The Unbelievable Bargains
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The Unbelievable Bargains

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"From monotremes to bowel movements"

The Unbelievable Bargains are one of Winnipeg’s quirkiest musical acts, with song topics running the gamut from monotremes to bowel movements and everything in between.

The Bargains are set to put all of their eccentricities to good use after releasing their first digital single, Deals On Wheels, as well as the upcoming release of their first full-length album coming out this summer, the aptly-titled Fun Times Why Not. The Manitoban caught up with Marshall Birch (guitar/vocals), Steve Basham (bass/vocals), and JP Perron (drums/vocals) in order to inundate them with questions.

The Manitoban: What was the inspiration behind this album?

Marshall Birch: I guess the main inspiration was just wanting to record the songs we’d been playing. Actually, a lot of the songs on here were originally going to go on a solo album that I had been planning on recording since my last one was finished three years ago.

I kept trying to figure out a way to record drums for the songs, but I was held back by a lack of [recording equipment], a lack of a drum kit, and a lack of the ability to play the drums. Eventually, we started the band and it just made more sense to record them as a band.

JP Perron: I feel like we are trying to go for a sound that is easy to grasp. Marshall writes nice ditties, then Steve and I try to put a solid pulse behind it. We are all into early punk rock from the 70s. Most of those bands went back to the root of rock and roll, playing simple songs. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

M: You guys seem to have created a genre unto yourselves – did you set out to be trailblazers or did it just sort of happen?

MB: I’m not sure if I ever set out to blaze any trails, and I’m sure anything unique about us can be traced back to something somewhere, but I think I kind of have a different philosophy towards songwriting than a lot of people. Basically nothing is off-limits as far as subject matter – no matter how mundane, stupid, childish, or what-have-you. I see no reason why a song about a dog or a plate of spaghetti should be seen as less serious than whatever other people sing about. I’ve also never been one to “push” a song. Usually, if I can’t finish writing it in one five-to-ten minute sitting, I’ll just let it end there.

M: Are any of these songs based on true stories, or are they more so about your hopes and aspirations?

MB: I think they’re almost all true, ‘cause they’re just rhymes about things I see or do. Coffee totally makes you poop, little bugs are totally everywhere, feeding ducks is totally awesome, and dogs are totally neat. “Second Motorcycle” is maybe the biggest stretch, ‘cause I don’t actually have a motorcycle, but I still think it’d be pretty cool to have two motorcycles. Maybe that one’s about my aspirations.

M: If you were an aquatic mammal, what would you be and why?

MB: Golly! Maybe some kind of whale – but not a blue whale, ‘cause I have this idea of them being big and lonely. Maybe a beluga – they always look happy. A baby beluga.

Steve Basham: Gonna have to disagree with Marshall on this one – I would totally be a blue whale. They play by their own rules. As I understand, they just eat whatever the heck floats into their mouths. Mostly like sea crud or whatever, but [they’re] so big and majestic!

JP: The platypus is semi-aquatic. I didn’t know too much about ‘em until Marshall sang that song. Educational.

M: What types of foods are best for making music?

MB: I like the idea of maybe dropping something like a big hunk of meatloaf to make a sloppy noise, and looping that for percussion. Maybe slap a couple of pieces of pizza together. I guess one could imagine spaghetti guitar strings, or better yet – spaghetti double bass strings. Oh man, this could be one of the world’s greatest thought experiments! Don’t be surprised if there’s a new Bargains song about playing music with some kind of food soon.

SB: Sharing pizza is a great way to build camaraderie, and that environment is very conducive to playing music. The band that eats together, plays together. One time, I got some pretty funny sounds out of some curry (squish squish that is, not fart fart).

M: What’s the most unbelievable bargain you’ve ever snagged?

MB: I’ve had my jacket for about eight years and it cost me five bucks. It’s a good’n. Batteries at Dollarama are pretty cheap. I got this Alfredo sauce at Pal’s the other day and it was only like two bucks when I was expecting four or something. Not bad!

JP: I am constantly hunting for used treasures. I was particularly stoked on the matching Garfield racer jackets that my gal and I found at the Goodwill on Princess.

The Unbelievable Bargains play at the Park Theatre on May 24 alongside Surprise Party, Hostile Life, and the Thrashers. Deals on Wheels is now available online at unbelievablebargains.bandcamp.com. - The Manitoban


"Believe it or not: The Unbelievable Bargains prep their debut LP"

Seated on a sectional couch with a bowling ball between them at their “communal living/jam space,” guitarist Marshall Birch and drummer JP Perron of the Unbelievable Bargains await bassist Steve Basham’s return home from work.

While Basham and Birch both live here, Perron hasn’t for a number of years, but it was during that time four years ago that the initial idea to form the band came to be.

