Punk Never Dies

The Extroverts second life has outlasted the band’s first

Music | by Emmet Matheson

The Extroverts
Vangelis Tavern
Saturday 10

“We don’t feel any need to stop,” says The Extrovert’s Eddie Lester.

Seems like a good way to start this story.

The Extroverts’ second go-’round has now lasted over twice as long as the original Saskatchewan punk band’s first kick at the can, with no sign of slowing down. The Regina foursome, whose original run started in 1979 and ended in 1982, reformed in 2009 to open for West Coast punk legends DOA, and have been going steady every since.

This fall, the group even released their first-ever album, Supple, and did their biggest tour yet.

Lester plays guitar, Brent Caron sings, Grant McDonald plays bass, and Hap Hazard plays drums. Some of these names are made up and it’s not just the obvious one.

The biggest difference, Lester notes, between being a touring punk band in 1980 and being a touring punk band in 2016 is that back then, bands had to bring their own P.A. (public address) system.

“Oh, and we know how to play our instruments now,” he adds with a laugh. “That was always a thing with The Extroverts. People seemed to like us despite our low level of skill because there was still an energy that we brought to the performance, especially Brent.”

Lester is a repository of some of the most amazing road stories. Being punk on the Prairies from ’79 to ’82 was no trip to the mall. A lot of people genuinely despised punk rock in those days, and didn’t care who knew it. Add that layer of antipathy to the general distrust people in small towns have toward outsiders, and all kinds of rotten behaviour comes out.

“It never got to the point of physical danger,” says Lester. “It was generally the way we looked that people seemed threatened by, not the music. We were anti-normal and that was perceived to be a threat.”

Feeling ambitious, the band signed on with a booking agent who sent them to all kinds of places that just weren’t ready for punk rock.

In Elrose (pop. 477), one night, after their set at a high school dance where kids were clearly more into Boston or Led Zeppelin, a fan came up to The Extroverts to warn them that someone had been messing with their van. Sure enough, someone had pulled the wires out of their distributor cap.

Then there was the Stoughton incident.

“The cops guided us out of town,” Lester says.

Getting booked in for a weeklong residency at a heavy metal bar in Brandon, Manitoba didn’t turn out much better.

“We were fired after two nights,” Lester says. “They stole our spare tire and the one guy at the bar who had been dancing to us got beat up.”

But it wasn’t all mayhem and mischief. The Extroverts finally found their crowd at the Calgarian, a dive bar that hosted Calgary’s early punk shows by bands like DOA, The Modernettes, Malibu Ken, and even Hüsker Dü.

“We’d been hired for a week, Monday to Saturday, three sets a night,” Lester says. “And they liked us so much they held us over for another week.”

In those days before MuchMusic or the Internet, The Extroverts were probably the first many small communities had ever seen or heard of punk.

It was impressive enough that anyone in Regina had even heard of punk by 1979, let alone started a band.

“That was Brent,” says Lester. “He’s always been ahead of the curve. He was into all those British music magazines. For me, it was (U.S. music mag) Creem. You really had to go seek this stuff out then, whether it was the Import section of MusicPlus or order records by mail. But there were lots of people into it, there were pockets of punk all over the place. Every town we played, there would be at least one punk.”

These days, punk is everywhere. This year marked the 40th anniversary of the first Sex Pistols gig. We have Members of Parliament who played in punk bands. Green Day is in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, for goodness’ sake. Nobody fucks with The Extroverts’ distributor cap anymore.

Their new album, Supple — which is also the first album proper the band has released (though last year they put out a collection of demo tracks recorded on two-track in 1979) — bridges the old and new. The album’s 12 songs are new recordings, with newly-written music set to lyrics Caron found in notebooks from the band’s original run.

The songs are time capsules. The lyrics of “TV Baby” talk about UHF and VHF stations, and “Government Girls” is wonderfully full of obsolete office jargon like “steno pools” and “Xerox machine.” Others, like “Cheap Entertainment” and “Disco Disaster” still hold the essence of early punk.

“Going through these lyrics with Brent, I asked him, ‘what were you thinking?’” Lester says. “He just said, ‘I have no idea.’”

Lester says Caron still has dozens of songs worth of lyrics from the original era, and is open to writing new Extroverts songs. A showcase at Canada Music Week in Toronto looms on the horizon with a possibility of an Eastern Canadian tour to complement that industry gig.

In the meantime, The Extroverts are happy to be part of a Saskatchewan music scene that has finally caught up to them.