Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Dec 18th 2009 3:30PM by Lonny Knapp
"It's all about sustainability. You need to figure out a healthy balance between home life and band life," Constantines' modest frontman Bry Webb tells Spinner.
Sounds simple right? But the Cons learned that lesson the hard way.
The band, which includes drummer Doug MacGregor, bassist Dallas Werhle, multi-instrumentalist Will Kidman, and guitarist Steve Lambke, formed in 1999 and released their self-titled debut on Canada's late, lamented indie Three Gut Records in 2001. Their genuine Bruce Springsteen-meets-Fugazi sound and transcendental live shows attracted a steadfast following and soon Sub Pop came a-calling.
The band followed-up with 2003's 'Shine a Light.' Often considered the quintessential Cons album, it captured the immediacy of the band's live show and elicited rave reviews from the finicky alt-rock press. With an American label on board, the band was making waves outside of Canada and spent the next two years crisscrossing Europe and North America on a seemingly endless tour.
"Early on, we figured out that we needed to tour. We had plenty of low-attendance gigs, but we just kept doing it and eventually we found an audience," Webb says.
Constantines took a short break from touring to record 'Tournament of Hearts.' The record was a bit of a departure for the band -- it was their most produced offering to date, and while it matched the power of its predecessors, the album revealed the band's tender side.
"On other records, we were just this live band trying to capture a bit of that energy in the studio," Webb explains. "We learned to enjoy recording on that record."
The release of 'Tournament of Hearts' in 2005 triggered a transitional period for the band. Three Gut Records, Cons' long-time Canadian label, announced that after releasing the album it would cease operations. Coincidently, the band's deal with Sub Pop was up for renewal. In a blink of an eye, Cons found themselves without a label or a game plan.
"We were free agents. Instead of acknowledging the fact the business side had fallen apart, we went back on tour," Webb recounts. But the years on the road started to take their toll and for the first time, during a grueling five-week tour of Europe, cracks appeared in the band's foundation.
"I certainly wasn't happy. We were touring like crazy and it almost destroyed our love of making music together," Webb says.
Relentless touring had left the members of Constantines burned out. To gain perspective, Webb needed distance. The band is based in Toronto, but Webb now lives in Montreal. He says that move helped him draw a line between his personal and professional life.
"When I'm home, I'm home, and when I'm in Toronto or on the road I'm in Constantines frame of mind," he says.
After a short break, Webb was ready to get back to the business of making music. Finding himself nostalgic for his old hometown, he began writing songs inspired by Kensington Market, the funky Toronto neighbourhood where the band maintains their rehearsal space. With these tunes in hand, Constantines signed with Toronto-based label Arts&Crafts -- home to Broken Social Scene, Stars and slew of Canadian indie heavyweights.
While an impressive track record informed the decision, the label's proximity sealed the deal. "We like to be able to walk down the street and have a beer with people we are doing business with," he explains.
In 2008, the band released 'Kensington Heights.' Hooking up with dear friends the Weakerthans, Ladyhawk and Oneida, Cons set out on extensive tours.
While Cons fans have come to expect a killer show, these days they maintain a reasonable schedule. "The greatest sense of purpose I ever had is playing in a room of people that are happy to be together," Webb says. "When you are exhausted, the shows suffer. We set limits in order to do what we do as best as we can do it."
Putting into practice lessons that can only be learned by surviving a decade on the road, the band is tighter, leaner, and louder than ever. Talking with Webb, you get the feeling that the band plans on sticking around for at least another decade.
"We figured out that we can stand up for ourselves. That's the thing with being self-employed -- we can make our own rules," he says. "We learned to play together and it's hard to imagine playing with anyone else."