The idea of anything coming out of Fort McMurray besides dirty water, environmental degradation and oily sand is a bit ridiculous. The common conception about the town is that there's nothing there but work, getting drunk and going to the strippers. Generally done in that order. Conventional wisdom says that Fort Mac is unique in its complete absence of culture.
Young upstarts Desiderata have finally begun to make the long, slow process of making amends for the city's last big cultural export, Natasha Henstridge (of Species fame). Since their beginnings as a bunch of pudgy punk kids to their current lives as pleasantly-plump hipsters, the band has been slowly changing up their stylings and kept their music fresh.
"Starting out in Fort McMurray, we were pretty uneducated musically," says Laine Cherkewick, the three-piece's bassist. "We were pretty much a punk band like Choke. Once we starting listening to more experimental music and jamming out more, our sound started to change up. By the time we moved to Edmonton, listening to local bands in the area, we've changed our style even further."
One of the things Desiderata has impressed music fans the most with, besides their frenetic live shows and scalpel-sharp guitar riffs, is their willingness to do something a little unexpected. Sometimes a little jazzier, which is understandable given the way the band met up.
"We met when I was in Grade 10 or so," laughs Cherkewick. "There was this all-star jazz band that was at the local college that all the band geeks from all over the city wanted to get into. That's where I met [drummer] Jerome [Tovillo], and then I met [vocalist and guitarist] Blair through Jerome."
The group haven't spent an ounce of time slacking in their musical careers. Immediately after releasing their 2007 album We Are Not Convinced There Has Been Improvement, they immediately broke out the old van in an attempt to spread their tunes around the country. Where some bands collapse on their first tour, bickering and fighting until they break up, the band found themselves closer from their experience on the road.
"We bonded a lot more after the tour," says Cherkewick. "We were really good friends before, and got a hell of a lot tighter on that tour. It was the best time of my life. We toured with another band, Atrophy Manuscript, and a single merch guy. We all packed into one van. We toured all along the west coast and then to Quebec and back. It took us about six or seven weeks. We got to meet cool people and party it up. There's not much more you could ask for."
Not content to rest on their laurels, the band just finished recording an album in Vancouver studio The Hive with producer Jesse Gander, who's previously worked with the City Streets and the Doers, among others. With a new album inevitably comes the touring. Of course, some seasons are better than others.
"I'm excited to tour again in the summer," says Cherkewick. "Touring in the summer is probably the best time, as you can sleep outside if you don't have a place to stay. We did it all the time. Sometimes we'd have no place to stay or we'd be couch-hopping and all this crap would happen and we'd have to make a hasty retreat. We'd end up driving around looking for a place to sleep and end up sleeping in a field. Sometimes we'd get woken up by cops, other times we'd have all this sap over our faces from sleeping on the grass."
In spite of the troubles, Cherkewick is upbeat about his career in music. The group works day jobs when they're not recording or touring. It's understandable because they're still paying their dues and playing shows wherever they can fit it into their schedules. Their next show will be their second in Calgary, strutting their stuff in front of a surprisingly energized fanbase.
"It's sweet, because we get to do shit like record out in Vancouver for two weeks, come back to Edmonton for a week and then go out and play a show in Calgary the next week," laughs Cherkewick. "It's really weird, we have a lot of support in Calgary. It's surprising because we've only played one show in the city, but we have tons of fans there. I don't understand it at all, but I'm definitely not complaining."
The band, all in their early twenties, are doing something that most musicians don't get to do in their entire life: going on the road and making music. With their next release, tentatively titled Alcohawk, arriving sometime in the spring, Cherkewick is hopeful and optimistic.
"I find it absolutely insane to be able to do this," he laughs. "When I was younger I told myself 'my dream to be able to play music for a life time and not work.' While I'm still working a day job, I'm closer than ever."
Desiderata play a set at Emmedia Sat., Feb. 16 starting at 7 p.m. Cover is $5 at the door. Alcohawk is the best album name ever.