"The thing is, I'm the drummer and I don't write the lyrics, but I've definitely spent more than enough time with Mike [O'Neill, the band's bassist/vocalist] to know that a good percentage of the time, he really is that bummed out," Ulrich adds, chuckling. But he doesn't want you get the wrong idea now... it's not all gloom and doom.
"I think Mike's a closet comedian. I think he's basically gearing up to get his standup career... Mike's really big on stories and storytelling, to see the joyful side of Mike, that's what you'd have to see. You'd have to see him telling stories..."
Uh, so is O'Neill aware that he's a closet comedian?
"Oh, I'm sure he is, but he'd never admit it."
Still, listening to the latest Inbreds CD, Winning Hearts, it's hard not to notice the heartbreaking vibe woven throughout it, as though the songwriter just never gets a break.
"When we were going into recording not this last album, but Kombinator, I just said to Mike 'This is going to be such a depressing album' and we did it, and it still seemed a little depressing to us, but a lot of people said to us that it sounded kind of joyous, which seemed kind of odd," he says.
Most of the band's songs are autobiographical, but Ulrich says that O'Neill has made a conscious effort, especially on this album, to sort of veil his references to people in his life.
"There were songs in the early days that were so obvious that if you were the person he was writing about, you'd know. That could cause problems. But I think he's making efforts to make it a bit more ambiguous."
Now, if you think the Inbreds sound a wee bit like Pavement, you're not alone.
"When we first started working with Tag [their previous label] in the States -- they're a major corporation, and they've got to explain things fast -- they had to come up with a byline for us, and basically they described the Inbreds as 'Pavement meets the Everly Brothers,' and they made up a sticker that said 'Pavement Meets the Everly Brothers' and they stuck it on every one of the 7-inches that they first put out... instant recognition," he says, laughing, as though he wasn't so sure that the stickers were such a hot idea.
"Some people said that there's ways that Mike tends to strum that is basically like Pavement... I don't think we're as highly educated as they are. I'm a graduate of Queen's University, but I think they're all multiple Ph.D. kind of guys... you definitely get that vibe, right?"
No slouch himself, Ulrich has a degree in business and philosophy, but O'Neill, who was studying chemistry, dropped out after about a year or so.
"I was just thinking the other day about how I took this course, 'Philosophy of Sex and Love,' it's like the classic sort of bird course, you know? And I can't even remember what is was about. It's all a blur..." he says, sounding sort of puzzled as he tries again to remember the point of the course. But Ulrich gives a good reason for why most of the courses he took during his last year of school are reduced to fuzzy memories -- he was just too damned busy to absorb some of the stuff.
"At one point I was in school, and I was doing the band on a pretty active basis and I also had a job working in a grocery store," he explains, adding that O'Neill likewise kept busy with jobs in coffee shops, car rental lots and whatever else he could get his hands on just to make the ends meet.
"Thankfully, we were finally able to make the leap to the band side of things (and get away from odd jobs), but there's a really rough transition period. And luckily, I was finished with school by then."
"But living in southern Ontario, there's so many places you can play within short distances, that it's really conducive to keeping a band going. You can keep your day job, if it's mildly flexible, and still play on weekends," he says.
Ulrich and O'Neill have known each other since high school, when, along with another friend, they would jam at Ulrich's house every weekend.
"The whole time, for four years... This was just like Degrassi Junior High, you know...we had this crappy band, and we always talked about, you know, 'Wouldn't it be great if they had a talent show at school?' and they never did until our last year at school when they put one together," Ulrich recalls.
"And we were just hacks, right? So we sort of got down, and learned four songs -- they give you 15 minutes -- Mike brought in U2's 'Two Hearts Beat as One,' Derrick (their friend) brought in ZZ Top's 'I Thank You' and I brought in Led Zeppelin, 'Rock-n-Roll,' and then we had to come up with a fourth one, and everyone could agree on Rolling Stones' 'Shattered.'"
Up until the talent show, the boys had never learned an entire song, and no one ever sang because they were all too scared. O'Neill became the singer basically because he was the least scared one out of the three of them.
So they played, O'Neill sang and they won.
"We weren't walking around with trophies around our necks, or anything," he giggles when asked if the trio became high school heroes (as per Degrassi Junior High plot line).
And the first prize was...
"I think we got a gift certificates to Mother's Pizza... and we were so excited. We went right after we played. Instead of going out and signing autographs, we went to Mother's Pizza," Ulrich laughs.
One taste of the victory pizza and here they are, four albums later... musta been damn good pizza.
The Inbreds play the Starfish Room in Vancouver on June 20th, 1998, with guests the New Pornographers and Bossanova.
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