By Daniel Emberg

Throughout several years on either side of 2000, Duotang were one of the most popular bands in Winnipeg. An upstart duo on Mint Records, they made a habit of pleasing live audiences as well as campus and community radio listeners across Canada. If you remember the band from those days, it may be surprising to read that, by early December, Duotang will have played almost every major city from Victoria to Montréal in barely six weeks. After all, the band parted ways in 2002 and nary a peep was heard until a few festival shows happened in 2015.The band sounds as surprised as anyone about the fact they just dropped a new album, New Occupation, but it stands as a strong and fitting addition to their well-regarded discography. The songs feel like a natural extension of what Duotang was doing in their heyday, and radio programmers have rapidly embraced it as though no time had passed at all.

“Even though some people still remember our name, we’re starting from scratch,” says Rod Slaughter (bass/vocals) of the current run. “We had no intention of doing anything again,” but a conversation with Randy Iwata from Mint was a turning point: “[Iwata] said, ‘You never seem to age as far as sound is concerned. It wouldn’t sound dated,’ and he was kinda hinting we might want to try a reunion show.”

After playing a Mint party in 2014, Duotang could feel a few more shows in their bones. They knew the music community remembered the band fondly, because they had been hearing about it ever since they stopped playing. In fact, it was such a conversation that led to New Occupation being released on Stomp Records.

Sean Allum (drums) explains, “What happened was that I had seen Matt [Collyer, label head for Stomp] at the Pyramid, and we were joking about it that night but I have to give him kudos: he said if Duotang ever got back together, he’d love to put something out, and now it’s happened.”

Duotang released its prior album, The Bright Side, in 2001, and stopped playing shows months later. Try to remember what your world was like 15 years ago. Whatever stage of life you may be in, that is a long time. Duotang has certainly changed since then.

“It’s very different than it was,” Slaughter says. “We used to be on the road for a third of the year or more, and we certainly can’t do that now.”

Allum quickly agrees. “We’ve had to work it back into our lives, for sure. We have our separate lives now, and not many people want to invest a lot of money into a band that’s only going to be on tour five weeks of the year.” Allum notes that a smaller band can more feasibly hit the road for short runs out of town, adding that the recent hiring of their first manager has been extremely helpful for a band that took a 12-year hiatus while the entire music industry was being reimagined.

“We feel like Rip Van Winkle, waking up under a tree,” laughs Slaughter. “I said to someone [on tour] that between 1975 and 1990 music changed, but the industry didn’t change at all. From 2001 to 2016? It’s like night and day.”

Still thinking of what life was like 15 years ago? Digital cameras were a luxury item, not a standard accessory to a high-powered pocket computer. No social media to keep track of all the shows you wanted to check out. Nowadays, musicians see phones poking from the crowd at every show, and have promoters reminding them to boost the Facebook events to help maximize the number of those phones in the room when the music starts.

Perhaps the non-musical elements of the music world have evolved beyond recognition, but some things never change. When a band rolls through a town away from home, their job is to deliver a show strong enough that the audience will remember the night, and remember to bring their friends out the next time that band comes around. In this sense, Duotang has not missed a step.

Musing on the band’s recent jaunt to Victoria and back, Allum says, “One of the nicest compliments we got was from our opening band, the Uptights. One of them said, ‘Wow, you guys really win over the locals.’ That’s a hard thing to do, so I was really proud…knowing we can still win over those that didn’t care and thought they just showed up for a few drinks.”

The power of Duotang’s live show was on full display for the New Occupation release show at the Good Will Social Club in early November. The band is obviously confident in the strength of the current material, as the set was heavily tilted that way. A few songs in, they belted out their current single “Karma Needs to Come Around,” and suddenly the void at the front of the dance floor surged with writhing bodies who stuck around dancing the rest of the night. The band fed off this energy, Slaughter expressing earnest gratitude between numerous songs and working up a sweat that darkened his shirt from collar to waist. Other crowd pleasers included “Bastard Five,” “New Occupation,” and “Nostalgia’s A Vice,” all of which can be heard on the new album.

Speaking of the new album, the band sounds wholly pleased with New Occupation. Every time it comes up, Allum says it’s the best record Duotang has ever made. Slaughter agrees, but insists on a bit of explanation.

“It’s a pretty minimal record, both in how the songs were crafted and how it was recorded,” he remarks. That allows for portability with the songs: while there are horns and synths on a number of tracks, they are present as ornaments rather than focal points. This allowed the band to record the songs in a way that can be readily approximated at the live shows, thus sounding very much like the Duotang their fans know and love.

Slaughter is content with that assessment. “You don’t want to sound like you’re stuck in the past but to me it’s more important to sound like us than to try to be relevant,” he says. “Some people will say it doesn’t sound current, but I don’t give a shit about that anyway!”