By Jillian Groening
In the music industry, success often arrives either at a snail’s pace or at break-neck speed. For Winnipeg-based rock outfit Attica Riots, the enigmatic s-word seems to be prowling right at its heels.
Originally fooling around as a jam band, playing covers together and working through songs for their other projects, singer and guitarist Bobby Desjarlais, bassist Kyle Erickson, and drummer Anders Erickson, eventually put their other bands on the back burner and poured their energy into Attica Riots’ sweaty, dance-y rhythms. And good thing they did.
All three members are seasoned veterans of the Winnipeg music scene with Attica Riots acting as a sort of youthful prairie supergroup. Desjarlais is formerly of psych-party rockers The Bokononists and greasy mod group Alverstone. The lanky musician also has a solo project that continues to balance out his louder, heavier group efforts. In earlier days, the Erickson’s were in the all-brother band You Know I Know (previously Inward Eye), who opened for The Who back in 2006 and played during the closing ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
After years of noodling around in their jam space, the musicians made the official leap to start officially performing as Attica Riots in 2013.
“When we started out, everyone already had a deep respect for what everyone else did, so you’re strolling into the project with an idea of what your job is going to be,” Desjarlais explains over the phone on an afternoon off from his day job as an EA at a local high school. “I knew that I was going to be a key lyrical member of the band, I knew that Kyle was going to be a writer and a melody creator and playing the guitar and that we weren’t going to be taking Andy off the kit. Everyone knew what they were there to do. Everyone had their role going.”
These preconceived creative responsibilities allowed the group to speed past the artistic awkward stage and right into playing shows and developing a fan base. With the band dynamic being smooth and with everyone aware of each other’s strong points, the brooding rockers were able to really hone in on their strengths. This clear support base allowed for comfortable and productive rehearsals, which lead to a tight and confident live show.
“I’ve had these moments while performing of complete synergy where your eyes are closed and you’re completely lost and I think that’s what I enjoy the most,” Desjarlais says. “Those moments only come when you’re really well rehearsed and everything’s coming together the way you planned it. Everyone’s on the same page and has put in the right amount of work and is performing at a high level.”
With the group naturally evolving at a rapid rate, Attica Riots was able to settle down and enjoy rehearsing, creating new songs and performing.
“Being able to step outside yourself is the best part about the live show,” Desjarlais says. “Even when I go out dancing, I don’t dance the way I do on stage. It’s crazier, it’s a little less inhibited. It’s like there’s this sense of freedom and you do kind of get taken away a bit.”
The three big personalities, who hold enough experience between them to intimidate any kid with a SoundCloud account, rely heavily on each other’s advice. With each of them finally in a group with a shared, singular focus, everyone knows what needs to be done and races towards it with a solid work ethic.
“It’s so stupid, it’s respectful and mature and fun and it’s a good mix of business and pleasure,” Desjarlais says with a chuckle. “I’m just in love with what’s going on.”
Desjarlais has been a fixture in the Winnipeg music scene since he first moved to the city centre from Beausejour, Manitoba, in 2002. Having first picked up his mom’s guitar at age 17, Desjarlais has since been gracing neon-lit venues with his energetic and infectious guitar riffs from downtown to South Osbourne and back again.
“I can appreciate the small town vibe now that I’m a little bit older and I enjoy going back but when I decided I was going to play music I knew there was no way I could play for the same eight regulars for the rest of my life,” Desjarlais says with a laugh. “It’s a tear in your beer kind of thing. I had to go and find where people were making art, and usually that’s in bigger city centres, so Winnipeg it was!”
In February of 2014, with a year of performing to head-bobbing Winnipeggers and a feature spot on one of the first local Manitoba Music showcases under their belts, Desjarlais and the Erickson brothers made their way to L.A. to record.
The first studio they worked in was EastWest Studios, which is world renowned and dripping in history. Located on Sunset Boulevard, EastWest Studios has hosted the likes of Tom Petty and The Beach Boys.
