Breath Grenades – 25 years of Blowing Minds and Bewildering Audiences

By Kent Davies

I wanna play this song but the radio just won’t play,
We’re going to play it now. Hell… we’re not gonna go away.
– Breath Grenades song “Blasting Pad” from CBC radio’s Brave New Waves in 1996.

No one sounds like the Breath Grenades. No one acts like the Breath Grenades. These legendary space rawkers are so far gone from anything resembling a conventional band that they often defy logic. Beginning with their uniquely destructive bass-snyth sound, they do things their own way. In their decades of playing they have only released one rare album. They don’t play out very often, having a sincere hatred for most venues. Few bands stay together for more than a few years let alone a band that has had staple members pass away. But despite the hardships this groundbreaking punk act has managed to stay a band for more than 25 years. Now with the inclusion of drummer/sound/visual arts genius Richard Altman a.k.a. Vinegar Rich, the Grenades: Don Bailey a.k.a. Vom Doom and Al Conroy (Not Half) a.k.a. Vortexo are coming out from the basement to play shows again. On the eve of the first Breath Grenades show of 2011, Vom and Vinegar gave Stylus a history lesson of the Breath Grenades past, present and future.


PART 1: Snoids
Stylus: Can you take us back to the beginning of the Breath Grenades? How did the band start?

Vom: The long and short of it was I was in this band called Snoids and we were based in the North End. I had seen these guys play these really garagey-punk songs that we’re influenced by The Cramps and Misfits and also influenced by the early ’60s like The Who. They were really creative people and I was in this band called Cog and I wasn’t happy. The Snoids needed a bass player so I quit Cog, joined Snoids and I never played bass in my life and a week later I played a show opening for RuggedyAnne.

PART 2: Enter the Captain
Snoids lasted about another year until we got all frustrated and at the same time I started jamming with a friend of mine from high school. The Captain had a Moog synthesizer and the two of us spent a long time jamming together and making up these crazy… for lack of a better phrase “space-blues” songs. And that’s how the band started. We began in the legendary Captain’s basement in the North End. Then we got kicked out of the basement because we ended up getting confident. We got banished to pink garage and we wrote a song and taped it. We called it “The Legendary Pink Garage Eviction” and we practiced all through the cold weather.

Part 3: The Name
We were trying to figure out a name for the band and while we were jamming in the pink garage you could see our breath because it was so cold. Our guitar picks would break. Someone suggested Band Grenade and I was like nah, check it out and you could see my breath. Breath Grenades! That’s where the name came from.

Part 4: Band Members
We had auditions with guitar players and we never even thought about getting a drummer ever. Initially we had a bongo player who was our first percussionist. A guitarist – that never worked out. It was really funny because the fellow that plays synth right now, his brother tried out on guitar back in ’85. So when Vortexo shows up to play with us he brings the same amp as his brother brought to try out. We’ve been a trio, a quintet, had guests with sax players. That was a weird period in the ’90s. There have been about 50 members of Breath Grenades over the years. I guess I qualify that by if you do a live show, you were in the band.

Part 5: First Gigs
We didn’t play a show until a year and half or something. There used to be a band in Winnipeg called Beach Mutants and they invited us to play a house party. We played with this band called Dr. Seuss, which became Dementia 5 with Andy Morton from the Windups, and Lesbian Bingo with Greg Fenton who recently passed away. I just remember playing with the Captain and our amps being in-sync and people pounding on overhead pipes and stuff. That was a fun show. The one after that we played at the Fort Rouge Leisure Centre. That was our big debut. I was wearing a Misfits t-shirt and people were upset that I was wearing a punk shirt but we sound like this awful horrific, synth-bass combo noise.

