Bubblegum & bikers

The Bicycles roll into town and drop the training wheels

The Bicycles are back with with their melodic sprints through rock and roll on new album Oh No, It’s Love.
The Bicycles are back with with their melodic sprints through rock and roll on new album Oh No, It’s Love.
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The Bicycles are coming your way and, to paraphrase Freddie Mercury, you should forget all your duties and be there Saturday night at The Grad Club. To get in gear for this show I got on the phone with Drew Smith from the Toronto foursome to talk touring, Toronto, their new album, writing, recording and board games.

If you’ve never heard them, The Bicycles craft tight, two-minute bubblegum pop tracks reminiscent of the Monkees—or at least that’s how every article ever written about them describes the band. Smith said that’s because most reviewers just read their bio and write that. Smith, though, was surprisingly succinct on the subject.

“It’s melodic rock-and-roll,” he said.

Comparisons to The Monkees may have sufficed on their debut release, The Good, The Bad and The Cuddly, in which almost every song was cheery and bright, and under four minutes. But their soon to be released album Oh No, It’s Love may change that.

The songs remain short—shorter, in fact, with more of them jammed in there—but with this release the training wheels have come off. The band’s no longer afraid to write a sad song and, even when working on a shorter time frame, offers up instrumental breakouts that defy the simple pop label.

“That’s just the way they are, a little more of a bummer,” Smith said.

“This is the last two years of our lives, that’s all it is.”

If the past two years were a bummer for their love lives and that all went into their songs there must have been some fun and games in that time as well. What else would have inspired them to create their own video board game? That’s right, The Good, The Bad and The Cuddly: The Interactive DVD Board Game, was originally singer Matt Beckett’s idea.

“He pitched it to us and we did not respond that well at first,” Smith said. “We liked the idea [but] he pitched it to us as an audiotape.”

The idea of a small indie band branching out into this kind of merchandise this early in their career may seem a little odd and approaching that Monkees stereotype. Smith admits that at first sales were slow. The band displayed the game alongside more standard merch-table fare at their shows but no one was buying any. Explaining the concept to crowds by comparisons to Nightmare—the VHS board game from the early 90s—did not help.

“Usually people don’t remember Nightmare,” Smith said.

Students may be interested to know that instructions are included for an alcohol-friendly version of the game.

When we spoke the band was in Moncton. It was raining there and snowing here and the group had just left Halifax after playing at their label’s showcase event at the Pop Explosion. Smith had mixed feelings about their performance but had the chance to admire fellow rockers Young Rival and Woodhands’ sets.

On tour until the end of November with labelmates Young Rival, Smith is thankful for the company, who he says are a lot of fun.

“It’s usually fun, but you get homesick especially on long [tours],” he said.

For The Bicycles, home is Toronto, where their new album was recorded, and where many of their friends and guests on the record can be found. Aside from playing and seeing shows at The Tranzac and record shopping at Soundscapes, Smith said he mostly just hangs out with friends in the city, admitting it sounds pretty boring.

Maybe not so boring when your friends are Henri Fabergé and The Adorables, a band drummer Dana Snell plays with in tandem with her Bicycles gig. The wheel spins both ways though as Laura Barrett of The Adorables plays kalimba on the new album. Other guests on Oh No, It’s Love include such notables as Basia Bulat and even veteran of Canadian rock Bob Egan of Blue Rodeo, who recorded a few pedal steel overdubs for the record.

“Bob is pretty supportive” Smith said. “He’s enthusiastic and he [recorded] it during tour on his iPod and e-mailed it to Matt and it sounds awesome.”

With all these different musicians chipping in the recording process can really transform a song from its original idea. Without really even knowing what he’s looking for Smith has had songs reinvigorated by a friend’s spontaneous contribution.

“Doing that is always fun because just basically you’re hanging out and you just happen to press record,” he said.

As for Kingston and the upcoming show with former Queen’s familiars Young Rival, Smith said he’s excited and has fond memories of an identically billed show a year and a half ago.

“[It was] one of the best shows I’ve played,” he said of the Grad Club performance. “Ping pong was fun.”

Let’s hope The Grad Club dusts off that ping pong table—if it’s even still around— while the rest of us get tuned up, oiled up and whatever else you deem necessary to make sure nothing derails your plans to see The Bicycles this weekend.

The Bicycles play tomorrow night with Young Rival at The Grad Club.

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