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The Enduring East Coast Legacy of Shotgun and Jaybird

The indie rock duo reunite for the SappyForever book tour after a 7 year hiatus.

One of the most endearing bands in the history of Canadian music, Shotgun and Jaybird, were a force to be reckoned with in the early 2000s. The celebrated group, formed around the hilarious and vibrant duo of Jim “Shotgun Jimmie” Kilpatrick and Fred Squire (alias Dick Morello) churned out just as many wide smiles as they did infectious, jangly pop tunes in their time. They played an integral role in putting Sackville, New Brunswick back on the map musically, and ushered in a whole new generation of scrappy, jangly, fun-loving East Coast indie rock. After charming the pants off of audiences from Dawson City to Halifax for years, the band laid their wildly entertaining brand of messy, bed-head Canadian rock to rest in 2007.

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Shotgun Jimmie has gone on to curate an impressive and enduring solo career and play with the Weakerthans’ frontman John K. Samson, while Squire has churned out great work with Shotgun and Jaybird alumna Julie Doiron, as well as joining her on projects with Mount Eerie and country crooner Daniel Romano and has also released records by his lonesome, before settling down a bit with dad duties. Their wacky antics and heavenly music have gone on to inspire and influence a wealth of great Canadian music including Jon McKiel, Cousins, and many more. Loveable legends in the realm of East Coast indie, they set the stage for innumerable bands singing sardonic songs with reckless abandon - grinning faces hiding behind mugs of beer.

In an impromptu explosion of awesome, just this past spring the two reunited in Toronto as part of the SappyForever book tour. Now, in news that, if all is right with the world, should elicit a collective freaking-the-fuck-out, they’ve decided to emerge again from their respective day jobs, ready to tell dad jokes and rock out one more time. Literally just one more time, though.

As a favour to the Sappyfest gang, Shotgun and Jaybird are doing a one night only stint at the festival this year, with the original lineup of just Jimmie and Fred. In honour of this momentous occasion, we sat down with Jimmie and Fred to talk about how they met, flipping coins instead of writing setlists, the revolving door of Shotgun and Jaybird members, and why this is just a one-time thing.

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Noisey: So let’s rewind back a few decades – how exactly did you guys first meet?
Fred: Jim and I first met a long time ago in Ajax, Ontario. I’m trying to remember the exact date, but I'll guess 1992. We met at a church where we were kids going to church where our parents went, and neither one of us had like devoutly religious parents, but just your typical North Americans of that generation. So, yeah we actually met acting out to a Phil Collins song. Our older siblings were part of this dramatic scene or something, and we ended up acting like punks for a Phil Collins song.

Then later on we met again in high school. I think I failed grade 12 English and had to do it again so I switched schools and I ended up sitting beside him in homeroom and I realized, “Holy shit, you're that guy!”

When did you guys start playing as Shotgun and Jaybird?
Fred: Well, we started playing the original incarnation in 2000 maybe 1999… but probably 2000. Jim thought it would be interesting to be a blues band and play all these bars, so we went around just telling people "You should book us to play, we're the best blues band ever." Which we weren’t. At all. So then we had to learn how to play the blues, and Jim actually came up with the name "Even Jaybirds Can't Be Bluer."

After a while, I went away to the Yukon and was playing shows just as the Jaybirds, and Jim moved to Sackville. Then I moved to Nova Scotia, and then we both moved to Toronto and we played together in a band called Drummer. After that I moved back to the Yukon and Jimmie followed shortly after. He was like, “So my nickname is Shotgun Jimmie, so let's call ourselves Shotgun and Jaybird!” It was like, a blending of our personas. Jimmie’s had that nickname for forever, because he always used to be the one to get the front seat.

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So then did you guys make the move to Sackville?
Jimmie: So Fred and I are up in the Yukon, in Dawson, and we’re just playing around, and then we have this weird… well we just decided to play lots of shows and do music full time, basically. So we moved back to Ontario, booked a tour, practiced up, and then right when we headed out to our first date, we crashed the car in Woodstock, New Brunswick.

We'd been flailing around in Toronto and stuff, trying to figure out how we were going to do this music thing and where to do it - so we were on a mission. And after we crashed in New Brunswick Fred said "Is this a sign was should move to Sackville?" It was our next show, and I'd lived there a bit before, and we had friends there. It just seemed logical.

Fred: A lot of things happened after that. The next car pulled up and it was a tow truck, so we got our gear out of the car and we actually traded the guy the car for the tow. I remember during the tow truck ride saying to Jim "So… you wanna move to Sackville? We're kinda fucked…" I got a job as a sound guy that night at the club we played, actually. So we just stayed.

