Photo by Justin Hall
If there was ever a band that embodied the spirit of summer in Newfoundland, it’s the Idlers.
Now more two years old, the ten-piece megaband has developed a strong following in the city, have recorded a full-length album, and have been invited to play at the Montreal International Reggae Festival this July.
Elling Lien got a chance to talk to Chris Harnett (tenor sax), Mark Wilson (lead vocals and trumpet), and Paul Schiralli Earle (guitar and vocals) about the band, their origins, and where they hope to go.
So it’s 7 degrees outside now … Let’s talk about summer.
MW I’m glad it’s summer already. [laughter] I’m wearing shorts and a tank-top now…
PE And I’ve got a wicked tan.
CH I remember one day, I was able to go outside without freezing. I think I wore shorts when I went for a run once, but then I slipped on the ice and fell in a snowbank.
So how long have you folks been together as the Idlers?
PE About two years ago…?
CH Since April, 2006.
And how did it begin?
PE Uhm, the funk fell from the sky… there were lightning bolts… the soul of Bob Marley fell from the sky…
MW There was Paul, myself, Tommy D… We started writing songs, and Tommy came in and started playing with us, and then from there everybody basically came together naturally.
All ten of you came together naturally?
PE It took a while.
MW Two and a half years from when we first started to play, basically.
PE Our first show was at The Ship with Mopaya, and then we played one at Bitters.
MW We recorded that show, and it’s really funny to listen to now. [laugh]
PE We played four originals right off the bat…
CH [laughs] I’d love to hear that. We should release it.
PE No! It can never touch the ears of anyone outside of those ears it has already touched!
How did the Idlers start—I mean before that show happened?
MW Back in Peterborough, Pahl and I played in a band called the So-sos…
PE We were only so-so. We weren’t good, we weren’t bad, we were so-so.
PE It was just a five-piece fun band… reggae, ska, jam-band kind of thing. It was a ton of fun, and we travelled around and everything. Then I came back home to Newfoundland, and then Mark came out for my wedding, and he stayed. And he’s still here.
Now that you mention that wedding, I wanted to bring that up. There was a huge emigration from Peterborough to St. John’s after that wedding…
MW Yeah, yeah. Jacob [Rolfe—who illustrates the Idlers’ posters] came… Myself and four other people moved out here after that.
What the heck happened at that wedding? [laugh]
PE [laugh] I dunno. I got married.
MW It was crazy. People were having sex on the deck…
PE …Mopaya played…
MW …somebody pissed in the closet…
PE …the toilets all overflowed, because it was in Carbonear at Camp McCarthy in the woods. Yeah, it was a pretty wild wedding. There were 27 people from Peterborough, and some people I met upalong who came down to the wedding…
MW All staying in your house.
PE Yeah, they were all living in my house on Military Road. There were people sleeping in the basement, people who had set up tents in the basement. They were all in St. John’s at the same time, hanging out, and then we went to Carbonear for the wedding. Yeah, it was fun times. It was a good wedding.
MW And it’s funny, because Luke (Power) and Aneirin (Thomas) were there, playing with Mopaya. And Curtis (Andrews) was there…
So do you think that, unofficially spelled out the birth of the Idlers? The band was conceived there?
PE Yeah, I saw Luke play there, and Aneirin… I always liked Aneirin’s playing. Then Mark decided to stay, and that’s when we started to write again.
Why are there so many people in the band?
PE Playing reggae, you’ve gotta have all those instruments. Well, you don’t have to, but big-band reggae sounds awesome. I’ve always loved horns. They’re wicked!
CH I like ‘em.
PE The bigger the better. With ten of us, if you can harness the creativity of ten people, you’re going to be prolific as hell!
MW I think we’re doing fun things, and that’s what draws people in.
So are you going to bring on summer, or what?
PE Oh yeah! It’ll shine out my arse.
MW I’d like to play outside. We’re going to play outside for the video we’re shooting, so when we record the video, we’re going to do a little outdoor concert down at Topsail beach.
CH We’ll be doing the lunchtime concert series at Harbourside Park this summer too.
MW We’ve got a lot of new songs, so I think that’s going to be a fun change for us this summer. It’s really exciting.
PE We pretty much have three sets of all our original tunes.
What are your new tunes like?
MW Our new stuff is different. Very different from what we’ve done in the past.
MW More reggae. Less ska.
PE I don’t know, though. I think we’re just diversifying. I don’t think we’re playing one style more than any other.
CH The songs are a lot more group-written too.
PE The sounds are getting different. Say, with “Moon” the song Mark wrote, it’s got a really interesting beat—it’s still reggae, but it’s just this repetitive pattern which goes all the way through. Then there’s another new tune that’s kind of funky reggae.
I’d say our sound is becoming more diverse. And I think that happens with any band, you know? You have to learn how to play with each other, and then once you get to that point, you start writing, and everyone knows where they come in and out.
MW It’s more potent music.
PE It’s us, as a band, understanding one another better, and understanding the genre better. Understanding our abilities to communicate that stuff.
When it’s going well, what does it feel like?
MW I feel pretty damn excited when we’ve written a song, I put it on my mp3 player, and I can listen to it, seriously, thirty times in a row and still really like it. I can feel addicted to it. Last week, there was an acoustic song that I listened to for two days. When I’m doing this I’m trying to think about harmonies, but often I’m carried away by it.
PE Having our jam space has been really good for developing new stuff.I think it’s a real advantage to have ten people working on this together, because you get this excitement. So someone brings in a tune, and then you have nine people around you going, “yeah! That’s cool!”
CH Nine Yes Men! [laugh]
PE I just mean the momentum is really great. You come in, you write it, everyone hears it, and then everyone gets on board. With a three or four piece band, you can do that, but here, with us, if you can get nine people wanting to put something together with you, it’s that much better. We work well as a collective in that way.
CH That’s a lucky thing with this set of personalities. That doesn’t work with just anyone.
The Idlers will be performing at The Dock on Friday, June 20, and Saturday, June 21. They will be performing at the Montreal International Reggae Festival in mid July. For more information, visit their website at idlers.ca