The (A)DAR – Strawman

hqdefaultThis is one of the forgotten treasures of the mid-1990s Toronto music scene. For me, at a time when the ubiquitous, droning introspection of grunge was starting to degenerate into indistinguishable white noise, Strawman was a bucket of cold hard-rock water in the face.

Rather than go on and on about this album, I’ll let 1995 Me share with you the article I wrote for The Spill Magazine in March of that year…

With hard-driving, tribal drums and guitars that grind with grunge energy and sing with heavy-metal power, why is it that their audiences sit in their seats transfixed like rabbits caught in the headlights of an oncoming Buick? The answer lies in the fact that Strawman is ore than “just” a band; they are the voice of an artists’ collective that incorporates visual artists, videographers, poets and choreographers. It is this combined energy that creates a multimedia show that is nothing less than shocking

Another Strawman surprise is the fact that this band, so new on the local scene, is as tight as a band that has spent a lifetime together. It comes as no surprise at all when you consider how much work has gone into creating the Strawman experience. Al McMullan, one of the band’s key songwriters and the man who plays keyboards on the album (chances are you’ll never see him on stage) explains that the work was necessary because of the nature of the show.

“Think about having an active video show along with the other aspects of the band,” Al says. “If you don’t have a strong band at the crux of it, it just looks like a crutch. It looks like you’re lame and you have that there so people don’t notice you’re lame. That was the last thing in the world we wanted, so we rehearsed this show really hard. We knew in terms of timing with the videos and everything else, we’d have to rehearse dead. We rehearsed dead for a year.”

“There are certain things that I would love to be able to go and see a band do,” adds John Hitzroth, Strawman’s guitarist and second principle songwriter. “Turn that around, and it’s what I should be doing. We thought it would be really cool to see a band that did all these things with A/V and do a killer show that wasn’t boring, a band with some energy happening in the show and in the material itself. It had to be something that would have to grab me if I heard it on a record.

Al talks about the documentary that was made about them last year, quoting the line that the band lives by. “If we’re on the road touring and the truck that carries our video screens goes off the road… too bad. We’ll have to get Canadian Tire to get the truck out, but the band can pull into any town, just do a set, and still blow people away.”

The strategy has worked well for the band so far. When Strawman got some radio airplay on Q107 recently, they had the highest phone-in rate of any indie band in recent memory. College radio has fallen in love with Strawman, and their popularity on the East Coast is better than anyone could have predicted. The key to their acceptance is simple: Strawman is something that’s just a little bit different. Some folks might think that would make things tough finding favour in today’s music market. “The prevailing animal is a low-fi or a punk/pop thing,” says Al. “Not to denigrate that at all. Some of my favourite bands are people practicing that, but that’s not what we are. Some of the trepidation that we had about being accepted hasn’t been a worry.”

There is one worry in the Strawman camp these days. Anyone who has spent any time in the downtown core has seen posters everywhere, promoting their North By Northeast appearance, their HMV in-store performance, the release of the video, whatever. It seems the local authorities have caught up with Strawman, charging them with “abandoning material that could become litter.” Although the band admits that they put posters up, the charge will be fought due to the wording of the by-law.

“It’s just ridiculous,” Al states. “It not only affects us and every indie band out there, but it affects the movie and beer companies, right down to the little girl that puts up a poster for her missing cat.”

Whatever the outcome of Strawman’s day in court, it can’t pull the band’s name out of people’s minds. With or without the benefit of a poster stuck to every mailbox on Queen Street, Strawman cannot be ignored.

For the record, I have no recollection of how Strawman fared against by-law enforcement. But hey, rock ‘n’ roll!