Ernie and Bill rip it up at Music Waste

Instrumental, Once Removed

Vancouver Trio Removal

Interview and photography by Rodney Gitzel

41-second excerpt from "Track 11" (various formats)

Removal is seemingly a band of withouts. The East Van (and PoCo) trio is without a title for their new CD. They're without titles for their songs. Most importantly, they're without a singer! Actually, they never have had one.

But what they do have easily makes up for those 'gaps': namely, a cohesive meshing of metal, punk, prog rock -- even jangley pop -- without any of the attendant wanking and overbaked soloing that usually infects 'instrumental' rock music.

Bill Johnston The members of Removal -- Ernie Hawkins on drums, Bill Johnston on guitars, Rob Clark on bass -- have been playing individually for nearly twenty years. Rob and Bill had played together in Ontario a decade ago. Both now in Vancouver, they started jamming a year or so ago, and began recording their songs at Ernie's popular local recording studio, Big Midget. Soon he was in on the jams, and it didn't take long to put together the band's first, and untitled, 27-minute CD.

(And, for the record, the CD's songs do have titles, says Ernie: "We have names for them, so we know which ones they are... And for the purposes of SOCAN, they're called, like, 'New One #2' and 'The One That Starts with the Snare Drum.'")

The band has been playing as much as possible since. So how's the response been?

"We just had a show in Winnipeg, there's a SHITLOAD of kids there, the place was PACKED with kids," recalls Bill. "You know, a full-on punk rock extravaganza at seven at night. And we came up and played, and I think they all smelled the metal or something [laughs], and a lot of them beat a hasty retreat to stand outside and smoke."

Ernie Hawkins "[But otherwise] it's good. It's generally favourable. It's a little funny at first, and when we say 'Singers are a pain in the ass,' people go, 'yeah, you're right.'"

"There's also a tendency for people to want to figure you out by deciding what you are," laments Ernie. "They say, 'You're an instrumental band,' and I don't consider us to be instrumental, because there's plenty of samples and things going on, and there's lots of monologues, with just talking. We just don't have a guy that's doing it, we have a sampler that's doing it."

"It's nice not having a guy going in between songs," Bill continues, putting on a dopey voice: "'Uh, huh, I went and had a beer last night and uh, yuh...' You know, some fucking banter. There's nothing I hate more than banter. Stupid banter is really bad."

Ernie agrees: "Unless they're good at it, and some singers are good at it, but there's very few. Which comes back to the point of why we don't have a singer at all..."

Bill: "There's so many good bands, you'll hear a song, and the first sixteen bars are like, 'right on, hey, great guitar tone...'"

Ernie: "And then, 'eeeueueyyyeuuaaaaa!!'"

Bill: "Exactly. It's like, 'Oh my god, stop that guy!' I mean, a good singer is great. I love a really good singer. But there's not very many of them."

[ed. Click here for the audio from that last exchange between Bill and Ernie.]

Rob Clark Which doesn't stop people from trying, notes Ernie: "We get a lot of people come up to us, obviously wannabe singers -- when their head hits the pillow at night, they're dreaming about being a singer -- and they go, 'Ya know, I like your band, but it gets a little old after awhile, I think you guys need a singer. And I happen to know one!'"

So why have Removal succeeded at the 'instrumental' game where other bands have painfully not?

Experience is a big part of it. The three have played almost everything, and feel free to use whatever influences seem to work without trying to fit into some framework. Rob points out an emphasis on songwriting rather than soloing. Bill also credits his stint with Chrome Dog a few years back for teaching him about leaving space in a song. But more important, perhaps, was an experience over a decade ago.

"The pivotal moment for me was on my birthday in '86, when I saw Yngwie Malmsteen at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto," Bill recalls. "It was like, just this incredible festival of... of 'what the fuck is that?!?' And when that was done, I decided, 'Ok, there's no way I'm going to play like that. Ever. So stop.' I pretty much stopped even attempting to play guitar solos at about that time."

cover of Removal's first CD So, with one CD done, and with ready access to Ernie's studio, what's next?

"It's interesting how things are evolving now," says Ernie. "Most of those songs [from the CD] were written in a jam, and then a bunch of shit was piled on top of the songs. We've started to go at it from the other way around, now. Go into the studio and fuck around with the Juno and the sampler and listen to old records and wacky stuff that we have. And then sort of write the song to incorporate all that."

"If you have something else in there that's hopefully occupying that same space [as a vocalist], then maybe you can cross over a little bit into not being instrumental, but not having a singer, either. So we're trying to be a little more clever," Bill laughs. "It's hard for us."

Any last words?

Yeah, says Ernie: "You should put our number in the article. I'm serious. If any band wants to play with us, and they're anywhere in our realm of musical taste, they should call us."

Ok. You can call Removal at (604) 253-2007.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on August 28, 1997

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