Music Interview: Constantines stadium bound

By Garth Paulson

To avoid the doldrums of life you get a few people together and start a band. You play the occasional show for small groups of friends. Soon you find yourself recording your first album. An upstart label catches on, signs you and releases your album throughout the country leading to widespread acclaim.

This praise lands you an international deal with one of the largest indie labels in the world. Your second album comes out and suddenly you’re known the world over. You play shows in places you never thought you’d visit. You quit your day job. Then, out of the blue, you get a gig warming up for one of the biggest bands around. All of this takes place in a few short years. You are bewildered.

“I actually have no idea what to expect,” admits Bry Webb, lead singer and guitarist of the Constantines, whose current tour with the Foo Fighters caps off an incredible rise up the musical ladder. “It’s sort of why we wanted to do it. It seemed like such a crazy opportunity to do something we never would have expected to do, so we had to take it. I kind of wish we could just go up there and cover Neil Young and Crazy Horse songs and see how those sound. I guess I’m just more anxious to see what our songs sound like in that context, whether they transfer to stadium rock.”

It remains to be seen how the Constantines will sound in the open space of the Saddledome, but if their recorded output and stellar string of smaller performances are any indication, they should fare well. Combining elements of ’70s punk, ’90s indie rock and old-fashioned pop sensibilities, the band has developed a unique, urgent sound which demands attention and may steal some of the Foo’s thunder when the Constantines get their first taste of the stadium circuit.

“When we started, part of what we wanted to do was to play in as many different kinds of spaces as possible,” Webb explains. “Wherever we could play we would, out of the curiosity to see how the performance changes, how reception is different in different spaces. I’m still as interested in playing in a dirt hole as I am in playing the amphitheatres.”

It’s not likely Webb and his cohorts will be filling those dirt holes anytime soon, ever since signing with Toronto label Three Gut Records the band has seen their exposure shoot up dramatically. The Constantines’ 2003 release, Shine A Light, was heralded as a vital kick to rock music’s ass and found itself towards the top of many best-of lists. This success also prompted the re-release of their self-titled album, earning the band even more hyperbole-laced plaudits. October will see the Constantines release their third album, Tournament of Hearts. Despite their triumphant rise, the band hasn’t lost any of the fire and immediacy characteristic of their early work.

“I still need to write songs,” Webb explains. “I still need to make music. It’s something I can’t really imagine living without but I can’t claim that I’m not interested in people liking our band. I don’t think we’re going to release an experimental, didgeridoo record in the near future. We are interested in playing music that is our own music that people identify with us but we’re still trying to figure out what that means and how far we can take it. We are making pop music, we’re not making anything too avant garde but it’s still very enjoyable for us. It’s part of what we need to do.”

Fortunately, many people are as passionate about the Constantines’ music as they are about creating it. Even in the face of all this success the band still has an air of amazement about them. Instead of seeing the tour with the Foo Fighters as another step towards rock supremacy they see it as another welcome development in a surprising career.

“When we started the band this is way beyond what we were shooting for,” Webb says. “One of the things I’m shooting for is to not have a boss, to be self-employed for as long as I can. It’s been about a year without having a day job. It’s because my rent is pretty cheap and I’ve sort of been couch surfing for a while so it’s not like I’m rolling in it or living a glamorous life. I just want to be in control of my own living.”

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