The Constantines: Distance makes the heart grow fonder

Tuesday 07th, October 2014 / 13:41
By Nick Laugher
Photo: Colin Medley

Photo: Colin Medley

CALGARY — Unless you’ve been hiding out in some desolate cave for the past year, you’re probably aware that one of Canada’s most blistering and brilliant indie rock bands, the Constantines, have reunited to bring their fierce, fiery and frenetic live show to all of you unwashed masses once more. Celebrating the somewhat unorthodox 11th anniversary of their seminal album, Shine a Light, these belligerent boys are back together after a good four years of a sort-of-breakup-sort-of-hiatus and are more insane, energetic and excited than ever.

Before they hung up their instruments and quietly dissolved into the musical ether in 2010, the Constantines had been tirelessly showcasing their wiry and severely catchy art-punk sound to audiences across the world for years. That kind of hectic schedule, coupled with the emotional and physical reliance on a singular group of people, can really fuck with your head after a while — not to mention consume pretty much every waking moment of your life.

“Up until we stopped playing, the band was ubiquitous in our lives,” says guitarist and vocalist Bry Webb. Going from a life that’s essentially using every waking moment to play music with your best friends and then slamming on the brakes and calling it quits is bound to result in some bizarre kind of life whiplash.”

Sometimes, it takes a little distance and a little time away from something to be able to fully appreciate the impact it can have — especially when that something is playing in a highly celebrated Canadian rock band for ten or so years. You can get so caught up in living an experience that it becomes impossible to view it objectively and the importance of the statement and the emotional impact of the band on your life will kind of get lost in the shuffle of things.

“Perspective is a good thing and hard to achieve; sometimes, it does take time,” says guitarist Steve Lambke. For him, as with the rest of the band, the split was a necessary step towards saving what made the group and the music such an amazing and inspiring thing in the first place.

“I definitely think I’m seeing clearer what is special about this band because of the time apart. I’m also able to see clearer what decisions we made at the time that were good decisions and which were maybe not so good decisions. I think we’re all much more patient with each other and respectful of what each person is bringing to the band. ”

“It was easy to take the connections we had for granted when we were sitting in a van together all the time,” agrees Webb.

While there’s no doubt that the time away from the band has helped them focus on the craft and evolve as musicians in their own right, stepping outside the bubble of the Constantines was something that initially left Webb reeling, thinking he might be unable to write music outside of the group.

“It was disorienting to walk away from that and intimidating to try and share ideas with other people, other musicians, without the connection that we had developed over the years and all of our shared experiences. I was lost for a while; I thought I wouldn’t make music anymore,” he says.

Eventually, Webb settled down, started a family and gravitated towards more plaintive folk balladry, gradually finding a voice and releasing two celebrated albums under his own name. Lambke has also been churning out hard-hitting indie rock tunes under the moniker Baby Eagle, collaborating with a host of other talented Canadian musicians like Shotgun Jimmie, Julie Doiron, Daniel Romano and even his Constantines bandmate, Will Kidman. Throughout all this, for every Constantine, being apart for four years was a tumultuous time and an ongoing battle, but it’s one that Webb thinks has helped make the group even stronger upon reuniting.

“Being apart and coming back together has given me a better understanding of how incredible that connection is. I feel more confident now in our abilities, our eccentricities and all of the little decisions we make over the course of a performance, because I worked outside of that for four years.”

It’s easy to see that they’re rejuvenated and back with a vengeance, as their live shows have just gotten more ferocious and sweaty. While they’d gotten more than a few juicy offers to play together again after calling it quits in 2010, Lambke it just never really seemed like the stars were aligned just right for it to happen. The reunion was inspired partially by missing the boat on the 10th anniversary of their most celebrated album, Shine a Light — an 11th anniversary seemed a better fit for the band, in any case.

“I don’t think any of us would have noticed that the 10th anniversary came and went, except that a music journalist wrote to us to ask about it,” says Webb. “By then, it was far too late to plan a reissue on the 10th anniversary, so we joked for a while on email about the ’11th Anniversary Reissue.’ Also true to Constantines form, it was something that made us all laugh, so it pretty much had to be a good idea.”

So, when offers from festivals like Sappyfest and Arboretum started pouring in around that time, the band decided it might just be that perfect time with all the stars aligned to get the whole thing moving again. And, while the inevitable questions of future plans and potential new music are constantly being flung their way, the band is more than content to just bask in the fervour and fun of playing live again, not thinking too far ahead and just trying to live in the moment — something at which they excelled in their heyday.

“I think we’d all like to work together to make something new, but there’s also a hesitancy around putting together a new record and needing to tour extensively to support it, which I can’t really do right now,” says Webb.

Lambke is quick to echo Webb’s statement that it’s all pretty much up in the air right now in terms of future plans and that, really, the band has a mind of its own when it comes to this kind of stuff.

“It sometimes functions like there’s a group mind, some kind of collective consciousness of the Constantines,” he says. “It’s hard to say what the group mind wants and almost impossible to speak for it! I think there is good reasons to make more music, but also some pretty legitimate obstacles. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

In some ways, the band has become even more revered since their hiatus. The resulting chaos and joy that crowds have been sharing at the reunion shows so far has been nothing short of insanity. While they were a force to be reckoned with back in the mid-2000s when they were playing to sweaty, packed clubs, these days they’re nothing short of a national treasure. It’s a sense of appreciation and adoration that’s certainly humbling for the band, who only fifteen years ago were just a couple of young punks playing their hearts out to anyone that would give a fuck.

“It’s amazing that people have kept this music alive and kept it in their lives. It’s something I feel very lucky to be a part of,” says Lambke about the enduring legacy of the band and the fact that these recent live shows have been so well received.

“You get a different perspective on things once they’re gone,” says Webb.

“It’s a more complete picture in some ways. That’s the reason I could do it again. Because, after several years without it, I knew how much it meant to me, and to Dallas, Doug, Steve and Will. I think this is the only way things could have happened.”

Catch the Constantines at Commonwealth (Calgary) on October 9 and at Starlite Room (Edmonton) on October 11.

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