Library Voices survives theft, floods, eviction and bigots

COVER by Hank Videoclip

photo by Chris Graham

Library Voices with Surf Dads and guests
The Exchange
Saturday 24

Carl Johnson almost lost his mind. A major brain injury at the hands of homophobic thugs forced the Library Voices singer to face the  possibility he might never make music again.

You lose, bigots: the band releases their new album LOVISH through Nevado Music on Nov. 6. And Library Voices — the veteran band made up of Michael Dawson, Amanda Scandrett, Mike Thievin, Paul Gutheil, Brennan Ross, Ethan Anderson and Johnson — is holding a release party for the record this month.

Library Voices has overcome more than just Johnson’s broken brains. Given the band’s ever-expanding history of calamities, the launch seems like an improbable achievement. Johnson, Dawson and Ross discussed their rotten luck and the new album during a recent series of IM interviews. But long story short: the beat goes on for Regina’s pop/rock outfit.

Brain-Damaging Bigots

Long-time Library Voices bass player Eoin Hickey-Cameron (who left the group earlier this year) was still celebrating his bachelor party on Saturday night, Sept. 28, 2013. That morning, the former O’Hanlon’s server had been physically “abducted” from his shift by a masked “gang” of friends who’d secretly arranged a day of fun and bachelor mayhem with their pal. By midnight, Eoin’s friend of eight years Carl Johnson, was helping him stagger from Leopold’s Tavern back to O’Hanlon’s. Band worries seemed trivial as the two talked about both Hickey-Cameron’s upcoming wedding and the imminent marriage of another Library Voices member, Paul Gutheil.

Unfortunately, this conversation was about to be cut short by thugs who apparently thought they’d found a gay couple to attack.

As Carl and Eoin (pronounced “Owen”) walked north on Cornwall St. south of the Hotel Saskatchewan, they passed a group of four, maybe six people (Johnson has difficulty remembering the exact details). Johnson says the gang called them “faggots,” “homos” and other hate-crime-type epithets.

The two friends insisted they didn’t want any trouble. But as they turned to leave, Johnson was sucker punched from behind. He was unconscious before he slammed into the ground.

He was later told Hickey-Cameron took a beating as he fell over Johnson’s unconscious body to shield him.

The attackers eventually got into a nearby white vehicle (possibly a Cadillac SUV, possibly a truck) and fled the scene. Hickey-Cameron dragged Johnson to the Scarth St. pub O’Hanlon’s for help, and Johnson was rushed to a hospital. He faced months of recovery for a brain injury.

No one was ever arrested.

After the attack, Johnson was unable to walk (he got nauseated if he tried) and needed morphine to feel even somewhat normal. Johnson’s sense of smell was permanently damaged from blood pooling in the front of his brain.

The injury also altered Johnson’s worldview.

“I think personally it made me more aware of what so many people around me go through,” Johnson says. “I’m a white, predominantly heterosexual, hairy male so I haven’t had to deal with much in the way of social and cultural barriers in my life, especially growing up in Estevan. The incident made me more sensitive to how marginalized groups such as the LGBT community, First Nations peoples, and women are in this province. It was important afterwards for me to react to that realization and make changes.”

Library Voices has a reputation for being unlucky. In 2009, their gear was stolen from their van in Vancouver. The following year, flooding in Regina wrecked their replacement instruments. Members have been robbed at knifepoint.

Another time, Johnson was evicted due to a mostly innocent but incriminating 2011 music video for the Summer Of Lust song “Generation Handclap”, in which the band destroyed a TV in the home he was renting.

But those events seemed trivial compared to Johnson’s injury.

A month and a half after that September night, Johnson was finally able to get out of bed for extended periods of time. Johnson and Hickey-Cameron went back to the scene where they were attacked. A bloodstain remained on the pavement.

“I couldn’t even listen to music for a while, let alone play it,” Johnson says about the recovery process. “I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to play or create again. I had to really work on it.”

Get The Groove Back

LOVISH is Library Voices’ first full album since Johnson’s trauma (although the band released the EP For John in spring 2014).

“It’s a bit hard for me to reconcile the making of LOVISH with any sort of tragic circumstances,” says Brennan Ross. “I mean, in some ways we worked together on this record better than we ever have, and [we] were sort of free to make a record that we’re all proud of.”

Michael Dawson, sending his interview answers from a plane somewhere over northern California, says making a record with seven people is always difficult but this one felt right.

LOVISH is very intentionally a collection of songs,” he says, “I still believe in the idea of an album, but that was out of our jurisdiction this time around so we pulled from a collection of ideas we had floating around to carve out a handful of songs we believe in.”

“We just gathered everything we had kicking around that we were each into and hit the holy-shit-let’s-get-this-all-down button,” says Johnson. “The process always changes. It was nice tracking the record at Soul Sound Studios in Regina with Orion Paradis and mixing at Dream House Studios in Toronto with Alex Bonenfant and David Plowman.”

Library Voices has released a number of singles ahead of LOVISH’s debut. At the time of this writing, those include the “Crimson and Clover”-inspired track “Oh Donna” and the horn-infused rock scorcher “Zzyzx.” The latter is named after a semi-legal health spa in California’s Mojave National Preserve that operated in the early 1970s. Both Ross and Dawson have made trips there.

“My angle on the song is that the guy who ran it was a doctor but also a scam artist and a fraud,” Dawson says. “I just wanted to tie that to a topsy-turvy love affair.”

With Oct. 19 federal election almost here, I asked the band what they thought of the election. In a September VICE interview, Dawson was asked what he would like to say to Harper given the chance. Dawson said, “I’d probably have a few questions. Like, why don’t you care about missing and murdered Aboriginal women?”

This time around, Dawson refrained from sharing his political views; however, Ross was clear about where his vote wasn’t going:“Anything but Harper is A-OK with me.”

And Johnson? “I think it’s important to at least have the country appear to be the accepting, tolerant and thoughtful archetype the majority of Canadians want this place to be,” he says.

Sounds like Carl’s brain is working just fine.