“I basically convinced Steve to play bass for me because I thought Steve was awesome,” Birch says, strumming away on an unplugged guitar in between sips of Old Boy Ale.

Though it shares its members with such acts as This Hisses, The Girth and Lodged Turd & the Toilet Hands, this is no side-project band. As Basham arrives, he and Perron opt for cans of Brewhouse and the interview officially begins.

The Bargains, who formed a year and a half ago, play a ramshackle mix of punk and makeshift basement rock, with loosely Frankensteined drums and microphones that dangle from the ceiling.

The band’s as-yet untitled debut LP will be out in June on vinyl, with a digital single sometime soon. Recorded in one day with up and coming locals Will Grierson and Arthur Antony in their basement studio, the band believes the record will be a solid representation of its sound.

“The album is sorta straight-ahead punky,” Birch says of the 18 songs that made the cut. “A lot of our songs we didn’t put on it, our stranger ones, we didn’t feel that we could record that well. These just seemed like the ones we could easily do.”

“The other ones we’re maybe not as inclined to want to play at bar shows and stuff so we haven’t put as much time into them,” adds Basham of the over 50 additional songs that make up the band’s catalogue.

“Some of those songs are great but we haven’t had the time to flesh them out,” Perron says. “At our first show, we’re playing Grandma Can’t Find Her Glasses and by the time we’re at the second chorus, everyone’s singing along because Marshall’s lyrics are extremely catchy and sing-alongable.”

Though the songs are incredibly catchy, they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. As the band has a mandate not to turn down any show, the Bargains are occasionally mis-booked.

- See the Unbelievable Bargains at a pirate-themed wedding social Saturday, April 6 at the Crescentwood Community Centre with the Vibrating Beds
- The band will release its Deals on Wheels digital single soon
- Visit www.soundcloud.com/the-unbelievable-bargains

Recently they’ve been banned from a bar in Kenora, altered songs for a chilli cook-off and rocked a crowd of four legged friends.

“It was pretty hilarious,” Birch says of the chilli cook-off at Bistro 7 1/4. “I don’t think anyone there had ever heard us before. Every second song they’d tell us to turn it down more and more. They also didn’t turn off the house music for half our set.”

“Me and Marshall played in Brandon at his sister’s wedding social,” Basham says. “I played drums because JP wasn’t there. Marshall just played guitar through a bass amp and we forgot to bring mic stands so we had to tape my mic to the wall.”

“Then me and Steve played on CKUW without Marshall,” Perron continues. “It’s such an adaptable band. If there’s only two members of the band we’ll still play.”

“We also played at a kid’s stage at a dog show once,” Birch says with a laugh. “We played our song Dogs first and they got the dogs to come dance and bark at us, they were the only audience we had. It was great.”

Despite these hiccups, surely this band, made up of regulars of the local scene and rocking a name such as theirs will eventually be seen as the ultimate act for bargain-centric Winnipeggers.

“It fits into the whole Dollarama logic where you’d pay the same cover to hear any band that you’d pay to see us, but instead of 12 songs we’ll play 17,” Basham says of the band’s name.

“When you look at the ingredients of Dollarama chips you say, ‘Hey, there’s no potato in this,’ but it’s a big bag.” - The Uniter


"Locals to Look Out For, March 11, 2013"

Ah, Saint Patrick’s Day, a holiday celebrating binge drinking and the colour green. Maybe once it might have had something to do with Irish people and snakes, but that connection has been buried by the sands of time.

I can’t think of a better soundtrack to a night of brain-cell-killing fun than the bill that the Rose n’ Bee has planned for this Sunday. The R n’ B has put together three bands of unpretentious and unapologetically fun music.

The Unbelievable Bargains

Those of you who follow Locals to Look Out For might remember the Unbelievable Bargains from my very first column, when I discussed the creative exploits of Mr. Steve Basham, a solo artist and front man for the Girth. In the Bargains he hops on bass and the man holding the reins is the ever-talented Marshall Birch, a songwriter whose unique blend of humour and honesty has delighted fans across Manitoba.

The group is rounded out by Winnipeg’s most energetic rhythm monster, a man that drums so hard he’s often known to fly right off his stool: the one and only J.P. Perron (This Hisses, ex-Mahogany Frog).

The Thrashers

If you wanna party like a modern day Frankie and Annette but don’t know how to get a beach blanket boogie going at the local skate park, the Thrashers will show you how it is done.

Mixing high energy surf rock with anthem punk rock abandon might not sound novel on paper, but believe you me: these guys do it with such freewheeling enthusiasm and genuine ‘peg city style that you can’t help but fall in love with this band. From Jesse Bercier’s switchblade-sharp guitar licks, to Iaian Loeppky’s wild bass lines and even wilder hair, to Sean G’s beats rolling like thunder in the distance – the Thrashers are relevant retro that can’t be stopped.

