It would be easy to dub Danny Vacon the Al Waxman of Calgary.
We are, actually, in his Kensington neighbourhood local, the Oak Tree Tavern and he couldn’t be more at ease, more in his element.
Drinking a pint, wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates ballcap, buttoned-up plaid shirt and shades, the frontman for the city’s best, close to longest-running rock band The Dudes is very much the king of all he surveys — sitting on his pub throne, quick with a quip, quicker with a laugh.
“Yeah, I’m maybe dangerously content,” Vacon says. “I might even have gotten too good at living at near the bottom. It’s a little too easy now.
“I’m a completely happy person. I know that’s sometimes the death of some people’s art, contentedness, but I keep it difficult enough, I still got my difficulties and I get into my adventures and my troubles.”
Most of those come from the lady side of the ledger. Or the party side. Or both. At the same time. So often intermingled, intertwined.
As he is with a city that, with his talents as a songwriter and musician, he could have dusted off his sneakers early into his 20-plus year tenure with The Dudes — which also includes Matt Doherty, Brock Geiger and Bob Quaschnick — not to mention his side-projects Dojo Workhorse, HighKicks and a soon-to-be-realized solo outing.
But, as he sings on Forever Is Forever from his main band’s latest offering, East Side Good Times 5, “I’m in love with my city, but married to this party machine.”
“That’s probably the main reason for my contentment,” Vacon says. “I’m a happy man because I love leaving the house and not being able to not find a friend to go meet. There’s a handful of places I can go where there’s a high-five no matter what.
“I live in the very best city. I mean every city is probably the same if you stay there long enough, but I’ve stayed here long enough that I’ve fashioned like — it’s almost like one of those Family Circus maps where there’s a little trail of destruction behind him. I do a series of those and everything is going to be just dandy.
He laughs. “ ‘What was your night last night?’ ‘Well, let me draw you a little diagram.’ ”
Well, East Side Good Times 5 is probably a little less Billy and Jeffy than it is Ramon McGuire and Brian Smith.
In other words, it’s less Ida Know and Not Me than about espousing the need to Raise a Little Hell and the credo of We’re Here for a Good Time (Not a Long Time), all “singalongs, camaraderie.”
“See, thank you, that’s what I was going for, man,” he says with a laugh.
“Maybe not so much the Trooper thing, but, yeah, I just wanted this whole album to be a celebratory singalong …
“Hopefully if I did this right, every single song has that feeling of togetherness — kind of the arm-in-arm, drunk, those swaying back and forth pub anthems. Even in the ballads, it’s like, ‘Come on, we can cry together.’ So, yeah, that was the goal.”
Achieved. Fuck to the yes.
The 11-track anthemic offering is what memories are built around and quickly forgotten because of the booze and dope and dizziness. If it doesn’t make you happy, make you raise a glass, raise another, another, and another, make you want to see the sunrise through glassy eyes then you’ve never listened to a Cheap Trick or Weezer record on repeat, never skinny dipped late night in a community pool, never puked, fucked or fought on the best of many nights of your life.
And you’re probably a dick.
The album, which Vacon reckons has been completed for at least the past year-and-a-half, was recorded almost three years ago at an alpaca farm just outside of Kelowna because, as Vacon says, it “was essential that we got the hell out of the city.”
Makes sense, when you take into account Vacon’s many other bands, his other Bil Keane antics that take his attention away.
“Or Matt’s flipping through his Tinder, like, ‘When’s my drum session over? I’ve got a lot of swipes to do,’ ” he says with a laugh.
“But it was for all of those reasons: get out of the city, get away from the distractions. And it was an absurd studio, the same price you’d be paying for something in town and they put you up in a goddamn house and you hang out with the alpacas in the morning and drive a little golf cart up to the studio through a winding forest road.
“It was really f-ing cool.”
The album was produced by local kingmaker Kirill Telichev and polished up further by Grammy Award winner Chris Shaw who is, as Vacon says, “a dream mixer — if there is such a thing,” having worked on classic albums by such notables as Bob Dylan, Public Enemy, Sheryl Crow, Sloan, Ice Cube, Wilco, Ween, and, perhaps more in The Dudes’ wheelhouse, Weezer’s Blue Album.
They will finally release it Friday, Dec. 22, with their annual The Dudes Christmas Special at The Palace — it will be available for digital purchase the next day.
As to what was responsible for the long lag time — hell, the last thing they released was the 2012 EP Barbers, Thieves and Bartenders — part of that was because of all of those aforementioned distractions and side-projects, but mainly it was because the band had been shopping the album to labels.
“No bites,” says Vacon resignedly, The Dudes eventually releasing it on their own label, confident that the other people they have in their team as well as the songs and their reputation would help push it out there.
Actually, songs and skill aside, reputation is perhaps part of the reason that there were no takers on the label side of things — and not in an entirely bad way.
Vacon explains his relationship with a head of one of the country’s major labels, noting that they’ve been “pals for years … (but) she’s never tried to help me and I’ve never asked her.”
He relates a story of hanging out with her in a bar in Toronto, when a mutual friend approached them.
“He comes up to her and says, ‘Why don’t you help this guy out, for crissakes, why don’t you manage him or something?’
“And she says, ‘This man is completely unmanageable.’ ”
He laughs. “So I think that’s my reputation going around, ‘Yeah, you’re not going to get this dude to do anything you say.’ Ah, fair enough, fair enough.”
He tells another tale. “Our old agent, maybe 10 or 12 years ago was like, ‘Hey, man, you boys gotta crank out more songs, this success is not going to keep rolling if you just sit around and just watch it happen.’
“That’s not not true,” he says and laughs again. “That’s my specialty, sitting around and watching it happen. And we just continue to grow and grow.”
And East Side Good Times 5 should only continue The Dude’s growth, hopefully further their slow, sure ascension in the Canadian rock ranks thanks to production and mixing that make it as world class and radio friendly as anything that’s come out of this city in the past two decades.
But ask Vacon and, well, he’s not quite ready to celebrate success just yet.
“The self doubt in me is always going to question the songwriting,” he says. “ Like, ’Hey, man, keep yourself on your toes.’ ”
He pauses. “Hey. Maybe I’m not content.”
But still the king.
The Dudes Annual Christmas Special takes place Friday, Dec. 22 at The Palace. Danny Vacon’s Night Church takes place New Year’s Eve at the Ironwood.
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 theYYSCENE.com. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.