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Sunday Morning Photo by Jessicka Yliruusi
It started as a sonic flashback and a nostalgia driven leap down a rock ‘n’ roll rabbit hole and ended up as an excellent conversation with Bruce Wilson. Now, the man behind Vancouver’s Sunday Morning. Then, the man shaking the city awake with his Tankhog compatriots.
That’s where this began. Flying full circle through circles of sound. I was listening to my old friends in Windwalker rage through a cover of Ministry’s “Burning Inside” on the Mint Records 1991 7” The Mint Is A Terrible Thing To Taste and then flipped it over and was caught head on in the crash of Tankhog’s take on “So What”. An anthem of undying industrial grunge rock love.
Growing up in Vancouver, the exploits of Tankhog and sister band Slow were legendary, but because of the great music border slicing across the continent, most of the music hitting in Canada never made it too far stateside. But this was a couple of decades ago, and while I could wax on for pages about that late 80’s Vancouver rain-drenched proto-grunge street tied scene, this particular 7” hit brought me straight back to now, and the emergence of Sunday Morning. A similar but different, familiar yet strange, musical creature. Where Tankhog was perhaps more explosive, Sunday Morning moves a little more introspective.
“Well, Tankhog was both simultaneously explosive and implosive,” Bruce Wilson says. “Looking back, I feel our mission was to confront and attack our audiences with all the rage, angst, and disharmony we felt internally. We hit the audiences with the full brunt of that chaos and felt thrown back at us. It was always exciting and unpredictable but never sustainable. No one’s going to get hit by a severed pig’s head at a Sunday Morning show.”
While the Sunday Morning catalog holds on to songs that carry similar intensity, the push and movement behind the compositions, the intent of the music, seems to have shifted.
“Sunday Morning is invitational in a way that Tankhog was incapable of.” Wilson acknowledges. “Songs like ‘I’m In Love’ and ‘Sick In The City’ hold onto a ferocity that embodied Tankhog but I think they’re presented so people are drawn in and included rather than held at arm’s length and pummeled to the point of incapacitation.”
“Sick in the City”, coming off the 2016 self-titled debut, is a rousing rocker, hitting like some Kill City throwaway, but tighter. Four years later, on the Consequence of Love EP, “I’m In Love” hits with a bluesy broken glass swagger throwing down like Green River on methadone. Following this pattern, it seems like 2024 is the year for another album and maybe a few more scathing singles.
Wilson agrees, even though the four-year cycle was not a conscious decision. “Though it seems to be working out that way. The working title of the new album is We’re All Gonna Die because all the songs deal with mortality in some capacity, and I like how that sentence can be stated in a myriad of tonal, expressive, and inflective styles. I’m in the midst of preproduction now and there are a bunch of exciting possibilities I can’t talk too much about yet but it’s safe to say the first single will be coming out sometime over the summer. I’m writing and demoing everything at home these days. Who’s going to play on them in the studio and how I’m going to present these new songs live remains to be seen. We’re working on figuring all that out.”
Moving from the possible album title to the name of the band, I note how it automatically conjures up the song by The Velvet Underground & Nico. Wilson tells me that’s a natural connection to make, but … no.
“I honestly wasn’t thinking about that when I came up with it,” he says. “I just liked the inherent duality held within the idea of what Sunday morning can mean. The extremes of what Sunday mornings have felt like in my life was interesting to me. There were the ones I like to call ‘escape room’ Sunday mornings. Coming to after a night of debauchery in foreign environments that resembled the set of the first Saw movie. I had a lot of those. After I cleaned up, Sunday mornings moved to the other end of the spectrum. I remember waking up early on Sundays at the Salvation Army treatment center where I got my shit together and walking through the quiet empty streets of the city. I felt a powerful feeling of peace and safety that was entirely new for me. A contemplative sense of hope. By calling this project Sunday Morning I wanted to invoke both the light and darkness the name implies.”
Also on the VU tip is the Sunday Morning song “Anna Says”. A single released in the spring of 2021. I’m thinking of “Stephanie Says” and “Lisa Says”…
“And ‘Caroline Says’!” Wilson interrupts, excited. “So that was a conscious reference to Lou Reed. I wrote those lyrics during the year I lived at Vancouver’s Waldorf Hotel when I was just starting to figure out what Sunday Morning was going to be. I was experimenting with lyrical styles and ideas and that song came from a time I was scoring drugs in New York. The transaction went down in a tiny fourth floor walkup with a mattress on the floor in the kitchen. A classic lower east side apartment. There was an older woman sitting on the edge of mattress and I spent some time talking to her while my guy was getting me a bundle. I say older because at the time I was in my early 20’s so she seemed much older, but she could’ve just been in her early 30’s. I’ve never been good at judging ages. I was only there for a few minutes but that short conversation and the openness in how she spoke always stuck with me. The whole scene felt very Lou Reed, so the song title seemed apt.”