The Bad Nerves

Before I give the lowdown on the Bad Nerves, I have some questions. Why do the kids from Selkirk make such great music? Was there something in the water in the early 2000s? Did their high school have some kind of experimental garage rock music program?

Whatever the cause, the effect has been a tidal wave of excellent rock n’ roll sweeping over this fair city, leaving blown-out brain cavities and buzzing ear drums in their wake.

The Bad Nerves are no exception; they spit angular keyboards sounds, grinding distortion, and propulsive rhythms that would make Jay Reatard grin, sneer, or smash something – whichever of those would best signal his approval.

So now that you are in the know, if you want to celebrate St. Drunkard’s day with me, I’ll see you at the Rose n’ Bee. - The Manitoban


"Interview With Marshall Birch"

Marshall Birch is a Winnipeg musician who sometimes plays solo but mostly plays with the Unbelievable Bargains. They have catchy riffs and adorable/funny lyrics. It's like a good dose of happy. Marshall agreed to answer my questions.


What are you thoughts on the music scene in your local residence?
I think that there's a lot of great music and musicians in Winnipeg, though they're not always the ones getting recognition for it. One complaint would be a major lack of criticism for anything, particularly once it's reached any level of popularity. I'm pretty sure just about everyone involved in the local music "media" is also playing music in town, which is cool, but i think it also leads to people being afraid to say anything negative, for fear of backlash. I feel like it's a relatively small and close-knit scene, and everyone's givin' each other the thumbs-up. I'm not saying we need to become jerks to each other, but a little due criticism can be a good thing, and i see very little of that going on in Winnipeg. Maybe it's like that everywhere though, i dunno.


How would describe your music style?
I write the kind of music I'd like to hear other people play. It comes out a specific way, because that's the only way i know how to play - kinda punky, kinda poppy, kinda rocky, kinda folky, but it's probably more influenced by advertising jingles and kids music than any specific artist from any of those genres. I put chords to the dumb little songs you might come up with in your head while going about your daily life.


What's your dream tour?
Having enough time to explore each city I go to, and enough money so's I don't have to worry about running out. Frequent detours for camping and swimmin' and stuff. Sleeping in a station wagon and playing house parties across America would be primo. I…I'm not sure these kind of tours ever happen.


What is required to make what you define as good music?
I think a level of humility and humour is important. I'm not saying music has to be "funny," but I grow pretty tired of musicians who take themselves too seriously. My favourite musicians are the ones that are able to play a lighthearted, fun, perhaps even silly, little song, and then play a good, smart, poignant song, without having the disparity between the two be too evident. People like Harry Nilsson, Phil Ochs, Jonathan Richman, and Nick Lowe are masters at this. I feel like I've gotten down the first requirement decently, but am far from the second.


What's your favourite animal? (real or yet to be made?)
I like 'em all pretty much, but maybe ducks. I definitely have the closest relationships with cats, so its hard to discount them, but ducks have a special place in my heart. They can walk, swim AND fly - they've mastered all realms. They seem so calm all the time and like to hang out with their buddies and swim around. They make the funniest noise of all animals and walk in the cutest manner. They're around everywhere and you can feed 'em bread. Ducks.


What do you think is going to happen with DIY music in the next few years?
I don't really know. I don't know much about modern music, let alone modern DIY music, but I think modern technology can be a help and a hindrance - certainly it can make it easier to record, advertise, and "network", but I think the ease brought about by this can be problematic too. The temptation to record cheaply and quickly onto a computer in your basement could be a drawback for some bands that might really benefit from going the extra mile and getting a professional recording done, which at one time was more of a necessity. The ease of getting your music "out there" can also lead to a much bigger pool of sub-par music to wade through before getting to the better musicians, who at one time may have stood out easier. I really don't know much about how music works though, beyond playing the guitar.


What is your drink?
Delicious and nutritious fruit smoothies. Oh, and beer. And coffee. Water's good. Orange juice. I drink lotsa stuff. I love drinkin' things.


If you could change one thing about the world what would you change?
Holy cats! That's no easy question. Lots and lots and lots of things. Am I allowed to drastically alter human nature? Or just like, cut down the global population by around, I dunno…6.5 billion?


If you could make a movie, what would it be about?
A boy befriending a monkey and foiling some criminal's scheme, probably. An orangutan, preferably.


What do you want people to know about you?
I'd like people to "know" that I'm a heck of a fine fella, and to act upon this "knowledge" by bein' friendly to me. - LP Hoopla Publicity


"The Unbelievable Bargains: Quirky Music with Local Manitoba Flavour"

See link for article/interview. - The Quill


"The Unbelievable Bargains: We Value Values"

“Don’t lick the floor,” warns Steve Basham as we’re sitting around, drinking beers and preparing for our interview.

