At first impression, you’ll probably think, like me, that they’re all cute with really good hair and eyewear. This night the trio is dressed up in nice sweaters and smiles. Then they shyly pull out a gift: A wrist corsage with a bright pink rose and a shiny, silvery band that snuggly fits over my fall jacket sleeve. (Although they don’t know this, pink roses express fun and happiness.) They have already made the plans---we’re taking a g-rated trip to The Chickenburger for milkshakes (sharing), onion rings (mutual onion-breath in case of first-base action) and chickenburgers (because that’s where you are). “Judy’s Turn To Cry” plays on the juke-box---Lesley Gore’s follow-up to “It’s My Party,” where Johnny comes back, sees her dancing with another guy and gets into a huge scrap. How appropriate. The Maynards’ new album Date and Destroy, which comes out Tuesday, is all about dancing and dating, minus the punches.
We get our food (they even pumped ketchup into those little paper cups for me) and take our trays to an empty table to get to know each other better. For almost 10 years---since 1999---The Maynards have made the dance floor sweaty with scraptacular art-house garage punk about boys, girls, kissing and dancing. Made for college radio and NSCAD students, the trio has been compared to Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney, plus a dude. The band was born out of the ashes of the infamous Halifax rock scene of Sloan and Thrush Hermit, after the music industry attention waned and the pressure eased, the attitude became more about having fun. In the late-’90s there were a bunch of bands like Rick of the Skins and The Maynards who took a more lo-fi approach to their music.
“There was this young band of boys playing music at the time. The drummer was eight years old or something. I was like, 'if he can play drums, I can play drums,’” Tardiff says, dipping her onion rings into ketchup. Even as a kid she liked music that made her head bop. “So I got this idea I wanted to learn.”
They practiced in Matheson’s upstairs apartment until the downstairs neighbour got pissed off.
“It was cool,” Parlee says of the early days. “I had been in this other band before. It was pretty basic. And so I wasn’t that accomplished a bass player and Chantal was just learning drums, but Heath had been playing guitar for years. He was a level beyond what we were at.”
Matheson interjects: “Hmm. That’s not how I felt about it. I was really excited. I had been in blues bands and rock bands because in Fredericton, there was no such thing as an originals band at that time. It was dire. It was fun to not be in a cock-rock band. Bands with boys, I don’t know, there was a lot of posturing. I felt like the intentions weren’t always as pure in a band with boys.”
“What about a band with two girls? Are the intentions as pure?” Tardiff asks coyly.
Leaning back off his stool, Matheson exclaims, “Pure! In a very different way...it was fun to be in a band with people who were just excited to be in a band. It’s just a matter of time that you can do something before you get a little jaded and a little apathetic towards it. Music for me---my raison d’etre was to play in front of people and get excited and make people dance. That’s almost my entire motive for playing music. There’s nothing like being in a place full of people that are going nuts to your music. Chantal and Kristina were pretty psyched to make dance-rock. It was a good fit. They’ve kept me from being more cock-rocky. I think I needed an estrogen leveller.”
They played their first show with Matt Reid’s The Confidence Band. When The Maynards came onto the scene, Matheson recalls that dancing at shows was out of vogue. (Parlee shoots back lightening-fast, “ but voguing at shows was popular.” The Maynards always laugh at each other’s jokes.) Frustrated, Matheson started bribing people by giving away cigarettes. “It was incredible. You offer to give one cigarette away and 40 NSCAD students are vying for this one cigarette.” Then it became cigarettes and beer, candy, giant novelty cheques, certificates and a wrestling belt during a No-Cases show.So the dancers multiplied and the band stopped the rewards, mostly because “we outprized ourselves.” Until now: Matheson impulsively purchased a friend’s ’83 Honda Civic, and is thinking of giving it away as a huge dance-off prize at their CD launch show on December 5 at Gus’ Pub. He’s trying to avoid thinking about it too much---the plan has some pretty big holes---but he’s really excited to paint “Dance Party” on the side of the car.
“If you sit down and listen to a Maynards album, usually the person who sings the most on it is the person who brought the most to it,” Tardiff reveals.
“That’s one of the most interesting things about our music...we can give it three voices and three parts, put three different vocals in---we don’t have to play it quite as straight as a lot of bands do, with a singer and accompanying musicians,” says Matheson. “I think if you listen to all our records, there’s not one who stands out.”
