Punch Drunk Cabaret continues to press on and reach new creative heights in spite of big changes over the past while. The band performs at Billy Bob’s on Nov. 13th.
Randy Bailer fronts the band and used to be the driving creative force behind another fascinating indie group called Screwtape Lewis for about a decade.
Meanwhile, their latest CD, their second, The Juke Joint Revival Hour, was released earlier this year.
Rounding out the band was Robin Eklund on drums and Terry Sawbones Grant on 12-string bass, but Eklund decided to leave this past summer for personal and family reasons.
“He was one of the founding guys. We were really focused on having three distinct personalities that were equal – where everybody was their own individual guy and tried to share the spotlight.
“It was like having three frontmen in a way, because Robin is so outgoing – a drummer who really performed. He was a big part of the chemistry. You had these three guys who were firing on all cylinders and it made for a pretty energetic show,” he said.
Drawing on elements from ‘rockabilly, outlaw country and steam punk swing’, Punch Drunk Cabaret aren’t the least bit wary of trying their hand at all kinds of stylistic ventures. With Eklund’s departure, Grant and Bailer found themselves searching for a drummer with the pressure of having some dates for gigs already set.
As luck would have it, they landed the services of the drummer from well-known Edmonton band Tupelo Honey, Greg Williamson.
“He came in and did a fantastic job,” said Bailer, who had met Williamson back in the Screwtape Lewis days. “So away we went and he did a great job – we were able to play that tour.”
These days, they have several drummers to call on. It’s a rather unique situation but it’s proving to be working quite well for the guys.
“We don’t have a permanent drummer right now, and that’s currently the question – what’s the best thing for us to do? If we were playing full time, we would fill that position.
“So it’s new for us – Terry and I have never played in a band where we have had interchangeable drummers. It was the old model where you had your three permanent guys and you never subbed out.”
But Bailer said he’s come to see it’s more common than he had first thought, particularly in the country world. “When something comes up you start putting out that call for someone who is available and that way, you don’t ever really lose a gig.
“We don’t have to slow down for any reason. And now that we have those guys up to speed, it’s really full steam ahead.”
Another plus is the sheer force of creative energy these guys bring into the band.
“They’re excited to be there – it’s something new for them.”
Looking back, 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.
Currently, things are moving along briskly with the band consistently landing several high profile gigs while continuing a busy touring schedule. Bailer said that overall, it’s all about pushing the band to the next level.
“It’s really about more people hearing about the band. We felt the debut was really well received and people liked the variety in the songs.” For this year’s release, the goal was to pretty much stay the course which has proven to work so well.
“Quite often people leave the shows with both albums, so people are still connecting with our overall style,” he says. “And wherever we go, people identify with the energy of the music.”