Montreal Prog Rockers The John Hubcap Band Release “Grillslinger” From ‘Don’t Call’ Album

There’s something sick going on out there in the sticks. And as Montreal-based purveyors of hard-edged prog the John Hubcap Band describe it on their grinding “Grillslinger,” it’s a phenomenon that should have you looking around nervously at your next backwater barbecue.

Oh, things start out innocuously enough, all right. “Grillslinger, bring me a steak,” singer/guitarist Travis Arnold croons melodramatically, like the love child of Mike Patton and Danny Elfman. “For taste that lingers, I feel great.” But soon enough, his Coors-lubricated ruminations take a turn for the worrisome:

Chicken pickin’, beer drinkin’, truck thumping, mud humping

I drive cheap cars, I like to starve

I’m so honest, I’m so conscious

Let me be you, yes I want to!

Irresponsibility, come on and get the best of me

Citizen of the 21st century

Extravagance won’t become of me

It’s like a therapy breakthrough arrived at while holding an ear of corn. And it’s typical of the lyrical thrust of the band’s new album, Don’t Call, which takes a poetic approach to finding the troubling in the mundane. Opening number “$20” references the paltry amount that can mean life or death to the average Joe, “Hogwash” compares the serfs of society to pigs being led to the slaughter, and “Boots” laments the lack of lifestyle options you enjoy when your footwear is your “only ride.”

But don’t let the dour worldview fool you: The record is a stone gas to listen to (and not just because of the interstitial skits the band has incorporated into the tracklist that emulate frantic, panicked phone calls, thus giving the album its name). While the single is detuned and foreboding, its lockstep rhythm offers just a hint of the almost jazz-like groupthink the JHB gets up to on the other eight original tunes.

Listen on Spotify here:

Arnold and fellow six-stringer Michael Oates pull off some intricate, immaculately performed harmony lines while crackerjack bassist Gordon Latham and drummer Vincent Poirier revel in a state of simpatico that never sacrifices the groove, no matter how herky-jerky the pattern might be.

What we have here is one of those rare occasions when a band relies on jam sessions to hammer songs into shape and the activity turns into something well-formed and listenable, instead of an indulgent, amorphous mass. Take first single “Birdsong,” which the band says was birthed from a series of free-form musical explorations:

“The improvisations turned into riffs, the beats turned into grooves and the melodies turned into one of the catchiest earworms the band has concocted. The jam was a great way to master the art of dynamics, which gave not just this song but all our songs more depth and allowed the grooves to hit a lot harder.”

Arnold and Latham have been searching for that kind of hivemind experience since 2017, when they met in Vancouver and started doing demos together. But the project didn’t really take off until they moved to Montreal and hooked up with Oates (an émigré of Newcastle, UK) and Poirier (late of St-Anne de Roquemaure, Quebec). Their first show as a unit was at a small punk venue “with no fixed address”; getting a warm reaction from a crowd that was an odd mélange or punks, metalheads and straight-ahead rockers convinced them that they were on to something special. 

With the new album in hand as physical vindication of that belief, they’re launching another series of live dates to turn the heads of even more diverse crowds. Dates announced thus far are:

June 22nd – Pub Le Vieux, Boucherville

August 29th – House Of Targ, Ottawa

“Don’t Call represents the dream each member had,” the band says. “Each one of us envisioned creating a sound that breaks the mould of traditional rock and combining our eclectic influences and tastes to make something bigger than the sum of our parts.”

Looks like they’ve done it. To paraphrase their hapless, barbecue-loving protagonist, the John Hubcap Band has indeed found the taste that lingers. And that’s a genuine reason to feel great.