The History of Gunpowder
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The History of Gunpowder

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | SELF | AFM

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | SELF | AFM
Established on Jan, 2012
Band Rock Experimental




"Album Review: The History of Gunpowder’s “Stained Glass, Rye, and Wax”"

It starts with crackling vinyl and a thin, decaying string section. Then the horns come in, and there are goosebumps all over. The History of Gunpowder has never shied away from theatrics, integrating themselves into Montreal’s burlesque scene and pursuing the new and original without compromise, but these opening moments exuded pure power (the powers of hell through decent speakers). The opener, “Crustaceans,” darts from crescendo to crescendo, and those bursts will get you every time. The band’s penchant for extended-technique dissonance enhances the track’s sinister air; let there be no doubt that these cats know their own strength.
As suddenly as “Crustaceans” begins, it gives way into “Caneless Blind,” a sparse, melodic track that owes its existence to all the blues legends I need not name, and the folk superheroes I refuse to name. The hastily fingerpicked guitar sets the mood; background organ pads barely register and a late-blooming string accompaniment tells of ghosts. We have yet to touch on the vocals, despite their central role in “Caneless Blind” and, arguably, all of Stained Glass, Rye, and Wax.
Frontman Alex Morison’s voice has become something both horrifying and enthralling. For a man under fifty to have beaten his throat into such a state inspires strong awe, mild concern, and just a hint of jealousy – his suffering voice conveys disdain brilliantly. The images he breathes carry connotations of misery, vice, trickery, and guilt posing as aggression; the images he breathes very nearly fit the “whiskey band” stereotype but betray a deeper poeticism, inspired by all the writers you claim to love but secretly find impenetrable. After years of depreciating in traditional beauty and appreciating in aesthetic roughness, he has finally hit the point of no return and it is truly glorious.
In the age of “Mastered for iTunes” and Pro Tools subscriptions, this album has truly excellent production values, showing that the traditional studio space still has teeth. “The Ostrich,” perhaps the album’s most aggressive track, features drums that can rattle your teeth through decent headphones, and horns and strings recorded in a way that leaves nothing to the imagination. You can hear the spit traps filling, the rosin grabbing the strings.
There are no compromises to be found in the recording. The band traded gloss for authenticity, and to be honest, this is the best sounding album I’ve heard in years.
Stained Glass is also a proper album in the traditional sense: the songs balance one another, exploring most of the dynamic range and giving your ears occasional breaks. “Claymation” is a mild-avant-garde instrumental, complete with aimless wandering horns, building up into the somehow sexually-apocalyptic “Doom Love Song.” Album closer “Stained Glass” picks up from “Caneless Blind,” borrowing a guitar riff but supplanting the vocals with an absolutely gorgeous string feature that makes an easy breaking point back to real life.
For an album that was written in India and recorded between Kerala, Vancouver, and Montreal, Stained Glass, Rye, and Wax feels precise, consistent, and succinct. The band and recording crew brought their A-game in every sense, delivering one of the most exciting records of the year and in the process reminding us that there’s still a bit of fire in our bellies, if we can be bothered to look for it. - Graphite Publications

"The History of Gunpowder – Stained Glass, Rye and Wax"

Circus rock- if acrobats needed a soundtrack as they theatrically hurried up ladders and glided through the air, I’d say Stained Glass, Rye and Wax would be a great place to start. The History of Gunpowder rises from Montreal with music that could travel both on a modern stealth bomber or in a horse-drawn carriage. It’s an interesting mix of classic textures and modern production which caught my attention and kept it throughout.

The album begins with a quartet of stringed instruments waltzing through a squeaky jam, heard as if played from a phonograph, until the band kicks its way in, pulling the production envelope from the late nineteenth century to the present day in one swift moment. “Crustaceans” retains the same waltzing feel as frontman Alex James Morison croons side by side with background singer, Alex Charbonneau. Violins remain present in the song along with a horn section, both shrieking in the distance, adding dissonance and urgency to this emotional track. A flamenco-style plucked guitar played by Mr. Morison opens the next tune, titled “Caneless Blind.” The excellent execution on this guitar part is matched by ethereal synthesizer textures and a smoky voice that howls the way Johnny Cash could. Violins add a beautiful touch to this song, at times taking over the lead with fantastic harmonized melodies, adding depth and timelessness to this delicate track. Worth noting is that all the arrangements of the album were written by Mr. Morison – quite an impressive feat considering all the parts present.

