Peter & the Wolves shake up the Alberta rockabilly music scene with the release of their debut album
The opening track of Peter & the Wolves' debut album tears out of the speakers with the kind of sound you might expect from a jukebox right before the dance hall erupts into a frenzy of swinging bodies and broad smiles. Grab some grease, slick back your hair and sink your teeth into the gritty guitar solos and foot stomping blues rhythms of Here Comes Peter & the Wolves.
The trio have captured the attention of the Alberta music scene of late with their authentic rockabilly sound, a blend of blues rhythms and bluegrass twang made famous by artists like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. Though the style dates back to the 1950s, Peter & the Wolves have captured its roots.
The group began the task of recording this album in the fall of 2014 with Jesse Alves and Zack Cheng at Studio014 in Calgary, with the album releasing April 9 and launched during a show at the Oaktree tavern. Frontman Peter Cormier says that their first recording experience was a positive one overall.
"Studio014 was a nice small start, nothing too intimidating about it," he said. "It was fun just hanging out, eating potato chips and playing music. It was a bit of a challenge for us to play the songs through without mistakes, but it's best not to over think it."
Jesse Alves said in an email to the Calgary Journal that he thinks the group has an amazing handle on their sound, and made extraordinary use of their studio time for a young group making their first recordings.
"I've run studio sessions for about seven years and have never seen a band accomplish as much as this group did in such a short amount of time." Alves said, "This was their first studio experience, and they handled it like professionals. Peter & the Wolves were a pleasure to work with: a rehearsed, decisive group of people."
This sentiment is shared by Cam Hayden, another Calgary music producer who worked on mixing the tracks for Here Comes Peter & the Wolves.
"Their biggest asset is that they seem to have their sound pretty dialed in already and being as young as they are, they have a ton of time to hone it even more," he said. "The best part was watching them react to their own songs as the mixes started coming together, it was like they were hearing themselves for the first time."
Hayden has worked with The High Strung Downers, The Smokin' 45's and other figureheads of the Alberta rockabilly scene, and says Peter & the Wolves have something that sets them apart from the typical rockabilly crowd.
"The obvious thing that separates Peter & the Wolves from the others is the gaping age difference. Most of the guys and gals I've worked with are old grizzled veterans who have been kicking around for a while," He said. "Those bands are able to bring tons of experience and a world weary approach that works really well, but Peter & the Wolves have a youthful zip going for them, like a lot of the original rockabilly acts who got going when they were fairly young and full of piss and vinegar."
Their youthful energy definitely shines through on stage, where 21-year-old frontman Peter Cormier can often be seen sliding onto his knees while picking out a guitar solo. Though it's hard to translate stage presence into recorded music, Cormier says that the finishing touches of the studio experience definitely added something to the music.
"It's definitely refreshing to hear songs that came out of my head in a real professional way," Cormier said. "And with the band's individual input and ideas, the songs ended up better than I'd imagined them!"
For a debut release, Here Comes Peter & the Wolves shows very few signs of the typical awkward fumbling of a young band searching for their signature sound. The album is stamped with trademarks of their chosen genre, from the up-tempo dance beat of the opening track to the vivid symbolism of The Boy That Cried I Love You. There's even a dark humour in the storytelling of Roadside Loner that would make Johnny Cash proud and brings back a narrative tradition that is somewhat lacking in modern rock music.
From start to finish, the album stays true to Peter & the Wolves' rockabilly sound, not giving in to any temptation to modernize with digital effects or try a more pop-focused rock sound.
"In the recording process itself, you quickly learn it's a risky time to get creative. I did try some things I hadn't really done before on the guitar solos, but I never have much of a plan for those anyway." Cormier said, "For the most part, I think it was important for us to just get the bare essence of the songs out."
From cover to cover the group's first release feels like an album, not just a collection of singles mixed together. Each song flows nicely into the next and dance songs are separated cleanly by tracks with more of a storytelling vibe. There is no dramatic change of sound or rhythm to take you out of the groove they establish, and it's obvious that a lot of effort was put into this recording to ensure that nothing sounded out of place, and that it stayed true to their rockabilly roots.
The one subtle drawback to the album that I couldn't help but notice is that it doesn't pack the same punch that their live show does. The guitar doesn't have the same bite through an iPod that it does through a tube amp in a crowded room, and the upright bass has a more powerful thump when you're standing right next to it.
It's hard to place anyone at fault for this though, because it's more about the medium in which it's presented than the content of the recordings. It's difficult, if not impossible, to squeeze the sounds of a rowdy live band into a digital file and play it through headphones or a car stereo without losing some of the presence along the way.
Fortunately though, Peter & the Wolves are very active in the live music scene around Calgary and central Alberta, often on the road to Edmonton and small towns like Bentley to layout some live jams for eager dancers in the audience. If you pick up Here Comes Peter & the Wolves and suddenly feel a need to hit the dance floor, it's a good chance they'll have a show coming up.
- By JODI BRAK