Ask around about music in Terrace, and the conversation inevitably – and excitedly – always turns to King Crow and the Ladies from Hell. Their high-energy live show and catchy, eclectic riffs have Terrace smitten, and as the band prepares to release their first EP and play more shows and festivals out of town, it’s clear that for these nine musicians, the success and fun they’ve been having here is only the beginning.
And King Crow has a lot of fun. The Celtic-gypsy-punk-folk-rock band (try saying that nine times fast), made up of Bobby Middleton on lead vocals, acoustic guitar, and harmonica, Torence Sandhals on drums and vocals, Garrett Kerr on bagpipes, pennywhistle, and bodhran, Jamie Norton on violin, Sam Hogarth on banjo, guitar, mandolin and bouzouki, Leah MacKay on vocals, accordion, pennywhistle and tambourine, Jeff Chapman on electric guitar, vocals, and harmonica, Dylan Gordon on bass and Mark Billey on mandolin, practises in the garage at MacKay’s parents house on the bench.
Rehearsals, held at least twice a week, and more than that in the week’s leading up to a show, are peppered with fits of laughter and drawn-out inside jokes – lots of poking fun at each other. It’s clear they don’t take themselves too seriously, even though over the past two years as a band, they’ve gotten more serious about their music.
“We’re gaining traction,” says Gordon, the last musician to join the band, who also used to play in Dr. Fishy, a well-known local band. “As people start to take us more seriously, we start to take ourselves more seriously. We start to want to write more and sound better.”
The band’s first show was at the first annual AppleFest. “Humble beginnings,” says Gordon. Norton was asked to put together a band to play background music, so she called up a few of her friends.
“It got a really good response,” says Chapman. So the band kept practising. Then, Terrace Pipes and Drums wanted to host a Celtic night for St. Patrick’s Day and asked King Crow, yet unnamed, to perform.
Not surprisingly, one of the first things people want to know about when they meet King Crow is what the name means.
“We were gonna be called String Break,” MacKay laughs, to a chorus of groans from the rest of the band members. But instead, the band brainstormed, making a list and crossing off the ones that didn’t work.
“We just liked the way King Crow sounded,” says Middleton. “Ladies from Hell came after when Garrett mentioned it.”
“Garrett and Audrey (Garrett’s mom) came up with the idea for the Ladies from Hell, which is the highland regiment of WWI,” says Chapman.
“The German’s called them the Ladies from Hell because they wore those [kilts],” says Hogarth.
“And Jamie and I aren’t from hell,” says MacKay.
This collaborative way of telling their band’s stories is indicative of the collective process the band goes through when jamming and coming up with songs.
When the band started, they played mostly covers, but that isn’t the case anymore. “If you look at our first few gigs to now, we’ve turned from being a 90 per cent cover band, to being 90 per cent original,” says Chapman. “My favourite songs to play now are songs that people in the band have written,” he says.
And the songwriters spin a good story. Middleton is the main songwriter, but Billey, Chapman, Hogarth and MacKay have all contributed tracks. But although one person might be the main songwriter, “everyone has their own part,” says Middleton. “Every musician has their own style, so no matter what song is written, we all kind of do our own thing.” You can hear this when you listen to the band, which has a very distinct King Crow sound – think the Pogues mixed with a bit of Stan Rogers and a pretty little leprechaun dancing in the wings – no matter who is the main songwriter on the track.
“The way we write songs is very healthy,” says Gordon. “As long as we’re together it’s always going to be a mish-mash. Everyone that’s in the band is very open and accepting.”
Music is in King Crow’s blood. Most of them have been playing multiple instruments since they were children, and have family members involved in the music scene.
“My parents met when they played in a pipe band. Bagpipe,” says MacKay, who also practises highland dance and teaches dance clinics at some of the festivals the band plays. “So they’ve been playing since before I was even born. I used to be scared of [the pipes] and hide under a blanket, but then I learned to love them.”
For MacKay, learning to play the accordion wasn’t difficult, because she’d been taking piano lessons and had been involved in school band from a young age.
Veteran Terrace musician James Powell, of Dr. Fishy, credits the high amount of musical talent in Terrace to the high number of musical opportunities for kids growing up in Terrace.
“I’m sure that the success of King Crow and the unique, fun sound they create has a lot to do with the way kids here grow up with so many ways to learn, play and create music,” says Powell. “It’s a local example of what has been happening here for a long time. Many successful musicians, professionals and people playing music successfully for fun, have come from Terrace.”
Powell, who has watched the members of King Crow grow up, has been working with the band over the summer to record songs for their first EP, which should be ready this fall. The band has been recording twice a week at Powell’s barn-turned-studio, and the album will include crowd favourites like “Sailor’s Song” and the band’s go-to closer, “Better Days.”
“So many people were asking if we had a CD or something, so more and more we thought we need to make a physical disc that we can give to people, even if it’s just six or 10 songs,” says Chapman.
“I’ve had a great time recording King Crow,” says Powell. “They have some great original tunes and I’m very excited with the way the tracks are coming together.”
For now, the band is just excited to keep playing live shows – this summer saw them headline Midsummer Music Festival and play the hall and the main stage at Kispiox Music Festival, as well as Terrace’s Concerts in the Park for the Arts Festival and Riverboat Days.
“I just want to play for as many people as possible,” says Middleton, on where he sees the band in the future. “We love playing for new people.”
Their next show here will be Sept. 14th with Dylan Rystad and the Raindogs, from Rupert, at the Thornhill Community Centre.