June 23 and 24
Seriously, you can stop comparing Rum Runner to The Pogues. Its not that the similarity isnt there. Truth be told, by dealing in freight train drumbeats and gruff howling, these local punks get it all the time. Hell, their first piece of wax was a split seven-inch tribute to The Pogues, but lets face it, in the five years that Rum Runner have been together, theyve become much more than that.
"Even our label promotes us as a Celtic punk band," says front man Al Drinkle. "I dont really see how the country basslines and drumming make a Celtic punk band."
Drinkle doesnt deny the influence, but he says most listeners misinterpret the appeal of Shane McGowan and company.
"I dont like Celtic music at all," he says. "I like the Pogues, but that is mostly for the songwriting."
At first, the bands new full-length, Rum Runner in Guns at Cyranos, doesnt do much to dispel the ghost of the Pogues. With a frantic kick-start and lightning banjo solos, "The Punks are Due on Maple Street" is the kind of song that the aforementioned record label would champion. But before long the album settles into a groove all its own. "So Long Outsider" offers up reggae guitar and lush, dub reverb, not to mention a nod to the Dennis Brown classic "So Long Rastafari." "My Rifle, My Pony and Me" is cribbed right from the soundtrack of John Waynes Rio Bravo and "Glass Heart Roller" has an impromptu tribute to Chubby Checker. Before long Rum Runner smashes the Pogues connection into a million pieces
"Its a reflection of mostly my interests," says Drinkle. "I am obsessed with movies most of them before the 1970s. Most of the music I listen to is before the 1980s."
Drinkles encyclopedic knowledge of vintage pop culture extends to literature, too. In fact, the 23-year-old shows an unnerving interest in things that predate him by almost half a century. Take the tough-talking, hard-boiled fiction of Raymond Chandler, add the quartz-precision comic timing of silent-era Charlie Chaplin and bind it together with Drinkles predilection for existentialist fiction and you have something that adds up to more than most punk bands are willing to offer.
"I like the esthetics of black-and-white," says Drinkle. "A movie in black-and-white is going to be better than the same movie in colour. Same with TV, same with pictures."
But what does that have to do with the music of Rum Runner? Drinkle admits that his jones for the classics doesnt merely become the inspiration and subtext of the music. It becomes the music.
"I dont really integrate it," he says. "That kind of is my songwriting. That combined with what happens to me. When you watch enough of those movies and read enough of those books, that is just what is in your head and that is what comes out when you write."
Thats why, even though the album is filled with pulse-pounding three-chord rockers and a bit of good-natured trash talking, its also dripping with literary references. In addition to its reggae roots, "So Long Outsider" is indeed a nod to Albert Camus, and Guns at Cyranos is the name of one of Drinkles favourite short stories by Chandler.
"In todays forum I find there is not enough storytelling. And there is absolutely no storytelling from the hard-boiled school," he says. "I dont think there are any hard-boiled punk songs. But there are now, so thats good."
Yet still the comparisons to the Pogues abound. Given time, Drinkle says he could probably build a convoluted defence that shows off all the bands other interests, but in the end the numbers speak for themselves.
"On the first album
out of the 12 songs, Id say that eight songs were just straight punk with no Celtic influences, whatsoever," says Drinkle. "Theres lots of blues there, too. I mean we play a lot of Muddy Waters songs, but weve never been called a blues-punk band before."
Throwing rocks with Rum Runner
Rum Runner front man Al Drinkle has made it clear that when it comes to music and movies, in most cases, the older the better. There is one exception to that rule, though.
"I love the Coen Brothers because they have the same interests as I do," he says. Its true. With films like Millers Crossing and Raising Arizona under their belts, directors Joel and Ethan Coen love film noir and screwball comedy as much as Drinkle does. And as it turns out, The Big Lebowski, the Coens cult bowling comedy, is Rum Runners favourite movie. The band may have stopped drinking white Russians (the drink of choice for The Big Lebowskis main character), but that doesnt stop them from seeking out bowling alleys when they are on tour. Just last week, Drinkle rolled a 200, though he admits his average is usually in the realm of 160. How did he get so good?
"My grandparents own the only bowling alley in Fort McMurray. I visit them now and then and when I do, they let me put on whatever music I want and bowl for as long as I want."
So, given the fact that Drinkle has been known to spend the whole day bowling, what does the front man for a Calgary punk band listen to on the lanes? True to form, he keeps it old school.
"The best music to bowl to is 50s pop."