Up next was The Ballroom, mixer, producer and engineer Mark Needham’s private recording studio. Having worked with Fleetwood Mac, The Killers, and Chris Isaak, Needham worked his magic on Attica Riots’ tracks and gave them one of the coolest experiences of all time, along with endless bragging rights.
Upon their return to the centre of the continent, the homegrown rockers knew they needed to create an even bigger sound.
“We knew that something was missing,” Desjarlais explains. “After hearing the recordings and then jamming, it was like you were missing a melody that you had somehow fallen in love with.”
Stepping into action, the core of Attica Riots cherry-picked three additional members, keyboardist Rick De Moissac, bassist Matt Filopoulos, and singer and guitarist Jamie Buckboro.
With a fuller sound and an even more dynamic live set, Attica Riots toured to Canadian Music Week (CMW) in March of 2015. After playing full venues and networking with labels and management teams from Canada and the States, Attica Riots will be returning to Toronto to play Manitoba Music’s NXNE 2015 showcase and to reconnect with growing numbers of supporters.
“We’re gonna try to get our record out within the year, but we don’t want to release it blindly into the wind,” Desjarlais states. “There’s things that we’re working towards getting that would help us make a larger splash around Canada, the States and the world.”
After mingling with music industry suits and dealing with tedious legal agreements and contracts over in T-dot, Attica Riots will return home to headline Canada Day at The Forks with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO).
“It’s going to be so fun and so exciting. I’ve been making jokes that I’ll be the worst musician on the stage,” Desjarlais says with a laugh. “But my mom is real excited.”
Staying the Course: A clear plan and a focused crew keep Attica Riots singing
Sitting idle and waiting around for the white knight of tour funding to come and sweep them off their feet is not something Attica Riots is likely to do. Instead, the grungy dance-rockers have a habit of taking matters into their own hands.
“There is always work to be done and that is what I like about this band,” Desjarlais states. “We’re constantly writing new material and honing the songs that are already recorded so we can put on great live shows.”
Even before Attica Riots was officially a group, its members were busy navigating the hyper-active Manitoba music scene. With the Erickson brothers forming two thirds of one of Winnipeg’s most buzzed about bands (I Know You Know/Inward Eye), Desjarlais was actively taking part in Manitoba Music’s Songwriters showcases, WritersConnect workshops, and twice has been accepted into the songwriter retreats to collaborate with other local artists.
These events have exposed participants to networking opportunities both within the local music community as well as with visiting music industry workers. Not only do these events aid in artistic growth, but they also teach important skills necessary for a career in music.
Desjarlais’ participation in these professional development initiatives have laid out critical connections within the industry and have paved the way for a successful and enriching creative journey.
“The songwriter retreat really helped me recognize myself as a songwriter, which is something I hadn’t done in the past,” Desjarlais admits. “I had always just considered myself a guitar player and now the tables have turned and I use my guitar more as a writing tool.”
The connections made through these workshops and showcases lead Attica Riots to play one of the very first local Manitoba Music showcases, joined by local JUNO-nominees Royal Canoe and held at The Lo Pub (RIP).
These experiences, combined with Attica Riots’ persistent work ethic and electric live show, saw the group record in the sunshine state itself. With expertly mixed recordings and a feature in Manitoba Music’s Loft Sessions video series behind them, Attica Riots packed their bags for CMW 2015.
Seven days of networking with bands, labels and management from across Canada and beyond saw Attica Riots shopping around their recordings and developing important industry connections. Manitoba Music’s Market Access Program helped make it possible for the band to get to the event to showcase and network.
In June, Attica Riots will return to Toronto for Manitoba Music’s showcase at NXNE to further the relationships made at CMW. With talks of contracts and international interest, things are looking up for the hardworking rock group.
“Sometimes you can feel like there’s no progress at all and then the next thing you know 2015 rolls around and you’re going to both major Canadian festivals with great spots and good attention and an American label showing interest,” Desjarlais says with excitement. “But regardless you have to stay focused on what’s in front of you. There are poles you can hitch your horse to along the way but the plan could always change.”
A firm grasp on reality and a positive outlook? Smells like success.