FEARLESS FREEP with GranD Total, InnerCity Surfers and CHICKLET at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), Saturday (July 28). $6. 416-968-2001.
if there's one thing that's less cool in Montreal than making music with guitars, it's doing so without a gimmick. So naturally, pop maestro Robert Stephens wasn't counting on much favourable attention for his gently strummed collection of bedtime lullabies, ...And Fall Is How You Sleep (Mag Wheel). He was absolutely right.
But rather than wait for the city's tastemakers to catch up with the whole "quiet is the new loud" phenomenon, Stephens is plowing ahead with a younger, sexier version of Fearless Freep, featuring bassist Jeff Louch and aspiring boy band heartthrob Craig Silverman on drums. Evidently, they rock.
"Already we've had some reviews of the new album that have said it sounds very 1999," laughs Stephens from Montreal, where he works as a high school teacher. "That's a dis, because nobody in this town wants to be seen as doing anything two years old.
"The band I have now is much louder and more bangy than what people might expect from listening to the album. I'm not sure why it came out so quiet, but it might've had something to do with writing and recording it all late at night. Also, it could be because I recorded it all myself."
Since electronic music took over the Montreal club scene, finding like-minded people to play slightly bent, Built to Spill-style indie rock hasn't been easy. But there's more to it than simply performers' fear of being considered unhip.
"It's a pain in the ass for a musician to get a gig in Montreal. The scene isn't like Toronto. In many cases you have to pay the club to play a show.
"Being in a band is an expensive proposition. You've got to buy the equipment, rent a rehearsal space and get a van to get to shows. So when you have to pay a club every time you want to perform, it's not surprising that many kids are staying home and making music on their computers."
These problems are certainly cutting down on the competition there, but the move away from the conventional band concept doesn't bode well for the future of rock and roll in Montreal.
"There are no new bands coming up," Stephens sighs. "I teach at a school with 1,500 students, and there are probably 30 or so kids I know who want make electronic music.
"But I can count on the fingers of one hand all the kids who can play an instrument. They couldn't form a band amongst themselves. Kids just aren't buying guitars any more -- turntables, maybe, but not guitars."