Five years old & on the prowl

With their 60s-inspired garage-band-pop sounds, Vancougar makes their way to the east coast on a cross-Canada tour

Vancougar have recently commenced their first major tour of North America
Vancougar have recently commenced their first major tour of North America

The band name Vancougar is brazen, brash and ultimately leaves you with the impression that this is not a band to take seriously—which is exactly what keyboardist Megan Johnson intended.

“We got the name from our drummer CC who picked up on it being said as a joke name for a band. She thought it was really funny and cracked up at the idea,” Johnson said. “We decided it was keeper.” The name emphasizes the tongue-in-cheek approach of the four-piece; their MySpace page describes them as ‘hot to trot.’ What’s clear from every aspect of the band’s conception is one prevailing goal: fun.

Despite this carefree attitude, the name also provides an insight into the identity of the all-girl guitar band. More than anything, it establishes their Canadian heritage, a key element in the band’s make-up. Furthermore, with the title of their sophomore album, Canadian Tuxedo, referencing the fine Canadian penchant for the excessive wearing of denim—the band are eminently, and sincerely, patriotic.

“There are things available to us as a Canadian band that aren’t available to bands in other countries. I feel grateful that I grew up here. I’m pretty lucky,” Johnson said.

Having just released the album, their first since being signed to Canadian record label Mint Records in September 2007, the band has recently commenced their first major tour of North America, with Kingston’s Bar None as their next stop off.

Potentially, the trip signals a turning point for the band—the Big Break, as it were. But the band is apprehensive about the prospect of hitting the big time. A track from their first album, entitled “Mine First,” laments that moment when the band you loved first gains mass appeal and it suddenly feels like you are being forced to share your favourite toy—a feeling most music fans can identify with.

“The song is sort of tongue-in-cheek,” Johnson said. “It’s about that pang of jealousy you can get when you feel that your favourite band is exploding or on the verge of exploding. When you can’t see them in a basement anymore.” “I’m not too worried about that happening to us just yet.”

Whether they’re aware of it or not, the band’s particular breed of 1960s-inspired garage-band-pop music taps into the hugely popular fetishization of all things retro and has the ability to ride the wave of revivalist success generated by the likes of the Pipettes and the Long Blondes. From the catchy jingles and bittersweet lyrics to the images of cat-eyed glasses that compose much of their website, the band has a definite vintage quality. Unsurprisingly, the next single, “Obvious,” is a jittery guitar affair encapsulating this musical nostalgia. Yet, for Johnson the focus on a style from the days of yore is less a conscious formula than a happy accident.

“I think the 60s sound is just a product of what we all sort of listen to, one area that our interests all kind of meet. All four of us do a lot of singing, the backing vocals just come out that way,” she said. “I don’t even think of it as being retro, more an amalgamation of different influences.

“It’s an era that for all of us is a little romantic and probably does influence our fashion and our tastes in general. It’s not a conscious thing. We like what we like. Maybe we do dress up more for our shows though. In real life we wear jeans and t-shirts and Canadian tuxedos.”

Next week marks the band’s five-year anniversary, but Johnson seems in no rush to gain universal popularity, or even to make music a full time career. She just seems motivated by a genuine desire to enjoy herself, at no predetermined pace.

“My personal hope is to just keep progressing. But it is just pop music,” she said, punctuating her statement with a carefree laugh. “We’d sort of like to break even and it would be great to get some more exposure but that’s not why we’re doing it.”

Instead, Johnson cites the importance of enjoyment for her pursuit of musicality. There is the distinct impression that rather than seeking fame or riches, she is more enamoured with the adventure her musical escapades could bring.

“It’s kind of living the dream. We’ve all had these aspirations since we were little kids. We’re a band running from town to town, living in this fantasy world where the cares and worries of your day job sort of vanish. No responsibilities but to go to the next town, rock out and then leave.”

Vancougar will be playing at BarNone on Monday October 20.

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