“The Ostrich” starts with a violin and a trumpet playing the same melody, all the while sampled to create an interesting groove. The band seemingly borrows John Bonham from the dead for this one – the drums sound huge and crisp. This funky, soulful jam reminds me a lot of The Heavy. This song definitely showcases the horn section present on the album, as they deliver many interesting solos that twisted and turned in unexpected ways. If a contortionist could be described with music, it would be through these musical phrases. “The Ditch” begins with a spoken word part said by an unknown Montrealer, captured alongside the sounds of the city. A pissed-off sounding guitar lead steers the song into darker, heavier territory as the band slams down a steady beat. The song takes a break after two minutes, letting the string section supply the music to match Alex’s gut-wrenching vocal delivery. We see the return of the speaker near the end of the track, joined by a trumpet and its mute, giving me New-Orleans jazz vibes.

Those who like audio production and intricate, spidery melodies and counterpoint should definitely listen to “Claymation.” The image of Tim Burton sitting in a barren room and staring straight forward popped into my head as I listened to this instrumental song. It was eerie and sonically rich. “Doom Love Song (The Shaking-Man-Looking-Through-The-Crosshairs Blues)” began with sleigh bells, at first ringing freely, then in time, as the guitar and bass thump out chords in unison, pumping out rhythm as Alex howls about pain and seduction.

The production on this album is pretty amazing. Though there are tons of instruments all playing at once, everything resonates loud and clear. The combination of textures works very well too as guitars, bass, synthesizers, drums, horns, and string sections collide to create something I’ve yet to hear until now. “Stained Glass” is this album’s goodbye, with musical themes of nostalgia and longing, though I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from The History of Gunpowder soon. - Bucketlist Reviews

"5 on the Fly: THE HISTORY OF GUNPOWDER – Stained Glass, Rye and Wax"

The History of Gunpowder have such a BIG sound that it comes as something of a shock to find that it is virtually a one-man band. Alex James Morison not only sings and writes the songs but he also plays at least half of the instruments (big exception is the horns and strings). This may go a long way to explaining how well the fat rock/blues music matches the rich, raspy and powerful voice of Morison. The tone is dark and gothic, as Morison goes all Nick Cave on us, by way of Tom Waits. It’s not always an easy ride as THOG have an experimental side (witness “Claymation”) as well as a cinematic one, but it’s all worth it in the end. - Ride the Tempo

"Music Review The History of Gunpowder"

Released 6 May, Stained Glass, Rye and Wax is The History of Gunpowder’s third EP. Conceived in Kerala, South India, and then polished in Vancouver and Montreal, the EP features the musical talents of seventeen extraordinarily gifted musicians. Skillfully mixed and mastered by Chris Hollywood Holmes, the recording of Stained Glass, Rye and Wax was spread between Greenhouse Studios and The Farm Studios in Vancouver, and Freddy’s Studio in India.

The History of Gunpowder has experienced many changes over the years, with as many as twenty-five members since its founding. But, Alex James Morison, the band’s front man, has remained with the band since it was founded in Vancouver, and has recently moved the group to Montreal where they can be found playing live at many of the venues that the city offers. And with the release of Stained Glass, Rye and Wax, Morison and his bandmates are planning a busy summer festival season and fall tour.

Now it is said that gunpowder changed the world. Its discovery led to the successive advent of explosive weaponry that changed warfare forever. So with a band name like The History of Gunpowder, audiences may expect something equally revolutionary.

And what a musical revolution they are in for. Considered “the fusion of sultry improvised jazz mayhem, swamp pirate rhythms, delectable funk grooves and growling blues vocals” ( the music on Stained Glass, Rye and Wax was given the “anything goes” treatment. The combination of vocals, drums, guitar, upright bass, electric bass, synthesizer, keyboard, trumpet, trombone, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, tuba, percussion, violin, viola, and cello tends to create a cacophony of sound. Yet, from the mayhem, Morison has somehow managed to force a structure on the noise, resulting in music that pushes the boundaries of genre and musical composition.

However, audiences must pay attention to the songs to identify and appreciate the order amongst the chaos. There are even treats for those who listen closely. For example, as “The Ditch” draws to a dramatic conclusion, the attention is briefly drawn to the spoken word track, which was “retrieved by Quinn Dennehy in Montreal, speaker unknown” ( Attentive listeners may hear a gentlemen quoting a chorus line made famous by a Canadian singer/songwriter in 1974.

