EAGLE & HAWK as part of FROM THE PEG! at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), Saturday (July 29), 2 pm. Free. 416-973-4000.
Juno jurors, modern rock junkies and native music lovers may know Eagle & Hawk's founder and soul as Vince Fontaine, but to his bandmates he's Coach Fontaine.
Since the team's rookie year (1994), guitarist/vocalist Fontaine's rock whistle-blowing has taken E&H to the top of its league, picking up multiple trophies along the way.
"I approach this band like it's a sports team entity," admits Fontaine on the line from his place in Winnipeg. "Every year after the season, you have to regroup, see where everybody's at on ice, off ice, how we've been in the standings, in the playoffs, and then take a look at it again."
From a 2006 perspective, it doesn't seem like Team Fontaine will be hitting the showers any time soon. Their newest work, Life Is... (EP, Rising Sun) got a Juno nod this year (a hat trick -- it's their third since 2002).
Seamlessly and successfully wedding native riddims such as the upswingy, pow-wow oriented Crow Hop beat to Oasis-like nu-rawk aesthetics, the album addresses life's cyclical nature, native representation, and pays respect to the Creator.
It all sounds pretty noble in content and form, but Fontaine hints that the record's high quality may or may not have been driven by, er, ulterior motives.
"Some people said we released an EP last year just to get nominated, just so we could get on the Juno Cup team... I won't deny it."
Coach Fontaine's secret weapon (his musical Gretzky) is his team's power forward, Jay Bodner, whose baritone carries a big part of the panoramic anthems that characterize much of Eagle & Hawk's style. Fontaine claims his former casual friend was eager to join after checking out the team itinerary.
"I just said, 'Hey, Jay, wanna do some gigs?' He went, 'Yeah, you guys are great. Where's the gig?' After I said it started in Switzerland, then went to France, then Germany, it wasn't hard to get people on board."
In the early days, the band's gigs in European cities like Geneva, Zurich and Berlin attracted fans who only knew native people from the image of Indians in American westerns. The common reaction eventually inspired the song Wild West Show on the new disc, a cultural penalty shot featuring a subversive John Wayne sample (Fontaine watched 12 Wayne flicks before finding the perfect one) smeared across a vital electronic pulse.
"The Wild West Show was an exaggerated version of who the Indian really was," says Fontaine of Buffalo Bill's travelling turn-of-the-20th-century carnival. "All these things shaped the perception of who native people are. We have an image in Canadan and it's slightly different in the U.S., but in Europe and Asia? Holy smokes, they really do think we're all about headbands and feathers.
"People would show up at gigs in regalia, like 1800s outfits: beadwork, makeup, warpaint. They'd come up to me like, 'I want to hear some traditional stuff.' Like, traditional from what part? 1800s? 1700s? D'you mean, like, the Plains? D'you mean Coastal Indian? 'Y'know, like cowboys-and-Indians traditional.'
"I swear to god, a few people went to the promoter and said we weren't real Indians. They asked for their money back because we didn't look like Indians from movies."