As Never Been Happier stutters to life with the staccato riff of “Still Kicking the Slow Birds,” there’s something immediately familiar. Part of that has to do with the fact that after four albums, Calgary’s The Ex-Boyfriends have become a rock ’n’ roll staple in this town. Part of it has to do with how the band effortlessly fuses music’s most incendiary genres together into full-throttle nitrous burnout. Guitarist Michael Patton (ex-The Puritans) swings from reverb-drenched surf to slinky garage rock, building up anthems or breaking songs wide open with judicious use of distortion. The ubiquitous Dean Martin (ex-Summerlad) is as relentless as ever behind the kit, while the band’s newest addition, Jean Choe (ex-Pussy Monster), drives the songs with bubbling bass and backup vocals that put the glory days of The Pixies to shame. All the while, frontman Djewel Davidson (ex-The Will) howls his way through some of the giddily charming rockers the band has ever delivered. From the Stones-tinged groove of “Certain Payoffs” to the explosive 26-second blitz of “Waterslide,” The Ex-Boyfriends are nothing if not aggressively entertaining. By the time they meld a British Invasion hook with the fierce buzz of ’70s proto-punk to close the album on “Bandages to the Beheading,” you’ll realize that Never Been Happier isn’t just the album’s title, it’s your state of mind.
What was the goal when you set out to make Never Been Happier?
Michael Patton: When I get up in the morning there are various goals — a bloodless shave, a top-notch kimchi chigae — depends on the day. But making a great rock ’n’ roll record is always in there, background or foreground.
Dean Martin plays drums on the album, Arran Fisher recorded and mixed it and Garrett McClure is thanked in the liner notes. What is your obsession with members of the Summerlad?
One of them, and it isn't Dean, knows how to tune drums. The other ones can play drums and/or record them. Plus working with them gives me fodder for my obsessive Summerlad gossip candid-beach-shot blog — www.doesntactuallyexist.com.
As a guitar player, what was your approach to this album?
I did make a conscious effort to get some swell clean guitar sounds on this record along with the usual overdriven bite-y stuff and horrible fuzz, and you could associate that with surf, but you could also associate it with any number of other things, like Chuck Berry, who was obviously ripped off by The Beach Boys. They eventually paid up though.
Jean Choe is a new addition to the band since the last album. What does she bring to the party?
One fine thing, among several, would be the contrast between Djewel's voice and her backups. Catchier choruses. And bass lines are more important than ever on this record, reflected in Jean's playing and the attention well paid to bass in the mix. That's Jean being a lot less lazy than most bass players.
The album is called Never Been Happier. How much irony should be interpreted?
As far as the cover art goes, whiskey plus chips plus girl equals not even a little. As for the lyrics of the title track, my reading is that there's no verbal irony at all, but if you argued for some "cosmic" irony I wouldn't blink much.
The Ex-Boyfriends celebrates its CD release at Broken City on Friday, November 26.