Listening to Sunday Morning, and hearing what Bruce Wilson has to say about the process, I note that he seems to be more of a storyteller than a song writer. The narrative may be broken at times, but there is still a story. Wrapped up in the music, held within the lyrics, Bruce definitely writes songs, but as I listen to the sounds unfurl it sometimes feels as if the tale being told is more important than the structure of the composition.
“Considering the first album was written as a soundtrack for a still unfinished novel and I approached the Consequence of Love ep as an anthology of short stories I guess that makes sense.” Wilson affirms. “I need a thematic anchor when I approach a project. Not in a prog rock concept album way but as a thread that ties everything together. I have piles of notebooks with bits of prose and lyrical ideas that I refer to when I have chord progressions, I’m working on to see what fits. The past couple years have been emotionally difficult, so the glaring fact of mortality is unavoidable in these new songs. In all its darkness and brilliant blinding light.”
I think that darkness, and that light, shine through in the words and the music, and even the delivery. Reading reviews of Sunday Morning shows and music there are always references to artists like Leonard Cohen, Iggy Pop, and Nick Cave. I hear those, but they seem to hit hardest with the songs that are played more often. Diving in to the deep cuts and B-sides, I hear other inspirations and influences drifting in the mix. Pulling off a Mark Lanegan tip, I hear Screaming Trees and a sort of Aaron Stauffer drawl, more from his Gardener days than the Seaweed years, and then also (to me) there’s a little more Rowland S. Howard than Nick Cave.
Wilson appreciates the Rowland name drop, and adds to it, saying that man deserves to be a household name. He asks if I’ve seen the documentary Autoluminescent about Howard, and I haven’t, yet. “I think it might be available on YouTube,” he tells me. “And I highly recommend checking it out. Maybe I should cover his song ‘Dead Radio’! No one will ever deliver the word ‘tetracycline’ better than he could, but it’d be fun to try.”
Found on Howard’s first solo album from 1999’s Teenage Snuff Film, “Dead Radio” would be a great cover, but I’m thinking if you’re going for Rowland S. Howard, I’d love to hear Sunday Morning take on “Looking For A Place To Fall” on Jeremy Gluck’s I Knew Buffalo Bill album. But we don’t need to stick to Howard for covers. Sunday Morning moved through a great rendition of Art Bergmann’s “The Junkie Don’t Care”, redone as “Junky Don’t Care”. Putting a little Burroughsian spin on the 1988 track. A solid song from a solid album and redone just right.
“That was so fun to record,” Wilson says happily, telling me how the cover slid into existence. “During the height of Covid I bought a synth and started messing around with recording at home in my little apartment. Felix Fung and I had always talked about recording covers of Vancouver songs, so I picked one my favorite artists and went back through Art’s extensive catalogue and I got stuck on ‘The Junkie Don’t Care’. It was a subject matter I could relate to. My skills as a true (maybe ‘trained’ is a better word?) musician are somewhat limited so I broke the song down into its most basic elements and slowed it way down. I was nervous when I sent the original demo to Art to check out because I’d changed the song’s tonal qualities so dramatically. Thankfully Art really liked it, so I took it to Felix at his Little Red Sounds studio where he worked his magic on it. Art was incredibly kind and supportive through that whole process, and I appreciated that immensely. I have tremendous respect for that man.”
I can agree wholeheartedly. Bergmann’s Crawl With Me LP was a staple for me in the late 80’s, and even when I was living outside of Canada, it tied me to home. It also feels like Sunday Morning could grab a few other Canadian songs to work with in terms of cover material. You could follow Art Bergmann back in time and hit The K-Tels, The Young Canadians, or Poisoned. All solid choices (as “I Hate Music” spins around in my head). Though I find myself sliding through other sonic memories from my formative years, of course, and hit on bands like No Fun, Brilliant Orange, or Animal Slaves. Although I would love to hear a Sunday Morning take on Skinny Puppy.
“I’ve been messing around with the Wasted Lives song ‘Wirehead’.” Bruce says, adding to the list. “I’ve always loved that song and I covered it live with the band Pollyanna Slaughterhouse when I was a kid with Bill Baker (who went on to found Mint Records). Bill actually has a cassette of the one solitary show we did. It’s a really messy board recording but it’s sort of charming. I’ve wanted to cover a Roxy Music song for years too. Maybe ‘Song For Europe’ or something off of Avalon? It feels Herculean though and I’d need to figure out an entry point. Roxy Music is one of those bands that feels untouchable to me and that’s part of the draw.”
