by Daniel Emberg
Do you know Shooting Guns? Over the past couple of years, they have seemingly become everybody’s favourite heavy rock band. There are a good number of devoted followers here in Winnipeg and the band loves coming here, though it has been over a year since they last made it to town. Drummer Jim Ginther apologized for that (“It wasn’t for lack of wanting to,” he insists) during a recent chat with Stylus at Amigos Cantina in Saskatoon, which he adds is the site of the first-ever Shooting Guns show. We met with Jim to pick his brain a bit about the band’s whirligig past year and get an idea of what is in store for them during 2015.
Jim Ginther is well aware of how far afield the love has been pouring in for Shooting Guns, the band whose heavy, often tense instrumentals ride on his propulsive drumming. While he wonders aloud whether the band has yet paused long enough to reflect on what 2014 meant for them, Ginther can readily identify three key moments over the past couple of years that have driven the surge of interest in the band.
He first cites the band being named on the Polaris Prize long list a couple of years ago, though nobody was starry-eyed about winning the sucker.
“Let’s be honest here,” Ginther guffaws, “Clearly, we’re not that… I think we set a record for making the list with the fewest jurors naming us. If we have a grant application, nobody’s gonna green-light it.”
But even getting tacked onto the end of such a list yielded some benefits. Ginther points to a particular night at the Windsor here in Winnipeg just after the announcement, when he noticed that suddenly the crowd included more than just friends of the band.
The second big turning point flowed from a cold call to Riding Easy Records (California), which quickly led to distribution throughout the United States and Europe. This helped put Shooting Guns on the radar of other bands and vinyl collectors.
Factor three was a phone call in early 2014 confirming that Shooting Guns would be creating a soundtrack for Wolfcop, an independent film made in their home province of Saskatchewan. That project, in particular, contributed much to the frenzied pace of their year.
Shaking his head in awe at the memory, Ginther recounts. “When we did [the Wolfcop soundtrack] it was a crazy tight deadline, like two months from start to finish and we’d never done anything like that before. When we were contacted in early February, we didn’t even have a studio set up. I just told them we did!”
There had already been some studio planning afoot, but Ginther says landing Wolfcop shifted the band from the “maybe in a couple months” mentality to the “we gotta do this tomorrow” timeline. A spinoff benefit of all this is that the band now has an improved system for recording all the lengthy jams that will eventually find their way onto records.
Another chunk of the schedule is also now devoted to Pre-Rock Records, a distribution outlet that started in late 2013 to get Shooting Guns’ Brotherhood of the Ram record out there. As Ginther explains, “We looked around and realized if we wanted to get it distributed in Canada, we would have to do it ourselves.”
The band has since pursued one-off deals with whichever distributor makes most sense for a given format or region, and regularly find themselves in the thick of numerous projects with other groups. Early in 2014, Pre-Rock put out the House of Burners compilation, which features 16 bands from across Canada who are part of the heavy psychedelic rock community—including Winnipeg’s beloved Mahogany Frog.
While the band keeps itself quite busy, they also strive to avoid over-committing themselves. The past couple of years have surely underscored the value of staying flexible. Although it already rates as one of Shooting Guns’ most important accomplishments, Ginther points out on more than one occasion that Wolfcop was not even in their plans at this time last year.
Accordingly, when speaking of future releases Ginther says part of the fun is never knowing what the next one will sound like. “We try to be conscious of trying not to make the same record every time, because I think as an all-instrumental band it can be pretty easy to do that.” Compounding that stated conscious desire, the band has experienced enough lineup changes that every release for 2015 will feature a different set of players.
The recent additions include Toby Bond, a classically trained viola player who has now joined Shooting Guns full-time. Ginther gushes about Bond’s chops, saying, “Toby brings a lot more to the table than the rest of us combined…so we never want to skimp on giving him credit.” Bond played a key role in shaping the sound of Wolfcop, with strings and electronics work prominent throughout.
The two confirmed Shooting Guns releases for 2015 are splits with ZAUM (Moncton) and Hawkeyes (Kitchener). Beyond that, Ginther mentions there are at least preliminary plans toward the band’s next full-length release but he has to play coy about future work because, again, the group is looking to stay flexible.
“We’re trying to just be friends with anybody that wants to be friends with us,” is where Ginther soon lands when talking about what is in store for the coming year. “If any band from Winnipeg wants to come to Saskatoon and spend a weekend having beers and laying down some tracks, we’d definitely have that conversation.”
The comment seems in line with the general approach of the band. Opportunity is unpredictable, so it can be helpful to reserve a bit of time and energy in order to be able to respond when something comes up. “We’re so grateful for the support we have,” says Ginther. “I think trying to expect anything more, we would be kind of presumptuous regarding how much [longer] people will stick around and listen to what we do. We do appreciate how lucky we’ve been and are trying to look at every new project as a fresh opportunity.”
While no tour dates are booked yet, he also made clear that a year and a half is long enough, so the band intends on coming back to Winnipeg as soon as possible. Keep your ear on the ground for that, then find your way down and make a new friend.