Armchair Cynic ( ärm•cher sin•ik). n. Individual who gripes, moans and criticizes with no intention of taking redemedial action. Favorite expression: “If I was running the country, blah-blah-blah-blah.” From the Latin root armchairus quarterbackus.
Armchair Cynics . n. Crunchingly intense and melodic four-piece contemporary rock band from Victoria, British Columbia. Optimistic, driven, proactive. Walk it like they talk it.
Over the phone one night in mid June, Kenn Coutu tells me it was his father who inspired the name armchair cynics. Since Coutu believes rock’n’roll has an element of parental rebellion, he decided the phrase would be an ironic fit for a band that is rarely cynical and never, ever sits still. Now that he’s found a co-writer and rhythm section with creativity and muscle to spare, the Armchair Cynics are putting the boots to that metaphorical baracalounger. They figure they’ve got the songs, production and label support to have a genuine shot. World domination? Their attitude: Well, why not?
Heralded by lead single “Bang,” an aptly named, sheet-shredding anthem of lust and abandon, Armchair Cynics are making the break from their popular stronghold on Vancouver Island. Killing the Romance is the band’s seven-song debut EP for 604 Records. Label co-founder Chad Kroeger of Nickelback and that band’s co-producer/engineer Joey Moi helmed two tracks. The equally potent team of Dave Genn (ex-Matthew Good Band, now with 54-40) and renowned producer/mixer Warne Livesey (Midnight Oil, MGB, Talk Talk) handled the other five.
Killing the Romance showcases the explosive, finely crafted songwriting of lead vocalist/guitarist Coutu and guitarist/keyboardist Adam Sutherland. The two hooked up in 2002 after an early line-up of the band faltered. Sutherland is the down-to-earth muso with a gift for memorable riffs and a deep fascination with the studio process. Coutu is the lyricist, an excitable study in contrasts who listens to Kathleen Edwards for inspiration while admitting he’s cocky and confident in the manner of the prototypical frontman.
Add powerhouse drummer Ryan Rae and newly recruited bass guitarist Ford Michael Piercey – both veterans of Victoria’s music scene – and Armchair Cynics can punch out a big-beat, arena-filling sound without betraying the emotional and musical depth of their material. A commentator once described the band as a mix of Counting Crows and emo pioneers Sunny Day Real Estate. And while he doesn’t like playing the comparison game, Sutherland, a one-time drummer who grew up listening to Tool, concedes that there’s an element of truth in that one.
After winning a west coast battle-of-the-bands, Armchair Cynics independently released the EP Coffee Shop Confessions in 2003 and began building a fan base while playing increasingly high profile gigs. The single “Surprise Ending” scored local FM rock radio airplay and earned regular spins on Canada’s Galaxie satellite service; a striking remake of the song recorded by Moi and Kroeger is a standout on Killing the Romance.
A friend of the band took the first EP to Kroeger and Jonathan Simkin, 604’s executive branch. The pair requested a meeting – not to discuss business, laughs Sutherland, but “to make sure we weren’t dickheads.” They passed the test and walked away with a development deal. A year of intense songwriting and session work resulted in a label contract. Following national touring and more recording, Armchair Cynics plan to release a full-length album by early 2006.
Final mixes by Livesey at Vancouver studio The Warehouse in the early summer completed the Killing the Romance sessions. The EP charts the highs, lows and morning afters of a relationship, complete with carnal overture (“Bang”), bittersweet breakdown (“Coalmine”) and hung-over aftermath (“Swallow”).
“We want to be part of the new generation of Canadian rock bands following Our Lady Peace and the Matthew Good Band,” says Coutu. And he wants to keep the process real. “Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were my role models when I got into music. The great thing about those bands is that there was nothing sex, drugs and rock’n’roll about them. They were real bands made up of real people. They had integrity. That’s our departure point as well.”
Nothing the least cynical about that.