The Winnipeg Free Press Sept. 7th 2006
The Harlots channel anger into aggressive new album
Live / Melissa Martin
When The Harlots decided to take a break from the stage earlier this year, they didn't expect that fans would presume the worst.
"It sounds like a long time, but it was about eight months of inactivity," says bassist Charles Garinger. "To me it didn't seem like a very long time. And it was really funny, because people would come up and ask us if we were still a band."
Since rumours of The Harlots' demise have been greatly exaggerated, it's time to set the record straight. Yes, the veteran Winnipeg rockers are still a band. More than that, they're a band with a brand new record, Connoisseur of Ruin, which dropped on Tuesday.
What's even better is that it may be their best record yet. Not that the band's last outing, 2003's Crawl Spaces, wasn't worth the spin. But though it performed well locally, with the first single Alien landing heavy airplay on local rock station Power 97, Crawl Spaces never lived up to high hopes raised by the involvement of distributor Universal Music.
Guitarist-singer Brad Garinger says that external pressure to perform is part of the reason the album didn't meet expectations. Advised by others to cut some of their faster or more unusual songs to have a better shot at the big time, The Harlots wound up with an album that didn't demonstrate their diversity.
"Basically, we were trying to play ball with the record companies," says Brad. "I wouldn't say we got pushed around, but we got influenced in directions and second guessed ourselves all the time."
Not anymore. When it came time to record Connoisseur, the four Harlots (which also include guitarist-singer and youngest Garinger brother Buck, and drummer Mark Sawatzky) sat down with local producer Brandon Friesen with one clear message: they wanted to recapture the honest energy of their 1998 self-titled debut, and make an album that was entirely theirs.
"We're our worst critics, and also we know what people respond to when we play the songs. We know better than anyone else about what works for the Harlots," says Brad. "We know what our favourite songs are, and even if we're wrong, at least we did it truthfully."
The end result of all that truth is what Charles calls "a pissed-off album." While not all of the band's newfound edge stems from musical frustrations, some of Connoisseur's tunes do seem like oblique kiss-offs to the anal retentive elements of the music industry. The band's brisk, crunchy guitars and three-part harmonies haven't changed. But songs like the raw, aggressive first single Magistrate and the sweeping, cinematic Slaves do betray a certain restlessness.
"It's a little bit of like, f--- you, this is what we're going to do. Because of that, the songs are faster and we play them with more enthusiasm," says Buck. "So I think we captured the energy and the anger. There wasn't a specific thing that's making us angry, it's just an accumulation of things. Band-related, personal-related, world-related. Not that this is a super political record, but there's lots of crappy things to be upset about right now."
At least the new album isn't one of them. Released by indie label Curve Music (which also handles Holly McNarland and Wide Mouth Mason), Connoisseur is also being distributed by Universal. Magistrate has been getting strong support from Freq 107, and even Hot 103 has been spinning the tune, thanks to rave reviews from morning-show host Ace Burpee.
"Why shouldn't someone who normally listens to Rihanna or Justin Timberlake be exposed to The Harlots?" says Sawatzky of the pop station's support. "That might turn them on to rock and roll. And that might make them want to burn their Rihanna CDs."
The Harlots will be cashing in on that buzz at two CD release parties this weekend. The first gig, on Saturday, will be at the Zoo, with Tele and The Nods opening up. The second, an all-ages show, will be at the Park Theatre on Sunday with Domenica. After that, the band will be heading on a western jaunt to play in Calgary and Edmonton.
After eight months away from the stage, the quartet is ready to turn on the amps and play for the people (in keeping with Manitoba's new corporate identity, Charles promises to perform with "spirited energy"). Beyond that, they're not too worried about what happens next.
"I think we've already achieved success," says Sawatzky. "All four of us are really proud, and happy, and we can sleep really well when somebody says the name of this record. There's nowhere on this record that there's any doubts. For success, that's the most that you can have."