Nassau playing as part of Wavelength with the Burdocks , the Let Lowns and DJ Positive Spin at Sneaky Dee's (431 College), Sunday (December 5), 9 pm. Pwyc. www.wavelengthtoronto.com. Rating: NNNNN
When drummers step out from behind their kit and up to the microphone, it's often a bad idea. Sorry, Phil.
Of course, there have been exceptions to the Ringo rule - notably Windsor-born mystic Skip Spence, hired by the Jefferson Airplane's Marty Balin simply because he looked like a drummer, and country vixen Neko Case, who built her upper body strength bashing away with Maow - and Nassau frontman Jon McCann might also qualify.
Based on McCann's boisterous beat-keeping with Guided by Voices in addition to 13 Engines, Tangiers and the American Flag, the idea of his swapping sticks for a guitar might at first appear to be a huge mistake.
That is, until you hear his shockingly good psych-pop tunes on Nassau's impressive self-titled debut, or see the unassuming quartet shake the walls of a downtown club. Clearly, McCann is no slouch in the songwriting department. Everything is a little too well put together for the drums-to-guitar switch to have been a snap decision.
"Yeah," chuckles McCann, coming clean, "all the time I was playing drums in different bands I wrote songs constantly. I guess in the back of my mind I always knew I'd end up making records of my own. The idea of getting a band together to play the stuff was secondary.
"Originally, my brother Chris was playing drums, and we had a bunch of other people come and go until Chris picked up the guitar - that's really when everything fell into place."
Still, a lot of drummers would kill for the Guided by Voices gig, even if it was only seasonal work as their touring timekeeper. It was apparently precisely the rigorous road work that caused McCann to re-evaluate his career goals.
"I was with the American Flag opening shows for Guided by Voices when their drummer, Jim McPherson, decided he'd had enough of touring. They knew me, we got along well, so I got the call and was happy to join them.
"But this was a difficult time for the band. A couple of members were having relationship problems - Bob Pollard was dealing with the legal aftermath of his divorce - so no one had any particular reason to want to go home, which meant a lot of touring.
"It was a great time, with too many highlights to recall, but eventually all that time spent on the road got to feel a lot like work. I think after I left, they realized they were burning out their drummers and made some changes."
Of course, being around a songwriting machine like Pollard had to have some influence on McCann. While there are no obvious stylistic similarities in their compositions, some of Pollard's work ethic seems to have rubbed off on McCann. Even though the Nassau debut just came out, he's already got an album's worth of fresh material he's itching to record right away. They'll be previewing some of the new stuff at the Wavelength show Sunday night.
"You can't help but be inspired being around someone as prolific as Pollard," affirms McCann. "I mean, he'd write three songs in the van on the way to the next show - and they'd be good.
"During the time I spent with him, he was never idle for one second, even when we'd go back to Dayton to rehearse or record. Most guys would use that time at home to take it easy - not Pollard.
"His idea of relaxing is composing more songs. And if he's not writing, he's cutting up newspapers and magazines to make these amazing collages. Every aspect of his being is focused on his creative output. It's incredible."