Luca Maoloni has a reputation for being a rather disagreeable guy. This is unfortunate, cuz the Old Soul mastermind, multi-instrumentalist and frontman is a big ol' pussycat in person, albeit an opinionated one.
He may have definite ideas about, say, which buzz bands don't deserve the hype, but they're based on totally reasonable arguments. To paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, he's not bad - he's just drawn that way.
Kinda like the cover art on the Old Soul's loopy debut album. A classic example of Maoloni's ability to polarize opinion, the cover features a garishly coloured cartoon forest through which a fat, hairy dude is being chased by a giant ham.
"It's a prosciutto," he corrects me. OK, then. It's a manic Ren & Stimpy-style deal that to many (including the band's manager) seems better suited to a bad stoner ska-punk band than to the Old Soul's harmony-laden, orchestral non-sequitur pop mania.
"I think it's absolutely representative, cuz we're a cartoon band," insists Maoloni. "All we need is a few more marimbas and we'd have the Looney Tunes theme. The original concept was to mimic the style of 60s film posters like What's Up, Tiger Lily? or old Burt Bacharach covers. They were done by a guy named Frank Frazetta.
"I got my friend John Webster to do our art, and maybe in John's mind I look like a hairy, fat Italian guy with a handlebar moustache." Maoloni's actually quite handsome, although he acknowledges that "most people don't want to see a clean-cut Italian guy playing rock music onstage. They think I should be hanging out in Italy with, like, Zucchero."
I guess you could argue that the utter zaniness of the album cover is a half-baked attempt to emulate the spectacle that is the Old Soul live. What started as Maoloni's solo tribute to the history of pop music he's liked over the last 50 years has blossomed into a full-on rock posse - at least eight members take the stage at a time.
The band's growth was an organic process; Maoloni's musician pals sorta fell into place after hanging out.
"I came for the bocce but I stayed for the music," says Nick Taylor (ex-Black Eyes and Deep Dark United and current member of the Dirty Hearts), who along with bandmate Matt McClaren has showed up to represent on this Wednesday evening.
Their shows are notorious enough to have attracted the attention of labels like Universal, with which the Old Soul may someday sign. (They're still in vague negotiations.)
"We want to top ourselves at every show," Maoloni states. "It's like the Flaming Lips. They were like a punk band, and then they brought out the Christmas lights for the Clouds Taste Metallic tour. And then they did the headphone thing. And then they brought out the puppets and the confetti. We're not as theatrical...."
Taylor chimes in, "But we don't need it, cuz we've got eight people onstage having a good time."
"I know it sounds stupid," Maoloni continues, "but we're all gifted. Any given song, give us 10 minutes and we'll figure it out. Who knows if it'll sound good or bad, but we can figure it out. We all know our shit."
Little did Brian Borcherdt know that his sidelines of film editing and working in the stock room of Outside Music distribution would both contribute so significantly to his music-making future.
It's not at all an overstatement to say that the former By Divine Right member's intriguingly improvisational Holy Fuck project wouldn't exist today if not for an arcane 35mm film synchronizer he's turned into a real-time orchestrational tool, and the talented local musicians he met at Outside who groove along with the various bleeping and sputtering analog keyboards, turntables and children's-toy gizmos.
In our increasingly digitally controlled world, the thrilling unpredictability of Holy Fuck's entrancing onslaught is an impressive triumph of low-tech ingenuity.
"This wasn't done out of any kind of technological snobbery," clarifies Borcherdt from Halifax, where he's mixing a new Holy Fuck recording. "It's just that creatively speaking I enjoy working within certain limitations.
"Creative compromise is something that should be embraced; things that don't turn out as expected can be better than you ever thought possible. If you have the ability to predict the outcome of every single sound - its shape, its colour, its intensity - I think we end up making something that's unconsciously affected by the popular trends of the time.
"How is that going to sound 10 years from now? It could be like those terrible synth sounds on old Rush records. They probably sounded cool at the time, but you hear that stuff now and you wonder, my god, what were they thinking?
"I want to make music that's timeless."
Vancouver-based rhyme ripper Josh Martinez is rarely not busy with a new project, but since hooking up with the UK Bella Union label run by Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde, he's got more on the go than usual.
To make an appearance at NXNE he'll have to take a break from recording a new album with his hard rock band Pissed Off Wild (POW) that he's working feverishly to finish before Bella Union's late-August release of the highly anticipated When Pigs Fly disc by his Chicharones side project with fellow underground rap rebel Sleep, of Oldominion infamy.
So whether he'll use his NOW showcase slot to preview either of those discs or to pump material from his fab recent Midriff Music disc is a question even Martinez has trouble answering.
"Yeah," he laughs from his Vancouver home. "That's what I'm trying to figure out right now. I've got a week to put together my battle plan.
"I'm having DJ Skratch Bastid come over from Montreal to help me out with some fast-finger action, so I can probably give people a taste of each project. I'll bring some Pissed Off Wild tracks on vinyl so I can do those, and even though Sleep won't be with me I can still do some new Chicharones songs and maybe some new things, too, just to keep it fresh.
"It's been a while since I've been to Toronto, so I'm really looking forward to playing NXNE. I've been getting great exposure just about everywhere but Toronto - which is strange - so I'm coming to punch some faces and cause a little trouble. Hopefully, then people will at least know who I am."
One of the most intriguing buzz bands at last year's NXNE fest was Regina's Despistado, the angular art punk crew who'd scored a deal with U.S. emo label Jade Tree. Most folks figured the prairie maulers were set for stardom, so jaws dropped when they decided to call it quits before their debut LP dropped this past spring.
While fans of Despistado's Rickenbacker rock may still be sulking, the good news is that the breakup left bassist Joel Passmore with time to focus on his other long-time project, Sylvie. You might not recognize the name, but Passmore's been playing with the heavily melodic crew since its inception almost a decade ago, when it bore the rather unfortunate moniker Ned of the Bush. Uh, Ned of the Bush?
"I haven't had to answer questions about that in a lo-o-ong time," groans Passmore. "When I founded the band with (singer/bassist) Riva Farrell Racette, we were just trying to make each other laugh. We changed the name after we went in a different direction. Like, on your 20th birthday, you realize the name you came up with at 15 isn't such a good idea."
Sylvie still have echoes of the Jawbox school of emo in which Passmore and his bandmates were immersed back in the day. But on their new disc, which is set to drop this summer, they've tried to tone down the more ponderous, dirge-y qualities of the genre. And it's still spiky and propulsive enough to keep Despistado groupies happy.
"It's not quite as four-on-the-floor as Despistado," says Passmore. "It's more about layering and finding the pocket for the tones. We're trying to avoid filler, so the songs are getting shorter and to the point. I can't see people being disappointed unless they had crushes on Dagan or Leif."