The Headstones

Bassists are always the "cool" ones in the band, laying down the groove amidst the quintessential guitarist, recognizable front man, and demented drummer. Think about it: Paul McCartney, Flea, Geddy Lee, well, not so much Geddy Lee… but you see the point. The stick man enjoys a popularity and reverence attributed only to the master of blues and deep frets.

Tim White of Headstones fame/notoriety sure doesn’t look like the kind of guy with whom you’d want to chew the fat. And you certainly wouldn’t want to ask him some snot-nosed questions he’s heard before.

After talking to White, though, I realized he has justly earned his reputation as a cool bassist. Ever since the 1993 release of their first album, Picture of Health, White and the boys have challenged themselves and fans without succumbing to the same influences as the rest of the "hard rock" world.

Take the whole electronic/industrial craze, which occurred right around the time their last album, Smile and Wave, was released. Would our beloved necromaniacs jump on the voice-distorter, guitar-flanger boat with the rest of the bands out there in need of a boost?

"That’s funny. We talked about a lot of stuff, and that idea definitely came up," says White. "That whole Rob-Zombie-American-Made-Music-to-Strip-By type of thing, but what ultimately happened was that when we were writing, we didn’t write with a set style in mind. We weren’t willing to limit ourselves to one sound, and each song became its own thing. We treat each song differently."

And it shows. Their latest album, Nickels For Your Nightmares, is proof again these guys aren’t ready for the grave. The opening track, "Downtown," includes some curious samples, with a harmonica reminiscent of "When Something Stands For Nothing," and guitar manipulations first heard on "Smile and Wave." They set up a complete anti-climax the rest of the day trip through the not-so-hard-but-still-heavy world of the Headstones. The album doesn’t stop in mid-stride and collapse on the floor in a state of wussiness, but it’s certainly a lot more mellow than previous efforts from Hugh and the gang.

The Rolling Stones/Sheryl Crow hybrid "Settle" (the first single from the album) shows how the Headstones versatility with back-up vocals which sound like they belong more in a Monkees song and a totally sweet piano outro, while "Exhausted" is a ballad similar to "Marigold," only with more string instruments and harmonica. By the time they get to "Firing Pin" and "Congratulations [Mystery to Me]," where their punk influence seeps through the cracks of their newfound sensitivity, you may have given up. After all, following "births, deaths, break-ups, arrests, institutionalizations, more deaths, and more breakups," you’d probably expect something sounding more like Slayer than Sloan.

Though the opposite is true, don’t give up on the disc. "#%$@ You" (no explanation required), the Latin "My Perspective Fades," and the live title track at the end of the album–a Pink Floyd jam session gone completely right–make the wait worthwhile. From what you’ve read, it may sound like the album is a lot of recycling and rip-offs. Rest assured the sound is much different from what they’ve previously done, with the result being an original, albeit somewhat slower and less head-bangish, album. After all, being eclectic is a hallmark of theirs.

"Some bands are really good at doing the same thing over and over," says White. "Bands like ac/dc are amazing at doing that. It’s the same sound enough that you say, ‘Great, that’s what I like!’ but it’s not so much the same that they’re boring. Then there’s other bands like us that have a short attention span and like experimenting."

Thank God for add.

The boys are officially on the first leg of their Nickels tour and will hit Calgary hard as usual on Tues., April 18. I wonder aloud what they do to keep sane during a cross-Canada trip with a bunch of swarthy rockers. Yet again, he catches me off guard.

"Well, we play this game on the road that I wanted to tell you about," White begins.

I think to myself: "Four guys? In a van? Come on, I think we’ve all played that game before."

"It’s called ‘Different Guy,’" he continues. "It can happen at any given moment–all of a sudden you’re a different guy for the day or whatever. Talk in a different voice, have a different character… say the same thing over and over again, that’s a good one. We have a lot of fun playing ‘Different Guy’ on the road."

From the sounds of their new album, they apparently enjoy playing "Different Guy" in the studio, too–a game other bands might want to try some time.

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