By Will McGuirk
Live in the moment, sure, but, hard-rock two-piece The Standstills suggest you pick a particular moment to live in.
This riff’n’ rhythm couple have picked their moment; stood still, midday, no shadows, dusty Western Main street, eye glinting, toothpick chewing, hands hovering - hold it. . . hold it. . . hold it. . . then attack with machine gun intensity. The moment for The Standstills is where High Noon becomes Hateful 8.
The Standstills, fresh off a European tour with The Lazys and currently on tour with Monster Truck, which brings them to the Oshawa Music Hall Friday Apr. 5, 2019, have just released their debut album, ‘Badlands’. Its available on eOne.
And like the title implies yes these kats are from the Badlands; Oshawa for guitarist, Jonny Fox, and London On. for drummer Renee Couture, but by way of the Joshua Tree Desert and the graveyards of Spaghetti Western composer, Ennio Morricone.
The Western Outlaw movie genre inspires the band. But not just the sonics, it’s also the cinematography, the ability to hold the viewer, to increase the intensity of the experience, and still hold, eye’s locked, no blinking, no submission, until its just raw energy screaming at you.
The duo don’t have all the orchestration, there’s just the two of them after all so they strip it all down to just the ecstasy of the golden moment.
“We are really into the Old Wild West movies, the way the music was done, all that stuff, that’s why we love it, and we bring that into the music, we have a passion for the cinematography. They took their time on certain pans and moments and really make you get deep into the character without any dialogue.” says Fox.
The band had some downtime between shows and were in Oshawa where they live. Slowcity.ca chatted with them over jugs of beer at Riley’s Pub.
“Creatively for us there are no rules, and for them too no rules, just doing what they think what they are passionate about and telling the stories,” says Fox.
“At the end of the European tour we were close to going to the cemetery where they filmed The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” says Couture.
It was only the capacity of the bus there that derailed the plan she says.
Couture says “The album track, “Red Skies” was written with the cemetery scene from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in mind but it written for a very good friend dealing with brain cancer. We ended it with the campfire scene because for us that was where we could get deep and real, life and death.”
It was to end the album she says but they close instead with a bonus track, “Liquor Store.” That song begins with the line “I spend my days at the will of no one/ I was a soldier but I hung up my gun,”
It’s as good a song as any to end an album with the the theme of outlaws on the run running through it.
“‘Cold Blooded Killer’ is a Bonnie and Clyde feel, and we ran with it. We are a two-piece, male and female so the Bonnie & Clyde stuck,” says Couture.
For the Standstills’ first single, the previously released “Wild”, the two shot the video in the Joshua Tree Park in California, a place with a rich history for musicians from Gram Parsons to U2.
The desert took hold.
“When you go there and you are a fan of the Wild West, the moment you put your feet in the sand, you are home, its home, I would live there,” says Couture
“We had a day off and the team were going to Santa Monica, but I don’t care for that so we said let’s go to the desert, lets go to Joshua Tree and the studio where Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal work out of. We would have stayed over but the hotel was sold out.
We went to the Pappy and Harriet’s roadhouse we had seen on Anthony Bourdain’s show, where he is getting hammered on tequila with Josh from Stone Age. We go and there is a chalkboard and it says Terry Reid tonight. We are wondering if this is the Terry Reid who was asked to be the singer of Led Zeppelin before Plant, and I asked and the hostess says, I don’t know if it is but they have a famous drummer, some guy called Daniel Lanois!” says Fox.
But we had to leave because no hotel room.” says Couture.
Fox who says he is more a fan of the ocean agrees, he too has an affinity for the desert, but it’s for the space and possibilities. How to provide the soundtrack for that feeling of looking out over the vastness of an ocean or an ocean of sand?
“We marry the two ideas of what it is like being in a band and the visuals we have that helps us. In the lyrics for Shaker Down, ‘In the black, hear the roar, gotta all just wait to want her‘ - it’s like being backstage and hearing the crowd but it’s also like Jesse James Gang waiting in the darkness of the night, the roar is the train, so for us bringing those ideas in and visualizing them, seeing both things and how they work together, we are syncing the lyrics into pictures.” says Fox.
Much of the expansion of the sound falls on the shoulders and the feet of Fox, who has intricate pedal set-up. His inspiration as a player come from those who pushed the guitar way beyond its perceived limits.
“It’s all in the tone, the way he has that grit, the reverb. People look at his pedalboard and try to figure it out,” says Couture, “but it comes down to so many elements that make up this monster he has created. There is so much going on and it’s taken ten years to come up with a combination that is still ever changing. I don’t even go into the guitar store with him anymore I know how long he is going to be and he will come home with ten new pedals, to try and find this particular niche sound.”
“I love searching,” says Fox, “the first guitarist I was into was Jimi Hendrix and the second, Tom Morello. He was way ahead of the curve, before Jack White on the whammy. I thought it was cool and exciting for a guitar player to be creating sounds that don’t sound like they come from the guitar.”
The album was finished in Nashville with Eddie Spear, who has worked with Lady GaGa and Chris Stapleton. Spears is from the UK originally and has been shifting from engineering to mixing and producing. He has also been collecting those pieces of gear as they showed up in auctions or in vintage stores.
“We feel like we caught him just at the right moment,” says Fox, “We went down to Nashville and it was unreal. All the little ghostly things on the album, all the things happening in the back that pop the more you listen to the album, all of that is ear candy.”
Fox says it is all of those extras which make the classic albums so sustainable, the way you can keep going back and hearing new things.
“On “Diablo”, there is a vocal line, and there is a whoo hoooo outer spacey sound, and that was created using a reverb box used on Dark Side of the Moon and Live at Pompeii. You can see in Live At Pompeii Pink Floyd messing around with it at one point. So Spears is playing with it and creating these unique sounds and textures to that song. It can never be recreated, its the delayed and the timing and my vocals and all the candy,” he says.
Couture says Spears calls it going down the rabbit hole.
And that’s the trip through “The Badlands”; propulsive, driven, on the run, popping into sonic rabbit holes with no idea where you will pop up, in the desert, in graveyards, at campfires or right at that moment at high noon when two face off, hands hovering. . .
and Clint Eastwood appears between Lee Van Cleef and Gian Maria Velonté.