By Gabe Kastner
Drummer Mike Marshall, keyboardist Rob Condron, and guitarist Freek Siezenga of Toronto band Aceface are standing shivering, clenching Cokes and smoking cigarettes outside the doors of their rehearsal space, affectionately dubbed Ace Base. They are waiting for frontman Carl Nanders to show up at their practice space, west of Etobicoke, where they meet three nights a week to rock out in the spirit of mid-1960s Britain.
Marshall, a fourth-year radio and television arts student, has a distaste for mass media. He says Britney and Ricky are “background noise for the purpose of creating an advertising-friendly environment so that you will feel worse about yourself and feel that you have to go out and buy something until that niche in your life is filled without actually filling it.
“Because you gotta get the shoes, you gotta buy the pants, and you gotta buy all this. Don’t get me started on that social tip because I’m very antiadvertising and anticonsumerist.”
Marshall met keyboardist Condron when he needed a haircut. Condron is a hairstyle whose own coif features a fascinating flap of hair falling flawlessly over his forehead. As hip-looking people often do, they begin to discuss music while Mike’s brown curls floated to marble titles. Soon, Aceface had a new keyboard player.
Though Condron’s rock loyalties lie mostly with more recent British groups like The Smiths and Suede, he certainly looks the part for a band that takes after the Mod scene founded by The Who and Small Faces.
“As far as the clothes, you know you’re in a bit of trouble if your haircuts and your shoes are better than your songs,” he jokes. “But we do go along with the Mod ethic — a lot of us have working-class jobs and what makes us feel better is coming and playing music, you know? Dressing up and going out.”
Two years ago, guitarist Siezenga moved from a small town in Holland to the building west of Toronto where band leader Nanders lived. The band needed another guitarist, so Nanders began teaching Siezenga to play the Rickenbacker 330 that he generously donated to his new student and friend. Siezenga gleefully describes the instrument as “pretty much my dream guitar.”
As the three of them wait for the ever-tardy frontman to show up for the rehearsal/ interview, Marshall, Condron and Siezenga recount his colourful history. A former child prodigy and “one of the top ten violinists in Canada,” Nanders moved to Toronto from West Berlin. He plays countless instruments. “If he had ten pairs of arms,” Siezenga explains, “he wouldn’t need us.” Not that Nanders is a dictator. In fact, he encourages the band to write songs, but they’re usually content to leave that job to Nanders.
Just as the lakeshore stench is getting unbearable, Nanders arrives holding a coffee. He stumbles a little, exhausted from a day of map-making at the cartographic company where he is employed. Despite his present shaky manners, Nanders recently managed to hold his pen long enough to write an 85-minute song cycle, (the band resents the term rock opera) which Aceface is currently recording as part of Marshall’s final project for RTA.
After another round of cigarettes, the band descends to their rented space in the building’s basement — a room over-crowded with guitars, keyboards, percussive instruments and 8-track recording equipment.
Matt Leaker, the bassist, shows up next. High-fives abound and they launch into practice. Leaker introduces the song “Film Star” which is about Planet of the Apes’ marketing tactic Estella Warren, a now-famous model/ actress who went to high school with Nanders and Leaker. Leaker’s memories of Warren differ from the public persona she currently presents. “I was a swimmer. I trained with her every day,” insists Leaker. “Those boobs are fake.”
Leaker’s bass playing, however, is as solid as Estella’s implants as Aceface charges through 10 Brit-rock originals, mostly material they’ve written since putting out their debut EP Amazing Dementia last year.
Marshall’s drums enforce head-bobbing as his near-perfect vocals delight the ears. Condron’s keyboard playing fills the room, hanging elegantly in the background. Siezenga and Naders trade rhythm and lead guitar duties to create a wall of noisy chords. Nanders’ quasi-British accent carries through songs about petty bourgeoisie and sundry foes of the proletariat.
They wear Italian suits, ride Vespa scooters and sing about being “Just like you… only better.” They are Aceface.