With Outside America, Doug Andrew once again has stated the case for being one of Vancouver’s best songwriters.
It’s a case nobody can be blamed for forgetting. There are periods when nothing is happening and there is no career trajectory. Andrew is not following the usual path of the aspiring indie act. His band , Circus In Flames, will be silent.
Then – surprise, surprise – Circus In Flames will release an album as good as Outside America and support it with several live appearances. Room has to be made for both Andrew and his band – Brian Barr, Ed Goodine, Brian Thalken and Phil Addington.
Andrew writes all the time and the band rehearses, but they make their progress, such as it is, in the time left over from day jobs.
“As far as a plan goes, that’s probably my greatest problem,” Andre admits. ” I never really know what I’m doing and not just on the music side of things. Making a lot of money has never been a big motivator for me and I suppose that, in some ways, could have held the band (and my career) back. If I needed money I always felt it was better to go out and work at a job to pay off the debts. I never wanted playing music to be a job like that. But then again working a day job takes time away from the art.”
It’s taken Andrew a few years to fashion a band that has gelled from its loose, fluctuating, unwieldy beginning to something sympathetic to his cross-pollination of folk, blues, country and rock. Barr, whose studio is where Outside America was recorded, in particular, has helped to shape a sound that is 180 degrees from Andrew’s first band of note, the punk-influenced and fuelled Shangai Dog.
“At the start, after coming from a punk-type background, I wanted a band that didn’t have electric guitar,” Andrew explains. ” I just needed a change. Often you don’t know what you want but you know what you don’t want. You start there and see what develops. I definitely wanted to try something more acoustic and it was a case of: Who do I know? What do they play? Does this all work together? A friend of mine was having a big St. Patrick’s Day party with kegs of Guinness and he asked me if I wanted to play at it. I thought that this would be a great opportunity to try out the acoustic idea. We had mandolin, accordion, upright bass, tenor banjo, acoustic guitar and drums and it worked out even better than I expected. Not only did it work as a unit but it was a far better way to get across these songs I’d written. It’s all about chemistry. Eventually, it was hard to hold a six-piece band together, especially touring. The Circus began to downsize through attrition and since Brian Barr was such a good guitarist it would have been foolish to stick to my no electric guitar idea. Besides, I felt that the band had established something of an identity and sound and now the electric guitar just added to it. Having your own sound is what it’s all about. I’d much rather have an identity and a small audience than appeal to great masses with a generic sound..”
No one can accuse Andrew of sounding generic. The songs can be lumped together as roots but each seems to have a story to tell for which Andrew adapts different personae from grizzled speaker of The Magic Kiss to the world weary voice of Closer To Montgomery to the yearning in Frozen Morning. His moods are accented by accordion, banjo, harmonica, mandolin and, yes, electric guitar.
“Pretty early on, as a teenager, I got into Bob Dylan and The Ban, “ Andrew says. ” From listening to them you start to learn about people like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and Woody Guthrie so I guess that’s where my “roots” background started. Then punk rock hit and it was the new folk music. You didn’t have to have a lot of expertise but if you had something to say you got up and said it. I was inspired by the Sex Pistols and Clash and from them I learned about the New York Dolls and the Stooges. Like most people, I like a lot of different music such as blues and jazz and even classical, especially early music which can be kinda folky. You hear things that move you or you just like and it influences you.
“I’m pretty open to anything but generally I’ll come in with something that’s finished,” he continues. ” Once you’ve put it out to the band though, then it starts to take on a life of its own and it rarely ends up quite how you’d imagined it. That can be a bit tricky because on certain things you may have a definite part or type of feel that you know it needs and you sometimes have to be a bit stubborn about it. Other times if it’s going somewhere else and it’s working, you just let it go. Often, you’re not sure and you just have to see where it ends up. You might have to back up a bit and re-jig things at some point. Everyone needs input and some autonomy and you don’t want to get stuck in a formula. It’s rarely a breeze because there can be times when you definitely have a vision for the song but you have to somehow communicate that to everyone.”
Circus In Flames is at the Flamingo Lounge in Surrey, July 20, with China Syndrome and Campfire Shitkickers and July 27 with Pill Squad and Lullabye at the Princeton Pub in Vancouver.