The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer prove bigger is substantially better with Apocalipstick

It’s fitting, really.

It kind of sums up the course and mindset of any Canadian touring band — in this case West Coast psych and funk blues-rockers The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer.

When I reach Shawn ‘“The Harpoonist” Hall, the band are just getting set to kick off the cross-country tour to support their recently released album Apocalipstick in a rather appropriately named town in their home province.

“You start out with Hope,” he says drily, “and then you end in Toronto.”

Well, actually, they end with what should be a homecoming show at Vancouver’s legendary Commodore Ballroom, but they’ll fly back there after traversing the nation with a hotly anticipated jaunt which brings them to the Royal Canadian Legion #1 on this Friday night.

It will feature the band as you’ve never seen them in a way that you’ve never heard them — bigger and better than ever, in keeping with the direction of that new album, which takes them further away from their more stripped-down and basic blues beginnings.

“It is a big damn record,” Hall agrees about the fifth album recorded with his partner in noise Matthew “The Axe Murderer” Rogers. 

“It requires a big thirsty and hungry appetite for moods. Because it’s there to envelop a great deal — or pull a lot of moods out of you, I should say.”

That it does thanks largely to lots of influences and textures that are incorporated into Apocalipstick.

It’s a fucking wonderfully rich, salty, nasty, dirty, greazy gumbo of sounds and styles that recalls, from one song to the next, from one moment to another, everyone from Blues Traveler to Alabama Shakes to The Heavy to The Black Keys to T. Rex.

And as a result, the record is the biggest, baddest thing the band has done in its decade-plus career. It’s audacious as hell and has more swagger than any NFL draft class

Hall, HAM’s vocalist and harmonica man, credits that to the fact that with this album there were three songwriters in the mix — he, guitarist Rogers and his bro Ben — bringing in material that was coming from three different places.

To cram those visions into one that was as coherent, remarkably focussed as it turned out is something that he admits was perhaps the most challenging aspect of making the 13-track hotrod hum.

“It is hard to keep the focus,” Hall says. “Because you’ve got three very, very distinct personalities, in the case of this record, writing, and we each came to it with 20 or 30 songs, or 20 or 30 ideas — some of them were more formed than others — and you end up wrestling in a general direction and you reach a point where you’re going to have to decide whether you’re going to go for more of a narrative … or whether you’re going to go down more of a black hole into the abyss and going to more emotional landscapes.

“We ended up taking a route that went for stronger song songs, where the lyrical narrative was probably as strong as it could be and … then once those were largely developed then they got taken straight into the acid lab. 

“If they were feeling too butterscotch, goody gumdrops on the way in then they got dragged through all of the layering.”

His contributions, though, were a great deal more direct.

While he says of his counterpart, “Matt likes going into the laboratory,” Hall says he was more about “capturing that spark in the moment” and even “method singing,” which meant that he was willing to stay up all night in the clubs before hitting the studio to lay down vocals if it suited the song.

“It did not always work,” he says and laughs. “There was a lot lot crash and burn, but there was also a lot of that chomping-at-the-bit, crazy frantic energy that comes from straight-up coming out of those places.” 

And Apocalipstick soars as a result. It certainly doesn’t suffer from or is weighed down by any of the “expectations” that there may have been as a result of the success of its predecessor, 2014’s A Real Fine Mess, which earned them a Juno nomination for Blues Album of the Year.

Hall says it would have been easy for them to have “gone down a moodier path to darker blues-rock” sound, but they wanted to open things up and go towards something grander, more celebratory and collaborative.

Other than the songwriting and instrumental assistance from Rogers’ sib Ben, the album also includes contributions from a whole host of friends from across the country, including John Raham from fellow left coasters The Be Good Tanyas, Geoff Hilhorst from Saskatooners The Deep Dark Woods and Alexa Dirks from Winnipeg project Begonia.

They continue that bigness with this tour, expanding from duo to quartet with the inclusion of drummer Patty Hamilton and funk-and-soul vocalist Dawn Pemberton.

It’s something Hall says The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer have earned and, frankly, deserve at this juncture in their career.

“Traditionally we are not the band that performs verbatim what people have heard on the record — people know that. Our live show is our live show and we got over that years ago. Every once in awhile people are frustrated that we’re not playing whatever they hear on the radio … but our live show is quite different,” he says.

“But for this record in particular and for this year … we’re trying to reproduce more of a larger sound to be close to the record. Not really exactly like the record … but we’re looking to produce a greater soundscape for this tour.

“We just needed to do something different for ourselves, creatively and for fans.

“I’m sure some people might be a little sad because it’s not just the two of us, but I think it’s going to pop some eyeballs out a little bit.”

The Harpoonist and the Axe Murdeer perform Friday night at the Royal Canadian Legion #1. For tickets go to

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at He likes beer. Buy him one.