By now The Chickenburger has emptied out, the onion rings have been eaten and the jukebox is silent. But the conversation continues, turning to The Maynards’ writing process. Everyone has busy lives so it’s infrequent that the band pens songs as a group, although Matheson says inspiration comes from anywhere. “Like, Chantal will say something funny and cute, and it will rhyme and be awesome, and we’ll go write an entire song based around this one phrase. Sometimes lyrically or musically the entire song is put together. Or we’ll just spontaneously come up with it.” Parlee gives Matheson credit for bringing whole songs to the table, but he goes modest and denies being the front guy or leader.
Although all the band members are well past high school age, they’re not so far detached from the emotional highs and lows of dating and its potentially destructive consequences. In many ways, this new album is about growing up, both as a band and as people.
Matheson has a theory. “I find that strangely, not intentionally, a lot of records become concept albums. Like the first one was named The Maynards Stole Your Lunch Money and it was---I think we had a lot of issues about high school we had to get out---it was this complete high school concept album. The next, Break Out the Makeout, I think that we were all entering, well, not all of us, well, a certain number of us were gung-ho...”
Tardiff cuts in,“...were coming out of long-term relationships. And wanting to cut loose.”
Matheson agrees. “Yeah, and it kinda became this love song to dancing and partying and making out. This one, Date and Destroy, is the natural progression of what happens after you either destroy, or get destroyed by what you wrought. But still in the theme, it’s still a party record. From start to finish, it’s dancing, but at times it’s screaming and sadness and bitching and moaning. My thought is that if we make three or four more albums, we’ll have a complete rock album. An entire rock opera.”
Parlee: “Then it will be senior citizens’ rock.”
Matheson: “It will be The Maynards: R.I.P."
No one likes that title. But Married to the Maynards, Soccer Mom Maynards and Retirement Party Maynards get a lot of laughs.
There’s a sense that this band exists solely for these friends to hang out and to make audiences dance their asses off. They downplay their popularity---Tardiff says it’s a pretty big compliment when people tell them that “I totally put on your album last night to get ready to go out to a party, or I totally had a make-out party at our house and we listened to your album.”
Their goals are modest: to have shows, CDs and tour around with other musicians. And they all love “hijinks,” like playing hockey in a garage with Windom Earle and Vancouver’s Fun 100 last February, to the tune of “Thunderstuck” on a toy keyboard. Cops came after the roman candles started getting tossed around.
Parlee says, “I think what was hard at some points with this record is that we achieved most of the goals we had for ourselves with the last record. It wasn’t that we weren’t motivated, but we had charted in Halifax really well and charted in Canada---we played shows in Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg, Ottawa. And we had been on the CBC Radio 3 podcast and distributed by Scratch, so we had done all these things. It was hard to know how this record would fit in.”
“Break Out the Make Out had achieved all the success of a small, obscure Halifax indie rock band that likes to party,” says Matheson. “It had done everything we wanted it to do.”
The band plays their cards close to their chest, avoiding personal questions by making distracting jokes. It’s the only time they stumble over their words. If this was a real first date, this tactic would be sketchy, but with The Maynards, it’s simply part of the party persona. They do reveal a not-so-secret secret: the band is trouble with a capital T.
“We can’t help it. We’re like trouble magnets. We’re an innocent little party band that’s usually based on high school romance and heartbreak. But we get in trouble all the time. They’ve been pregnant like three times,” he points at Parlee and Tardiff who burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of it. So does Matheson. “No one knows who the father is. Oh wait, I went off my talking points, didn’t I? We don’t get in trouble.”
He gets serious for a moment. “One of the nice things about our band is that we all have different certain skills that make us a good unit. Where one person lacks, the other pulls it together.”
Tardiff: “We have a band dynamic and we all step up into specific roles.”
Parlee: “I think we’re all very different but it works well together.”
Tardiff: “It’s like magic. Synergy.”
Matheson: “We have a good dynamic. We’re three, we’re a tiny band and when we arrive, we can all sleep in the same double bed. We’re this completely modular little band and a lot times we tour without equipment, so it’s us, our suitcases in a bed.”
At the end of the date before we head home, there is a visit to the Titanic graves at the Mount Olivet Cemetery because Titanic is such a dreamy romantic movie. (In theory, this is cute, but again, in reality, taking a first date to a cemetery on a foggy night is a crappy idea.) There’s no awkwardness at the door, but it’s early and I’m left wanting more: perhaps a makeout session followed by a dance party.