Winnipeg bass-and-drums duo having a blast revisiting the ’90s
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/12/2014 (3077 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Back in the ’90s, there was a musical explosion in Winnipeg, when it seemed as if every other local act was being courted by record labels and touring the country.
Bass-and-drums band Duotang burned brightly during those days, releasing three critically acclaimed albums and gaining a reputation for their magnetic live shows.
Formed in their shared jam space while drummer Sean Allum (Bovine) and bassist Rod Slaughter (Zen Bungalow) were still playing with other bands, the duo hit it off in the summer of 1995 over their shared love of the Beatles, finely tailored suits, red wine, Joy Division, the Kinks and the Jam.
Quickly recording a demo tape for $50 with friend and sound engineer Cam Loeppky (the Weakerthans, Disintegration Records), the duo landed a coveted headlining slot at Canadian Music Week, a huge profile in Toronto’s weekly Eye magazine and all the buzz that comes with it. They would release a three-song seven-inch on local label Name In Lights in November 1996, while deciding what to do with all that goodwill.
After being approached by Warner, Sub Pop and Sloan’s Murderrecords label, the duo made the wise choice to team up with the Vancouver-based indie label Mint, which meant they could hit the road on their own terms and their debut album would make it into stores quickly, something not all Winnipeg bands who signed deals during that time were lucky enough to capitalize on.
Despite being a straightforward bass-and-drums combo, Slaughter and Allum’s endless touring and urgent live performances won them fans one by one, city by city. But the same energy that propelled the group would ultimately also be its downfall.
“That connection, I think, that made us a really good band when we used to play, was the chemistry between us,” explains Slaughter in the rehearsal space he currently uses. “That comes from our relationship, but the downside is that can only last for a certain amount of time before it’s stretched and you want someone else there — for the sound, for personality, for touring or any one of those things. I think it’s awesome, but it’s short-lived.”
“It’s a weird dynamic being in a band with one other person. It can be stressful and it can be a lot of fun,” adds Allum. “You get really close. It just ran its course and Rod had other interests.
“I could have kept playing drums; I had other offers. It just didn’t feel right. I appreciated every moment and every tour we did. I always appreciated it.”
When they stopped performing together in 2003, Slaughter had already begun playing with local pop outift Novillero, but Allum stopped playing live. He took some time off, started DJ-ing and later was part of the crew behind the popular Mod Night parties.
After getting back together for a three shows in 2006, which included a Winnipeg performance that neither member was very satisfied with, it appeared that would be the end of Duotang.
Despite remaining friends over the years, it took a visit from Mint Records’ owner Randy Iwata a year ago to get the ball rolling and a request to play the label’s annual Ridiculously Early Xmas party to get Allum and Slaughter seriously thinking about getting back together again — even for just a couple of shows.
But even a few gigs put a bit of a pressure on the duo’s drummer.
“Rod kept playing when Duotang split up — I haven’t,” explains Allum. “He’s in the groove and in the pocket all the time; I needed a bunch of practices just to get the feeling again and to not be afraid to do things on the drums again. I needed to loosen up.
“I was thinking about everything when I was playing. You don’t think about it, you just play it. It took a while to get that back.”
Almost 20 years since the two of them started jamming together for fun, things have come full circle. They aren’t performing out of some sense of nostalgia or trying to relive the good old days; they’re playing because the songs are just as good today as they have ever been and the chemistry is obviously still there. Hearing Slaughter’s distinct bass melodies and Allum’s crashing drums again, it’s as if they never stopped playing together.
“In some ways, it feels like a different life, but when you start playing the songs, it all starts coming back” says Slaughter. “Now it seems like yesterday, but at the beginning, it felt like a different life.”
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