No rest for the Wicked

After stints in other people’s bands Matt Learoyd takes the front spot

When we reach the end of our conversation with Matt Learoyd — the guitarist-singer for brand new oddball pop outfit Wicked Healing — he offers a curious question. “How’d I do?” he asks. “Did you know this was the first time I’ve ever been interviewed for anything? I’ve conducted dozens of interviews but I’ve never been on the receiving end. Did I sound nervous?”

No he didn’t — for his part he’s an affable articulate interview. But such questions aren’t surprising: Learoyd a one-time Fast Forward Weekly music critic isn’t yet used to being a band’s focal point. That’s not to say he’s a newbie — he’s spent years around the local music scene. We remember him best as the bassist for Stalwart Sons a staple in Calgary’s post-hardcore circles. That project however was the brainchild of the walrus-mustached Kevin Stebner; Wicked Healing has Learoyd standing in the spotlight.

“Well I wouldn’t say I’m in the spotlight. Being in the spotlight requires fame and attention which I have none of” he says with a laugh. “But being in Stalwart Sons for so long was great. I toured did all the stuff you do with a band and developed my own ideas of what I wanted in a band and how I wanted to run it. But Stalwart was Kevin’s baby because he was writing all the songs and setting up the shows. Part of me wanted to see what I could do if I set out on my own. I wanted to give these songs a whirl.”

Learoyd for his part had been writing oddball pop songs since he was 16. But until a trip to the U.S. South — where he spent months on farms in rural Alabama and Texas — he’d never had the focus to start a project. After his time beyond the Mason-Dixon though he returned to Calgary in March 2013 with a sense of purpose: He quit his then-job quit Stalwart Sons and moved apartments. And that’s where Wicked Healing’s story begins.

“I just started a new chapter” he says. “I hadn’t been writing songs solidly before but in the year leading up to starting Wicked Healing I’d been writing a lot more and getting a lot more interested in playing guitar. I was getting better technically and finishing songs. Some friends showed interest [in the project] so I took that as a sign to push the start button.”

Those friends as it turns out are also Calgary scene stalwarts — pardon the pun — who in Wicked Healing are trying their hands at new instruments. Feel Alright songwriter Craig Fahner mans the drums; Nicolas Field (of La Luna and Modern Aquatics) is the lead guitarist; Dan Godin who Learoyd jammed with in high school plays bass. Learoyd for his part is impressed with the band’s chemistry: Wicked Healing he says wants to be “all over the place” weaving disparate concepts into the space of single songs.

Of the three demos he sends us too he’s on point: The band weaves quirked-up pop sensibilities post-punk dynamics and even kraut-inspired motorik into their songs all without feeling like sensory overload. “I want to have lots of ideas lots of different sounds” adds Learoyd. “Part of it was intentional but part of it was feeling each other out.

“I’d never played these songs with people so [I went to the band] and was like ‘Here you go. What can we do with this?’ The result was all over the place but it’s given us options in the direction we want to take. I still don’t know what’s ultimately going to be the Wicked Healing sound.’”

It’s partially why Learoyd doesn’t share a sonic foundation for the band. He does however express fondness for Halifax-bred bands like Each Other and Sheer Agony — bands who shapeshift from song to song without losing their identity. That wide-lens approach to songcraft makes Wicked Healing undoubtedly exciting — and while they don’t have any hard-copy releases to date Learoyd’s hoping to crystallize a release for this summer recorded by Fahner (who’s been stockpiling recording equipment and sharpening his studio skills).

And heck he doesn’t even know how those recordings will turn out. “I’m over the idea of making music my career. I have a full-time job I have no intention of quitting” he says. “I’m still open to it being a full-time thing but the last thing I want is to be a local band who endlessly plays Calgary — there’s not enough shows or places to play or bands to play with without burning yourself out.

“I don’t want music to be a flash-in-the-pan thing I did when I was young before I got old and boring” he continues. “I want to play in weird pop bands for as long as possible. We’re focusing on making these songs as good as possible. All I’m concerned about is making good art.”