Secondhandpants, Winnipeg’s finest Science-Folktion duo has become somewhat of a local institution. Many will know them from the Winnipeg Fringe and Folk Festivals, where they regularly appear as the featured act in a gigantic jukebox, often stealing attention from the main stages they appear next to. The duo is comprised of brothers Curtis Wiebe (a.k.a. Francis Leonard, who was raised in the wild by Saskatchewan prairie goats) and Marlon Wiebe (a.k.a. Will Maynard who was adopted by aliens and has returned home). They have surrounded their catchy, whimsical tunes with an ever-expanding mythos bolstered by the short films they create and a Fringe play last year, which feature an array of spin-off characters portrayed by friends and impressively constructed puppets (do a quick youtube search for “Rocket John” for an example).
The duo has an uncanny knack for finding an incredibly appealing middle ground between DIY charm and perfectionist craftsmanship that needs to be experienced to be truly appreciated. And, as a fan myself, I have yet to see a single person walk away from one of their many appearances without a certain feeling of glee. The pair are hoping to see their new album Suspender Your Disbelief released shortly before Christmas this year.
Stylus: So, you two are brothers, how long have you been making music together?
Marlon Wiebe: Well, I guess it’s been six years now?
Curtis Wiebe: Yeah, as the Secondhandpants.
MW: We didn’t really do anything before that though. Wait, how did that start? I remember walking on Mostyn, by the curling rink, and you were like: “I have this great idea! This thing called Secondhandpants, and we’ll have a song called ‘The Secondhandpants Dance.”
CW: Yeah, that was the idea. The concept was we were going to write and record an entire album in one day. But, then, of course that got stretched out to a whole weekend. And that’s our first album, Featuring Space Robot.
MW: And that was recorded on my old computer with just a $10 mic hanging from the ceiling.
CW: Yeah, very outsider. And we thought that would be it, but then we were asked to do a show.
CW: And that’s when we came up with the personas. So, since our genre is Science-Folktion it made sense that one of us should be spacey and the other should be folkey.
Stylus: So, you kind of just winged the first album and then you were forced to kind of justify it?
MW: Yeah, that’s kind of how it happened! And the mythos slowly built from there.
CW: Yeah, there’s a whole back-story. It’s very involved.
Stylus: So, is your new album a concept album?
MW: Well by default, I guess it is, yeah!
CW: They’re all… I never really thought of it that way. Our whole lives are concept albums.
Stylus: You guys do a lot of construction on props and sets and use a lot of performance in your shows. How did that start?
CW: Well, it all goes back to the first show, we had this thing called the Communicatron, which is a souped up rotary phone we used to call Space Robot during the show to sing with us from deep space. Then we came up with the jukebox thing as a subversive way to play music at the Folk Festival, I was a sculpture student at U of M at the time and made the Jukebox as a project. I would never have been able to make it otherwise, without the studio space. As far as performance, and us there was probably always an element of that. It just goes back to us playing around.
MW: I think that’s just inherent, remember back when we emceed that wedding and we were playing as ourselves, before Secondhandpants, and someone came up to us and said “You guys are like Bob and Doug McKenzie.”
Stylus: So where do your songs usually start?
MW: Usually Curt.
CW: It usually starts with the ukulele and I come up with a concept and Marlon comes in and adds the bass line and harmony once in a while.
Stylus: Okay, some people might peg you guys as children’s performers.
MW & CW: Ohhhh…
MW: I find it unfortunate when people are like, “You guys are great kids music!” And it’s like, “You guys enjoyed it, right there!”
CW: My point of reference is always the Muppets. Because, people assume it was for kids, but at the time it was never meant to be a kids show. It was an all ages show and kids liked the puppets, but at the same time they had Peter Sellers on for adults. I think of ourselves as an all ages group. Also, we regularly host Puppet Slam shows, which is meant as an adult event. But we do some stuff just for kids too!
Stylus: So, tell us about your new album.
MW: Yes, it’s called Suspender your Disbelief. It’s our first professionally recorded album.
CW: We have an engineer. We wanted an album we felt good about asking people money for, all of our other albums are recorded very cheaply on our own. People always want to pay us for our music, and handing them a CD labeled with a sharpie…
MW: Well, we’re probably selling ourselves short a bit, but I still feel too bad asking too much! Mennonite humility, I guess.
Stylus: Are you trying anything new on the album?
CW: Yeah, a string quartet.
MW: And we have a choir on one. Kids yelling, we got kids at Art City to yell stuff. They were pretty excited about it too.
SUDDENLY, THE INTERVIEW IS INTERRUPTED BY THE COSMIC ARRIVAL OF FRANCIS LEONARD AND WILL MAYNARD!
Francis Leonard: Our mission is to spread the gospel of Science-Folktion music around the world, but we haven’t gotten past Winnipeg yet. Mainly, that has to do with financial concerns, but we’re hoping one of these days that an anonymous millionaire will show up to back us. Perhaps, Will, you have a rich space uncle?
Will Maynard: Yeah, I’ve got a couple. But they’re mostly homebodies, lots of tentacles. And the monetary conversion rates for space-bucks is very poor.
Stylus: So how much do you think Science-Folktion has caught on?
FL: Oh, I really think it is!
WM: There are at least four or five people.
FL: At least four or five people! We have some likes on the Facebook. And on my Twitter feed I get at least one fan every four or five months. At least twenty-five total, at least! I’m considering hiring some bodyguards, because you have to stay safe when you’re popular.
Stylus: Are there any protest songs on this album? It is folk music, right?
FL: Well yes, you’re right. We sing about important Science-Folktion topics like…
WM: Invisible people.
FL: It has various songs about mythical beasts, a crypto-zoological element. We have a song about the Manipogo, which is the Manitoba equivalent of the Ogopogo. We have a song called “We are The Sasquatch” which is sort of a protest song, like, “People on the fringes unite!”
Stylus: So do you consider yourselves fringe artists?
FL: Well, you know since we’ve gotten so many friends on Facebook we may be coming out of the fringes, but I will always consider myself a fringe person. I grew up raised by wild Saskatchewan wild prairie goats, and nobody’s heard of them. I accept that I came from the fringe. And, we often play at the Fringe Festival.
Stylus: What do you want people to get out of this album?
WM: That Science-Folktion is a viable, formidable genre.
FL: A few more friends on Facebook would be nice. But I just want people to have an enjoyable experience, maybe challenging, because there are those songs about living on the fringe. Science-Folktion covers a wide range of the human experience, maybe alien too. Will would know about that.
Check out more Secondhandpants action: here.