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Fist City Reach Lethbridge by Plane, Train, or Automobile

What's it like playing music in a town where Marilyn Manson got beat up at a Denny's?
April 9, 2015, 2:30pm

Lethbridge, Alberta, the city of 90,000 located two hours south of Calgary, is getting some strange press this week. Over the weekend, while he was trying to enjoy a late-night meal in the city’s Denny’s franchise, aging shock rocker Marilyn Manson was punched in the face and suffered a broken nose. Allegedly, it’s because he trash-talked some locals.

We may never know what really went down in that Lethbridge Denny’s, but Evan Van Reekum, guitarist for Lethbridge’s pre-eminent post-punk band Fist City, can’t help but laugh. “It’s not surprising,” he says. “There used to be a band in Lethbridge called Bitch Splitter. If you live in Lethbridge you’re either a total redneck dude, or you’re like this heavy metal dude, or from the management school at the university going to the clubs.” Van Reekum formed Fist City in 2009 alongside drummer Ryan Grieve, bassist Brittany Griffiths and guitarist/vocalist Kier Griffiths. At the time he says Lethbridge wasn’t exactly receptive to a weird, up-tempo punk band. “At first it was really challenging,” he says. “There were not a lot of people doing punk music at all. There were rock bands, and cover bands and that kind of stuff. It’s a really weird city. The downtown core is kind of just like empty. It’s sort of like a donut surrounded by strip malls and Walmarts and stuff.”

Fortunately, the city has changed for the better. “Now it’s actually awesome,” he says. “There’s lots going on. There’s a great record store, Blueprint Records that Ryan runs, there’s this giant queer community that’s really fantastic. Not just queer but allies too, and everyone really supports each other in that.”

While Grieve and the Griffiths have stayed in Lethbridge, Van Reekum has moved back to his native Calgary. That means he regularly has to make a 200 kilometre trip just for band practice. While he drives when he can, the distance sometimes requires late-night Greyhound trips. “Coming back from Lethbridge, the Greyhound leaves at 4 A.M.,” he says. “It’s tricky coming back from tour. On a drive like this, we’ll drive home through Winnipeg and then these guys will go straight to Lethbridge, then I’ll stay up all night and get on a Greyhound at 4 A.M.”

Travelling for long, weird hours has become the norm for Fist City. Now an internationally touring act, they routinely brave the Canadian Shield, cruise through America, or hop across the pond for shows in Europe. They recently recorded their second album, the forthcoming Everything is a Mess, in Chicago at Steve Albini’s famed Electrical Audio. That trek was a strange trip of its own. “We took a train there from Sweetgrass, Montana, which was a 36-hour train ride or something crazy,” Van Reekum recalls. “It was so shitty. It stopped in the middle of the night for eight hours in the middle of nowhere, and nobody could figure out why or what was going on. It was awful.”

Fortunately, the trip paid off as _Everything is a Mess_stands as their best work yet. The album arrives on June 22 via Transgressive Records and was recorded with Ben Greenberg (The Men, Hubble). Without sounding lo-fi, he lent a sense of grit and energy to the songs, replicating the band’s excellent live show. The songs themselves further showcase Fist City’s urgent, eclectic sound—a blend of post-punk, pop, noise rock and surf.

Noisey: How did Fist City arrive at such a unique, hard-to-peg sound?
Evan Van Reekum: I think it was just wanting to be a little weird, have fun and play poppy, exciting music. Something a little less serious or a little less alienating than [Van Reekum and Grieve’s previous band] Endangered Ape. I’d have to say, a lot of the sound came from the dynamic between Kier and Britney. Kier plays guitar with a super weird tuning that I don’t understand at all, and Brittany gets it right away, figuring out bass lines and stuff. A lot of it is me trying to come to their level or adhere to their established sound. They’ve played music together their whole lives—they’re twin siblings.

What was it like to work at Electrical Audio?
It was really weird. I don’t like being around famous people at all. [laughs] Shellac was practicing in Studio A while we were there, so they were all around the whole time. It was cool though because the manager who was there the whole time, Stephen Sowley, is a frequent The Best Show caller. It was cool to meet him and talk to him about The Best Show. The place is like a museum really. Even the posters on the wall. There’s a note on the fridge from Fugazi from like 20 years ago. It’s totally crazy. Steve Albini crushes these crazy drinks all day. He calls them fluffy coffees and it’s like three shots of Espresso in a pint glass with milk and maple syrup and cinnamon. That’s like the house drink. Everyone has this pint of brown liquid in their hand all the time.

You also co-founded Mammoth Cave Recording Co. with Paul Lawton, and decided to cease operations earlier this year. From your perspective, what happened?
I appreciate you asking me that. I think a lot of people have been asking Paul about it. Paul and I are still really tight. We always will be. It is sad, but for me it is a huge relief. There were so many people who walked away from that label feeling pretty bummed out. I’m so sensitive that it would keep me awake at night. We felt the wrath of Record Store Day and we missed a bunch of record release shows. Paul blew it on mail-order stuff, basically. We didn’t set expectations properly with the bands we were putting out records for. I think they expected a lot of promotion and press and stuff like that. When they didn’t see that, they totally understandably found it frustrating. That shit is really hard to do. We did it all. We had a list of blogs, we did press releases, but nobody would write for it. Unless you’re pumping money into PR it’s a pretty hard thing to achieve through DIY methods. The whole delay thing was always a huge disappointment as well. Basically we made too many mistakes, spent too much money and never made it back.

Fist City tour dates:
04/08 Toronto, ON - Johnny Jackson
04/10 Ottawa, ON - Gabba Hey
04/11 Guelph, ON - District (Kazoo Fest)
04/14 Sudbury, ON - Speak Easy
04/16 Winnipeg, MB - Handsome Daughter

Josiah Hughes is a writer living in Calgary - @josiahhughes