When it comes to the metal aesthetic many bands feel they need to choose the route of texture or torture. Bands decide whether to build weapons or evoke atmospheres with their sound, and to focus on the ephemeral often means leaving a sense of visceral threat behind. After all, smoke cannot hurt us, and shadows don’t have teeth. Some groups, however, defy this logic; all their layers of fuzz and distortion and diaphanous sound are folded and compressed so many times they become as sharp as a shiv again. Shooting Guns, who hail from the barren wastes of Saskatoon, SK, are one such group. Their lineup is composed of bassist Jay Loos, keyboard player Steve Reed, a trio of axemen: Keef Doepker, Chris Laramee and the newly-added Zach Low, and drummer Jim Ginther.
Peddling a uniquely intense brand of instrumental psychedelia, Shooting Guns pair ponderously heavy, doom-laden riffs and pulsing percussion with massive textural experiments that rise up in their songs like monuments somehow carved out of mist. Since they were founded in 2008, they have devoted their time to exploring the potential of a genre that is too often left to the vague wanderings of stoner metal, and through their experiments they prove that all that fuzz and those walls of sound have the potential for great complexity. For a band dedicated to experimentation, they have unexpectedly proven to have broad appeal as well: their debut full-length Born to Deal in Magic: 1952-1976 found its way onto the Polaris Prize long list, and their latest release, Brotherhood of the Ram, found its way onto Hellbound’s own Top Ten Canadian Metal Albums of 2013 list. They lovingly refer to their fans as “a cult of barbarian metal-heads, indie hipsters, Neanderthals, and nerds,” and that loyal tribe of followers seems to only keep growing.
Hellbound was fortunate enough to have a chat with drummer Jim Ginther, speaking from his home on the frozen Saskatchewan tundra.
There are certain landscapes that just seem to lend themselves to metal — Norway’s black metal, Swedish death, etc. How do you think the Canadian landscape, and in particular your home of Saskatoon, is suited to fostering aggressive music?
We’ve got great Canadian bands to look up to so it’s never hard to find inspiration. As for Saskatoon specifically, there’s this weird balance of community and isolation. It’s a city big enough for a strong party scene with many niches of bands that tend to work together, crossing genres to put on some really cool shows. It’s not uncommon for local shows to pack the house as much as bigger touring acts. That said, it’s at least a 5-hour drive to the nearest city over one million people and the winters are brutal. We lock ourselves in the jam room for 4-5 months of the year and get through it by making the weirdest stuff we can. I don’t know if we’re a product of our environment or if it’s just the Pilsner talking, but we like it either way.
Your work is primarily instrumental; why did you choose to focus your aesthetic so heavily on the riffs?
No one can sing worth a damn and our amps are way too loud so it just worked itself out.
Shooting Guns are known for the exquisite detail and elephantine weight of your aural layering. What is it about layers of sound that works as such a great medium for the sound you are trying to convey?
Without a singer, it’s easy for the songs to sound empty or missing something so we try to give everything as much depth as we can without being too busy. We’ve been told by many people who don’t do drugs that seeing us live makes them feel high. We get lost in the layers ourselves as we figure songs out so I guess we’re all on the same page there.
Pulse and rhythm are extremely important in your work as well. How do you use percussion to create or dismantle a sense of urgency in your songs?
The creation or dismantling all comes down to how much boozing is going on… usually resulting in the latter on my part. Someone brings a riff and then the rhythm section just rides it out, sometimes for an hour or longer, until we get an atmosphere that feels right. The percussion is there to support the riffs so we experiment with rhythms/tempos/dynamics until we find some combination that feels right. It’s a lot of trial and error!
Both your debut LP, Born To Deal in Magic: 1952-1976, and your latest offering, Brotherhood of the Ram, have a vaguely mystical quality mixed in with the psychedelia and heaviness, almost reminiscent of occult rock. What kind of magic are you dealing in?
Pilsner-fuelled mayhem. Street rock.
What kinds of ideas and subjects for the conceptual framework for your work? Do you have any kind of a narrative in mind while you’re composing?
The concepts tend to come after we’ve written the songs. The titles generally reflect the vibe of the tune with little or no deeper meaning. That said, all of our visual aesthetics have a nod to Saskatchewan in some way or another. Brotherhood of the Ram was named after an alleged satanic cult that was the epicentre of a satanic scandal in a small town just 10 minutes north of Saskatoon back in the early ’90s. The church and local police thought there was a major satanic movement involving ritual abuse when in actuality, the “big building with weird rituals” that little kids were describing was the church itself. The town went completely hysterical and it became an amazingly embarrassing national scandal that ultimately cost the town its police force.
Your debut wound up on the Polaris long list, and your work tends to be appreciated by fans outside the usual metalhead crowd. What do you think makes this crossover appeal possible for you?
Sometimes I’ll be listening to a metal band where I love the music but the singer ruins it, goes way too hard, or just takes away from what everyone else is doing. No question there are many disadvantages to playing instrumentally for the purposes of wider appeal but I think it helps us for crossover since our aggression only comes out through the music itself. Our influences are all over the map so I don’t look at what we do as metal but we try to play as hard as we can with what we’ve got. We’ve also been fortunate to have a lot of drinking buddies across Canada tell their friends to come out to shows which has helped a lot!
What are your recording and touring plans for the near future?
We’ll be releasing a compilation of bands we’ve played with over the years called House of Burners, which will be released on our own label, Pre-Rock Records, in March/April. We’ve got 17 bands from across Canada, including heavy hitters Bison, Public Animal, Powder Blue, Hawkeyes, Mean Tikes, and The Pack AD, so we’re pretty pumped about that. We’ll also be releasing another tape of hazy jams called Street Rock on Winnipeg’s Dub Ditch Picnic this spring. As for touring, we’re currently planning our first US tour along the West Coast this June and hope to hit the East Coast in the fall.
Shooting Guns discography
- Dopestrings/Harmonic Steppenwolf (7”), Somnambulist Sound System (2010)
- Born To Deal In Magic 1952-1976 (full-length), Tearhas Recording Tree (2011)
- Sky High & Blind / Shake Joint (split EP w Krang), Psychic Handshake Recordings, (2012)
- Down and Out in Detroit / Painted Skulls (split EP w Cult of Dom Keller), Leaning Trees Records (2012)
- Spectral Laundromat (casette), Dub Ditch Picnic (2013)
- Brotherhood of the Ram (full-length), self-released (2013)