In today's super-saturated pop music global village, you'd figure someone would probably have to be living under a rock not to have heard a Beatles tune by the time they'd reached puberty, right? Try living in a tiny cottage town like, say, Big Bay Point. The cozy peninsula hugged by Lake Simcoe, just off highway 400 near Barrie and Innisfil, is the hometown of brothers Liam and Carlin Nicholson, the core members of local indie rock threat the 68s.
Although Big Bay Point boasts it's the summer home of Letterman music man Paul Schaffer, it's isolated enough that Carlin when growing up couldn't name a Beatles tune.
One fateful day in the 90s, he went to visit his big brother at Davidson's, "the only restaurant in town," freaked out over the trippy strains of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds on the radio and promptly invested in the Beatles' entire catalogue.
Thus began the Nicholson boys' musical revolution. Although the 68s' tunes make no secret of their debt to 60s rock 'n' roll, the boys are sheepish about the fact that they got their start playing the classics - literally.
"We'd go down to the beaches and busk all summer," groans Carlin, who begs me not to reveal their embarrassing past as a Beatles cover outfit. "Beatles songs kill on the street!"
"We can play pretty much every Beatles song," adds Liam. "If we ever need to make some quick cash, we'll pull the catalogue out. You can play weddings and bar mitzvahs, but you're never gonna establish yourself playing Beatles tunes, no matter how convincing you are. But it totally honed our skills, taught us about songwriting and harmonies and bass lines. And it was fun as hell."
The 68s are way more than just some ass-boring Mod Club resident crew who rehash the classics. The summery, harmony-drenched songs on their tightly produced Wonderful In The Afternoon indie disc have just as much to do with the Jolt cola sparkling whimsy of mid-90s Halifax Pop Explosion bands like Thrush Hermit, the Super Friendz and Sloan as with the Beatles, the Kinks and the Zombies.
Mixed in with the catchy, sing-along melodies, vintage keyboards and syncopated soul drum builds, you've got the quirky lyrical wit and slightly off-kilter hooks reminiscent of an album like Twice Removed.
Of course, Sloan themselves have always kinda been pretty much a Brit Invasion rock renovation crew, but the Nicholson brothers acknowledge that.
And they do cite Thrush Hermit as "probably our biggest influence," claiming they've seen Joel Plaskett play at least 100 times. (In fact, their dream tour would be a cross-Canada trek with Plaskett.) But, like any good small-town boys, they learned AC/DC and Guns N' Roses licks on a Sears Terminator guitar with a built-in speaker.
"The only time we'd ever crank it to the max was when we were listening to the Cocktail soundtrack," Liam laughs. "We'd start freestyling to Rave On or something. A little while later, we started playing for real."
Carlin was lip-synching to Nirvana songs at his middle school when Liam grudgingly let his younger brother join his first band. They used to play angsty 90s alt-rock covers in the parking lot at Davidson's, on the back of a truck.
They moved to Toronto for good about a year ago with their remarkably professional-sounding homemade demo - Carlin's a great producer who's worked with folks like Sara Kamin - and have been trying to establish a fan base ever since.
"We give these CDs away all the time," Liam offers. "We'll exchange it for an e-mail address and a promise that someone will come to the next show. And we tell everybody to burn it! We'd rather have people burn 1,000 copies and pass it on than have it on sale for 10 or 20 bucks at a show to maybe a handful of people."