More bands should have French Canadian Motown-style singers

by Aidan Morgan

photo by Aidan Morgan

musicThe Harpoonist And The Axe Murderer
The Exchange
Thursday 9

There’s an unspoken rule when you’re interviewing Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers, a.k.a. Vancouver blues rock band The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer: don’t ask them about their name.

Or at least, don’t start with a comment about the band’s name. I was spared that blunder in the first minute of meeting the band, when a passerby walked up to Shawn Hall and said, “Man, you’ve got a weird name.”

“You mean Shawn?” he replied. “Yeah, it’s pretty weird.”

I had a better question set up. In fact, I had a goal, which was to get them to sing (or even hum) the very first tune that the duo had ever performed together.

Did I make it happen? Did my Harpoonist-and-Axe-Murderer-interview-related dreams come true? Does the band prefer Def Leppard over Chopin? So many questions, which I asked them during a break between their afternoon workshop and main stage performance on the second day of the 2014 Regina Folk Festival.

I understand that you two met in 2006 while recording a jingle.

Shawn: [after a slight disoriented pause, because who the hell asks a blues band at a folk music festival about a jingle] That… is correct.

Matthew: We met through a mutual friend. Shawn was writing a jingle for a Jamaican pizza restaurant… and…

Shawn: [breaking out into song] J.P. Jamaican Pizza Jerrrk… [starts humming the rest of the tune]

That is glorious.

Matthew: And they hired me to play guitar. We ended up in variety of bands together over the years and eventually decided to form The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer.

Tell me about your musical interests and how they go into forming your sound. Do you share the same tastes or do they bounce off each other?

Matthew: Some of our tastes are the same. I’m really into Shostakovich while Shawn is more of a Chopin kind of guy.

Shawn: A mild, mild Def Leppard obsession. Which is not cool to admit in any publication.

Matthew: I refuse to play any more Def Leppard songs on the road.

I need to ask about the name.

Shawn: It’s pretty simple. “Axe” is a name for a guitar and “harpoon” is slang for harmonica, or mouth harp. Nothing too complicated.

Your latest studio album is A Real Fine Mess. What kind of influences did you bring into the studio for that one?

Matthew: I think we specifically set out to draw on ’70s funky blues. Stuff with a real groove and backbeat to it, like Albert King and Freddie King’s stuff. We also drew on music with big backup sounds, like Mad Dogs And Englishmen and Joe Cocker.

Shawn: We fell in love with how big the personalities were in the backup singers for Mad Dogs And Englishmen. We fell in love with that vibe. We weren’t trying to reproduce it necessarily, but we were trying to find our own version of that. So we discovered Chic Gamine, a group of vocalists from Winnipeg. I don’t know why more people don’t know about them. They’re like a French Canadian Motown-style band. Phenomenal singers. And we said that if we could sing with anybody, it would be a dream come true to sing with them. We brought them to work on the record in January and it gave the recording that vibe we were looking for.

The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer will play at The Exchange on Thursday, Oct. 9 with Miss Quincy. They refuse to play Def Leppard but might do the pizza jingle if you buy them a drink.