Key to the City
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Key to the City

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"Preview of Owls of Getchu"

Preview
Key to the City release their new CD Owls of Getchu on Friday at SAIT’s The Gateway.
Mike Bell
Sometimes to keep what you have, you have to commit. Fully. Completely.
That means giving up the others, focusing on what you have, and possibly even making a grand gesture of some sort.
In Chris Vail’s case, that meant taking another name.
These days, he’s a one-band man, and has — in an effort to show his commitment to his current, exclusive relationship with Brent Gough, Pablo Puentes and Joel Nye — dropped the punny Vailhalen name they’ve performed under for the past five-plus years in favour of the more band-friendly moniker Key to the City.
It was, he explains over a pint on the Ship & Anchor patio, just time.
“I spread myself a little thin playing as a sideman with so many bands, and I pared down when The Dudes started touring a lot,” says Vail, who while his own band was on a year-long hiatus was a member of The Dudes. “I missed doing my own music and realized I was going to have to hone in and do one band, but I also realized my biggest strength was collaborating with other people.
“And I needed to try and appreciate the people I had in my band — I didn’t want them to go to waste or become disinterested and do other stuff that wouldn’t allow them to do this. . . . I needed to use the guys I’ve got, who I’m lucky to have. I didn’t want to waste it.”
The quartet is now, he says, basking in the glow of the honeymoon period. His gesture has been rewarded by a general sense of togetherness within the four-piece, with a more collaborative approach guiding the artistic vision of Key to the City, rather than his previous dictatorial rudder.
“Everything’s just a little bit easier with all of us working toward one thing,” says Vail, a local scene vet whose previous local projects include Shecky Forme and XL Birdsuit. “It’s not them doing things for me and me asking them to do things. If someone can’t make a rehearsal or flakes out on a rehearsal they have to answer to everybody — it’s not just me nagging. That makes things a little easier automatically.”
The results of the freshly minted marriage can be heard on the band’s new release Owls of Getchu, which is released Friday night at SAIT’s Gateway with a gig that features guests Beija Flor and Dudes side project The Dojo Workhorse, in which Vail also spent some time.
The 10-track effort, which was recorded at the local Sundae Sound studio, is actually mostly an album that was available online a year ago, but “retooled” to reflect the new direction and attitude of Key to the City.
“You know how Prince had his Black Album? That was our Black Album,” he says of the album’s online incarnation. “And this would be Lovesexy.
“I think the second draft is just a little bit more eloquent.”
Despite his Prince analogy, noted adulation of Prince (Vailhalen once performed Purple Rain in its entirety), and statement that the new album is informed by “all eras of Prince; well, I shouldn’t say all eras — up to ’88, up to the first song of Batman,” Owls of Getchu has less sonically in common with the Purple One than the cold wave contemporaries that countered his dirty, dirty funk.
With its angular, at times almost clinical approach to melodies, its use of the ’80s synthesizer sound, and coolly distant but somehow emotionally infused vocals, you’d be hard pressed to connect the dots. It’s even harder to reconcile when you add into the equation Vail’s love of ’60s and ’70s soul and general disinterest and admitted ignorance of more like sounding acts such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Bauhaus and XTC.
“That’s good,” says Vail of the seeming disparity.
“Because the worst bands are the sum of their influences, I think. If you’ve got a bunch of people in the band who all listen to the same thing, it’s usually a pretty bad band. Most of the bands that I like wouldn’t necessarily listen to their own bands if they weren’t in it. And I’m probably the same way. I’m not 100 per cent sure that I would enjoy this if I didn’t make it.”
As to who will enjoy it, that’s a question that Vail is interested in discovering. He understands the period of dormancy coupled with the new name and the more stripped-down approach of the band — Vailhalen, at its most bloated during the height of the Arcade Fire era, performed as a seven- or eight-piece — may mean a period of getting-to-know them.
And he also understands that musically Key to the City and its off-kilter approach to the pop song on Getchu be polarizing, albeit less so with repeated, rewarding listens.
But he also thinks the new commitment, by he and all of the members, as well as the lessons learned during time spent away from one another are taking the relationship in a whole new direction — one he’s eager to follow.
“I’m definitely fascinated with the idea of being a pop band now. We’ve never really done that full on. We thought this was a pop album,” he says, pausing. “Until we started playing it for people.”
mibell@theherald.canwest.com
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald


