By Sarah Kitteringham
CALGARY — The year was 2008. Tanner Holthe was sleeping on a couch, and Rob Wikstrom walked into the condo and sat down. After a sleepy-eyed Holthe rose from his slumber, the two started chatting, bonding over their love for Wilco. Ultimately, they decided to start an alternative country band that eventually merged roots with rock and pop to joyous effect. Within four years, that band, dubbed The Nix Dicksons, cycled through untold members, released three EPs showcasing their rapidly improving songwriting dubbed The Panda (2009), The Giraffe (2010), and The Red Fox (2011), toured across Canada, and were constantly played on CBC. They were the Marquee Room house band, the “Flaming Lips on a $200 budget” who once did a show with a fully naked drummer. Yup, they are that band, and they were fun as hell.
Things changed: the band went to hell itself, and they broke up. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and a renewed interest in playing live for the fun of it, they are reuniting, and performing at Dickens Pub. We chatted with band creator and bassist Tanner Holthe, and guitarist Dylan Keating (who joined the band in 2010), wondering if it’s a one-off show or a real attempt to reinvigorate a band once on the verge of breaking out.
“Dylan and I were up in Edmonton this year spending Factor’s money in a recording studio. That was a nice change from the old days. We saw Ladyhawk and chatted with Duffy. It made us miss it like hell. We agreed that we should give it another try,” begins Holthe, who has since made a career as a successful solo artist. He released his full-length debut in 2013, How to Ruin Your Life With Women, and was working on the follow-up, anticipated in mid-2015, when he and Keating united.
“We are going to take this show-by-show for the first little while. If it feels right then we are not opposed to recording and going at it from another angle… We are going to treat first show back with an open door policy. Pretty much everyone is coming back.”
Keating adds: “Walking off stage after The Nix Dicksons farewell show we realized that we actually sounded like a tight band for the first time in the band’s history. It felt like a fitting place to end it, but also felt a bit unfinished… We’ve decided to give it a tentative go, with this show being us testing the waters and shaking out the cobwebs a bit so to speak.”
Cobwebs were never present, at least from a spectator perspective: The Nix Dicksons are infamous for their live shows, which turned into unbridled celebrations with unusual tactics. All said… they were an utter pain in the ass to clean up.
“The Giraffe release party was at the Marquee and we themed it after a nine-year-old birthday party. It was magic. We had a chocolate milk fountain, helium tanks in the back and about a million balloons; we spent so much time and money on that show… I bought a garden fountain from Wal-Mart, let chocolate milk flow through it and returned it for a full refund,” recalls Holthe proudly.
Their upcoming reunion/Christmas show will be no different.
It is “a concept we did two years in a row a few years ago,” explains Keating. “It’s partially inspired by the Trailer Park Boys Christmas special, where trailer park supervisor Jim Lahey is dressed like a drunkard Santa and crashes midnight mass. The last time we did it we had Christmas decorations, present mountain, photos with Santa, an ugly Christmas sweater contest, and we returned the Santa suit to Wal-Mart the next day because ‘it smelled like beer for some reason.’ We’ll have all these and hopefully a few more surprises.”
Musically speaking, expect the band to play most of their back catalogue, as well as “a couple pop tunes we wrote and were going to release before the band broke up.” That means some bizarro world amalgam of The Dudes, Modest Mouse, and Weezer; it’s good time music obscured by cigarette smoke and aided by ample bottles of beer. They’ll be pulling out a few new tracks as well, “a lot more groovy rock n’ roll than anything we’d done previously… lots of Rolling Stones in there and Motown/soul too.”
“The Nix Dicksons always sounded like youth to me,” concludes Holthe, a sense of longing oozing from his words. “That’s it. It was a celebration of young life. Obviously we are getting older and things will have to change. I think we know where we stand now. We are okay being a party band and making people happy. I felt like we could always write good songs. We just could barely play and sing them. That’s changed now. I’m excited to see what will come of it.”
Watch The Nix Dicksons on Saturday, December 20 at Dickens Pub with Rick Reid and the Nervous Wrecks.AB, Alberta, Dickens Pub, Dylan Keating, Nix Dicksons, Tanner James