The Promise Ring at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Sunday (May 19). $13.50 via 416-870-8000 or Rotate This (620 Queen West, 416-870-8000). Rating: NNNNN
You'd think that when a band member gets a brain tumour "the size of a fist" it would have a big impact on the band's output. But Promise Ring guitarist Jason Gnewikow says no, guitarist/vocalist Davey von Bohlen's medical crisis (he's fine now -- the tumour was benign) didn't have a major influence on the band's sensibility.
"It affected the timing of the recording, but I don't think the record would have been any different."
Weird, because the Promise Ring's latest album, Wood/Water (their first release on Epitaph's Anti after splitting with Jade Tree), doesn't sound like anything they've done before.
You'll have a difficult time relating Wood/Water to previous releases 30° Everywhere, Nothing Feels Good and Very Emergency. The emo poster boys have moved on to a lusher fine-and- mellow rock sound with an experimental feel. Von Bohlen's lyrics are introspective without moving into cliché territory, sophisticated without sacrificing that raw, indie feel.
"It's the first of our records I've actually listened to," says Gnewikow. "It reflects the mellower phase I'm going through right now."
Ring had access to more equipment this time around, and they used a different approach involving demo-ing songs to tape instead of just "throwing ideas around and working it out when we got into the studio." This might explain why, despite Gnewikow's protestations to the contrary, Wood/Water is such a complete departure.
Another major development finds the Promise Ring scheduled as musical guests on Conan O'Brien later this month. I have to wonder aloud if late-night TV appearances have much of an impact on fan recruitment.
"I personally have never seen a band I've never heard of on one of those shows and thought they were so good I had to run out and buy the record," Gnewikow admits.
But maybe, he speculates, people who aren't as into music and don't spend a lot of time looking for exciting new bands do discover their next musical fix on late-night television.
He's both nervous and excited about playing to their largest audience to date.
"What is it, broadcasting into millions of homes or something like that?"
Yup. My advice to the band? Just remember to picture all those viewers in their underpants.