"Owls Review Published August 6, 2009 by Fish Griwkowsky in Music Feature"

Owls of Getchu
Thing about monsters, they’re kind of built to run amok. Calgary’s Chris Vail has been alluding to this album for years, and I’ve heard at least one earlier version that, while rocking slightly more, didn’t have the technical beauty of this one. But what is “this,” exactly?
Slightly tough to define. It’s a pop album about monsters, which I can get behind, having once illustrated a field guide to monsters. It’s tempting to soften and de-torture-porn our slimy, hairy imaginary friends — which is precisely what Vail and the boys have done. The opening number about a ghost, for example, has chipper trumpet and soft cooing, asking rhetorically, “Who’s afraid of a ghost?” as if such fear were simply ridiculous.
Moving through the haunted house, we find a vampire in the bedroom, sung about with a Talking Heads 77 twitch. “You trade a lover for a foe, the bandage unravels,” Vail sings, adding a mummy to the mix, a clear allegory for most relationships. The next song is sung by a person bewitched, pleasantly energized by the magical process of surrender.
A lot of the fun of Owls is trying to decipher which Halloween character is being sung about as the lyrics peel the onion layers. I won’t spoil anymore having said that, but the line “The first time I learned to shave was from a movie” doesn’t take you where you’d think.
This is a simmering masterpiece, jokey at times, but with a sincere affection for the imaginary — which, after all, is how all love begins.
**** - SEE Magazine


Discography

Owls of Getchu: Key to the City
Pop Violence: Vailhalen
Becs D'oiseaux: Vailhalen

Photos

Bio

As members of Vailhalen, Chris Vail (vocals/bass), Brent Gough (keyboards/vocals), Carl Lukasewich (guitar), and Joel Nye (drums) had played music festivals such as Canadian Music Week, the Sled Island Festival, The Western Canadian Music Awards, and Austin’s Folk Alliance. The band has also toured extensively throughout Canada, in support of their 2005 critically acclaimed full-length album “Pop Violence” (Saved By Radio Records). They have been featured on Zed TV, CBC 3’s “In Session”, Much Music’s “Going Coastal”, and have earned features and cover stories in various Canadian music magazines, weeklies, and music web sites.

Vailhalen geared down for 2007/2008, allowing members to pursue other interests.

Drummer Joel Nye stayed busy with his other band, Hot Little Rocket, touring China, playing various music festivals and conferences, and recording an album in Chicago with engineer Steve Albini.

Guitar player Carl Lukasewich left the band during the recording of Owls and pursued his career in advertising, moving to Chicago for a few years. He has since returned to Calgary and rejoined the band filling the vacancy left by Pablo Puentes.

Keyboard player Brent Gough took a sabbatical to travel extensively throughout Europe and Asia. Guitar player/singer Chris Vail opened up a live music venue/bar in Calgary, before spending a year playing in The Dudes, touring with them through Europe and Western Canada, and recording with them for their upcoming album.

Since reforming, the four remaining members now share in all band-related duties (including songwriting), as opposed to early years when Vail was the catalyst and focal point.

Key To The City’s sound has been described as “rebellious” and “difficult”. Their new “Owls Of Getchü” recording is almost complete at last, even though recording for the album had begun years ago as a Vailhalen album. Since being on a virtual hiatus, the album has evolved steadily, morphing as the band changed.

Though songs from “Pop Violence” still permeate the live sets, the evolved group has adopted the name Key To The City to reflect the change in vibe. Despite there being less members, they are actually more of a “group” now than have ever been!