For any band, there is always a fine creative line to be tread as the years go by. Do you allow your music to change and evolve as you mature as artists, or do you stick with what brought you to the dance, what garnered you your reputation and acclaim?
The members of Saskatoon’s One Bad Son are fully cognizant of this dance, and know that in order to grow you must change, but not change so much as you tamper with the fundamental core of what you are as a band. With that in mind fans of the hard-working, hard rocking quartet have undoubtedly been pleased to hear that their new single, the powerful Raging Bull, bridges that gap exceptionally. Released earlier this month as a downloadable single as well as a stylish video, the songs captures the essence of has made One Bad Son a top draw on the Canadian club circuit and an in-demand opening act for some true rock luminaries.
It is a successful example of evolution – not complete transformation.
“I think it’s important that things change from album to album. We are always looking to push our sound. But it’s not like we sit down and say, ‘okay, we need to change so let’s do this or this.’ We just felt like we had already been moving down a path with our songwriting that was a little more modern and current, without losing any sense of ourselves. And, honestly, Raging Bull really is a good snapshot of where we are right now as a band and where we’re headed. It’s always going to sound like One Bad Son, but it also definitely sounds fresh,” said vocalist Shane Volk who, alongside guitarist Adam Hicks, bassist Adam Grant and drummer Kurt Dahl, comprise the now 13-year-old band.
“As it’s been since music began to be recorded, advancements in technology have always pushed the boundaries of what you can do sonically. But for us it’s also about keeping up with the way songs are conceived and structured. Things change that way through the decades as well. If you’re still trying to write songs like they were in the 1970s and 1980s, you’re just going to be behind all the time. So we’re paying attention to what perhaps a lot of other modern rock bands are doing and what other alternative rock bands are doing just to see if we’re current.
“But people don’t have to worry about us changing too much and trying to be super trendy. Once we light up some guitars, drums and vocals – especially onstage – it’s always going to sound like a big OBS experience. But we have really pushed ourselves to embrace some new structures and new thinking behind the way to put a song together. It’s been great opening our minds up. We have been around for, as you said, 13 years. You want to keep embracing change and embracing new stuff, otherwise you get forgotten quickly. Think about this, if the Beatles hadn’t changed and matured they wouldn’t have written Sgt. Peppers or The White Album. For your own sanity as a writer you can’t be trying to write the same way you were a dozen years ago.”
Known for their gritty, somewhat retro, but high energy, high-volume take on straightforward hard rock music, One Bad Son has released five albums since 2006. Their first three albums were released on indie labels, but generated such popular attention and garnered significant regional airplay that they were eventually signed by 604 Records, who released an eponymously-titled album in 2012, followed by the hit Black Buffalo two years later. The singles Scarecrows, Retribution Blues, Satellite Hotel and Black Buffalo were all radio and video hits, and the band toured relentlessly in support of all their releases, earning a reputation as one of Canada’s best live rock acts. To keep that momentum going, Volk and his bandmates understand, as he’s already stated, the necessity of constant evolution and maturation as writers, musicians and onstage performers.
The change in tone and vibe of the band’s sound is also exemplified with a more refined look for the band, as the singer explained.
“To be honest the onstage vibe is changing too. I’ve got a Mohawk now and what we wear on stage is all black. It’s still an aggressive hard rock look, but it’s more streamlined now. Our band is very eclectic in our tastes for everything from music to fashion – we have always been kind of all over the map, which was cool for a while because it was a natural way for us to be. But this time we just decided to be one thing – to give off one consistent sort of vibe for this new music. And then that thing will change up again for the next record. No matter how things evolve, if you like big rock and roll, you’re going to love us and that’s not going to change. But along with a change in our approach to the music, we’ve taken that to our look and everything else,” said Volk.
“Metallica is one of the best examples of that. They have lost fans at every change, but they have gained more overall at every change. You can’t cater to what you think people want, or what they have wanted from you in the past. It’s a common phrase now, but you have to do what feels right for you first; do what you’re feeling and where you want to go. People will come along with it or they won’t. You can’t worry about any of that until the music is out there and see if people are still coming out to the shows. It’s only ever helped bands to change and stay current.”
Volk gives a good deal of credit to the successful transitioning in One Bad Son’s sound to new producer, Gavin Brown. Brown has made his name working on highly acclaimed albums by some of Canada’s iconic bands from across a diverse spread of genres, including The Tragically Hip, Metric, Billy Talent and Three Days Grace.)
“Gavin’s track record speaks for itself as far as being a hit maker, all you have to do is look at his body of work. And, for us, record by record it’s been nice to change producers and have a new voice and get pushed in different directions. One of the worst things you can do as a writer is get stagnant and go through the same motions each time. We have never been those kind of writers,” he said.
“It’s nice to have somebody working with you where you’re not sure what they’re going to bring until they get into the studio with you. With Gavin, he really encouraged us to open ourselves up as writers and not do the same thing and maybe do some stuff that made us uncomfortable. For me, I have always written all the lyrics and this time I opened myself up to not just the other guys in the band, but some outside writers as well, including Gavin. It’s just been a lot more collaborative and I loved every second of it. He has helped us change our entire approach to songwriting.”
Raging Bull is both a way to whet the appetite of One Bad Son fans in anticipation of more music to come, but also to act as a bellwether marker to see how much interest there may be in a larger musical package – be it an EP or a full-length album.
“We are getting a plan together but a lot of it depends on the reaction we get to Raging Bull. We really don’t have any kind of a release date for a larger project, and part of that is because we haven’t actually finished recording the new songs yet. There’s some talk of an EP coming out but no definite date on the record yet. In a way, it’s kind of nice to take this approach because the single is now out and doing really well, so we’re going to have the luxury of seeing how that plays out before we announce a date and type of recording we’re going to do,” Volk explained.
“And it’s 100 per cent because of the way the industry keeps changing and the way people are consuming music these days. It’s kind of all over the map. But, honestly, I love this method and approach and I think it’s been a great change to the music industry, to be able to put something out and instantly see the reaction it gets, not only from radio, but also from social media and things like that.”
Witnessing One Bad Son live is truly the most appropriate and effective way of getting the full experience of the bands raw power and presence. This reputation for mobilizing the sweaty mass of legions of rockers has helped them land some impressive opening slots for the likes of Godsmack, Buckcherry, Default, Monster Truck, Three Days Grace, and alt-rock supergroup Crash Karma. More recently, in 2015, the band also opened for Def Leppard and Judas Priest on each band’s respective western Canadian tour dates.
Fans in Ontario will get an up-close, in-your-face opportunity to check out the new look and some of the new sounds coming from One Bad Son starting April 20 at Maxwell’s in Waterloo. That’s followed by shows in Sarnia, Toronto, St. Catharines, London, Oshawa, Kingston, Arnprior before wrapping up in Peterborough at The Red Dog on April 29.
For more information on the tour, the new single Raging Bull and the band, visit www.onebadson.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.