Listen to this track by unabashed Calgarian rock ‘n’ roll band with an appropriately straight-forward name, The Dudes. It’s “American Girl” their most recent single, as taken from their 6-track album Barbers, Thieves, and Bartenders.
Just recently, I’d been lamenting the fact that no one I can think of seems to be writing rock songs anymore, and that there’s always some kind of tag before the rock part – “indie”, “art”, “blues”, or (gasp!) “prog”. It’s not that those tags are bad (well, the “prog” may divide the room, of course …). But, sometimes, you just want a big, meaty, man-sized rock song, with thunderous drums, crunchy-guitar, throat-shredding vocals, and no frills.
And then I heard this song, a kind of amalgam of rock elements I love; a bit of the power-pop sensibility of The Cars (check out that “Just What I Needed” style opening here), along with the rootsiness of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, who also had a song about an American girl, of course. And let’s not forget the Chuck Berryisms of naming states and cities in America to create the impression of a hard-working band working their way across a nation. But, those acts I mentioned actually are American, where this one is from Canada.
What difference should that make?
Well, to start with, The Dudes aren’t the first Canadian band to write a song that references America looking from the outside in. As Canadians, that’s how we must confront the Great Nation to the South of us; to be compared, and often consumed by America in the minds of many (including our own at times), while also trying to map out our own identity as a people.
I don’t really get the impression that the Dudes care too much about this cultural dynamic here in this song. I don’t think this is meant to be a political in that respect. But, the proximity to America is certainly a part of the dynamic of what it’s like to play music, sitting at the rim of the border between the U.S and Canada, and trying to figure out how to sing to that many people. It’s kind of hard to sing about America, or even reference it, without that idea creeping in. We’re fascinated by America, love many things about it, and are repulsed by it too, as many nations are.
But, what remains here is a balls-out great rock song, with plenty of imagery associated with fifty years and more of popular song, which is where the heart of the band’s sound truly is. Another thing that seems to be a part of their make-up is their relationships with fans, and the determination to break down the “fourth wall” between the band and fans, both in live settings and on the Internet, where they are active in social media. This idea of blurring the lines between listeners and players of music has been a part of being a music fan as long as it’s been possible to love music and to play it. In more recent years, that’s been a big part of folk-booms and punk movements.
But in this case, it’s about just being dudes.
In addition to this kind of straight ahead rock music, Dudes bassist Brock Geiger is a part of another band on the Calgary scene, Raleigh, who I had the pleasure to interview last year, and who’s album of pristine chamber pop got some pretty heavy airplay around the Delete Bin offices. How many cool bands is it possible to be connected in this case? Well, Raleigh cellist/singer/keyboardist Clea Anaïs plays in Dojo Workhorse, a band with Dan Vacon, guitartist and singer with The Dudes.
Get all that?