So for those who are looking for something a little different this summer, something a little unconventional created from traditional elements, why not take a chance on The History of Gunpowder’s Stained Glass, Rye and Wax. Though while it may not be suitable studying music, the songs on Stained Glass, Rye and Wax are guaranteed to have you thinking differently about music. And for a student, thinking out of the proverbial box is always a good thing. - The Voice

"Locked & Loaded: An Interview with The History of Gunpower"

“To have a tight band, you need to keep them on their toes.”
It’s hard to turn away a good show, and on November 24th, and The History of Gunpowder did not disappoint. I spent the evening at Divan Orange listening to quite the articulate, tight, and dynamic performance. Their energy did not waiver as the band moved as a solid unit through their music, making for a perfect balance between technical skill and creativity. The History of Gunpowder was started in Vancouver five years ago, with close to twenty-eight members having been a part of it since its inception. I sat down with frontman Alex Morison to discuss their music and future projects.
Alex moved to Montreal from Vancouver for its preferable music scene. Alex and Quinn, the band’s current drummer, have known each other for years. One faithful day while living in Iceland, Quinn called Alex, who was in India at the time, resulting in an agreement to move to Montreal to revive the project together. Other band members include Henri on synth and Mike, who was part of Alex’s first six-piece, on barri saxophone. More recent members include Aleksi on the violin, and Stefane on upright bass.
Graphite: What inspires your music?
Alex: With a six-piece, there are lots of possibilities, and any instrument can sound like anything you want now. Anything can inspire the music, but what’s more important is how I arrange it. If something inspires me that’s more personal that’s one thing, but how I arrange it is more important for anyone else’s sake. And violin, upright bass, tenor sax, drums, keyboards, synth, and guitar… I can do a lot with that. They all have loop pedals on them, they all have distortion on them, so we can do anything we like. So just different sonic variations on anything that I want to do… I just want to be able to write anything, and they’ll be able to play it. And they’re good players. They can do whatever.

Graphite: What is your songwriting process like?
Alex: I don’t think there’s really a firm answer on that for anybody, because sometimes you lead with lyrics, sometimes you lead with a chord progression, sometimes you lead with a melody, sometimes you’re walking down the street and you hear a car crash or sometimes you hear someone break a bottle in the alleyway and you’re like “that’s a back beat right there!”. You hear that bottle break as a back beat in 6/8, and now it’s a blues tune with a bottle as the backbeat. You can do whatever you want, and that’s all it is. With a good band behind you, and with enough time – which is the most important thing. You need enough time, and no one has enough of that. So that’s the most important thing.
Graphite: What is your favourite track that you’ve written?
Alex: My favourite track that I’ve written to date is something that isn’t released yet. We’re finishing up a record right now to be released in February hopefully… and it’s called The Ditch/Schizophrenic on St. Catherine. Those are the two names maybe for it. And that may be my favourite song I’ve written to date.
Graphite: How come?
Alex: Well, it’s kind of an odd tune. There’s three different parts to it. The concept is interesting. It’s a really nonsensical tune. The concept is odd and the instrumentation and entire progression is completely fucked up and it works together. I have no idea how it does, but it does. And it’s probably my favourite thing that I’ve pulled off so far because I heard it in my head and I was like “no, there’s no way I can do this”. But then, when you are terrified of the song, that’s when you have to do it. And if not, then you put it to the side.
Graphite: So what do you think is the most important thing in your artistic process?
Alex: Time. I write a lot, but to produce something that’s good and that you not only can get behind but can be proud of yourself for, that takes time. Time is the thing. You need time to say “that transition to that chorus is not right” and then maybe that transition becomes an entire section. You heard today an entire section of the violin – that started as a transition, and now it’s a three and a half minute section of Arabic violin.
Henri joins in: And that’s the thing – Alex writes the music but he gives us the liberty of expanding on it how we see fit. There’s room to dive deeper into that concept, and that’s how our song “Bathtub” was made.
Alex: But that’s the thing: if we didn’t have time, I would say “Alright guys, we got a gig next week, what do you think we can do with this tune? Oh you got that idea? Well we don’t have any time so too bad.” It’s obviously [regarding music and inspiration] about being inspired by things and being a creative person and all that but that has to happen anyhow, so that’s not the question. The question is time. Is time enough to do it?
Graphite: So what is in the future for you guys, and what are your artistic goals?
Alex: Well, we have a record coming out in February that has taken me two years to finish – more than that. It’s a record that I started to record in South India, and then I recorded more of it in Vancouver, and then more here with this group. So that has been my life for a while. We all have different things – Henri is doing an EP and just got a grant to produce an EP with a corresponding animation piece for it, which is exciting. So, we have some product coming up but we also have some gigs coming up. This new six piece that we’re doing – most people know us as a trio or a quartet – but we got a six piece going – we have a lot of shows coming up. We’re actually recording a live album as well, probably in late March.
Graphite: I noticed you mentioned India a few times – want to expand on your musical experience there?
Alex: I wrote an album – the one that’s coming out in February – there, and I started to record an album with string players there. I met a director who works in Hollywood and Bollywood, and he hooked me up with the best Bollywood string players. The entire record was started with a string quartet in India, so I wrote it all there and I started to record some string quartet, percussion, and scratch tracks, and two years later it’s hopefully coming in the next four months.
Graphite: Anything else you’d like to add?
Alex: Here’s the last thing: don’t fucking complain about anything. If anyone complains about anything, you know exactly what you’re going to get in the end of it. Don’t fucking complain, work harder. - Graphite Publications

"The History of Gunpowder: All-Around Freakout Orchestra with Compelling Storylines"

Despite what you think, The History of Gunpowder is not an educational band on how gunpowder was brought into existence. Instead this (currently seven piece) band will educate you on the bastards of the world.

