Mark Sasso has been a history buff for longer than he can even remember.
As a child, he took so many books about the First and Second World wars out of the library, he was banned from taking out any more because the librarian thought they weren't appropriate for someone so young.
"In grade school, I remember taking out the war books, but I don't remember this part of the story where my mom said the librarian said, 'He can't take out any more of those books. I don't think it's good for him,'" Sasso says.
His librarian might have assumed he would turn out to be violent or have nightmares, but that wasn't the case. Instead, his interest in armed conflicts has been the inspiration behind much of the material by his Toronto rustic-roots band Elliott Brood, including several tracks on the group's newest album, Days Into Years.
The seeds for many of the songs on the celebrated band's third full-length album were planted in 2006, during its first European tour when the trio stopped to visit famous battle sites and cemeteries where Canadian soldiers were buried.
"I think when you go to a cemetery, it's pretty solemn and you start to think a lot: it's beautiful in its darkness," says Sasso. "You think about people and see names on the gravestones that remind you of friends with the same last names. You're older, but you take it in that much more. It tugged on our heartstrings and weighted on our minds."
The trip was five years ago, but it took that long before the band of multi-instrumentalists -- Sasso, Casey Laforet and Stephen Pitkin -- could "gestate" their thoughts, feelings and ideas into a cohesive set of songs. They released the album Mountain Meadows -- itself inspired by the 1857 slaughter by Mormon militiamen of 120 emigrants in Mountain Meadows, Utah -- before working on the new album.
"Dark moments in history kind of grab us," Sasso says.
Elliott Brood may have its dark moments, but its live shows usually turn into celebratory parties, whether the band is singing about nasty characters like Johnny Rooke or a soldier's fantasy on If I Get Old. Winnipeg fans can see the trio again when it plays the West End Cultural Centre on Saturday (tickets are $20 at the WECC, Ticketmaster, Music Trader the Folk Festival Music Store).
Both Sasso and Laforet handle vocal duties and each takes lead on songs they've written, but Days Into Years features a greater reliance on harmonies than in the past, as the group gets more comfortable with songwriting, arranging and even handling constructive criticism within the group.
"I think it's the confidence in knowing your abilities," Sasso says. "We're three friends working together. Having ideas that fall down, but having someone pick them up and say, 'This is how it can work,' is pretty nice to have."
The weekend before Halloween is when adults get to dress up and have fun before the kids take over. As usual, most bars, pubs and clubs are hosting some kind of costume party. Here's a list of some of the best music events going on.
Thursday, Halloween Time Warp, Norwood Hotel. Cult musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show will be screened at 8 p.m., followed by a set by veteran rock band the Chocolate Bunnies From Hell. Admission is $5.
Friday, A Parkie Hallowe'en, Park Theatre. For those who like to rock. With the Thrashers, Les Sexy, This Hisses, Vibrating Beds. Admission $5 with costume, $10 without.
Friday, Halloween Annual Social Event, Pyramid Cabaret. Local party DJs Co-op and Hunnicutt's annual dance party is always a good time and always sells out, so get there early if you want in. They're joined this year by Ric Hard; $10.
Friday, Skalloween XI, West End Cultural Centre. Guest of honour at this year's annual ska-themed party is Chris Murray of King Apparatus, who will perform both acoustically and backed by the Scarlet Union, who will also play their own set. The Afterbeat and RWPO round out the bill. Admission is $10.
Friday, A Nightmare on Osborne Street, The Zoo. Annual metal and hard-rock extravaganza. With Coda, Civil Disobedients, DJ Hightower. Admission is $10.
Saturday, Night of the Living Dread 6, The Zoo. Local metal veterans Dreadnaut host their annual metal party. With Tyrant's Demise, Legion of Liquor, Super FX. Admission is $10.
Saturday, Halloween Hellraiser, Times Change(d). Party bands Andrew Neville and the Poor Choices and JD Edwards will pack the dance floor; $10.
And what would a weekend in Winnipeg be without some CD-release parties?
First up is always excellent rock trio the Ripperz, who should, er, rip it up at the West End Cultural Centre tonight during the release of their second album, You Are the Moon. Admission is $12.
Friday is the release of the ambitious Manitoba Folkways Collection compiled by Jen Delos Reyes and Kerri-Lynn Reeves. The two compiled an "audio portrait" of the province by driving around Manitoba and recording regional songs and stories.
They are releasing the first volume on vinyl and will be joined at the Lo Pub by about 10 of the musicians who contributed to the record. Christopher Friesen's photos of the making of the collection will be on display at the pub until the end of the year.
The $10 admission includes a copy of the album.