The Dudes, Dojo Workhorse, Vailhalen, Key to the City

Hey, you! Yes, you, with your penchant for both Purple Rain and mythical Halloween monsters. Key to the City wants to turn your friendly neighbourhood haunted house into an indie-rock discotheque and all that’s missing is you.

After a name-change and lineup-swap circa 2007, previous local staples Vailhalen have switched gears to establish their own personal brand of dark indie-pop under the guidance of frontman Chris Vail. If the name seems familiar to you, it’s because Vail has spent many a moon in the development of Calgary indie-rock. Vail boasts a calling card with a who’s who of Calgary rock, spanning from his 2000 involvement in his first band, Shecky Forme, right up to his year spent as guitarist with local celebrities The Dudes and culminating in his time with the Dojo Workhorse and Vailhalen.

That colourful sort of resume can be confusing to top so Vail keeps it simple for fans.

“Vailhalen actually is Key to the City– we changed our name and we ended up losing a few people,” say Vail. “But yeah, we still play Vailhalen material and it feels like the same thing.”

So one might ask, if it looks like Vailhalen and sounds like Vailhalen, then why the apparent case of musical personality disorder?

“Vailhalen had a bigger lineup,” explains Vail. “We changed the name because we thought we were going to get more into our career and try and tour the States and we didn’t want to have to work around a joke-sounding name.”

A new moniker and a simplified lineup aren’t the only things that differentiate Vail’s current project from his last.

“We’re dedicated artistically but we’re not looking for a career, per se, anymore.”

Key to the City is sure to draw amused smiles and questioning looks from listeners accustomed to the modus operandi of sweet, clean guitar riffs and honest poetry characteristic of Vail’s earlier endeavours. Describing Owls of Getchü as a concept album, Vail says they tackled fictitious Halloween characters as a way to break out of an artistic rut.

However, Vail proves that there’s no need to wax poetic or musically bleed out one’s jugular in order to craft meaningful lyrics.

“It’s a mixed bag, the lyrics on Owls of Getchü,” he says. “Some of them [use] the creature as a metaphor for pretty real-life lyrics and then sometimes they were kind of cheeky, actually literally about the creature . . . all in all, the core subject matter in those songs is as real as anything else.”

Key to the City aspires to a higher level of artistic diversity when it comes to their live performances. For next month’s High Performance Rodeo, which Vail cites as a Key to the City career highlight, the band plans to break out of straight indie-rock mode.

“We collaborated with a local filmmaker and we did two sets with an intermission,” says Vail. “Half the material was him making films to the songs from Owls of Getchü and then the other half was us writing music to Halloween-themed movies that he made.”

With all his involvement in other projects and his ever changing style, one might wonder about Key to the City’s future. Fear not.

“Key to the City I consider a permanent project,” he says. “I’ve gone back to what Vailhalen originally was when we started, which was an excuse to hang out with my best friends, who all happen to be really great musicians. This is my band for sure. It’s bigger than jamming with my friends and smaller than making it big. We’re focusing on being productive and writing material that we’re really proud of . . . if we’re not worried about commercial success it opens it up to be really ambitious artistically.”

“Ironically I think we’re probably going to do better without trying than we did when we tried,” he continues.

It seems like Vail’s newfound place in the middle of a dance floor, riddled with werewolves and ghosts, is sure to feel like home.

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