Part 6: Tales of the Captain
Stylus: Can you talk about the contribution of the Captain?
The funny thing is when we used to play out everybody would be telling me make sure you turn that guy down man. The sound guy would say it’s just a bunch of noise and I would be, “Yeah, but it’s his noise.” What can I say about the guy? He never had a job, he never worked he just spent his time playing in his basement surrounded by comic books and crazy records. He was pretty interesting to say the least. He was the guy that everyone would beat up on the way home from school. The captain also represents anything that can be learned on synthesizer. He represents full absolute freedom on a synth. An experimental genius, really. Who knows? Maybe Steve Bates wouldn’t have created send + receive if he hadn’t have been exposed to something like the Captain. Bates put out our first album. He was a big Breath Grenades fan. He loved the Captain’s playing. When we used to play in the late 80s, early 90s and everyone involved with Stylus Magazine and CKUW back then used to stand at the front of the stage absolutely bewildered by us. Ears pinned back. You should have seen their faces. The smiles would have ripped their ears off. They all loved Andy (The Captain). He would make these crazy noises off this old Moog that fell down the stairs of where the Alternative Cabaret used to be. It would have been treated as completely broken by anybody else but the Captain took this cigarette pack and put it in between the last key and the side of the Moog and he would hit it with a stick and that’s how he played it. I didn’t know what to make of it. Nobody did. I was just happy to play with someone who wouldn’t yell at me and tell me what to do like all the other bands I had been in. We never criticized each other. I guess we focused on criticizing our drummers. I guess that’s why we had so many. I miss the captain. He contributed a lot to the philosophy of the band, like low energy input and high-energy gain. It’s just a hobby and there’s no hurry and all this kind of stuff. He did something and whether you love it or hate it, it’s entirely never been done before ever.

Part 7: Vortexo and Rich
Stylus: After the Captain passed away did you think the band was over?
I’ve been blessed with two amazing synth players. What’s the luck of finding two of these guys in the same city? How does that happen in Winnipeg? Where everyone is obsessed with classic rock, folk music, and generic metal. Even if you like that stuff the freedom of the Breath Grenades is a sight to behold. You can thank the Captain for that and you can thank Vortexo for keeping it going. When Vortexo joined the band we bandied about whether he would play the Captain’s Moog, the captain left his Moog, we still have it. It’s still sitting there all smashed up with the cigarette pack still in there. But he likes to do his own synth stuff. They shared the stage one time at Core Fest in ’97. That was the last time the Captain played with us. That was one of the best gigs. There have been lots of good ones but that one sticks out. I miss those shows, those old Garbage Hill shows were great.
Stylus: How do you like your new line up?
Our visionary drummer is nuts. The theme is always on. Always on!
Vinegar: Never off. There is no off switch. You can’t get off the ride.
Stylus: Has Richard’s background as an animator and video artist helped the band evolve?
It’s an anti-social networking thing, you want to go out and dance but our show can be for those people who want to go out by themselves and sit down. I’ll pay 10 bucks to go sit down. Don’t give me brain damage by not providing me with something to digest mentally. Like the brain is a small version of the small intestines. They both look the same the digestive tract and the brain. So anyway. I love doing visuals. Whenever Venetian Snares would do a show, Aaron would give me a call and we’d work on something. Don was certain that the Breath Grenade shows have to have projections. So for sure.
Stylus: How do you like playing in the band?
Don and Al, they’ve been around forever. Let’s face it. One of the longest running punk outfits in the city. The only one that sounds like… well no one, not one band sounds like Breath Grenades. The great thing about Al and Don is they don’t care. They’ve done it all so they can do anything. As long as you can keep up, add something to the song and not be a flake they’ll let you be part of the band. I can go triple speed if I wanted they wouldn’t care so it’s still an evolutionary process. It’s not like old bands playing the familiar same old songs. Everything is melodically ready.

Part 8: The Future
Stylus: Future of Breath Grenades?
There is interest by a US label that wants to do a double LP. I thought maybe we should do three albums. Vinyl’s hot again. It’s ridiculous that we haven’t recorded any vinyl. I hate CDs – that’s the reason we never really released anything other than that one album. We could just wait a little more. Look what the waiting has done. Now that we’ve waited there is this huge archive of recordings. We’ve got hundreds of songs. I guess we’ve just been negligent to put things out. I’m kind of embarrassed about it. If there is anyone actually out there that likes us. I feel sorry for them because we have the same CD for sale for 20 years. No t-shirts. Kids will come up to me and ask, “Do you at least have stickers?” and I’ll peel off some duct tape and I’ll write Breath Grenades with black marker and give it to them and they’ll take it. People will show up with their homemade Breath Grenade shirts. Good enough. We’re not in this thing for money. We just do it because it’s so boring here at winter. I hope a show will bring us out of the funk and out of the basement. The inertia is starting.

On August 20 The Breath Grenades came out of the basement to play the best show of the year that nobody saw at the Elice Theatre. Make sure you witness the madness next time. Tune in to their Always On antics at

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