They’ve got an amplifier

The Constantines bring the noise to Kingston

Steve Lambke and Bry Webb resurrect rock at The Shot.
Steve Lambke and Bry Webb resurrect rock at The Shot.

The pundits may be proclaiming that quiet is the new loud, but the old loud hasn’t gone away just yet.

Witness The Constantines, an up-and-coming band from Guelph, Ontario, whose thundering, frantic live show has won them the adoration of several large Canadian music publications, as well as frequent comparisons to indie-rock heavyweights like Fugazi. Two days after the unofficial release of their debut CD on Toronto label Three Gut Records, the band is in town for a show at The Shot, discussing their reluctantly-won status as the new saviours of rock n’ roll.

“We’re still pretty new at this,” admits Steve Lambke, one of the band’s two guitar-toting lead vocalists. The Constantines are comprised of four laid back, soft-spoken kids in Metallica tees and Converse sneakers. They seem, if not oblivious to the media attention being heaped on them, then at least unconcerned, and perhaps a little humbled. It’s not surprising, when one considers their origins. Founded in London, Ontario by Lambke, guitarist/ vocalist Bry Webb, drummer Doug MacGregor and bassist Dallas Wehrle, the band got their start playing house shows around London and Guelph, commandeering basements and church halls for small but enthusiastic crowds of fans. The venues they chose played a central role in the development of the band’s overall attitude. “We all kind of came out of bands that were started from a scene that was separate from the bars, where it was people doing their own shows and starting their own bands because of their love of music,” says Webb.

Despite their fast-growing profile, house shows and other self-organized events remain the band’s preferred musical forum.

“It’s nice to know that people are coming out to check out the band,” says Webb, “and you can tell that a little more at a basement show. In a bar, it’s sort of maybe incidental that people are seeing a band.”

Listening to the Cons talk about their roots, it’s easy to forget that they’re not all that far removed from them. All of the band’s members are under 25, and their enthusiasm for the music of their peers and influences, as fans as well as musicians, is fully intact.

“There’s probably less pressure, actually, being a young band,” Webb muses.

“You know, maybe people just think we’re a decent band because we’re young, and once they realize this is what we’re gonna be playing for the next couple of years, they’ll lose interest.” He reaffirms, however, that the nonexistent age difference between the band and their fans lends a certain familiarity to the performer-audience relationship.

“Being the age that we are,” he says, “we’re able to stay in touch with kids who are still doing hardcore shows, renting halls and stuff like that.”

The Cons’ commitment to a grassroots approach has led to the band being tagged as a somewhat politically-motivated outfit, but Lambke explains that this is not necessarily the case.

“If there seems to be a little bit of a political slant,” he says, “it’s not really intentional and it’s not really the focus.

“We just play what we know,” he states honestly. Webb, who writes lyrics for the band—yet who seems, in true punk fashion, wary of directing attention away from his bandmates—elaborates further.

“Anything we have lyrically that can be thought of as political is more just about self-definition, and how ideas about safety and comfort can be redefined by going to a punk rock show — feeling at home in a crowded basement, and just, you know, dancing. That’s more the angle we come from: redefining yourself and whatever values you want to set for yourself.” Self-definition is an important issue for the Cons, especially right now: their debut self-titled CD gets its official release on June 5. Much has been made of the band’s live show, and the disc will provide the first opportunity for the Canadian media to check out how the band’s sound translates in the studio.

“We started recording it back in September, at [producer] Andy Magoffin’s house near London,’ says bassist Wehrle. The Cons describe the recording process as a fairly relaxed affair. “The cool thing is,” says MacGregor, “we have friends of ours that are on the record because they just kind of dropped by the house.” Several of the band’s peers contributed backing vocals, instrumentation, and handclaps to the record, which harnesses the Cons’ live sound without sacrificing any of the sharp intensity they demonstrate onstage. Their much-discussed influences are audible, but hardly overbearing. In fact, they’re treated with a reverence that elevates them above the level of imitation.

The plaintive chorus of “The Long Distance Four” echoes the weary Springsteen of “The River,” and “Steal This Sound”s panicked build evokes everyone from Elvis Costello to Sonic Youth. The band’s music sounds like it belongs to the history of rock itself; it is both homage and extension, a thank-you note to music written in the language of loud guitars. “We’ve got an amplifier,” states Webb in the album closer “Little Instruments,” affirming his kinship with anyone who ever turned it up to 11 because they could.

“I guess we just like a lot of bands who have the same ideas about keeping it close to home, trying to run things without a corporate influence,” says Webb.

“The references like The Clash and Fugazi,” adds Wehrle, “I don’t think we were trying to put them out there. But I know pretty much all of us listen to all of those bands, and it’s something where if it’s in your head all of the time, it’s going to come out eventually.” The Cons love of music is most evident in their live show, which stunned Toronto crowds during Canadian Music Week this past March. The band’s electric stage presence hearkens back to the days when people still danced to rock music. Screams, leaps, and ventures into the audience are common practice, and drummer MacGregor has been known to throw various percussive devices to fans.

“It’s a time when you can go off and do whatever you want,” Wehrle says. “Just jumping around and shouting and playing your guitars as loud as you can.”

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