Canadian Rocker to U.S.: "I Am Not a Wuss!"

IT'S ALWAYS NICE for local musicians to inspire their younger fans by working hard, composing creative music, and playing some decent rock 'n' roll at an all-ages show. If you're tired of that old shtick, however, you can always take a cue from St. Paul indie-rollickers Convoy! and gas the youth brigade with mind-altering fumes until they smile docilely while you play.

"Noah [Slater] had to spray-paint fleurs-de-lis on each of about 250 CDs, and he was doing it in the Lowertown building where he lives," drummer Alex Achen--the self-described Rodney Dangerfield of the group--says of the band's lead singer and guitarist during a recent interview with Convoy! at the C.C. Club. "He had these fans on, and all of the stuff from the spray paint was blowing into the next room where there is some kind of daycare thing going on. All of these little kids who were playing were breathing in the chemicals. Those poor little kids. But I bet they had a great time with it."

Slater's graffiti tag graces the top of Convoy!'s latest CD, Fleur de Lis (Fighting Electric), which he created with help from guitarist Ben Johnson, Achen, and bassist Scott Wells (Achen and Wells also play in the local band Nationale). The fleur-de-lis once served as a symbol for the early-Nineties Louisville music scene inspired by bands like Slint and Palace. And Convoy!'s bluesy, classic-rock-inspired songs borrow from a similar Southern mystique.

Maple leaf rag: Card-carrying Canadian Noah Slater (right) and the Southern-style gentlemen of Convoy!
Maple leaf rag: Card-carrying Canadian Noah Slater (right) and the Southern-style gentlemen of Convoy!

This followup to last year's self-titled debut is rife with descriptions of Georgia girls, Texas jails, and Tennessee highway signs--the rowdy and sometimes gritty observations that back up Slater's declaration: "I am not a wuss!" "Walk in the Light" is a rooster-strut bluegrass number that rejuvenates the feud between Deliverance's dueling banjos. "Memphis" has a hiccuping guitar intro that could, with a shot or two of Southern Comfort, slide into a smoother, indie version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone." "Hard Times"--with Slater's drawl yowling, "pretty mama!"--makes a bluesy slide from one faux-Dixieland chord to another until you're sure his next line will be a tongue-in-cheek diatribe about the Doobie Brothers' "Black Water." Throughout the album, Slater's heavy Canadian accent (he moved to Minnesota from his native Toronto) unravels into the sweet, off-kilter swagger of a Southern-britches gentleman who is loosening his Bible belt.

Yet despite their Southern sound, Slater insists that Convoy! consider the fleur-de-lis to be a symbol of the Quebec separatist movement. "I get trouble from the people back home about the title of the album," Slater says. "I deal with a lot of expatriate guilt." (And well he should! He has abandoned such musical greats as Celine Dion and Alanis Morissette back home in maple-leaf territory!)

Slater also says that Convoy!'s favorite bands aren't from Louisville. When I ask Convoy! about their influences, each member excitedly mentions a different band--Heart, Springsteen, T. Rex, and Bloodrock--before Johnson pleads with me to turn off my tape recorder and pretend they never divulged these guilty pleasures. They also mention the character-forming experiences they have had with the band: the first show when they almost broke all of their equipment; the night Slater "overcompensated a little, um, liquor-wise" at a show; the time they performed along to a Sixers game. ("When I'm playing drums, it's like I'm having a direct conversation with Larry Brown!" he exclaims.) But somehow, each member of this motley crew complements the others' style nicely, and the warring factions come together like Snoop Dogg and Method Man at a High Times rally.

"[Wells and Achen] bring an energy from playing with Nationale that I'm not used to," says Slater. "It's great. It's a different pace." Is Slater's pace slower, or more melodic? "No," he sighs. "I have to reiterate: I am not a wuss!"

"A lot of times, Nationale will play right before or after Convoy!" says Achen of the camaraderie between the two bands, which will reunite for a double bill on Wednesday. "And this time, we're all going to get really drunk before we play!"

"Wait, we're doing it that way? I didn't know we were doing it that way!" protests Wells.

"Well, I don't know about you guys, but I prefer to play those drums while drunk!" Achen looks at me. "Please quote that so that I can send it to my mom!"

So here's to you, Ms. Achen, and all you other Convoy! "pretty mamas." And, just for the record, Ms. Slater: Your son is definitely not a wuss.

 
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