Illuminati with UNDERDRIVE at the Bovine Sex Club (542 Queen West), Saturday (December 13). Free. 416-504-4239.
in the year since their formation, Toronto's newest rock gods, the Illuminati, have inspired some serious hype, landed opening spots for names like Alice Cooper, the Darkness and Andrew WK and been fluffed by the jaded press. Danko Jones calls them the best band in Canada.
Maybe this is no surprise given that their moniker suggests an affiliation with a legendary and possibly murderous secret society whose agenda was world domination.
"Our upcoming record is going to be the best guitar rock record to come out of Canada in some time," pronounces bassist Nick Sewell, who has that rock swagger and a tongue to rival both Danko and Gene Simmons.
Ominous. Are you scared yet?
Consider this: all three members of the Illuminati are left-handed, yet all three play their instruments right-handed. Envision the number three and the powerful geometry of the pyramid.
"The triangle," says Sewell, "is the most powerful shape." Oooh.
Onstage, as you can see Saturday for free, the trio seem unlikely members of a murderous order. I checked them out when they opened for Nashville Pussy recently, and they rumbled through a blistering set of ingenious boogie rock, hips thrusting and hair a-flailing all over the place as Sewell encouraged folks to move closer to the stage between tunes.
"Yeah, right," I thought, pressing my back against the wall, "so you can ritualistically murder me to make room for your hand-picked educated and enlightened civilization? No, thanks."
Still, they're affable enough when we meet for drinks at Squirly's. Perhaps it's because I, too, am left-handed, and therefore an honourary one of them.
It's the eve of guitarist Les Godfrey's 28th birthday. Godfrey, geeky despite his rough exterior, complete with facial scruff and badass tats (which he got at the tender age of 17), sips cola, since he doesn't drink and never has, except once.
"I was in grade 10. My friend Dylan's parents had this Vietnamese restaurant and they served us this soup with a pitcher of beer," explains Godfrey. "I was so thirsty that I sloshed it back even though I hated the taste of it, then poured another one. All I remember is going home and waking up 14 hours later."
Both Godfrey and Sewell are former members of metal hero band Tchort. Jim Gering on drums completes the triangle. Gering says little and remains slouched and hidden behind a forest of facial hair, a tangled mane and an Illuminati trucker cap. One might wonder what devilish plans he's hatching in his head. He also plays with former Tchort singer Eric Coucke's band Cloven Blade (currently on hiatus), a totally Euro metal schlock extravaganza.
While Coucke, who now calls himself Ash Lee Blade, writhes around onstage in fishnets, wailing in falsetto with hair blowing in the simulated wind, the Illuminati have ventured into the complex turf of psychedelia, stompin' rock, blues-metal, noodly jazz, punk and hardcore.
Their album On Borrowed Time, which will be released in the new year, is awesome - ass-kicking and astoundingly complex yet refreshingly catchy. The arrangements say sophistication but the execution says, "Let's do bong hits on my waterbed!"
Obviously, the combination is a winning one. Why didn't they do this sooner?
"Everything happens for a reason," says Sewell. "If everything hadn't happened that way, we wouldn't have made the same decisions in terms of how to put things together. A lot of how we did things when we stopped playing with Tchort and started playing with the Illuminati was based on the fact that we weren't happy with the way we were doing things with Tchort. If we'd left sooner we might have kept doing things the same way."
Of course. Silly me. It was all planned out.
"With Tchort," says Godfrey, "I started writing a lot more because I was excited to hear new stuff all the time, so Nick and I started bringing in a lot of material, and it was just different from what Eric had in mind, though I do like the Euro metal."
"And we noticed that the response we were getting was from the new songs," adds Sewell. "We wrote 80 per cent of the material on the final Tchort album."
Godfrey waxes technical on the songwriting process, but simply put, he presents everything in a country vein, then Sewell comes in and rocks it up. Gering hits things.
Opening for Alice Cooper was "super-cool and a fuckin' blast," says Sewell, "but at the same time, playing those big shows is stressful because you're not the priority and nobody really gives a fuck if you sound OK. We won the crowd over by the end, but there was no kidding ourselves about who they were there to see."
Alice was awesome. They hung out a little bit. Real rock dudes gotta stick together, especially with this revival thing going on.
"So much of that stuff is pedestrian," says Sewell.
"Everybody's, like, 'Yeah, man! Rock revival, man! We're gonna be huge!' And I just think, maybe you should go home and work on your songs."
"Or learn to play your guitar!" interjects Godfrey. "Actually learn some chords. People come up to me after shows and say. 'You're a really good guitar player,' but the things they point out are so elementary. Just learn do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do and you'll be cool."
The Illuminati don't have any illusions about selling out arenas and becoming jillionaires.
"Anybody who plays music these days knows that unless you're playing Britney Spears-style pop you're going to gear it toward a small interest group. Making it big as a rock group today means you'll have a small, loyal fan base for a while and then that'll be the end of it."
But the group seems certain of one thing: the next disc.
"We're proud of it," says Godfrey. "It's a mature record."
"Yeah, but it isn't even out yet and we're already bored with it," Sewell points out. " We're already talking about the new one."
I'm about to leave when suddenly Sewell orders Godfrey a surprise piece of cake. The whole room sings.
Aw. Maybe secret societies aren't so bad.