A new kind of music is creeping up on campus — and across Canada. Brought to life by fog-filled stages and twisted props, psychobilly is a musical mish-mash of ’50s rock and Brit punk. Jessica Ford introduces us to this new breed of bands.
By 2 a.m. on the night of the Rue Morgue Halloween Horrorbilly Ball, 11 pairs of breasts had been exposed, one animatronic skeleton had confessed his love for molesting children, and two competing psychobilly bands had successfully roused a crowd of zombies from their eternal slumber.
In the style of a true versus false battle, the headlining bands, The Matadors and The Creepshow alternate songs back and forth until one can be declared the victor or until their set ends.
Four hours after the doors opened, the stage is finally set up with six-foot coffin-shaped speakers and an equally tall stand up bass. Johnny Boner, The Matador’s crass robotic skeleton, takes centre-stage in a black suit jacket with elaborate red metallic detailing. Dressed to kill — literally.
The Creepshow starts off with “Creatures of the Night” and is barely visible through the fog. Tiny lead singer, Jen “Hellcat” Blackwood scales Sean “Sickboy” McNab’s black bass, which holds a white skull on top of its neck. Matt “Pomade” Gee hits the drums as if he’s trying to beat off the very zombies that make up the audience. Kristian “Ginty” Rowles stands stage left and challenges the demon stage hand with his body language. This is going to be one hard fought contest.
The Creepshow peaked at number four on CKLN 88.1 FM’s pop/rock charts in September.
“I think most university kids and college kids are looking for not your normal pop/rock stations. Especially because when you’re at university you’re like, ‘I’m learning new things,’ and listening to new music,” said keyboardist Ginty. “You’re expanding your mind and not doing the same old shit you always wanted to do.”
Hailing from Burlington, The Creepshow emerged on the Canadian psychobilly scene in 2005. They were featured on the compilation album Zombie Night in Canada: Volume 2 that same year, and was signed to record label Stereo Dynamite in early 2006. The band released their first full album, Sell Your Soul last May. Last summer, they played during Toronto’s North by Northeast festival to an enormous crowd at the Bovine Sex Club. They’ve done several shows with The Matadors, trying to expose people to psychobilly music.
Psychobilly, at its most basic definition, is a type of music best described as a combination of the 1950s American rockabilly and early London punk. The lyrics are often coy references to horror and every sexual act imaginable. It takes the culture of pin-up girls and hot rods, adds a bit of bathroom grime and then throws a few serial killers into the mix.
The Creepshow are being credited for making the music more accessible to the masses with a poppier sound and a female front person.
“I always say it’s like dead people playing rockabilly,” said Ginty, jokingly.
“It’s like rockabilly but with a punk attitude, but I hate saying that. We don’t sound like your traditional psychobilly bands, but we’re not just a cheesy pop band that has a stand-up bass.”
When “Creature of the Night” is done, The Matadors tag team in. Boner’s haunting voice booms through the speakers. He introduces The Matadors “Lucefarian Gospel” and credits them for raising the pregnancy rate “25,000 points this year alone.” Based on the amount of female skin exposed in the crowd, it’s not totally unbelievable. Lead singer and guitarist, Joel “Hooch” Parkins is dressed almost identically to Boner, who looks like Hooch might when he’s been picked over by maggots. Drummer Bob Carvell is clean-cut compared to the shirtless attitude of bass player Creepin’ Jeff, but proves himself when the music starts. The introduction sets the audience up for what Hooch said is a show that will “blow your heads clean off your necks.”
The Matadors, who also get a lot of play on CKLN, played a bunch of smaller gigs as a traditional rockabilly band. Then they were approached by the Luciferian Brotherhood and sold their souls in exchange for the chance to do their thing.
Hooch describes their music as “the greatest experience you can ever imagine,” explaining the band appeals to university students because “it’s hard drinking music,” a part of the party lifestyle.
They have released three original albums with Stereo Dynamite, the most recent being Horrorbilly 9000 in May 2006.
Corey Allen, a first-year journalism student, was at the Kathedral show. He has seen the Creepshow at least four times before and remembers going to see them before they were signed.
“They’re like a throwback to the jazz age. They put a morbid spin on psychobilly,” he said. “I like the fact that a woman fronts the band. It’s hard, in the underground scene for females to front a band like she does. Plus, the music is catchy.”
Allen has noticed a growing appreciation for this type of off-beat music. “Students have a respect for things that aren’t mainstream. They like the real deal. The Creepshow are not so manufactured. They have a realness factor.”
DJ Daibhid James agrees. The success of psychobilly bands at CKLN is partially in thanks to him. His show, Moondog’s Ballroom plays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Friday with music ranging from Elvis to The Creepshow.
According to Ginty, James has a strong presence in the Toronto rockabilly scene and was a big force in the Creepshow getting their start.
“One of their first gigs was at my birthday party,” James said. “They have huge crossover potential. We all predicted this when we first saw them. This could really go somewhere.”
After an intense back-and-forth exchange, the show ends with a huge climax featuring a musical mish-mash of the two bands. No clear victor is announced in the battle between The Creepshow and The Matadors, leaving the audience to debate about the winner on the streetcar or broom stick ride home.