What goes around comes around. Especially for Crash Karma.
When they roared to life with their super-powered debut album in 2010, the members of this Can-Rock dream team — singer Edwin (formerly of I Mother Earth), guitarist Mike Turner (ex-Our Lady Peace), drummer Jeff Burrows (The Tea Party) and bassist Amir Epstein (Zygote) — were musical peers with separate but equal pasts. Almost three years later to the day, with their fittingly titled sophomore album Rock Musique Deluxe, they have grown into a band of brothers with a shared musical vision they’re willing to fight for. Even among themselves.
“When we first got together, I didn’t know the guys,” says bassist and main songwriter Epstein, who set up the musical blind date that launched the band in 2008. “I wasn’t friends with them and they weren’t friends with each other — which I actually thought was kind of strange, being that they were in three of the most successful bands ever in Canada. They had crossed paths when they toured, but they weren’t super-tight. So we weren’t very comfortable in the studio. Everybody was on their best behaviour. If someone made a suggestion someone else didn’t like, there wasn’t much criticism. Nobody wanted to offend. “Since then, we’ve played together, we’ve recorded together, we’ve toured together. And we’ve become close, a bunch of buddies. We know everything about each other now — all the dark secrets. So it was a lot different in the studio. We were comfortable with one another, we were honest with one another, we were open with one another. And it was way more opinionated — ‘That sucks! Do it again!’ Instead of everybody doing what they want, we did what was best. And we all ended up making a stronger album because of it.”
That cocktail of camaraderie, confidence and creative conflict is the spark that ignites the high-octane Rock Musique Deluxe. Co-produced by the band and studio veteran Terry Brown (Rush, Max Webster, Voivod) in their Toronto hometown, the lean, muscular album takes up where previous hits like ‘Awake’ and ‘Fight’ left off and heads into new sonic terrain.
“You can tell that there’s a maturity in the band,” Edwin agrees. “It’s a step ahead, not a step back. It’s not remaking the same record. It’s a natural evolution. You could put it up against the first record, but it doesn’t sound like the first record. It sounds like a newer, fresher Crash Karma.” Also a more aggressive and progressive one. The just over 40-minutes Rock Musique Deluxe runs darker, deeper and heavier than its predecessor, thanks to Turner’s wall of serrated buzzsaw riffage and swirling flourishes, Epstein’s nimble, melodic basslines and drummer Burrows’ marriage of octopus dexterity and relentless propulsion. “We unleashed Burrows,” Epstein confirms. “If you listen to the drums, they’re ridiculous, animalistic. We kept encouraging him to give us more.” Once the drums were tracked, the musicians were compelled to follow suit, incorporating different time signatures, exotic percussion, unpredictable arrangements and atmospheric textures — the dividends paid by their newfound openness and drive.
“I always have to step back and take an audio picture of what we accomplish as a band,” Burrows says. “The sonic boom of four individuals from varied musical backgrounds creating something so powerful and to the point is amazing.”
Beneath the album’s brains and brawn, however, beats a sincere, passionate heart. In contrast to the more external perspective of their debut, this time it’s personal for lyricists Epstein and Edwin. The bulk of these 11 songs introduce protagonists standing at life’s crossroads and running emotional gauntlets. Meet the beleaguered star of the funk-flecked modern rocker “Man on Trial”. The self-recriminating anti-hero of the soaring slow-burner “Everything”. The empowering lead of the infectious first single “Tomorrow”. The protective champion of the ominous abuse-themed ‘Leave Her Alone’. All of them (and more) are personified via Edwin’s painstakingly crafted vocals, which move seamlessly from tough to tender in a single couplet.
“The way I see it,” explains Edwin, “the first record had a lot of angst and a little bit of love. This record has a lot of love and a little bit of angst. And from my perspective, the songs are more singable. We put a lot of backing harmonies on this one. On the first record, we tried not to use too many harmonies so it didn’t sound sweet and pretty. But this time, the songs really lent themselves to a diversity of harmonies. But ultimately, it’s not like we’re playing be-bop or anything. It’s still a rock album.” And at a time when real rock is in short supply, Crash Karma are proud to wear the genre on their sleeve. And their album cover.
“We’ve played shows with some bands — and I’m not going to name them — that weren’t rock bands, but were just pretending to be rock bands,” explains Epstein. “It was really irritating to see that. So our album title is just a way of just saying, ‘This is rock music. Take a listen to it, in case you forgot what it’s supposed to sound like.’ ”
Adds Edwin: “I know there’s still a lot of rock fans out there. I don’t think rock is dead. I think it will always make a revival in some form. And if we can have a part in that revival, in making it front and centre a little bit, I would be greatly honoured.”
Don’t be surprised if he gets his wish. After all, what goes around...