Music

For Life: Calgary punk vets Julius Sumner Miller keep those old-school, belligerent, bonfires burning with new album Try It Out

You know. You can smell it.

You can sense it.

A lifer. Live-er. Forever.

Days, months, years, decades, a lifetime, it’s a way of life for those who mean it and truly live it.

The old punk rock.

Doesn’t matter how old you get, how suburban the lifestyle, how mundane you sometimes feel and feel like being, you is or you ain’t; and if you once was, you always is.

Longtime booker, promoter and artist Darren Ollinger — dressed in the eternal-youth uniform of ball cap and hoodie — sits sipping a pint in the dartboard back of the Ship, acknowledging where he is at in his life, but also proud as fuck as to what he still is and doing with his life. 

Even if his kids think he’s lame. Ish.

Perhaps they’re too soft for the punk rock life.

“They probably just think it’s stupid,” Ollinger says

“My kids are 13 and 11 now and they could care less about my music,” he continues. “But they’re actually impressed when you show them the actual vinyl …

“So it’s neat, now I’m in the process of trying to encourage my daughter to start listening to punk rock so she can start telling her friends that her dad’s in a band and maybe that will sell some records.”

Every little bit helps when it comes to the new, coloured-vinyl release (got me the creamsicle) from his longtime, local, old-school troupe Julius Sumner Miller. That latest, Try It Out, is a 12-tune, roof thumper that preaches loudly and proudly to the punk rock vet or recently converted, invited to the party by the Alls, Black Flags, DOAs, DKs, SNFUs and Descendents that gob among us.

Eight years and four albums into things, the band is established and Ollinger is who he is, even if that’s not the path his, er, offspring want to take.

“Punk rock’s not a fad anymore,” he says simply about his life and his charges. “I’ve given them a good life so I don’t see them finding the route of punk rock for the reasons me or you might have when we were kids.”

Those reasons — anger, resentment, middle-class malaise, shock, aggression, frustration, social and political awakenings — still fuel Ollinger and the rest of the JSM crew, which also features Scott Burton, The Sean Hamilton, Monty Montebon and Glen Murdock.

You can hear it in the dozen daggers that make up Try It Out, with songs that range from: the sweetly pernicious Don’t Believe In Anime, which is, he says, simply “a list of things I think are dumb”; the silly statement Cheap Parmesan, which lifts the verse from a Crass song and most definitely, not even kind-of, totally doesn’t encourage unsatisfied Albertans to lob a brick of bad cheese at Jason Kenney’s melon; to Leave the Key, written after the settlement of a $9-million lawsuit Ollinger was faced with when a patron was injured at the former all-ages club he ran in Inglewood, The New Black; and the rousing, singalong-when-we’re-ready-again This Town Sucks.

That latter track is a common theme running through JSM’s, or rather lyricist Ollinger’s, songs, him offering an insider’s view of local indie- and punk-rock promotion, and band life, which isn’t always glowing.

“I live it,” he says. “I’m not part of anything. In my world, I am that content that I create.

“And it’s not out of malice or anything. I write most of stuff out of what I know, what frustrates me, excites me.

“A song like This Town Sucks is probably about Calgary, but I bet you that would really be relatable in Thunder Bay or Winnipeg or Regina or Vancouver or any local scene.”

He admits it’s all done with tongue firmly planted in cheek, heart on sleeve.

“Yeah, this town sucks but I also love this town, and because I love it I can say that it sucks, so there’s an ownership that not too many people are allowed to have, and I have given myself permission.”

And JSM have increasingly given themselves permission to stretch out of the total DIY, punk-rock approach and aesthetic, stepping up their sonic game consistently over the past decade (Ollinger joking this is their prog record). 

This, their fourth album was recorded during last April’s early lockdown, with the band bunkered down with producer Josh Rob Gwilliam in the somewhat opulent OCL Studios just outside of town, for four days and three nights. (“It was like, the world is coming to an end and we’re sitting in a mansion,” he says.) 

And after that bonding and laying down of blissful belligerence, the album was then sent south of the border to be mastered by Stephen Egerton, from hardcore legends the Descendents and All — two of Ollinger’s all-time fave bands; and an obvious influence on their reverential, throwback sound (despite the fact he admits none of his bandmates are as to-the-death as he is, when it comes to punk).

Which brings us to perhaps the most bizarrely poignant and fitting moment on the record, the quintet’s cover of SNFU classic Drunk on a Bike — a tune JSM has covered for ages, sidelining it only on the four or five occasions they actually opened for the Edmonton legends. 

In its soul and in its heart, it’s a nice tribute to fellow lifer, the late singer, songwriter and true punk pioneer Chi Pig.

Ollinger’s admiration and affection for Mr. Pig is obvious, as he describes the one time he’d booked SNFU into the Ship, and the doormen stopped their singer because the bouncers thought he was, “legit a homeless man,” Ollinger says with a laugh. “And somebody had to come get me, and I had to explain to management that this was our main attraction tonight.

“They didn’t believe me, but listened to me, and the place was packed and it was an epic show.”

And while all the old punks can raise a glass, acknowledge the fallen, those who came before, they can also take heart in the fact there are still old punks out there keeping the bonfire burning.

“The real punk rockers,” Ollinger says, “and I’m not using that as an elitist term, but the people that do it are in it forever. It’s never been a fad for me, it’s never been a fad for Chi — it’s just what (we) know and what (we) do.”

“I love the energy of it, the adrenaline of it, the drive of it, the party fun of it and I have yet to find any other form of music or friends that works for me.”

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