“We’ve got mice,” explains Marshall Birch, singer, guitar player, and principal songwriter for the Unbelievable Bargains, with a chuckle. Both Birch and Basham (bass) live in this large house on Balmoral where I’ve met them to do the interview, before their weekly Wednesday jam.

“This has always kind of been the home of the band,” Birch had said earlier, as we discussed the background of the group. Active now for over a year and a half, the Unbelievable Bargains started with a jam between Birch and (former housemate) J.P. Perron (who arrives directly). Birch, who has been recording and releasing lo-fi CDRs of his material for years, had a whack of new material that he wanted to flesh out with a band. With Perron on board, and another buddy on bass, all they needed was a name.

The Unbelievable Bargains started off as The Big Honkin’ Dingers, a name which changed shortly after Basham joined the group.

“We were playing at the Death Trap,” Basham explains, laughing. “I was there a little early, and someone asked me, ‘What’s the name of your band? I want to put it on the sandwich board outside.’ And I was like, ‘Uh, the Down Dirty Digglers? No. The Red Hot Dingers?’ I couldn’t remember the name! They were gracious enough to change the band name because I could never remember it!”

The Unbelievable Bargains is not only a catchy handle to play under, but representative of these three dudes (and many Manitobans) as well.

“We’re very value conscious,” Basham admits.

“We go to a lot of second hand stores,” says Birch. “That’s where I get all my clothes and records and things like that.”

The thrills of daily living, like stumbling across a great bargain at a yard sale, are universal. The themes the Unbelievable Bargains explore in their off-brand rock and power-pop tunes are certainly universal, though perhaps a little off-beat at first listen.

“There are one of three principal themes,” Basham begins explaining, before Birch details these themes for me.

“It’s either about food or animals or like, daily events and bodily functions,” he says. “Most of my songs I just write about things that amuse me or things that happen to me. Like, something will happen to me and I’ll just be thinking of something in the shower or on the toilet. I’ll think of some funny rhyme, and it goes from there. I’ll grab a rhyming dictionary and make a song.”

A prolific songwriter, the Unbelievable Bargains have a mass of tunes ready to share with the public, and have just begun recording their debut (as yet untitled) album.

“We recorded 21 songs in a day. In like five or seven hours,” explains Perron. With bed tracks in the can, the gang has only to return to do lead and background vocals, and “sound effects.” Out of the 21 tracks, the Unbelievable Bargains hope to put out a 16 track full length in early 2013.

Jamming once a week, playing shows regularly, and recording an album is a busy schedule to maintain. Nevermind that the they all hold down jobs and school, but Basham and Perron are both in other busy bands. Basham is the singer and guitar player in The Girth, and Perron plays drums for This Hisses. Regardless, the boys find a way to make it happen.

“I think we all just go out of our way to do it,” says Basham, citing that while other commitments exist, “this one is particularly fun and hilarious to do.”

“We’re all good buds,” says Perron, over a sip of whisky that has made it’s way into the mix from somewhere. “We just get together every Wednesday and hang out. It’s great.”

Indeed. If you’re looking for a fun band with plenty of energy, and some weird songs to get stuck in your head, make sure you check out the Unbelievable Bargains soon.

The Unbelievable Bargains play the Cavern for an album fundraiser Friday January 12. - Stylus Magazine


Discography

Deals on Wheels (single) - April 5, 2013
Fun Times Why Not (album) - to be released August 13, 2013

Photos

Bio

The Unbelievable Bargains sing songs about animals, food, bugs, automobiles, innards, and other pleasant subjects, channeling any angst towards subjects such as spilly bowls of chili, lousy potato salad, grandma losing her glasses, and the plight of baby sea turtles.
Their songs are catchy, quick, simple and unpretentious, focusing on fun above all else. The Bargains make a point not to take themselves too seriously, and avoid becoming a novelty act by having humour be incidental, rather than the focus.
Their music could be compared to the likes of Jonathan Richman, The Evaporators, Shonen Knife, Nick Lowe, The Dead Milkmen and the Electric Light Orchestra, though their songwriting is influenced as much by kids music and commercial jingles as it is by any of these specific artists.

Their songs are the work of singer/guitarist/tunesmith Marshall Birch, with some songs penned by bassist/vocalist Steve Basham (The Girth, The Oktars) The energetic drummer/crooner JP Perron (This Hisses, Mahogany Frog). They have been playing around Winnipeg for two years, garnering a following of folks interested in a rock band focused more on good times than image. They have had the pleasure to lend their talents to events such as chili cook-offs, street festival kids stages, dog shows, college radio fundraisers, wedding parties, and all manner of shows at bars and coffee shops. They will be releasing their debut album this summer, followed by a tour Westward.