SPITFIRES & MAYFLOWERS with OCTOBER GUARD and GUEST BEDROOM at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), tonight (Thursday, July 14). $5. 416-763-9139. Rating: NNNNN
It's hard to believe the upstanding lads in Spitfires & Mayflowers ever get anything accomplished.
Within 10 minutes of talking to singer/guitarist Jose Lourenco, singer/ guitarist/trumpeter Henry Fletcher and drummer Tim Oakley (singer/ bassist and "band Jesus" Andy Lloyd had been called into action selling trendy threads to hipsters at his day job), the conversation ricochets from people who take dumps in department stores to a debate on who is the reigning queen of teen fairy tale flicks (the consensus is Anne Hathaway), to which one of the Spitfires is the best-endowed. The answer to this last is Lloyd; we called him at work to confirm the allegation.
It's all hilariously entertaining, but their manic back-and-forth repartee makes me wonder how they managed to pull together the seven tight, catchy pop songs that wound up on their delightful Triumph debut.
"It's hard," admits Oakley. "Sometimes it takes us months to write a song. I know it shouldn't, but then when a song actually works out, it becomes super-rewarding."
We're hanging out in a park near Sneaky Dee's, eating banana popsicles and drinking spiked tropical juice cocktails ("It's a vacation in a glass," Fletcher enthuses) while little kids splash in a wading pool nearby. Mere days before our meeting, the Spitfire foursome finally wrote their first song as a band. This is a big deal, since they generally take the Sloan-ish approach of trading off on lead vocals and primary songwriter responsibilities.
You'll have to hear that groundbreaking tune live, though, since it's not on Triumph, and if the boys' previous pattern is any indication, it may take a while before you see another recording.
That lag time was one inspiration for the record title.
"We figured it'd be a triumph if we actually got our album done two years later," explains Fletcher.
So it's not a tribute to the Canrock prog-metal gods?
"Well, Andy has a Triumph T-shirt," begins Oakley, "but nah. When we were deciding on a name for the band, we did some strategic Googling to see if anyone else had the name, and it turns out there's a car company called Triumph, and they make a car called the Spitfire and a car called the Mayflower. They're these totally cool Avengers-looking cars, and it became an inside joke."
Lourenco interjects, "Like 'Let's call the album Triumph! It'll be awesome!'"
Triumph was worth the wait. It's an action-packed set of songs that range from the wiry, anthemic Pinbackish rock of Lourenco's Pirates, to the beautifully plaintive Don't Get In A Fight, a piece of near-perfect pop that brings together swingy 60s garage influences and Halifax Pop Explosion melodies in a harmonious marriage, anchored by Lloyd's idiosyncratic androgynous vocals. The fact that the quartet worked with two different producers on the disc (Jose Contreras and Andy Magoffin) just adds to the schizo vibe.
And though Spitfires & Mayflowers clearly know how to entertain (for a tiny taste of their exuberant shows, listen to the lead-in to Don't Get In A Fight, a full-band intro that pays homage to the live version of Kick Out The Jams), they also pay serious attention to the details of their craft.
Check out the beautiful hardcover-library-book packaging that graces Triumph. Every step of the bookbinding was done by hand, from the embossed gilding of the album title to the library card track listing, for which they enlisted seven different friends to write a single track each on 500 different Date Due cards. Even the Dewey Decimal number (789.6 SPI) is accurate.
Both pairs of pals (Lourenco and Fletcher, Oakley and Lloyd) had bands back in school. But while it sounds like Barrie-bred Oakley and Lloyd's Secret Seven outfit did relatively well ("We played afternoon shows at the Rock," Oakley says), Vancouver Island boarding school boys Lourenco and Fletcher's band, Ephemeral (seriously), was a bit sketchier.
"We'd play at the school's regattas and assemblies. We were pretty much the only band," Fletcher reminisces. "We played this weird amalgam of, like, Pavement and California skate punk. We had a tape called Dreamland Follies, with songs like Soul Destroyer, My Girlfriend Sue Is A Hooker, Cheese Thief, Who Am I and Mad Cows."
Thank god self-professed "dirtballs" Oakley and Lloyd knocked some sense into the "cosmopolitan boarding school go-getters" after they moved to Toronto.
"Oh yeah. It was awful."