Gospel grunge group to play what may be a final show at Amigos, June 6
It’s a cold night in October, 2012 in rural Saskatchewan. Despite the encroaching chill of winter crawling tendril-like in between the floorboards, the collective mood of the room, show-goers who are crammed into a cavernous barn, is celebratory.
Post-harvest, organizers have assembled one hell of a party, which includes music and a merch table that features bags of potatoes and preserves. Everyone wears mitts and hugs their beers close to their chests. Several local bands are scheduled to play – groups that all feature bearded, plaid-clad dudes. But the best part of a rock show is often the encore, that sweet-but-brief flickering bit at the end when literally anything can happen. Instead of offering another song, however, the headliners relent their spot – The Seahags storm the stage. They are all in various states of inebriation; lead singer Riki Yandt isn’t wearing pants.
They blast off several songs before receding back into the crowd. It’s sloppy but magic. Just another night for Saskatoon’s queens of gospel grunge rock.
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Early last week, The Seahags posted a song called “Those Golden Days” from their upcoming full-length album Tarnished Gold. The single is both sweet and stampy, with a simmering violin interlude and sassy vocals that pack a solid wallop. It’s the perfect introduction to the rest of the album, which similarly alternates between searing folk-rock energy and plucky melodies.
Having recorded nine songs with Chad Mason at Sinewave Studios on a farm in Saskatchewan in December, Tarnished Gold is, in many ways, typical prairies fare.
“We had vehicle troubles on the way out there and back and ended up on the side of the highway in -40 weather,” recalls April Nechvatel. “I had never been so cold in my life.”
Talking about the recent sessions, she says, “Our album is titled after my only song on this album, [which] is called Tarnished Gold. It’s a sequel to the Gold Rush song I wrote on our previous album. The last gold rush song was mostly about colonization and this one is about a sex worker in the gold rush.”
Even so, despite the excitement of gearing up for the launch of the new album at Amigos on June 6, The Seahags have been unusually quiet this past year, having last played locally in December. The hiatus was especially noticeable given that several members have formed new groups. But The Seahags are a band that wears their antics on their collective sleeves, unabashedly so.
Last summer the group toured throughout western Canada, which saw the group going as far as Tofino before turning their suburban truck back towards the prairies. Despite playing several rousing shows, including a gig in the town of Armstrong, BC, for Canada Day, the majority of the band suffered from a 24 hour stomach flu, which had been nicknamed the ‘Hag plague.
“I had to shit and vomit on the side of the highway and Riki almost fainted in the Railway Club in Vancouver during our set,” recalls Nechvatel. “Brenda puked lots and had a good attitude about it.”
The band first formed in the winter of 2010. The original line-up featured Nechvatel, Riki Yandt, Kayla Humenny and Alison Sackville. Drummer Brenda Jackson joined shortly after and Alison left the band and was replaced by Joanna Graves.
“We didn’t know what we were doing, we just knew we wanted to play music and be in a band,” says Nechvatel. “Our first two shows were at All Citizens [located in Bruno, SK]. One was for Julie Doiron day in which we did a few JD covers. I remember doing ‘Oh Clementine’ from the Daniel, Fred, and Julie album. The other show was opening for an Edmonton band. Our third show, however, was at a nursing home. And a guy in the front row soiled himself. It happens, but it was pretty hard for us to keep our composure.”
Eventually, violinist Lauren Tastad joined the band. “I was reluctant at first,” says Nechvatel. “Our mini-van only had room for five, but she’s a wild child so she fit right in and we upgraded to a suburban.”
As their reputation grew – being an old-timey, all-girl country party rock band will do that to you – The Seahags began accumulating a bizarre mix of gigs under their collective belts, including shows in small towns across the prairies, a showcase in front of a bakery, political rallies and a cakewalk. The group also started picking up some wedding gigs, which meant learning hitching staples like “Fishing in the Dark” and “Love Is A Rose”.
Also, more wild shows in barns.
But despite the return, it also may be the last time the members of The Seahags share a stage together. Two days after wrapping up the recording for Tarnished Gold, lead singer Riki Yandt moved to Toronto. Nechvatel says that while it will be some time before Saskatoon gets another glimpse of the Hags, there are plans to reunite in the distant future.
“We have this dream to get back together in like 30 years and re-record our Gospel record. I have a bunch of footage I shot and plan on keeping so I could make a documentary about it. We might play more, we might not. Our future is really unknown.”
But while bands, especially hard-traveled ones, are transient by nature, some things actually do last forever, etched in stone and skin alike.
“We all got matching tattoos when we were in Toronto,” says Nechvatel. “I thought it was a stupid idea and wasn’t going to do it, but then Kayla said to me ‘imagine being a 75-year-old woman and having that tattoo and explaining to your grandkids that you were in an all-girl country, grunge band when you were young.’
“I got the tattoo, but I doubt I’ll be having kids.”