How did the project expand from a duo into the first full band lineup?
Jimmie: Well, our friend Paul Henderson was helping us out in Yukon for a while, organizing us. He wasn’t like, our manager, more like he was the only person around who was an adult. He helped us make CDs and t-shirts, shit like that. So, after we moved to Sackville, there was a media arts coordinator position at the gallery there and Paul came down and got the job. So we were just hanging out with him all the time, but if we'd be hanging out at the jam space, he'd play drums. What he remembers is that he reluctantly agreed to play drums in the band. He says was like “You guys sound way better when you both play guitars, so I guess I'll have to do this for you.”

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Then, around that time Julie Doiron moved back to Sackville and she saw us play at a gallery opening – I think Fred and I were just playing ukuleles at this thing, and she was like "Oh man, you guys look like you're having so much fun, I wanna join!" and we were like "Hey, you're in!" So then she played bass for us.

Fred: It was one of those things like, had we not stayed there we would have been the greatest fools in the world. Sackville was a black hole of no escape. I mean, like, not in a bad way… just as a descriptor. Like, it was inescapable, that’s how great it was.

So only like a year or two after that you guys you played the first Sappyfest, and you actually helped get it off the ground too, right?
Jimmie: Haha, well kind of. I remember we would all be at those meetings but it was clearly like, Julie and Paul taking all the responsibility and stuff. I mean, Fred and I pretty much just gave advice about how to properly treat musicians so they'll feel comfortable and stuff. My role for the first four or five years was as a spiritual advisor. So, like, I had an official position, but it was a joke.

They'd come to me with something they weren't sure about, like "someone wants to sponsor us, but we feel like they’re kind of lame, what should we do?" and "I'd be like, follow your heart and just do the Sappy thing!” and they’d be like "Yeah, you’re right! We'll tell those guys to take off!"

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So is that why you guys are only reuniting to play Sappyfest? Because of the history you guys have with it?
Fred: Well, it was pretty much solely because John Claytor asked if we'd play the SappyForever book tour show in Toronto, and because I'm in Sudbury, and Jim was coming through Toronto, we thought we’d do the original duo. It was sort of like, it’s been an exact decade since, and so I was like "That's typical and perfect. 10 year mark, original lineup, all that jazz.” Then Lucas Hicks says to us, “You guys should play Sappyfest too, then!” and so we acquiesced to that, too.

Jimmie: Before this, I mean, we had no interest in doing a reunion and had never talked about it, and if anyone else had asked us there's no way we'd have done it. But the Sappy guys, they're too loveable and it's hard to say no to them. They framed it like "We need you to do this" and it's hard to really not respect that. Or, I mean, at least consider it.

What’s it been like playing together again after all these years? Does it come back easily?
Jimmie: It went really well in Toronto. We had an awesome time, and I think we still have it, you know? I wasn't really sure what it even was but, yeah we still have it. Fred and I just really have a great connection musically, we push each other to do things outside the way we normally would. We just play well together, maybe because we've played for so long. Even though we hadn't played together in six years, we picked up right where we left off. We always liked to decide how to do the songs in the moment, but it didn't ever feel like goofing off and jamming, it was like songwriting in real time.

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Fred: Jim always knows exactly what I'm going to do, and I know what he's going to do… but it's not predictable, it's rewarding and exciting. I'm like "Oh man, I haven't seen him in years… I wonder if he knows what I'm going to do" and he's just there on stage, nodding and smiling and just rocking out like "Yeahhh buddy, I know what you’re getting at.”

Have you guys practiced for the show yet, or are you just going to wing it?
Fred: You know, we never used to write a setlist - we'd just flip a coin to see which one of us goes first and then go back and forth, each picking songs. But, nah, this time we drafted one over dinner, it felt very professional. We're gonna practice the day before for an hour or so, and maybe leave like 98% up to fate, and then the other 2% is like… remember to bring a cable and a guitar, you know?

Now, you’re absolutely sure this is a one-time thing? We can’t strongarm you into a full-fledged reunion tour?
Jimmie: Personally, my feeling is that I don’t want to, just out of respect of how much it meant to me at the time, doing what we were doing. I feel satiated by that still, and I don't feel like I need or want to revisit it yet. For some strange reason, that feels like being respectful of the past. Letting it just remain the past, and be as glorious as it was or is in my mind. It was a highly emotional band, you know? That's what made it great. It felt like it was always on the verge of completely falling apart, but then it never would. It would make the catch and save itself. Those are the moments of greatness, and the moments I feel most precious about and want to preserve.

Fred: It would have to be an extreme amount of money offered, an undeniable amount like "oh shit, well maybe…" I mean, without making it seem like only for monetary gain. But, no, it's just the time and place right now… it doesn't make me feel bad about doing it right now. I feel great about this. The whole idea is to just have fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s just not a good idea. So, yeah, at this juncture there's a definitive "no." It's not that it’s actually impossible it's just highly improbable.

Nick Laugher is a writer living in Montreal. He's on Twitter.