Between Stations with Three O’Clock Train

And now, one-time regular columnist Geoff Moore makes a triumphant return to the pages of The Delete Bin. This time, it’s in conversation with Mack MacKenzie, the principal of legendary alt-country originals Three O’Clock Train. Mack has a new EP coming out, and with a good cause attached to it …

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“I started busking on the streets of Montreal. I could only play five songs and so I thought I better write one myself,” recalls Mack MacKenzie of Three O’Clock Train. The initial result, ‘Train of Dreams,’ was the synthesis of a crystal radio home kit, haunted record shop aisles, ribs broken while trying to buy Bowie concert tickets, and house music: Beatles, Stones, Monkees, and Johnny Cash. “I had to write more material and start a band. The idea was to play and have fun.”

Reflecting on his younger days, Mack says, “I was a vulture. I don’t think I missed a single concert at the Montreal Forum between 1975 and 1985. I always bought six tickets. I knew every word and every credit on every album.”

Despite the existence of the legendary Blue Angel nightclub with its red leather banquettes and uniformed washroom attendants, a showcase host to Cash and Patsy Cline, Montreal was never really noted as a country and western type of town. And so what to make of Three O’Clock Train’s explosive club shows, their 1986 debut EP Wig Wam Beach and its full-length follow up Muscle In? A prose Polaroid snapshot of those days is facile, washed out, but how could Roy Orbison be fronting the Clash in the shadow of Mount Royal? “We called our own shots. Nobody ever told us what to play. We had freedom from the get-go,” Mack says. “The closest band to us was Rank and File.”

Originally formed as a trio and named for getting home after the closing time of Montreal’s bars, Three O’Clock Train was cowpunk, alt-country before the term existed. “We were a DIY band; we didn’t sign our rights over to anybody in order to not get paid.”

Ignored by commercial radio, the group proved to be a hit on the Canadian university circuit. In 1996, tired of the grind, Mack put the band on hiatus to pursue his interest in the era’s emerging digital technology. “I tried to stay away.” But he never stopped writing and performing. “What else am I going to do?” In 2001 Mack quit an IT position with Cirque du Soleil to revive Three O’Clock Train as a one-man entity. “Now I’m like Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails,” he chuckles, “fluid.”

Recording sessions with Chip and Tony Kinman, Rank and File brothers, have just wrapped up. Cuatro de Los Angeles, a new Three O’Clock Train four-song EP is on the way. The new single, a cover of Rank and File’s ‘Today Was Going to be My Lucky Day’ will be released before Christmas. “Everybody just calls it ‘Lucky Day.’” Luck is fickle. Mack is $300 US lighter having just liberated his car and the vital contents of its trunk (one amp, five guitars and 60 T-shirts) from an LA impound lot.

The studio expenses are a bit of a tightrope too. Tricky business. Mack is only about half way to his GoFundMe goal to pay the costs. “It’ll work out, it always has. I’ve never been too concerned with money.” His laissez-faire attitude combined with a fierce streak of independence has allowed him to weather disruption in the music industry better than the major labels. “I keep my cool.” Nor is the Cuatro de Los Angeles GoFundMe campaign a one-sided deal. Contributor enticements include house concerts, copies of the new EP, sets of Three O’Clock Train’s re-mastered back catalogue, downloads and merchandise. A portion of funds raised in excess of the goal will be donated to the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. Mack already donates $2 from the sale of every Three O’Clock Train T-shirt to the organization. “Not a huge sum, but it’s a good cause and we need to raise their exposure and people’s awareness.”

And backtracking to tickets for Bowie’s 1976 Station to Station tour: “I lined up all night,” Mack says. “I was near the doors. When they opened them there was a crush of people behind me. I was up against the handle. There was a stampede. The staff picked me up off the floor and said I should go to the hospital. I said, ‘I know, but can I buy my tickets first?’”

And since then? “It’s been a lot of fun.”

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Thanks Mack!

Concert dates for the spring and summer of 2018 are accumulating.

For music, tour news and more information on Mack MacKenzie and Three O’Clock Train visit threeoclocktrain.com or facebook.com/ThreeOClockTrain.

To contribute to the Three O’Clock Train GoFundMe page where you can help Mack put out a new EP and get a chance to donate to Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal at the same time, click right here!

Enjoy!

Geoff Moore is a transplanted Montrealer, music fan, author, and roving reporter all rolled into one. He lives in Alberta.

 

 

 

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Spirit Of The West Play “Home For A Rest”

spirit of the west save this houseListen to this track by Vancouver folk-pop institution Spirit Of The West. It’s “Home For A Rest”, their signature song and musical highlight as taken from their 1990 album Save This House. This record was their breakthrough, having been together since 1984, and finally signed to a major label in Warner Music Canada by 1989. It was practically a government issue release across our country, gracing the record collections of many in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Unlike many new bands signed onto a major, the band didn’t make too many changes to their initial sound; the skin of traditional Celtic folk music as fused upon the bones and muscle of pop/rock musical structure. In the early nineties and in scenes all across Canada, a lot of bands were attempting to strike this very same balance. But few of them had the same impact as this band, full as they are of punk energy and musicianly chops that place them into Pogues territory. There wasn’t any need for them to do anything other than what they had been doing all along, which was to write songs full of thematic gravity and wit, touching on issues of social justice, sure, but not forgetting to infuse their work with humour as well.

