DRY BAR, Manchester – 04.10.14
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“Hard work is its own reward,” every mother ever has said, mostly to rolled eyes. But you know what? The moms might be on to something.
Toronto’s Dearly Beloved has certainly learned the value of putting its collective nose to the grindstone during the two years since it unleashed the striking stoner/shoegaze/psych/prog/Goth/punk/pop opus Hawk vs. Pigeon upon the world in 2012. That’s all Dearly Beloved has been doing: working. Then working a bit more, sliding in some more work on the way home and topping all that hard work off with a little extra hard work, just for good measure.
“We just put our heads down and ‘did the do,’ as Mike Watt would say,” says bandleader, co-vocalist and virtuoso bassist Rob Higgins. “We took every show – every tour opportunity and just played as much as possible. And, to a degree, it has paid off.”
It also paid off in more work. There were invitations to further tour Canada with the Julie Doiron/Cancer Bats/Eamon McGrath “supergroup” the Wrong Guys and Québecois anarcho-punk legends Grimskunk, then to travel overseas and show U.K. and European audiences the goods for the first time. All that playing, in turn, hardened Dearly Beloved into a battle-scarred, hell-raising rock ‘n’ machine non pareil and, arguably, a better band than it’s ever been. So, rather than pause for breath at the end of 18 months in the van like any sane band would do, Dearly Beloved decamped – literally the morning after it had driven five days back from the end of the Grimskunk tour in Vancouver to open for Japan’s late, lamented Zoobombs at Toronto’s legendary Silver Dollar club – to the infamous Rancho de la Luna studio in Joshua Tree, Calif., to write and demo the follow-up to Hawk vs. Pigeon.
“It was like The Amazing Race,” says vocalist and tambourine smasher Niva Chow, who can laugh about it now. At the time, though, Higgins admits that “we didn’t even know how tired we were. We were just galvanized from all that touring.”
Dearly Beloved didn’t make it easy on itself in other regards, either. McGrath, an accomplished and respected solo artist in his own right, was spontaneously drafted as de facto Dearly Beloved guitarist and cowriter for the 15-day Joshua Tree sojourn, despite the fact that Higgins and Chow were showing up at Rancho de la Luna with little (read: nothing) in the way of actual songs prepared. But, hey, wouldn’t you know? It all worked out. The resulting album, Enduro, is a bristlingly antisocial punk-metal juggernaut with an old school rock n’ roll soul that sounds as wild-eyed and breathless and half-mad as a record made at the end of nearly two years of roadwork should.
“It’s a driving record, inspired by guard rails, the orange moon, ether binges, taxi drivers, a home invasion, food, astral light and the guile of pricks. It’s a little bit harder, a little bit faster, a little bit more relentless,” concedes Higgins. “It’s a lot less mature. And I think that’s a result of the fact that we’d just finished touring. We were cooped up in a van for months so when we got out to the desert to write, it was like: ‘Let’s just rock the fuck out.’ We didn’t want to be too cerebral about it. We wanted to have fun.”
Helping Dearly Beloved on its way to the take-no-prisoners brilliance of Enduro were Rancho de la Luna mainstays Dave Catching (Eagles Of Death Metal) and Chris Goss (Sound City Players), figures familiar to any disciple of the “desert rock” scene that gave the world Kyuss, Masters of Reality and Queens of the Stone Age who both contributed guitar to the new record. A rigid practice of pilfering old Black Sabbath, Fear and Bad Brains records from the Eagles of Death Metal’s record collection to soundtrack a weed-addled morning desert ritual of archery and axe throwing (“I wouldn’t allow myself coffee until I got 10 bullseyes,” says Chow proudly), after which Higgins would “walk around in the dirt” with a hollow-bodied bass in hand until he came up with three new parts, also no doubt played a hand in hardening Dearly Beloved’s sound up for the new record. Songs in progress were then subjected to the ultimate use-it-or-lose-it test: did it sound good while “racing a car through the desert?”
“If we didn’t feel it in the car, at high speed, it was cast aside,” says Higgins. “We’re helplessly drawn to whatever vehicle we have. It’s like home. A place of comfort. And I found while we were in California writing, that we kept looking for excuses to go for a drive. Really, that’s where we listen to and argue about music the most. There’s a clarity that comes with listening to it in your vehicle. I actually wrote the lyrics on a solo 10-day road trip that started in the motel where Gram Parsons died and covered about 3,000 kilometres of the Southern California highway system. Having our demos with me and the benefit of that freedom was inspiring and made for an experience that suited the making of the music.”
Enduro is, thus, pretty much pure id. It is, in every sense imaginable, the sound of, as Higgins puts it, “a band with its head down, being a band and not thinking about it too much.” And, as it turns out, it sounds fantastic, since at the end of all that frantic, seat-of-the-pants creation, Dearly Beloved finished tracking in the confines of their own Phoebe St. Studios in Toronto with help from ‘Hawk vs Pigeon’ co-conspirator Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene, and then landed famed Queens Of The Stone Age/Soundgarden/Foo Fighters/Pearl Jam collaborator, Adam Kasper, to give its recordings a final, pristine mix down. Good things happen to good bands, it would seem, even if they appear hellbent on taking the thorniest route possible to those good things.
“I’m proud of the fact that we’re not afraid to have that element in what we do,” says Higgins. “That we’ll go into a writing session with a musician we just connected with on tour. Or that we might head straight into a recording session from the road with no songs. We love the challenge. That type of pressure brings out our best. And we love exploring. It keeps things fresh for us. Every day ends up having a character all its own that we feel in the music and that we’ll always remember. And maybe that adversity sort of fuels us. The approach we’ve taken to making our last two records, that ‘go there, be there, let it come to you’ sort of thing – that may not be for everyone. And our next album may not be done that way. But I dig that we’ve embraced it. We’re proud of the music and we’ve had the time of our lives in the process.”