The Extroverts to appear at Amigos on March 29 with Delta Throats and Herb and the Humans
Formed in 1979, The Extroverts were one of the first punk bands to spring forth from the grimy loins of Saskatchewan’s independent music scene. They were also one of the most dangerous.
Back then, playing punk rock was a risky business, for both the bands and the audiences. Musicians subjected their audiences to blasts of noise and weirdness and for their efforts they were often threatened and run out of town. Which, of course, happened when bands like The Extroverts tried to play original material and not top 40 cover songs in Saskatchewan small towns like Elrose and Stoughton.
“We were definitely kind of freaks around here,” says Jay Semko, who was one of Saskatoon’s first punks and the bassist of The Idols before starting the Northern Pikes.
The Extroverts, a self-styled punk band that sometimes fell more on the side of new wave, were billed as one of the Queen City’s first groups that dared to inject their songs with the piss and vinegar of contemporaries such as Teenage Head or Young Canadians. The band formed after singer Brent Caron met with guitarist Les Holmlund, which eventually expanded to include Grant McDonald on bass and drummer Hap Hazard.
Playing some of their first-ever gigs at venues such as the University of Regina and an impromptu space called The Schnitzel Haus – which would go on to become The Distrikt, one of Regina’s most storied venues – The Extroverts would terrorize Saskatchewan and western Canadian audiences, which included getting banned from playing in various high schools and a gig in Moose Jaw that ended in a riot.
When the group broke up in 1982, they left behind only one recording, a 7” 45 RPM record with the songs “Living in Poverty” and “Political Animals”. The EP was recorded in a studio called Studio West, which was located near Pike Lake.
The Extroverts reunited in 1984 and, according to their Facebook page, made “drunken promises to one another that [they] would play a gig every Olympic year.”
Tellingly, the group wouldn’t play together again until 2009.
The Extroverts reformed when they were called upon to open for D.O.A. by none other than punk rock legend Joey Shithead.
Of course, it took a bit of convincing to get everyone back on board, says Holmlund.
“I knew the drummer would be fine with it. Our bass player only wanted to do it if the singer was going to do it, and he was banking on the fact that the singer wasn’t going to do it — he hadn’t been on stage in 25 years,” says Holmlund.
“The singer wasn’t really interested at first, but I convinced him to come to a rehearsal and we felt all the same energy, whatever that connection was originally,” Holmlund says. “It was really rugged sounding, I won’t lie to you. But it really energized us all. And we decided at that point to do this again, in preparation to open for D.O.A. back in 2009. And we decided to continue because it was so much fun.”
Nowadays the band still plays gigs in their hometown of Regina. Recently they were featured on the Prairie Shag compilation cassette put together by Carl Johnson of Library Voices. Their track “Fungus Man”, which was recorded in the band’s living room back in 1980, oozes snot and vitriol from at least two different pores.
According to Holmlund, the band is going to give recording another shot, and will be heading into the studio with Mr. Carl to lay down tracks for a couple of songs.
Ominocity recently caught up with Les Holmlund aka Eddie Lester for a chat on playing punk rock in the prairies in the 1980s, bringing your own PA to your gigs, and writing songs about typewriters.
Ominocity: You mentioned that the last time you played in Saskatoon was at the Wildlife Federation Hall about 30 years ago. What was the punk scene like back then?
Les Holmlund: On our website is a timeline that Brent had typed up in 1981, which helps us place some of these things that have happened including those early gigs in Saskatoon. We used to play two different kinds of gigs: those DIY-type gigs that our friends would put on and then we got hooked up with a traditional booking guy who would get us shows at high schools or whatever. It wasn’t a very good fit and some of those gigs weren’t a good fit. One of those shows was in Saskatoon in the basement of the Centennial. We were playing with a band called Jenson Interceptor (Editor’s Note – a rock group from Edmonton who existed from 1979-1983), who had a boring radio hit back in the day. Somehow our booking guy got us on the bill. What I remember from that show, and we played a few gigs like this, we had our own stage and our own PA and lights. Somehow, we went over okay. A lot of other shows that we got put into like this didn’t. We got put into a heavy metal bar in Brandon, Manitoba and got fired after two days and somehow did not get beaten up. We were lucky there.
We remember a gig at the Sutherland Hall back in the day that was well attended. I remember the promoter being mad at us for only playing three 45-minute sets instead of four 45-minute sets. That was common back in those days.
Most of these gigs we also brought our own PA and lights because there wasn’t a network of clubs that had stuff like that. Some top-40 clubs would have stuff like that but we weren’t a part of that scene. It was a lot of lifting.
OM: So with going into the studio, are these songs that The Extroverts have written recently or are they songs that you had from when you first formed in 1979?
LH: They are a hybrid of those two things. Back in the first go-around, from 1979 to 1982, we wrote somewhere between 70 to 80 songs between me and Brent, our singer and lyricist. He would just write the words but he wasn’t really an instrument player. So he would hand me a pile of lyrics and I would go off to my corner and I would return with something completely different from what he had in mind. That was how we created Extroverts songs.
Flash forward to 2009 when we reformed, surprising everyone including us, we were digging through our archives of old t-shirts and posters and tapes, and we found a stash of unused lyrics that Brent had written from that era. So we took those and added recently written music but with the elements of our previous songs. So there’s some more craft in the songwriting now but they are high energy and guitar riff-driven. These are the songs that are going over the best in our live shows.
The lyrics are pretty fun though because there are some obvious references to the era, like VHS tracking and digital watches and typewriters and other obsolete things.
OM: What can audiences expect from the band these days in terms of a live show?
LH: We still have a small core group of fans who come out and see us. But we’re happy with the response we are getting playing in front of people who couldn’t possibly have been alive when we were around the first time.
– The Extroverts will be appearing at Amigos Cantina, along with Delta Throats and Herb and the Humans, on March 29.
– Portions of the interview with Les Holmlund first appeared in Prairie Dog Magazine (conducted by Chris Morin). Special thanks to Les for the photos.