The Unbelievable Bargains :: “We value values”

by Sheldon Birnie, photo by Andrew Mazurak

“Don’t lick the floor,” warns Steve Basham as we’re sitting around, drinking beers and preparing for our interview.

“We’ve got mice,” explains Marshall Birch, singer, guitar player, and principal songwriter for the Unbelievable Bargains, with a chuckle. Both Birch and Basham (bass) live in this large house on Balmoral where I’ve met them to do the interview, before their weekly Wednesday jam.

“This has always kind of been the home of the band,” Birch had said earlier, as we discussed the background of the group. Active now for over a year and a half, the Unbelievable Bargains started with a jam between Birch and (former housemate) J.P. Perron (who arrives directly). Birch, who has been recording and releasing lo-fi CDRs of his material for years, had a whack of new material that he wanted to flesh out with a band. With Perron on board, and another buddy on bass, all they needed was a name.

The Unbelievable Bargains started off as The Big Honkin’ Dingers, a name which changed shortly after Basham joined the group.

“We were playing at the Death Trap,” Basham explains, laughing. “I was there a little early, and someone asked me, ‘What’s the name of your band? I want to put it on the sandwich board outside.’ And I was like, ‘Uh, the Down Dirty Digglers? No. The Red Hot Dingers?’ I couldn’t remember the name! They were gracious enough to change the band name because I could never remember it!”

The Unbelievable Bargains is not only a catchy handle to play under, but representative of these three dudes (and many Manitobans) as well.

“We’re very value conscious,” Basham admits.

“We go to a lot of second hand stores,” says Birch. “That’s where I get all my clothes and records and things like that.”

The thrills of daily living, like stumbling across a great bargain at a yard sale, are universal. The themes the Unbelievable Bargains explore in their off-brand rock and power-pop tunes are certainly universal, though perhaps a little off-beat at first listen.

“There are one of three principal themes,” Basham begins explaining, before Birch details these themes for me.

“It’s either about food or animals or like, daily events and bodily functions,” he says. “Most of my songs I just write about things that amuse me or things that happen to me. Like, something will happen to me and I’ll just be thinking of something in the shower or on the toilet. I’ll think of some funny rhyme, and it goes from there. I’ll grab a rhyming dictionary and make a song.”

A prolific songwriter, the Unbelievable Bargains have a mass of tunes ready to share with the public, and have just begun recording their debut (as yet untitled) album.

“We recorded 21 songs in a day. In like five or seven hours,” explains Perron. With bed tracks in the can, the gang has only to return to do lead and background vocals, and “sound effects.” Out of the 21 tracks, the Unbelievable Bargains hope to put out a 16 track full length in early 2013.

Jamming once a week, playing shows regularly, and recording an album is a busy schedule to maintain. Nevermind that the they all hold down jobs and school, but Basham and Perron are both in other busy bands. Basham is the singer and guitar player in The Girth, and Perron plays drums for This Hisses. Regardless, the boys find a way to make it happen.

“I think we all just go out of our way to do it,” says Basham, citing that while other commitments exist, “this one is particularly fun and hilarious to do.”

“We’re all good buds,” says Perron, over a sip of whisky that has made it’s way into the mix from somewhere. “We just get together every Wednesday and hang out. It’s great.”

Indeed. If you’re looking for a fun band with plenty of energy, and some weird songs to get stuck in your head, make sure you check out the Unbelievable Bargains soon.

The Unbelievable Bargains play the Cavern for an album fundraiser Friday January 12.

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