Edmonton’s Betrayers offer psych-leaning garage on new LP

When we ask Travis Sargent what he’s trying to channel with his newest project Edmonton’s Betrayers he answers simply: “Caveman tunes y’know?” It’s an apt description — no Betrayers don’t play fist-pounding chongo rock but by his admission Sargent says the project is his most stripped-down yet. Even if they have two drummers.

“The songs are all dead simple so there’s never really anything to disagree over when we’re writing. With other bands I’ve played with we would waste an entire practice debating something totally stupid like a drum fill” he says. “It’s still punk I guess but the sensibilities are much more driven by 1960s pop and primitive rock ’n’ roll…. We wanna sound like the best K-tel records just a total mixed bag of different influences.”

Indeed those K-tel influences loom large but there are also plenty of other sonic touchstones here. It’s not hard for example to hear bits of jangly power pop or the grandiose grit of the Jesus and Mary Chain in Betrayers’ songs. The variety and the increasing nuance of the band’s songs comes from the fact that we’re actually hearing Sargent improve at his instrument — though he’s been around Edmonton’s music scene for ages he’s only recently learned the guitar.

“Betrayers was originally a bedroom recording thing to pass the time. I had just learned to play a few chords on the guitar and wrote some simple dopey songs about getting my heart stomped on or whatever” he says.

But those songs resonated and before long he recruited a full band with bassist Justin Zawada Terry Fairfield on the organ and drummer Scarlet Welling-Yiannakoulias joining the mix — The Lad Mags drummer (and “total garage rock almanac”) Joe Stagliano later joined as a secondary stickman. And that lineup produces a formidable sound first unveiled on 2012’s Treat Me Mean EP.

“Our friend Patrick Michalak engineered it over a long weekend in this basement studio in Chinatown which is a pretty strange neighbourhood and probably contributed to the weird vibes of the album” says Sargent. “We’d run out for food and witness some pretty fucked-up situations then hustle back down to the bunker and bash out a tune. Desperation is a recurring theme in the record and making it in a desperate place seemed fitting.”

But if Treat Me Mean was an introduction to Betrayers’ hypnotic sound they’ve refined their power on its followup Let the Good Times Die . Released last fall it’s the record that’ll garner plenty of comparisons to Jesus and Mary Chain: All droning organs wall-of-noise drums and swaggering vocals it’s a sound that feels like a collision between psych-leaning garage and JAMC’s Automatic era.

“[ Treat Me Mean ] was our first recording experience as a full band but I don’t think it really represents us” says Sargent. “The tunes on Let the Good Times Die date all the way back to when we first started playing together so they came out sounding more natural. Joe joined up with us in the interim between recordings [and] having two drummers means that the beat is at the forefront of the group and helps keep things swinging.”

And by Sargent’s admission the outfit had a solid 2013: Even while holding down a job bartending at Edmonton watering hole the Empress (which earned him the distinction of being called the “handsomest man in Edmonton” by beloved local blog Argue Job ) he crammed in school obligations took Betrayers on tour with The Lad Mags “where we didn’t eat like shit… and hemorrhage money the entire time” and are planning on a western European swing next spring.

And as for music he’s readying a few new tracks for a split 7-inch with Victoria’s The Backhomes and eventually he’s thinking of another full-length too. “We met [The Backhomes] touring out there and they’re incredible so we’ve gotta write something really good so that their side doesn’t completely blow ours away…. And we’re just grinding away and trying to get some more songs going for our next LP.

“The first one is still weighing heavily on my credit card so hopefully this time we can trick a label into paying for it.”