People think being on the road with a rock band is glamorous, but that’s because most people’s images come from documentaries about huge arena rock bands. Private jets, lavish tour buses, wild backstage parties. Reality is, when you’re a young, fairly unknown band on a self-supported tour, there’s not a lot of glamour to it. “We had a bit of a vehicle breakdown but just got it fixed. We’re going back to get it now and to keep on trucking with the tour,” says Matt Stanley, lead vocalist/guitarist/driving force behind The Decoys. The band was on a tour of Canada, their home country, when Stanley phoned in. When told that the hiccup would make good writing material for their next album, Stanley replies “Yeah, luckily, I tend to romanticize everything anyway. My fantasy probably works out to my advantage mentally.”
In this ultra-competitive era where everyone is on their devices seemingly 24/7 and people’s attention spans are often timed in seconds, creative artists have to use any advantage to stand out from the crowd. Promotion materials will often compare a newer band to a more famous artist in hopes of grabbing a journalist’s attention. In this case, the pitch read “For fans of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Cars, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Pearl Jam.” The Ramones also could have easily been added to that list—all of which are pretty heady company for a three-piece band based in the city of Kamloops, British Colombia.
But guess what…their new album, In Our Blood, actually lives up to that hype. The songs are well-written, produced, and will appeal to anyone who likes old rock, new country, blues, grunge…you get the picture. Just as important, the album flows nicely without coming across as “let’s throw everything on the wall and see what sticks.”
According to Stanley, “I have this tendency to kind of worry. With this album, I was definitely the primary songwriter. So naturally, when I bring things in, I do get nervous that I’m bringing the band stuff that sounds the same. So it’s nice to hear that people are finding it to be a pretty eclectic collection of tunes that are unique to themselves. That’s good to know. My natural neurotic worries immediately assume all songs must sound the same and whatever.”
“It wasn’t really intentional. I just knew there was other genres that I kind of wanted us to try experimenting with. I think it probably still ended up being more rock and roll than I had anticipated it would end up being. I think I probably thought it would end up being a bit more folky or a bit more country rock, but the vision is getting a bit more focused and clearer. I think every album we do, we’ll probably be able to get that vision a little bit more clear.”
“And as far as songwriting goes, I’ve always admired people like John Lennon and Bob Dylan who poured their souls into their music and were honest. At some point I realized that was the music that I love the most. Sometimes it’s awkward for me to be like, ‘oh, I don’t know if I want people to hear this song.’ Maybe they’ll take the lyrics the wrong way or whatever if they do pay that much attention. But I think it’s important. If you’re honest and real in your lyrics and in the songs, then maybe people can be a bit more vulnerable to it and be willing to embrace that music, because they can relate to it that way. That’s the music I love, and that’s I think the kind of music we tried to make with this album.”
Stanley and his bandmates hail from Kamloops, British Colombia. Those unfamiliar with Canadian geography might get a mental image of three guys sitting around a cast-iron stove in a mountain cabin, jamming on acoustic instruments and writing songs. Nice romantic image, but not exactly the truth. Kamloops is actually fairly large; with a population of around 90,000. Still, some of that wilderness vibe soaks into their philosophy on writing and recording.
“We’re an up and coming band. So obviously, financially, we don’t have a record label that’s giving us the time and the space to do what we want to do. When we’re in the studio, there’s a clock there, and you’re very aware that time is money, which can be productive too. But I think certainly we’re pretty laid back, kind of BC semi-hippies. We like that approach to recording where…I always talk about Bob Dylan and the band at Woodstock doing the tapes where they’re down in that basement. There’s a dog on the floor. They’re all sitting around, and they’re just jamming and creating without any great expectation of where the material goes…maybe it won’t come out, or maybe it will. Who knows? Let’s just experiment and see what we can get.”
“So naturally, we ended up building our own recording studio at my drummer, Sean Poissant’s place. He has a weird shop in the back behind his house, so we built a recording studio in there. We bought a reel-to-reel and a tape machine and the whole thing. We kind of taught ourselves how to record on tape, and we took our time. That’s why it’s been five years since our last release. I think we had a lot of these songs ready a couple of years ago, but we took our time and tried to do it ourselves and make it as pure a creative output as we could.”
The band is a three-piece, composed of what Stanley jokingly calls “Matt and the Seans.” There’s Sean Poissant, and then the bass player is Sean Schneider. Many smaller bands will augment the lineup with touring musicians or backing tracks to better replicate their studio recordings, but Stanley doesn’t buy into that philosophy.
“Well, I think we’re of the school that the recorded stuff, the studio stuff, that’s one thing, and the live show is a totally different thing. And I do like the idea of us not trying to recreate the album when we play it live. Some bands are like that. They’ll play with additional musicians, or they’ll play to a click track and have a backing track for keyboard parts or whatever. I’ve always liked it when you listen to a live album, and it doesn’t just sound like the greatest hits played at a slightly faster tempo. I like it that it’s its own unique thing and its own unique performance.”
“Some people aren’t 100% like that. They certainly want it to be as close to the recording that they love. But like I said, we’re of that school where we try to make it our own unique thing when we do it live. As a three-piece, certain things are taken out. And there’s a lot of playing to the air, I guess, in the room where a lot of it is what you’re not playing and using the silence as its own color in the grand scheme of things. I have heard that we sound like we’re bigger than a three-piece, which is kind of the beauty of it. If you’re attempting to do the power trio thing, if you get into the groove of it, you can get this really huge powerful sound. A lot of bands are like that, and even bands that you don’t think of them as a three-piece, say like Led Zeppelin where Robert Plant was not playing an instrument. That was three guys creating that sound. Jimmy Page was certainly a guitar army with one guitar. But in the studio, it was countless overdubs. It’s all about the performance.”
Ever since the birth of rock & roll in the early ‘60’s, the United States has been the prize for bands outside the country. Everyone from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin have “invaded” the U.S. to further their exposure. Having recently completed their Canadian tour, The Decoys are now setting their sights on the U.S. “I have a feeling when we do finally get our working visas and we get down there, we’ll probably start with a West Coast tour and maybe go down to San Diego and back. We can call it ‘The I-5 tour,’” laughs Stanley.
Good idea, Matt…let’s just hope the van makes it this time.