Rockin' Roots (Profiles in Rock n' Roll and Rockabilly Music): Chris van Keir, The 427's

by Krlmagi

I talk to The 427's Chris van Keir about writing soundtracks to films that don't exist, finding musical inspiration and galvanizing an audience.

Two similar ads posted on Kijiji brought Chris van Keir and Rob Day together to form the 427’s. Chris explains, “He had his ad up first and I posted one a bit later. Eventually I received an email from Rob saying he was looking to do a similar project. He copied the link to his ad and it was virtually identical to mine! We talked on the phone and eventually met up and jammed out some cover tunes. The band grew out of those first jam sessions.”

The 427's (L to R): Rob Day, Eve Hell, Chris van Keir, Wrayne Ramone
The 427's (L to R): Rob Day, Eve Hell, Chris van Keir, Wrayne Ramone
Mark Preston

The instrumental surf music of the early ‘60s is at the heart of the 427’s.  It was the music that first got under Chris’ skin. He says, “I was drawn to the instrumental surf music of the early ‘60s like the Ventures, Dick Dale and the Bel Airs. I loved their guitar tones. As a kid learning guitar, it was really easy to pick out the guitar on a Ventures album because it was right there.”

 He adds, “For Rob, it was very similar, but he was also influenced by the ‘90’s revival of surf music and Canadian bands like Huevos Rancheros and Shadowy Men. We had early rock n’ roll and rockabilly influences as well as some thrash metal for me and punk rock for Rob.”

 The initial idea for the project was the combination of instrumental surf music with the attitude of early punk bands like the Cramps, The Misfits and The Ramones. Chris explains, “Once we had a musical base, we had to decide what we wanted the music to feel like. We thought of it like we were creating a soundtrack to a movie that hadn’t been released yet.”

 He continues, “We took inspiration from the soundtracks to the ‘B’ movies,  horror films, film noir and spaghetti Westerns that we love. We got it down to how we wanted to sound and how we wanted it to look so when we walk into a room, people are like, ‘Holy shit! That’s the band!’ “

 Visuals are the basis on which Chris starts writing songs. He says, “I’ll have a visual in my head like a snippet of that film that hasn’t been released yet that I just mentioned.  I’ll ask myself how the soundtrack to that film would sound. How do I relay that and how do I convey the emotion behind it when it doesn’t have any words to guide the listener?”

He points out, “Rob and I each have different approaches to song writing. Rob has more of a punk approach where he doesn’t worry about the theory behind the song. He starts with a riff that he’s worked out or a musical idea in his head that he’s translated onto his guitar.”

Making purely instrumental music is one potential challenge for the 427’s, but Chris says that it has only been a minor issue.  He continues, “Recently I heard back from an out of province promoter. He  enjoyed our stuff but without a vocal track, he said that it would be hard to put across in his club. It was the first time in the three years of the band’s life that I’ve heard that.”

He elaborates, “People have become so accustomed to that vocal track that has the melody and has the hook, but when people see us they realize that we don’t need vocals. There’s a whole stage show going on! It’s not just four people on stage staring at their toes and trying to play exactly what’s on the album.”

In Chris’ view, Calgary’s music scene is thriving. He cites the talented artists, wide variety of music and the overall sense of community in the scene. He says, “In my experience, it’s not just going to fall into a person’s lap, so you have to seek it out a little bit.  You have to keep your ear to the ground, but having said that I don’t know that it’s any different than any other metropolitan centre. If you seek it out, you’ll be rewarded.”

When it comes to recording versus live performance, Chris says, “A recording is our document. We want it to be as precise as possible. We want  to lay down the tracks and fine tune it so it can be the best it can be while still having a sense of energy to it. In the live show, we want to put on a show! We want the sense of fun and danger that comes with a good rock show. If there’s a bum note in there, so be it, because we want the feeling to be right.”

The band’s future plans include more touring and potentially writing music for film and television. Chris explains, “Our music is instrumental so it does lend itself to film and TV  because there are no vocals to get in the way. We also want to become more widely visible. We’ve had exposure on Internet forums dedicated to surf music and rockabilly as well as campus and community radio, but we’d love to reach some of the fans we have around the world who have emailed us and asked if we’d play in their part of the world.”

He goes on to say, “We want to get to the venues where the maximum number of people can see us in one spot.  We can definitely take a couple of weeks to go to a bunch of different festivals and play some towns and clubs in between. That’s our short term goal.”

Chris is driven to express himself through music, no matter what. He points out, “Sometimes I wonder why I just can’t get up and go to a normal job like everyone else that I went to university with, but I can’t stop playing and writing music. As a musician, there’s always something to inspire me in writing and striving to improve my craft.  There’s as much that can be gained from life experience, as trivial as it may seem at the time, as learning all the scales and all the chords. That’s fantastic but that doesn’t translate to artistic endeavour.”

For more information on The 427's, please visit them here.

This profile is based on an interview conducted and recorded on September 15th, 2016.

Updated: 10/19/2016, Krlmagi
 
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