Listen to this track by Vancouverite power-pop poobahs Odds. It’s their arguably best-known hit song among other well-known radio favourites, “Someone Who’s Cool” as it appears on their 1996 album Nest.
That record marked the end of an era for the band, the last of their releases that included guitarist-singer and songwriter Steven Drake. After this, the band went on hiatus for a period, with solo careers, collaborations, and other projects with each other, and with members of other bands .
But always being hard-working and fiercely local in their emphasis, they came together again at the end of the 2000s, sans Drake, but with a seemingly undiminished capacity for writing and performing hook-laden songs that sound joyous yet are laced with bitter acrimony and black humour.
Singer and guitarist Craig Northey takes lead vocals on the lion’s share of the band’s material these days, although this one was always a highlight for his voice, and a great example of his ability to make self-deprecating humour and subtly tragic overtones into something to which everyone can sing along with gusto. It helps that he is part of a band that is still as passionate about live playing as they ever were, giving audiences that very opportunity.
Their love of playing for crowds stretches back to the time when they played hard nearly every night on the local scene to hone their craft and fund their ambitions to continue to record their own original material, which they’d written even before they served as house band under a different name at Vancouver’s The Roxy. And it’s good that they did, considering that many of their songs, including this one, has become such a vital part of the Canadian pop music continuum.
I had the tremendous pleasure to speak to Craig Northey through the magic of email about this song, about their roots as a west coast band, and about karaoke, too. Here’s what he said.
The Delete Bin: The band is associated with a prime period in Canadian rock music, and you made you success across the country on mainstream radio. More recently you guys have really gone back to your roots as a very Vancouver band, playing shows at community-based venues like Wise Hall, and at festivals. How has the local scene changed since your started?
Craig Northey: The scene here is pretty vital right now. CBC radio 3, Shore, Peak etc… the newer stations with a more alternative mandate have opened things up and exposed people to more local music. I don’t think we ever left our roots as a Vancouver band. We’ve always tried to chip in and just play wherever we’re needed!
DB: The earliest incarnation of the band started playing as a house band at the Roxy in downtown Vancouver, playing covers under the name The Dawn Patrol. How did that early apprenticeship aid in your own songwriting?
CN: We made up that “moonlighting” gig to get the experience playing night after night and also giving us money to record our own music by day. If you’re doing classic material it can’t help but become part of your subconscious musical self. It comes out in your writing even when you don’t know it.
DB: Your first album was self-produced, and featured “Love Is The Subject” and “Wendy Under The Stars” which were minor hits. What steps did you take to break out of the cover band world and into the world of recording your own songs?
We were never in “the cover band world” really. We were an original band that invented an alter-ego to have fun and earn money. We didn’t even use our own names in that band. For us it was not about breaking out of that trap. It was always about working our asses off at writing and recording and using whatever means we could to do that. We were recording our own songs before we started the Dawn Patrol. All our albums have been self produced save for Bedbugs in 1993 that we shared that role with Jim Rondinelli. We used our own money to learn how to record ourselves.
DB: At one point, you served as a backing band for Warren Zevon, a singular songwriter and unique voice. How did being a support to another artist of his stature affect your own artistic trajectory?
CN: It was wonderful. He was a great mentor and friend. It gave us a taste of what was ahead of us and exposed us to a lot of people who liked music for music’s sake. It was our first tour on an actual rock tour bus. We miss him. He shared our dark sense of humour and love of the written word.
DB: At one point, the band was involved in the soundtrack of the Kids In The Hall movie Brain Candy. And later on, you wrote the theme to the TV show Corner Gas. Then, there’s the video for “Heterosexual Man”, and Dave Foley in a dress. What is the connection between the band’s music and Canadian comedy?
CN: We just love comedy. At one point in 1991 we crossed paths with the Kids in the Hall and we shared a way of looking at the world. There was an instant friendship that has lasted until this day.
DB: Let’s talk about “Someone Who’s Cool” which is kind of an anthem to insecurity and feeling like a fraud, and one of your most recognized songs to date. It’s kind of an anti-rock star song, while at the same time, it really rocks. How deliberate was that contrast?
CN: I think that song is one of many of our songs that examines an uneasiness with “putting on airs”. We tend to wrap uncomfortable ideas in nice melodies so the medicine doesn’t taste as bad. That contrast isn’t deliberate at all. We ARE those people. We love good melodies, crashing guitars and poking around with darkly funny and absurd ideas. We just put them together like that because we have no choice.
DB: There’s a “karaoke” version of the song that fans can play on your official site, with the instructions “send us YOUR versions”. Any impressive ones that stand out in your mind so far?
CN: We’re waiting for YOURS!
Odds currently have a new EP out The Most Beautiful Place In The World, which you can learn about and buy on their official website.
The band will be playing SHOREFEST, a free concert in conjunction with the Celebration of Light on August 2, 2014 on the English Bay stage, starting at 7PM. The event stretches over three days, on July 22, July 30, and the August date on two stages at Sunset Beach and the aforementioned English Bay. In addition to Odds’ set, 54-40, The Sheepdogs, Spirit of the West, and Current Swell will make appearances, along with other acts.