Ottawa, meet River Jacks. They’re a hard-hitting, fist-pumping five-piece punk rock band from Calgary, and they’ve just released their new record Strange Adventures. If you think that Strange Adventures is the kind of album you’d put on while doing yoga or getting some spa treatment, you’d be dead wrong. I mean, you could. But you might end up busting open a few tall boys of Pilsener and start moshing boisterously, something which your yoga instructor probably wouldn’t appreciate while trying to hold their downward dog pose steady.
Their music contains the soul and power of punk in its veins, but is also infused with an aspect of folk storytelling that defines their songwriting. Not to mention the accordion, played by Andy “Mandrill” Shannon who shreds just about as hard and fast as any accordion player possibly could. With a few Calgary music scene veterans on board and plenty of experience to draw from, River Jacks are no stranger to the stage and the road. Their Strange Adventures tour kicked off in Lethbridge, AB, on May 3rd and they’re on a 12-date rip across Canada to promote the album. I chatted with guitarist Jordan Barrett about the new album, the road, and plans River Jacks have for the future.
The band started around five years ago as Spencer Jo & the River Jacks. Spencer Burgess (guitar/vocals) and Andy Shannon (accordion) had been playing as a duo for a while. When they wanted to go full band they enlisted Mikey Blotto (drums), and Kurtis Jensen (bass). I joined up about a year later. Spenny and I had done some acoustic shows together. I was bussing tables at the Ship and Anchor in Calgary when Spenny approached me to be in the band. We had a bit of a revolving door of bass players until we ran into the uber-talented Tyler Burton. We’ve been firing on all cylinders ever since.
Can you talk about musical inspirations growing up, previous bands, and what were your music scenes like growing up?
I grew up in rural New Brunswick. Not a lot to do in those small towns so punk rock found me and my friends at a young age. We were able to get some touring bands into our town and go from there. Speaking for the other dudes who grew up primarily in Calgary, I hear lots of stories about the Multi (Multicultural Centre), and Carpenters Union Hall. I’ve only been a Calgarian for five years, so I’ve missed lots. However, I understand there was a strong all-ages scene back in the day. Spenny was in Rum Runner during their hay day. Mikey Blotto has played in almost every rad punk band in the YYC. I was lucky to be able to stumble into a who’s who of Calgary dudes.
Your music is punk rock with a bit of a folk touch to it. How important is storytelling to the band?
Storytelling is crucial. Whether it’s a conscious writing decision or not. It can find its way into anything. For instance, our new release Strange Adventures got its name from an old comic shop in Halifax that I use to frequent. It was a cool little hole in the ground that had a magical feel to it. I went there for years. When River Jacks were throwing around album title ideas, and we knew we were going for a comic book theme for the cover, I threw the name in the ring. It kinda works both as a reference to a great part of my younger years, as well as a funny description of what we get up to as a band.
Do you have a favourite tour memory? And a worst one?
A big one that sticks out would be taking these Calgary boys back to Hartland, NB., the land of my people. After hearing me babble on about this place, I’m sure those guys were interested to see it. I’m proud to say that my home town delivered. Packed venue, people singing along, broken noses, bare feet on broken glass, and fists in the air. Wouldn’t have had it any other way.
As far as bad stories go, Mikey Blotto fell down a hill in Tadoussac, QC. He was a little banged up and had dirty feet for a while.
For those who have never heard your music, what can new listeners expect when putting on Strange Adventures?
This being our sophomore release, we’re feeling more comfortable in our roles in the band. It’s harder, faster, grittier. If you’re into the folk/punk thing, I think we make it an easy listen for you.
Anything exciting coming up for the band following the album release and tour?
We’ve been working hard this year, so far. Put a lot of time into album prep, took a trip up to Yellowknife for Snowking Winter Festival– got to play in a fucking snow castle! Unreal. We also had a quick tour out to Vancouver. As I’m answering these questions, I’m sitting in a van traveling east. So, there’s been no shortage of bouncing around. Once this tour is done, I think we’ll be taking it easy in the Calgary area for the summer.