Music

Reunited Calgary punk vets Downway move forward with no regrets with first album in almost two decades

Five minutes talking about lawn care and potted plants.

That’s how an interview begins when both parties are, er, experienced? Veteran? Or, fuck it, old.

The subject is not necessarily as “veteran” as the enquirer, but as he notes, “Once you’re over 35, you’re all the same age.”

Especially when you live in the suburbs and spending a morning moving the sprinkler around is considered not only an accomplishment but a life win.

“I’ve got a green thumb, too. When you plant something and vegetables, and grow your own lettuce you feel like a, I don’t know, a huge rock star,” Dave Pederson says.

“Like, ‘I made food! I’ve grown my own nutrition!’ ”

He’s also grown one of this city’s most enduring punk rock acts, fronting Downway from 1995 to 2004, when they toured the globe and spread their spiky melodicism to those who like to mosh and/or pogo.

Then, in 2017, he and the rest of the crew — Dave Holmes, Ryan Eagleson, and drummer Lyndon Strandquist, who replaced late and beloved original member Isaac Creasey — reformed originally for some reunion dates but with more in mind, albeit not the more permanent situation they now find themselves in.

“It kind of just got bigger,” Pederson says. “The plans changed. We got an invite to go tour Japan — we definitely weren’t going to say no, and what was, ‘Should we put out an EP?’ turned into, ‘You know what, it’s been 17 years since we’ve put out a record and if we’re actually going to do this and go start playing around the world,’ which we started doing, ‘We should be supporting a full record not three or five new songs …’

“Looking back, I’m so glad that we did because I feel like for that the people were waiting for new music from us, we gave them a whole bunch of it.”

And they did it in a better and more, um, mature way. 

Trying to capture the live sound and energy that they’ve always been known for, for the first time in their career they approached an album in a way that was more focussed and with a vision to reproducing that. They pre-recorded for a year in Pederson’s basement before heading into Echo Base Studios with Casey Lewis to lay down what would eventually become the exceptional and ironically titled Last Chance for More Regrets.

It’s a sensational collection of oldish school punk tunes — the musicianship is ridiculous — with all of the members contributing to the excellence.

One of the highlights is the tune Punk OG, which was written by Holmes and beautifully sums up the ’90s punk experience that birthed Downway, referencing and paying homage to such inspirations as the Cadillac Tramps, NOFX, Big Drill Car and fellow locals Belvedere, and which also “starts with an All riff and ends with an All Riff.”

For Pederson he thought it was an album that was important that it didn’t feature them committing the crime of Downway “mailing it in.”

“I don’t think we’d do this if it wasn’t important to us,” he says. “The last thing we want to do is just come out and put out a bunch of crap.”

He laughs. “After 17 years, I wouldn’t use the word ‘legacy’ to describe our band, like we’re a punk rock band from Calgary, but in our minds that would have sullied the whole thing.”

And while they most certainly haven’t don’t that, does Pederson think they’ve moved things forward and that they’re part of the contemporary punk rock conversation in 2019?

“You know, no,” he says simply. “Do I think it fits into what punk music is doing right now, it doesn’t. And I think it might be because it’s a mid-’90s skate punk album.

“And that kind of sound isn’t relevant with newer bands, there’s a lot of bands who still know how to do it really well — whether it’s Fat Wreck Chords or Epitaph bands, who still do it really well — but a lot of the newer, younger bands sound nothing like we do. It’s weird, because it’s an old sound but it’s fresh, because it’s not what’s coming out.”

As to whether or not he feels what Downway is doing now more than 20 years after it started is still something people want to hear, Pederson admits it matters but not as much as it did when he first started to band.

“That’s kind of a two-sided coin,” he says. “Do we all feel like, ‘Fuck it, we’re back,’ yes, we do. Do all of us know that there’s that there’s no chance of us hitting the road and — we’re not trying to make it, quote, unquote, or anything like that. You know, back in the day we were trying to make a life out of this, turn it into our jobs, but, God, no, I’m not trying to do that now.”

“Our rule basically is 10 days is the maximum amount of days we’re going to be on tour. I don’t care if flippin’ Led Zeppelin got back together and asked us to play for a month and a half, we couldn’t do it.”

He laughs. “I don’t think Led Zeppelin fans would like us, but anyways everyone in this band has two kids, everyone is either married or has been married, every single one of us has a full-time job, so to me in my early 40s, to think that you’re going to become a full-time touring band, that’s completely unrealistic, so let’s take it once step down and say, ‘Hey, what if we go on tour for maybe a total of four weeks in a year? How amazing and what blessing it would be to do that.’ 

“So that’s what we’re doing.”

He points to recent week-long tours of Japan and Quebec and Ontario, with a brief fall West Coast tour planned as well as a European jaunt booked for early next year.

“We’ve just got to be selective in when we’re do these things,” he says.

“And to be really honest, Mike, we just did seven shows in seven days, and I think that’s about as much as I can do right now.

“I am not 25 years old any more. By the seventh show I was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ I’m not glad this tour is over, but, man, we used to do six weeks with two days off, there’s no chance I could ever do that again.’ “

Not when the the lawn needs tending to. But then again, that is now officially on the back burner, again, because of Downway.

“I could look at it like this: Did I stop playing punk rock because I got old or did I get old because I stopped playing punk rock?” Pederson says.

“I think I’ve got my answer now.

“So I think we’ll be doing this for a few more years.”

Downway performs Friday, March 31 at Dickens.

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