The Fugitives sprouted out of East Vancouver’s spoken-word scene. Originally formed by slam-poets Barbara Adler and Brendan McLeod along with musicians C.R. Avery (who has also done some time as a spoken-word artist) and Mark Berube, the group has proven to be surprisingly resilient as a musical force, touring across the country and in Europe and making actual records with real songs.
The latest of these, Eccentrically We Love, is the second full-length (the group released an EP, Find Me, last year) from the Fugitives, currently made up of Adler, McLeod, Adrian Glynn and Steve Charles. We were able to procure an interview with McLeod relatively easily, by running into him at our favourite Commercial Drive coffee shop (and de facto Guttersnipe Industries office) Prado and saying “Hey, mind if we turn this recording device on and, oh, we’ll have a 12 oz. Americano.” McLeod graciously allowed us to record the following…
The interview took place March 9, just before two Fugitives shows scheduled for March 11 and 12 at the East Vancouver Cultural Centre’s Culture Lab. Following the March 23 release of Eccentrically We Love, the band is off on a cross-Canada tour. See them, and you’re likely to be amused and/or touched (emotionally, not physically, although that might happen too).
SC: I’m just looking at your website. I didn’t know you won [in 2006, for The Convictions of Leonard McKinley] the three-day novel writing contest [an annual event based in Vancouver]. Do you have any other novels?
BM: I have nine really shitty ones that haven’t been published. Yeah, I’ve been working on some. It keeps getting pushed back by more immediate things with funding behind them.
SC: Like the Fugitives.
BM: Like the Fugitives. I have grants from different bodies. I have to actually do these other things. I have to give them reports and tell them how I’ve spent their money.
SC: It must be a lot different, the immediate gratification of playing live, from sitting in a room working on a novel.
BM: I think maybe that’s a reason things don’t get done, writing-wise. Even when I tour solo, doing oral storytelling, I’m more prone to writing that kind of stuff: “I’ve got a gig coming up, I should do some stuff.” No one’s ever knocking on your door for the next novel.
SC: What inspired your most recent story?
BM: I just talk about what’s going on in my life. It’s totally a live thing. I don’t write short stories for the page. Usually I’m just trying to fill time between things. Mostly I use a lot of wild hyperbole, that’s my thing. A lot of it is stuff I’ve worked on in poem form or something but which just doesn’t quite work that way.
SC: Doesn’t everything just start bleeding into each other?
BM: Yeah, it’s totally a mess right now. The Fugitives started the music thing, then I started doing Awesome Face with R.C. Weslowski and Chris Gilpin, which is kids’ music. Then we got bored of doing it for kids so we said let’s do kids’ music for adults. So we started doing that. Then I wrote a play [The Big Oops] for the Cultch [Vancouver East Cultural Centre] which is about a kids’ entertainer but it’s for adults. So it’s all getting totally muddled.
SC: So in the Fugitives, who is the most musical and who is the most literary?
BM: Steve’s the most musical, I guess – Steve and Adrian, but Steve has more of a variety of genres at his disposal. I think he plays jazz guitar and now he’s in most of the bluegrass bands in town, and he plays eight instruments or something. Adrian’s the main songwriter guy, and then I don’t know. I guess I’m the most literary in that I write things for the page sometimes.
SC: What was your musical background before the Fugitives?
BM: I played in a really crappy college band, like a Dave Matthews rip-off band, it was really bad. That was while doing grad school in Waterloo. I do my own solo music shtick, but it’s mostly storytelling with guitar. A few songs. They wouldn’t make it without stories behind them. Melodies are okay, it’s my overall guitar skills and singing voice. They’re not going to ring bells by themselves.
SC: So what about this record, Eccentrically We Love?
BM: Well the first record is super-folky but this is more like a pop album. Our publicist listened to it and said, “You guys just wrote like ten singles.”
SC: Was that Ken Beattie [of Killbeat Music]?
SC: He says that about every album.
BM: Okay, good. We pay him to say things like that.
SC: Is it a more collaborative effort? Are there any songs that are just Brendan?
BM: Well maybe “All This Trouble”, the most boring track on the album. It’s basically me. Then again Adrian wrote some of the lyrics and we all worked on the arrangements. Literally, [the songs are] someone’s melody with someone else’s lyrics with someone else’s arrangement, mashed together. Even the last track [“Everytime”], which is just guitar and piano and vocals, I wrote the lyrics, Steve wrote the vocal arrangements and Adrian is singing it.
SC: Is someone a perfectionist in the band?
BM: The producer, Matt [Matthew Rogers]. He was a really dick when it came to vocals! We did a whole month, 12 hours a day, it was ridiculous. He was really great.
SC: Were the vocal arrangements the toughest part of making the record?
BM: One of them. Also getting the right feel for the songs. Before we’d workshopped songs on the road. We started with bass and drums, and we don’t even play with bass and drums, and we had to make them sound right for songs we didn’t even know. Working from the bottom up was a little big challenging.
SC: The record sounds great. You guys have written 10 singles!
BM: We’re happy with it. You get to the stage where you’re like, “Fuck!” Like you have no idea. Then it goes to the plant and two weeks later you get it back and you put it on and you’re like, “I’m going to kill myself if this isn’t good.” And I didn’t kill myself.
SC: What were the circumstances behind listening to the record for the first time?
BM: I was drunk, yes, at my friend’s house in Ottawa. But it was on her shitty computer speakers and I couldn’t bear it so I took it off after two songs. I played it with my dad. He’s a super-cheeseball so he just skipped to the softer tracks. “City of Rain”, he likes that one.
The Fugitives’ East Van house party