Music

Hangman Pencil Co. Sketches Sweet Songs

Graham Teare

When Graham Teare, singer, guitarist, and songwriter for Calgary band Hangman Pencil Co. started attending Tom Phillips’ Sunday jams at the now defunct Mikey’s Juke Joint, patrons often looked at him askance.

“I’d get up on stage with a toque on and a punk rock t-shirt, and I could see the audience going, ‘Oh, shit, why do we have to put up with this guy?’” Teare says as he sits beside bandmate David Hoffart in a library study room on the west side of Calgary.

But then Teare would invite musicians like Dwight Thompson from The Men of Constant Sorrow and other veteran musicians up to do old country covers. 

Hoffart, a mandolin player and a longtime member of Tom Phillips’ Men of Constant Sorrow, eventually approached Teare to ask him to form a group together with Alexsandra Danicic.

This month, the group celebrate the release of their first album, As Dark As It Seems, at the Ironwood Stage & Grill May 31. 

The songs began the way many do, coaxed from riffs, ideas, inspiration and air, but somewhere during the process they were stamped with an intoxicating blend of urgency, beauty and darkness. 

While the songs are the stars here, the classically trained Danicic — whose talents range from teaching at Mount Royal University’s Conservatory to street busking — provides an innate sense of drama and balance. Her violin is the unspoken lead instrument on the album.

“I’m in no way a learned musician,” Teare says. “Playing with those two was a quick little education.”

But what Teare missed in musical training he made up for in melodies and lyrics, with lines like “A shadowbox tube radio and a sackful of letters/And a warm place to dry your eyes” grabbing you from first listen. He leaves room for the listener by not boxing them in too much; you find pieces of your life inside those lines. 

“I’ve always wanted to be a songwriter but I’ve always been like, I don’t think I could do this, or I’ve been kind of afraid of it.”

In recording, they augmented their sound with Hidden World studio owners pianist Ben Taillefer and bassist Julian Iafelice, who joined the band after playing on the tracks. Most were captured in one take, a testament to the songs’ mettle. So why had Teare been afraid of songwriting?

“I don’t know, just coming off corny, or something being really cheesy, or, even worse than that, just being so run of the mill. I’d rather be really bad or really good. I don’t want to be mediocre. I’d rather somebody hated it or loved it.”

No danger of brushes with mediocrity on this album. As Hoffart says, “I do think our band has a distinct sound.” Teare adds, “In no way do we think we are reinventing the wheel, but I don’t know anybody that sounds just like us.”

Hangman Pencil Co. release their album, As Dark As It Seems at the Ironwood Stage & Grill May 31. For information, visit ironwoodstage.ca.