This song is a travelogue and drinking song all rolled into one, certainly a reflection of where the band were at during that time, touring with British pop band The Wonder Stuff. This took them to London, to the pubs, and presumably to the bottom of a lot of glasses. In an important and very Canadian way though, this song is less about over indulgence and more about a sense of identity, which if you know anything about our country, makes a whole lot of sense. Read more

The Tragically Hip Play “New Orleans Is Sinking”

New_Orleans_Is_SinkingListen to this track by beloved Canadian blues-rock-art-rock quintet seemingly unknown to the rest of the world, The Tragically Hip. It’s “New Orleans Is Sinking”, an early single off of their second album, 1989’s Up To Here.  The song remains to be among their most popular tunes, and a staple on Canadian rock radio even today.

I always remember the story a friend’s sister told me. She was driving with her friends in upstate New York somewhere in the early nineties. In passing a marquee outside a low-rent roadside club that said Tonight: The Tragically Hip, they u-turned with squealing tires, and pulled up to the place in a cloud of dust. At the time in Canada, these guys were filling out stadiums. That to me has always been a telling indication of their success outside of Canada’s borders, which is to say not very widespread comparatively speaking. It certainly couldn’t have had much to do with the music.

This is song that touches on existential ideas, while avoiding being too earnest about it thanks to crunchy and interlocked rhythm and lead guitars, a loping Peter Gunn bassline, and singer Gord Downie’s weird, slightly disturbing delivery. What is the core ingredient to this song, and to the Hip’s early sound? I think it’s the way it straddles at least two approaches to delivering rock music to audiences. Read more

Sloan Plays “I Hate My Generation”

Twice_Removed_(Sloan_album)Listen to this track by Nova Scotian power pop scensters and Canadian national treasure now based in Toronto, Sloan. It’s “I Hate My Generation”, a key song as taken from their breakthrough second album Twice Removed.

This album was one of a few that helped to draw the spotlight to the fertile East Coast scene of bands centred in Halifax  doing interesting work during the early to mid-nineties and at once compared to their American Pacific Northwest counterparts. Yet, the scene had a distinct sound of its own, and with as much diversity when you took a closer listen. Thrush Hermit, Jale, Superfriendz, and Eric’s Trip were a select few other players on that scene from the early to mid-nineties that provided a touchpaper effect in the Canadian music press, if not always setting charts ablaze south of the border.

Although not a single, this tune from Twice Removed sounded like the flagship song to a hard won hit album. It reflects that struggle of trying to find a voice when all those around were clamouring for the same old thing. It’s also something of an anthem of that hated generation, too.

Read more

Sweet Thing Performs “Dance Mother”

Here’s a clip of punchy Toronto guitar pop jackanapes Sweet Thing.  It’s the ‘explicit’ version of their debut single “Dance Mother”, a herald to their soon-to-be-released full length record available this summer, recorded in LA with Rob Schapf (who has worked with Beck and Elliott Smith).

Sweet Thing combine the bite of indie guitar with the grooves of the dance floor.  The influences the band cite range from ELO, to Al Green, to Basement Jaxx, to The Cars.   Even Hall & Oates get a look in!

In short, this is classic pop, with an eclectic range of textures that have fed pop radio for decades.  And this debut single is clearly made by a group of guys who want you to, in the words of Viv Savage from Spinal Tap, have a good time ALL of the time.

I spoke with the band about this song, about recording in the States, and about the magical ‘F’ word …

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The Delete Bin: To me, your music is pop music meant to be danced to, which is kind of appropriate since the word ‘dance’ appears in this first single, ‘Dance Mother’.  Setting aside the various meanings of that word in the song, why do you think it’s so much harder for a guitar band to put across dance music?

Sweet Thing: We just try to write catchy pop songs and if people wanna dance along that’s their filthy business!

The Delete Bin: The song ‘Dance Mother’ features some pretty colourful language in the chorus, which is the hookiest part of the song.  Do you think that you’re freer to write more direct lyrics due to less dependence on traditional radio support, a channel which has traditionally blocked the use of solid, Anglo-Saxon F-words?

Sweet Thing: C’mon, countless artists have used swear words in their songs and had no problem getting on the radio. How can we forget Britney Spears’ seminal hit “What’s That Fucking Smell?” or Simple Plan’s tween anthem “Fuck you, Dad (Shithead)”.

The Delete Bin: Ah, yes.  Classics, both.  On the subject of touring, Canada is a tough country to tour for a band starting out, since our cities are so far apart.  How did you guys approach this problem?

Sweet Thing: This is actually the first time we’ve toured across the country so it’s still new and exciting at this point. But I’m sure it won’t be long before we drive by a Tim Horton’s and break into cold sweats.

The Delete Bin: You’ve taken a very DIY approach to marketing yourselves on various social media channels, including some self-made video promos.  What role will this continue to play, given that you’re now signed on a major label (EMI Canada)?

Sweet Thing:  Yeah, you can expect a lot more little videos that’s for sure. Our bass player Morgan is actually a three time Gemini Award winner for writing and editing in TV and a few of us are trained actors so basically we take all that experience and make the dumbest shit possible. So far being on a major label hasn’t limited us creatively in any way.

The Delete Bin: You’ve worked with Rob Schapf in LA on the upcoming album. How did the experience  of recording with him, and in the States in general, measure up to what you expected going in?

Sweet Thing: Rob was great! We obviously had high expectations going in because of all the cool records he’s made but he was everything and more than we were hoping for. Recording in L.A. was nice because we were there for two months away from the distractions of home, so it was all business! And that business was watching a lot of episodes of Rosanne and laying down some sweet tracks!

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The band have just completed tour dates on the Left Coast, through the Prairies, working their way back to their native Ontario. The full-length album comes out this summer.  Check them out, and prepare to dance, muthafucka!

Visit the Sweet Thing MySpace page for more updates about the new record.

Enjoy!