Music

Calgary musical couple ‘gets down to it’ with new, pandemic, power-pop project Self-Cut Bangs

On weekend mornings, some couples like to lie in bed and do the crossword puzzle while drinking coffee and eating croissants.

Others head to the gym or a yoga class and get their sweat on together.

And others, well, others are a little more productive, and over eight separate Saturdays they record an entire album of crunchy, pleasing pop together.

Not all of us, though, are Calgary indie rock power couple, Cayley O’Neill and Shawn Petsche — she of arty psych act Dark Time, he of anthemic small “s” stadium gods Napalmpom.

On Friday, Sept. 18, the pair will drop their eponymous release as Self-Cut Bangs — a cotton candy swirl of three-minute sugar rushes delivered in a peppy, punchy, 25-minute package. 

Not surprisingly, the nine-song offering is very much a product of the pandemic during which it was created — in both tone and tenor, but not in the way that you might think. 

Sitting in Inner City Brewing’s taproom munching on a grilled cheese sandwich, O’Neill admits that pre-lockdown the two artists had “dabbled in writing together,” with good yet mixed results.

“It quickly became maybe a bad idea because we were like, ‘Who gets the song?’ It was like, ‘That’s a good song, I want it,’ and he was like, ‘It’s for Napalmpom …’ 

“And then COVID happened,” she says. “COVID made the decision for us.”

It was borne out of frustration at the fact they couldn’t jam with their other bandmates, Petsche calling the sonic coupling “accidental,” albeit a happy one at that. 

“We started writing songs just to pass the time,” he says. “There was no intention of becoming a band or releasing it. It was just like, ‘What are we going to do Saturday? Sunday we’re going for a drive to the hills, what are we going to do Saturday? Let’s write a song.’ 

“Two or three songs in, it was like, ‘Yeah we should keep doing this, and we should probably do it right because it’s starting to sound pretty good.’ ”

For an accidental musical relationship, it’s a remarkably defined sound. O’Neill’s vocals — a sweet mix between Neko Case and Debbie Harry — leading the riffs into a pop pool that recalls everyone from Sonic Youth and The Vaselines to The Waitresses or anything off the Valley Girl soundtrack, and, more importantly, unlike anything the pair have approached in their other incarnations.

For the project, the only guide, Petsche says, was that the music and everything around it be an “escape” — from their other acts, from the boredom …

“From everything,” he says. “Just the Groundhog Day-ness, the uncertainty around work and health and everything, it was just a dreary time to be making music and I wanted — instead of channelling that into creativity it was, ‘I’m going to escape from that and have something to look forward to every Saturday, so for at least 10 hours I’m going to be excited.”

“And I kind of saw it as maybe more of a challenge and a way to stretch myself artistically,” O’Neill says.

To do that, she chose to meet her partner halfway in the pop world, she listening to a lot of AC/DC, Tom Petty, ZZ Top and Thin Lizzy and developing more of “a rock persona when I was writing.”

“It ended up being a way for me to freely explore something I never would have done, ever … It was really neat to be freed that way,” she says.

As for their writing processes, those were as different as their backgrounds and influences, the pair starting the skeleton of a song, usually first thing on Sat morn, at around 7:30 after a quick cuppa tea. Then, O’Neill needing solitary time, would go for a drive while Petsche wandered around their apartment, with headphones on — being respectful of their neighbours — coming up with tasty guitar licks and drum parts to program. She would then come back, go record vocals and, her partner says, transform the songs into the pop nuggets that appear on the album, which was eventually mixed by Lorrie Matheson.

Sometimes it was easy, other times, such as on the rifftastic closer Dying Is An Art — you can literally hear her eyes roll as Petsche describes his need to get his ya-yas out on that track — it really was a challenge to make it the hooky little number it is. 

Lyrically, the singer says she was following the lead of the music, also wanting the words to act as an escape, her exploring different archetypes, of everything from tricksters to athletes, but with the need for it to be as catchy and earwormy as possible.

“The thing we joked about is you write the verse as a chorus so when it comes time to write the chorus it has to be a super-chorus,” says Petsche with a laugh. “If every part’s a chorus you’ve got a pretty catchy song.”

Nine of them. Which makes Self-Cut Bangs a surprisingly immediate and insistent album, one that allows for that escape you, they, all of us are craving, even if it’s only for a brief and breezy amount of time.

“It’s not a road trip album,” O’Neill says of the quick stop-and-start nature of the record as a whole, “but a city driving album.”

“You want an immediate connection with an audience,” Petsche says expanding on the idea. “Especially now, it makes sense … like, let’s get down to it.”

(Photos courtesy Hero Images.)

Self-Cut Bangs is available Friday, Sept. 18 from their Bandcamp page.

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