Somewhere between dirty blues, indie rock and all around freak-out orchestra, The History of Gunpowder is a rather new powerhouse on the Montreal scene. The band has had around 25 members, always fronted by Alex James Morison, and in Montreal is currently a seven piece featuring Quinn Dennehy on drums, Henri Rabalais on keys, Aleksi Campagne on violin, Stephane Krims on bass, Chris Maskell on tenor and Shawn Rikenbach on bari.

Their latest album, released May 6th and titled Stained Glass, Rye and Wax, features over 17 musicians. From Vancouver to India to Montreal, this album is not only a compilation of talented musicians but tells a story or two throughout.

This isn’t your everyday indie rock album full of love ballads. Inside you’ll find something a little more profound (though it might take you until the third listen to figure it all out).

The album cover proudly boasts a hand-drawn Ostrich (by Eric Brunning) squawking right in your face. That’s kind of what the band feel likes whether you’re listening to their latest album or at one of their in-explicably chaotic live shows. Alex Morison explains the un-explainable nature of their re-occurring aesthetic choice:

“The ostrich doesn’t warrant a proper explanation because absurdity is too inextricably involved in my music. The ostrich is just a potent symbol of something that you hate; it represents a lot of the screeching on the album and a lot of the chaos. You couldn’t represent that shit with a humming bird. It’s taken on a symbol of it’s own.”

Symbolic nature is just the foreplay of the album with potent and compelling storylines running through it. One of the main themes is “about the bastards that exist,” tells Alex James Morison. “Your way of dealing with them and repressing them or rather finding some sort of mechanism of reciprocity towards them. They oppress all of us and they better know what’s coming to them in the end.”

Picture a helpless creature in the middle of the desert. Picture that same creature trying to kill those vultures that pick him out every damn day. This is what one of their songs, The Ditch, feels like with lyrics such as “playing dead in the desert, catching vultures with my butterfly net.”

The Ditch is one of the songs on the album that might hit a particularly intense emotional string for more than one reason. It starts with a schizophrenic man commenting on his illness and what happens in mental institution.

“Quinn was on the street on Saint Catherine,” explains Alex “and the thrifty mother fucker that he is he heard an inspiring voice. It worked perfectly because that song is about being prayed on, being the prey of something. This individual has been the prey of a system that has led him to escaping it. Though I can’t understand his level of oppression and trouble, the ditch is my own song for escapism.”

You won’t just find escapism in their music either, their live set is prone to boughts of theatrics, with a voice that breeds power. It’s not only Alex James Morison’s voice that brings the power. When these performers step to stage, expect more than just their music because here you’ll find a spectacle you won’t easily forget. This even includes a little burlesque including artists such as Aria Delanoche, Frenchy Jones and Fifi Fantôme.

Alex explains what he brings to their live sets: “I want people to come in and not be able to leave the focus of the stage. You paid your good money to see us we’re going to give you as much as we can. You won’t be able to just come in get a beer and not be captivated by the stage. When you come to see The History of Gunpowder live, you’re going to walk away going what the fuck did I just see.” - Forget the Box


Slowness (2012)
Perched on a Tin Can
Origami Saint
120 Volts
Mosquito Light
Bone Birds
Littered with Gold
Iron Woman
Feeble Man (bonus)

Time's Teeth (2013)
My Trouble is the Day
Dirty Candles
Restitution (Haste and Rye)
Sit in the Sun
Thistle Town
Time's Teeth

Stained Glass, Rye and Wax (2016)
Caneless Blind
The Ostrich
The Ditch
Doom Love Song (The Shaking-Man-Looking-through-the-Crosshairs Blues)
Stained Glass



The History of Gunpowder is an independent, experimental rock band that has been a staple of the Montreal scene for almost three years. Boasting three studio albums, the group is currently completing their fourth. This latest album, titled, The Epileptic, will be the first full length album from the group. The album will be released in the spring of 2018. Preceding it's release, the band will release a series of live acoustic sessions, entitled The Chanting Cage Sessions, a music video, featuring the album's single, and shot entirely on film, and the band will set out on its first tour -an ambitious and aggressive tour of the Eastern US. 

Band Members