by Victoria King
You probably remember the first local show you ever saw, right? It was probably at the Albert, Ozzy’s, the WECC, maybe even Wellington’s. It was dark and grungy, you were zitty and nervous. But as far as you were concerned, that band onstage were the best thing you’d ever seen.
Curtis Walker (aka Blunderspublik) remembers his first concert – it was Bulletproof Nothing opening for Sloan when they were touring their first album. The latest release from Blunderspublik, Kittens and Shit, pays tribute to several Winnipeg bands from the 90s, taking on a number of different styles to commemorate five local groups: the Bonaduces, Kittens, Shit, Mikimoto, and Hushfeed.
He explains that the release began like most projects in Winnipeg do – in the middle of February when it’s too cold to go out. “It started off with one song . . . I was thinking, ‘this would be a really fun song to cover.’ Like most albums of mine, it started off with me just playing around at home.”
The seed was planted, Curtis says, and in the weeks to come whenever he would come across an old song from a Winnipeg band, he’d think, ‘Oh, this would be a fun song to cover.’ The problem was in actually choosing which tunes to cover, which became a matter of whether he could figure out how to play them.
“You can’t just google Red Fisher and find the tabs for it.”
What innocently began as a one song project eventually turned into a year and a half long recording, producing, and mastering process. Kittens and Shit is the result. “Usually it’s about four years between records for me, so this is a new record,” Curtis laughs.
Between 1990 and 1999, Curtis was aged 12 to 22, which he describes as “primetime” for discovering music and getting into music. “It seemed like there was a lot of all-ages shows happening in the 90s, which seemed to me like well established bands . . . It was kind of what we did on Fridays and Saturdays. And they were always dirt cheap too!” The intensity of Kittens shows has stuck with Curtis. “I have vivid memories of seeing Kittens live, especially at the West End. There was mosh-pits and pushing and shoving, a lot of intense energy at those shows.”
As well as hosting plenty of all-ages shows, the 90s were a time Curtis remembers for its prolific tape production. He remembers bands like Eric’s Trip and Pavement, bands that would record on a four-track in their living room and would release on big labels like Sub Pop. “I remember sitting in my bedroom and flipping the tapes over and over again, trying to figure out some of them at the guitar at the time.”
Which is what got him into experimenting on his own tapes. Not only did those cult status groups get him excited about music – so did local shows. “I remember going to the battle of the bands shows that would be promoted at my high school … When I was a teenager, I got obsessed with music like no other time in my life. When you’re young, music is textual and visceral, and I didn’t have much other things to spend money on,” he laughs, “so I’d go to shows and buy any t-shirt that was there and every single tape, buy a 10” even if my dad’s record player didn’t work.”
Kittens and Shit isn’t the type of Blunderspublik release you’re probably used to. On the whole, the album is way more poppy than the regular Blunderspublik, and incorporates traditional songwriting elements in the vocals, pre-posed structure and sound pallet. “I never go into a release knowing a pallet of sounds I’m going to use – that usually just happens as I go along.”
“The first responses I got were sending it to the bands themselves, which was really nerve-wracking. I wanted to get everybody’s OK.” But as Curtis rationalizes, “It’s Winnipeg. Eventually you become friends with your heroes.” He got the OK from most of the bands (the others he simply couldn’t track down) and says those reactions were really positive and they were flattered – Brendan from Mikimoto plays his bass part on “Drunk Monks” as well.
“I just started out because it was a fun project,” says Curtis. What’s come out of the EP is a taste of those local bands who have long since laid down their instruments and moved onto other projects. “I’ve lived in a few different places and I think that [the Winnipeg music scene] is actually different and interesting. Despite how self-deprecating it is, I think we actually have a pretty good thing going. There’s the cliché of the isolation, I don’t know if there’s much to that. I think that there’s more validity in the idea that because all of the pockets of genres are small, there has to be cross-pollination between bands . . . I also think that the Winnipeg scene is good because there isn’t a lot of potential to be a commercial success so I think most people making music don’t care,” he explains. “Because the potential for that is so low in Winnipeg, people just write how they want and music is always better that way.”
Check out Blunderspublik’s Kittens & Shit EP alongside other Blunderspublik recordings at blunderspublik.com.