Ask not for whom White Cowbell toils. It toils for thee
by Craig Silliphant
White Cowbell Oklahoma
Toronto’s infamous White Cowbell Oklahoma has a ZZ Top-meets-Gwar brand of insanity. “More cowbell?” Eff that. WCO audiences say “more chainsaw, please.”
But let’s back up about 15 years, to a Toronto not so different from that of today. Clem Clemsen and a few other guys were bored, and sick of a music scene that offered nothing fun, no spectacle.
“We wanted big rock shows,” says Clemsen. “We wanted bombast. We wanted to see things that were too many things — maximization. We were really into southern rock, ’cause those bands had like two drummers and several guitar players. They had too many of everything. We wanted to take too many of everything and make it way too many of everything. So at our first shows, we had like, nine lead guitar players and three drummers, you know?”
For the most part, the press hated them. They couldn’t get any coverage, which only made them dig in their heels more.
“[The Toronto music press are] historically cooler than thou and they just didn’t want anything to do with us,” says Clemsen. “So we were like, okay, so we’ll just put up five times more posters than everybody else. We would go to NOW magazine, because they were so cruel to us at the time. We’d cover up their building with our posters, their front door. They’d have to cut through the posters to get into their building in the morning. We’d go to North by Northeast and blow fireballs over the executives’ heads to make them shit their pants. They hated that we existed! And that we existed without their help.”
White Cowbell Oklahoma haul their madness onto the stage, and have been banned from more than one venue for leaving a swath of destruction in their wake.
“We embrace the chaos,” Clemsen says. “We never really know what’s going to happen. People who come to the show don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s times when a chainsaw comes out and chainsaws a bunch of crap, people go insane on drugs and they wake up in a ditch next to a sasquatch.”
While having an insane stage show can be reason to see a band, it’s not enough if the music just isn’t there. When touring Europe a few years back they started to notice that audiences were applauding their solos as well as their fireballs. Their music was overlooked for a long time, says Clemsen, but WCO have struck a balance between the music and the show.
“People seem to think that you have to choose between the two. Journalists will say that they’re a show band, or they’re musical. If you work as hard as White Cowbell Oklahoma does, you can actually be great performers and songwriters and put on an astounding show! It’s actually possible! You just have to have boundless energy and take immense amounts of crystal meth.”
White Cowbell Oklahoma brings its Jager-fueled caravan to the prairie for their 15th anniversary tour, hitting McNally’s on the 27th — the day this issue comes out (so hopefully you don’t miss it). Clemsen can’t resist one more chance to go into hyper-man mode, with a warning to the wise.
“McNally’s is going to shudder. We’re coming with The Paceshifters, who are exploding in the Netherlands right now. Big John Bates from Vancouver is gonna be there. The question is: is McNally’s gonna be there the following day?”
We’re guessing it will, but the possibility it won’t is delicious.