VEAL CD launch at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Tuesday (June 24). $10. 416-596-1908. when we last checked in with one-time West Coast lone rider and now Toronto guitar slinger Luke Doucet, he was winding down touring behind his excellent solo record, 2001's Tom Waits-ish prairie portrait, Aloha, Manitoba, and gearing up to rock the shit out of his newest disc with his other project, swampbilly/surfer noir outfit Veal. A whole year later, that Veal opus, the wonderfully spaghetti-western-monikered The Embattled Hearts (Six Shooter), has just dropped. It's a sweaty leather-clad set of balls-out rawk swagger featuring Doucet's rubbery vocals and mind-boggling guitar chops, the meaty drumming of longtime Veal partner Chang and dirty bass runs by Edmonton punk heavyweight Nik Kozub.
Only thing is, it's exactly the same disc I heard in impeccably mastered form 12 months ago, when Doucet was already getting stoked to see it on record store shelves. What took so long?
"We're gullible, and we think that when people dangle record deals in front of us they actually mean it, so we indulge their fucking egos and we wait for them to deliver us the ubiquitous but ever-evasive deal memos," jokes Doucet as he waits to board a plane in Edmonton.
"We have a deal in Europe now, so the record's gonna come out there on a tiny label called Bright Star in the fall, but that took a lot longer than we'd hoped. Plus, we were waiting around to see if certain things were gonna develop in Canada to make it easier for us, and they didn't.
"That lag was horribly frustrating, because we all live in different time zones - Nik lives in Edmonton, Chang's in Winnipeg and I'm in Toronto. We can't take the spontaneous gig that comes out of nowhere for a benefit, and we might not even talk to each other for four or five months, which really wreaks havoc on the confidence of the group."
Right now, however, the boys are trying to slowly regain faith in the strength of their ridiculously tight rock trio. The vote of confidence from Bright Star - home to Reindeer Section, an indie outfit composed of former members of Teenage Fanclub and Belle and Sebastian - helps, as does Doucet's correct assertion that Veal's ferocious live sound comes through clearer on the Steven Drake (Marcy Playground, the Odds)-produced The Embattled Hearts than on the band's previous two efforts.
"We're succumbing to pressure from friends and fans who've asked why we don't sound like the recordings. Maybe it's a question of boredom. When I sing the songs, I'm telling the story as though I'd written it for the first time. I guess trying to infuse the element of theatricality that's necessary for me to sell the story for the 50th time tends to overtake whatever remaining truths there are of the melody. There are people who've made careers out of that - I mean, Dylan is infamous for it, much to the chagrin and annoyance of a lot of his fans. I think I could learn from the Tom Pettys of the world and pin down my melodies a bit more."
Still, Doucet loves to play live. Until recently, the notion that product promotion is the primary objective of touring was completely foreign to him. Veal's been getting used to touring with newest addition Kozub - their seventh (!) bassist since the band's inception - and to their new label by playing shows in London.
"Live music culture is a different thing over there," he says.
"I'm going out on some thin ice here, but the standards, in London at least - I'm not gonna say in England as a whole - tend to be lower. The indie scene in London strikes me as a bit lacking, and when we play we go over like the fucking Beatles. It's not like Queen Street, where you can walk into any bar on any given night of the week and see something fiercely original."