Uncharted is our weekly showcase of independent artists we think you should hear. This week we speak to Jim Ginther of prairie doom lords Shooting Guns about the supportive Saskatoon music scene, gritty psychedelia, and his holy grail of record collecting.
"A diesel train going off a buffalo jump." That's the image this Saskatoon instrumental doom outfit had in mind when they went and called themselves Shooting Guns. Gnarly. But it glosses over the finer points in the narrative that their music conjures. Mainly, that the conductor's frying balls, staring down the mouth of some lysergic mind-beast, and giving a full-belly laugh as he sails his engine full-steam ahead into the black velvet cosmos once and for all.
This is heavy, heady stuff. Hypnotic and then maddening, like Ravel's "Bolero" distilled into a bad-ass riff that grows right in front of you until it's become a structure of unfathomable size. For fans of Sleep, the sludgier, more psychedelic fare on Tee Pee Records (Naam, Earthless), and certainly, anyone that can call "Electric Funeral" their favourite tune off Paranoid.
Shooting Guns released Brotherhood of the Ram (named for a local satanic scare in the early '90s) — their follow-up to the Polaris-longlisted Born to Deal in Magic: 1952-1976 — on October 15 through Pre-Rock Records in Canada and Easy Rider Records in the States. We spoke with Shooting Guns drummer Jim Ginther from his home in prairie paradise and we chatted on Saskatoon, the unrecognized psych hotspot; making the perfect album to crush beers to; and the band's holy grails of record collecting.
Somewhere in your bio, you’ve cheekily called Saskatoon a “subarctic wasteland.” How do you think the city and your relationship to it figure into the sound of Shooting Guns?
From November to April, for at least six months of the year, it’s below zero. It’s at the warmest minus 10 degrees. Generally, it’s minus 20 to minus 40 for the period. We’re not going outside a lot, you know? So it’s just a great time to go in the lab. We spend all winter just working on new stuff. If we lived in a warmer place, we’d probably just be at the bar getting hammered — not that we’re not doing that to deal with the weather in the first place.
Do you think any of the psychedelia or stoneriness of your music owes to anything in the city?
Absolutely. There’s a real psych revival happening, really, all over the world. It seemed like in the aughts, a lot of the indie rock was safe and predictable and now people want a bit more grit and edge and risk. Because Saskatoon is generally free from outsiders looking in and criticizing what’s going on, we’re free to do whatever the hell we want. Yeah, we’re free to get really weird. In the psych scene here, there are so many great bands: Powder Blue, The Foggy Notions, The Switching Yard, Lavagoat. So many bands have some element of psychedelia. It’s a pretty open-minded city — at least the people I know. It’s called the “Paris of the Prairies,” but it feels like it’s got more of an Austin North vibe going on.
Saskatoon’s a city of 200,000 or so people, can you give us some sense of the size of the city’s music scene? Are there a number of bars that put on sows? Or one particular bar? Or is it a community of house shows?
With the greater area, we're close to 300,000 people right now and it could be half a million in the next 20 years. It’s a pretty weird time, because I remember growing up in the ‘80s and the only developments downtown were when big, concrete parkades were bulldozed to make parking lots.
The music scene here is rad. It’s so supportive. There’s not really any industry here. There are organizations like SaskMusic and the [Saskatchewan] Arts Board, but there’s no major labels, there aren’t any scouts at shows; it’s just a group of musicians that are doing this for each other. We share gear, we share members. For a lot of the established musicians, it’s not uncommon for them to play in four or five bands. And it seems like now more than ever, bands from here are touring all over the world and choosing Saskatoon as their home base. It’s awesome to see, because out here if you wanna have fun you’ve got to make it yourself.
We’re spoiled in that we have amazing long-term venues. Amigos Cantina has always been regarded as one of the best venues in Canada — great stage, crowds are always good, they pay well, and it’s a killer kitchen. There’s Vangelis. There are so many venues. One of the problems is that for the size of the city, there are actually too many shows going on. And the local support is overwhelming. It’s not uncommon for local shows to sell out just the same as when big touring acts come through.
You recorded Brotherhood of the Ram at a farm/recording studio an hour outside of Saskatoon. Tell me about that. If you set out to make the perfect album to crush beers to, that sounds like the ideal setting.
We recorded the whole thing over three afternoons out there. And this was in the thick of winter, so we just brought I dunno how many cases of beer each time, but we’d just leave ‘em out there in the snow. No need for a fridge. Chad Mason, the engineer and the guy who built the studio from the ground up, he’s such a professional. He’s just there pushing buttons and making sure everything sounds great, but he let us do whatever we want, as many takes as we want. He let us do it on our own terms, and that’s how we like to operate. We’ve always done everything ourselves when it comes to recording and releasing records. Chad’s one of the first guys we’ve let take some of the recording aspects out of our hands, but we couldn’t be happier with how it went.
I hear you guys are all big time vinyl collectors. In one interview, you guys said you’d collectively been to about 80 percent of the record shops in Canada. What’s the jewel of your collection and why’s it so special to you?
That’s not an exaggeration. It’s not even a joke. One of my favourite records is the original German pressing of Monster Magnet’s Spine of God, which features John McBain on guitar [who, incidentally, was also tapped to master Brotherhood of the Ram]. That’s definitely a standout. I mean, between all of us we’ve probably got over 5,000 records, so it's hard to pick just one.
So what’s your holy grail? The one thing you've have always kept your eyes peeled for, but have never found?
Oh that's a good question. Let me think about it and get the guys in on this.
Jim: Slayer, South of Heaven (I can’t find this one anywhere!)
Keith Doepker: Da King & I, Tears 12”
Chris Laramee: Isaac Hayes, I Can't Turn Around (Ron Hardy's Edit)
Steve Reed: Any 10" shellac pressing on Okeh by Mississippi John Hurt