Hitting it Hard

by Levi Soulodre

August 7, 2009

“Fun over crisis defines us”: the Wheatmonkeys ain’t monkeying around!

After a quick lunch meeting with vocalist/guitarist Dave Pura and bassist/vocalist Andrew Cook from Saskatoon’s rock troupe the Wheatmonkeys, I was assured these boys were made of stern prairie stuff: positive-minded, loaded with a sense of humour to complement their easygoing and charismatic personalities, topped off a work ethic that would stretch farther than the distance spanning Saskatchewan’s northern and southern borders.

Dave and Andrew are the remaining members from the original lineup of the Wheatmonkeys, now featuring Logan Reid on guitar and vocals and Scott Sproull on drums. According to Dave, the band “began ten years ago, while we were just starting high school.” They recall that they’ve possessed rock-oriented tastes from the beginning: “We were filling ourselves on a healthy appetite of Guns n’ Roses and Nirvana,” he says. Since then, they haven’t looked back - pushing, touring, and endlessly working their way to making music a full-time reality. After ten years of trudging through the musical marshes, the large majority of groups might've packed up their gear, lost hope and/or given up. Not so for the Wheatmonkeys; to them, the emphasis is acutely on “persistence, and patience.” Dave adds, “There’ll always be ups and downs. But, we find that the ups completely outweigh the downs, and that’s what keeps us going.” Both agree, “Playing, writing. The love of music pushes us!"

Aside from being sponsored by highly recognized Pura Guitars (locally-run by Dave’s father), the Wheatmonkeys also have a long standing relationship with Derek Bachman, owner of GreenDuplex Productions and, technically, sort of, Wheatmonkeys’ manager: “We’re a team,” Dave specifies. “We met Derek, a graphic designer [and musician], hit it off right away, and became friends,” he recalls. “Fortunately, our relationship is still very friendship-based, so it’s a lot easier working in that situation.” 

Although the Wheatmonkeys have played numerous showcases, performed for label representatives, and the like, they remain very satisfied with their do-it-yourself approach, an ethic that is increasingly more popular for emerging contemporary artists and musicians. “We’re not relying on anyone, really, except ourselves,” Andrew says. “Because we function under our own authority, we can control our successes, and how far we go. When it comes down to it, it’s 'the more you put into [the band], the more you get out of it!' ” You
see, dear readers? The Wheatmonkeys are pro pro-active! Adds Andrew, “if you want something done, don’t expect someone else to do it for you.” 

Any serious musician can attest that’s much easier said than done, and the Wheatmonkeys deserve much recognition on that alone. Their second last album, Danger, won the hearts of Saskatoonians and Canadians alike, and has sold over 2000 copies. They’ve just returned from an Eastern Canadian tour, which included a showcase at the 2006 Western Canadian Music Awards. And, the band played an unusually large gig in September - finding themselves at Taylor Field, playing to the 'Rider-loving masses. The band fit in two other shows that same day, further testifying to their work ethic and passion for playing.

Asserting their love of live performance; the Wheatmonkeys are renowned for a musically tight and aggressively energetic live show. When asked what advice they could offer aspiring bands or musicians on how to stay their course in the oftentimes impenetrable jungle that is the musical lifestyle, Dave answers, “We base our band on our live show. It’s a long hard road, but play whenever, and whatever you can.“ Andrew adds, “When it comes to your band’s status, don’t compare your situation to anyone else’s.” He chuckles, “I just like coming home to do laundry!”

This is certainly the philosophy they nurtured in the making of their latest and best-sounding album, Hotter Than a Pistol, just released on October 13th, 2006 at Louis’ Pub on the University of Saskatchewan campus. Interestingly, the album name comes from a Johnny Cash reference in the biopic "Walk the Line". 

The guys are extremely proud of their work - especially as, Dave reasons, “You can’t write for anyone other than yourself.” Although firmly rooted in the traditional rock medium with hints of punk and ska, the guys cite influences from Grand Funk Railroad to Bob Dylan. Their new album also benefitted from the addition of another influence - guest drummer Darrin Pfeiffer, a member of influential pop/alternative punk outfit Goldfinger, from Los Angeles. 

I was curious as to how that connection came about. “At the time we were tracking the album, we were actually between drummers. Darrin offered to play for us on the album. One of the main bands we listened to in high school was Goldfinger. Years down the road, all of a sudden my favourite drummer is sitting across from us in our Toronto studio, rocking out to a song we wrote!” they marvel.

Furthermore, renowned studio engineer Mike Fraser (Rush, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Van Halen, Metallica) mixed the album. Fraser was a great choice, considering the album’s tone and sound is beyond fantastic, with every single instrument and voice coming out snappy and crystal clear. “We sent him some demos, and it turns out that he really enjoyed our songs. Apparently, he’s booked up to six months in advance - but he opened up his schedule to accommodate us,” the guys relate. “To hear the songs progress from point A, unmixed, to a levelled, point B mix was like night and day - it was seriously amazing.” Dave and Andrew are also keen on relating the numerous types of vintage amplifiers and guitars used on the album, especially through loans from blues/rock sensation Jordan Cook’s collection (see sidebar). 

In all, the album boasts ten tracks of fun, upbeat, and most importantly, melodically-driven tunes ("Heat" and "Like I Do" being particularly catchy standouts), with lyrics pertaining to, well, life! The guys continually refer to the ‘ups and downs’, but as noted before, keep the high points in mind when having to trudge through the lows. 

Regarding songwriting, Dave says, “I usually write songs when I’m happy!”" Good-humoured as these guys, it makes perfect sense that their songs reflect that feeling and attitude and pass it on to their audiences. 

Hotter Than a Pistol was recorded in two major parts - the drums and bass guitar being tracked at Phase One Audio Group in Toronto, while the guitars and vocals were done at Audio Art Recording in Saskatoon.

So what would a Wheatmonkeys dream gig be like? The guys take a minute to ponder the question, obviously stewing in the possibilities. Andrew replies, “Well, we've played with Goldfinger, so I guess my dream gig has already happened!” Dave’s response is literally out of this world: “I think…[somewhere in] space would be the ultimate show!” Dave also happens to be a huge Bob Dylan-ite, so amends his answer to, “A show in space with Bob Dylan, on the moon.” They certainly seem excited at the notion of being able to play for an entire world audience, which precisely lines up with the group's goals. When asked if they’re ready to become Canada’s next buzz band, they reply in unison ,“We’re ready!” Andrew adds, “We don’t really expect anything, but…this is our career, our life, and that’s where we want to take it. [We do it for] ourselves.”

It looks like 2007 will be a huge breakthrough year, not only for the Wheatmonkeys, but “for Saskatoon music as a whole,” according to Dave. They plan on hitting the tour circuit as much as possible, and are looking forward to targeting the college market. They also hope to acquire a Juno nomination for their latest effort. “That’s our band motto,” Andrew says. “Hit it hard!” These monkeys mean serious business!

Dave and Andrew were nice enough to provide us with a full list of their performance gear for live shows: Pearl Masters Series drums, SVT 8x10 bass cabinet, SVT 4Pro bass amp head, Fender Precision bass, Pura Custom bass, 2x Mesa Boogie dual rectifiers, Fender Bassman, 2x semi-hollow Pura electric guitars, 2x solid body Pura electric guitars, 2x Gibson SGs, Gretsch electric guitar

By Lévi Soulodre for SaskMusic. Originally published Winter 2006.

This article is posted as initially published. For reprint/usage permission or any other questions, please contact SaskMusic.

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