected to perform at Alberta Touring Alliance’s Showcase this October.
“I feel that any act has an expiry date,” he said of the groundbreaking Screwtape Lewis, which had been on the scene for 10 years. It had been a richly creative time for Bailer and the guys, but it was simply time to move on to other things.
After that band called it a day, Bailer found himself writing tunes not on behalf of a group, for primarily for himself. It was an exhilarating place, and something he hadn’t experienced for some time.
“Suddenly I wasn’t writing for a project, and I was having a great time exploring music and styles that I hadn’t tried before.” He tapped into music he had first heard as a kid, and all kinds of inspiration surfaced. “Those early influences were much more deeply ingrained in me than I had thought.
“I wondered what it would sound like if I wrote a rockabilly song, or something kind of country — something really outside of what I had done.”
Writing in these other styles has also been the most natural creative fit for Bailer so far, he pointed out. “I do think that it’s because of how much of those influences I soaked up when I was really young. For years, I ran away from those influences because that was the music of my parents. Screwtape Lewis was so 1980s inspired, because the 80s was our music as teens. I hung onto that for a really long time.
“But you get to a certain age where you come full circle, and realize it’s not a bad thing to listen to your parents’ record collection. So then you are re-introduced to this music and see it from a completely different perspective.”
The strength of the tunes he was coming up with ultimately led to the production of a new disc.
“The first few gigs we played, it went so well. And we realized we had stumbled upon a mix of styles that people really connected to. So here we are, two years later, going harder than ever. It’s really taken off.”
Punch Drunk Cabaret’s debut CD was produced by award-winning engineer Ross Nykiforuk (Sheepdogs, Northern Pikes), and the video for their first single, the rollicking and explosive Two Brown Bottles of Beer, was shot at the historic Bailey Theatre in Camrose. “Ross is a great musician in his own right. If we lived closer, we would just insist he be in the band.”
Rounding out the group are Reverend Robin Eklund on drums and Terry Sawbones Grant on 12-string bass.
Although still essentially an emerging act, the members are 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. Ultimately, he explains that audiences chose what ended up on the project.
“If you are making music for public consumption, they should weigh in on it,” he said.
“With this music and this style, I feel like I’m a student of it. To become a student again and see things in a whole new perspective, it’s as exciting as it was when I was 15 learning to play songs and write music for the first time. I can hardly think of anything else in life that is like that.
“For that reason alone, this is worth pursuing because I can’t think of anything else that has that effect. Also, it’s an amazing relationship that exists between the band and the audience. It continues to blow my mind. That’s something that is unchangeable, and it’s a pretty special thing when it happens.”
Meanwhile, the line-up for Alberta’s Own also includes Slackjaw, Silo, Big Wreck, Rock & Roll Emergency, Alex Vissia, Dawn in the City, Transit, Oldbury, Coal Creek Boys, The Command Sisters and George Canyon among others.
Check out www.abown.com.