Roxy Music would be an excellent band to cover, and even though they’re definitely not from Vancouver, they still hold a certain rainy city vibe. As does Sunday Morning, I find, as I listen to the songs like “The Visitor”, “Drink For Two”, and “1986”, which has a beautiful sleazy glitter street tied glam rock Iggy Pop meets David Johansen vibe. Even though the band holds a lot of ties to the Canadian music scene, it feels like there’s a much more citified influence pulling through their songs. I wonder if they consider themselves a Canadian band or a Vancouver band. The city hits hard in these songs.
“Vancouver has always been something of an outlier in the Canadian music scene. It’s geographically isolated behind a bunch of mountains and tends be overlooked by the general music industry.” Bruce points out. “However, I look at that as a strength rather than a detriment. Vancouver has a fierce sense of independence when it comes to creativity and the freedom that avails produces some truly remarkable artists. As difficult as it is to live in this ridiculously expensive city, I do consider Vancouver home these days and Sunday Morning is very much connected to it. I’m still not sure if I truly consider myself a Canadian despite the fact I’ve lived over half my life in this country. It’s something I dwell on at times … the idea of home; how it’s created and how that concept resonates within me. Sometimes I have the urge to live in a cabin in the Tennessee woods with a couple dogs, so if anyone has a cabin to gift me, please hit me up! I can figure out the dogs on my own.”
From Tankhog to Sunday Morning, to things falling in between, Vancouver has always been supportive of the music being created by Bruce Wilson and his partners in sonic crime. The United States is known for being patriotic, but Canadian pride is not something to be trifled with. It’s quieter, but very strong. And it loves the underground and the underdog. And that brings me back to the early Vancouver daze, where it was almost like Slow passed the torch to Wilson and his band, and I ask if it ever felt like Tankhog had to work to get out of Slow’s shadow.
Bruce tells me there was never really a shadow. Tankhog were just doing their own thing. “Slow was uniquely powerful and the chemical essence of a force like that is impossible to replicate. I think because we had Terry Russell and Stephen Hamm (Slow’s rhythm section) in the band, and we all originated from within that same small group of friends we were always linked to Slow in people’s minds.”
Bruce elaborates on this, “I was around for the beginnings of Slow when they first started practicing under the name Sisu in the basement of a house I was living in. I think I left town around the time they released that first amazing ‘I Broke The Circle’ single. I remember living in Florida and reading about the Expo riot in the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper and thinking ‘Whoa, my friends are certainly causing a raucous!’”
Author’s note; this refers to Slow’s infamous performance at Expo ’86 in Vancouver. Quite the scandal…
And as for the support of the city? According to Bruce, Vancouver has always been supportive of Sunday Morning, and there was always a solid fan base for Tankhog as well.
“After Tankhog broke up I left the city for several years. When I came back to Vancouver and eventually got sober, I started reconnecting with the music and arts community. The support I was offered was tremendous. Emerging slowly from those years of isolation was a transformative and educational experience. I rediscovered the art of collaboration and how that collaborative experience is so often more vital than the end result. I’ve learned a lot over the past years about the importance of not working in vacuum. I need to be surrounded by creatively driven people and fortunately I know many of them.”
Vancouver is a city that is home to an amazing number of creative and artistic people. The shine of the glass buildings and the clean tourist friendly glow only illuminates the surface. There is a vibrant underground and an ever-evolving scene that always pushes through. I touch upon this, seeing if Sunday Morning fits in with the current Vancouver scene, and if there are other bands playing that they enjoy and appreciate.
“Feeling like I fit anywhere has always been a struggle and it fluctuates with how closely I relate to the idea of ‘home’ but that’s almost irrelevant. I’m going to make stuff regardless of my existential state.” Bruce explained. “Vancouver feels like it’s thriving musically right now. I saw La Lune play with Ringo Deathstarr last year and they embody everything I love about shoegaze. I think their debut EP is coming out in April and I’m excited to hear it. Devours rules and I’m always down to go to one of their shows. I still have the album Escape from Planet Devours on frequent rotation. I’m also always excited when Hunting releases something new. Bradley Ferguson and Jessicka Yliruusi write the best songs, and that Motley Crue cover on their last album makes me especially happy … that sax solo!”
Sunday Morning is also connected by its members to a handful of other bands. There’s Stephen Hamm…
“I had coffee with Hamm earlier today! He’s one of my dearest friends. We aren’t currently working on anything together creatively, but I know we’ll do something with our side project Jibbernaut at some point this year. He been instrumental in helping me delve into the world of synthesizers and educating me in the world of recording. I’ve heard some of his forthcoming Theremin Man album and it sounds so killer. I can’t wait to be fully indoctrinated into his space cult! He said he got a robe in my size. I’ll be handing out his manifesto on street corners in no time.”
There’s GRRL Circus…
“That’s my friend R.d. Cane’s project. They’d get me to hop up on stage sometimes and sing a couple songs when they played live. R.d. works primarily as a filmmaker and photographer and he’s been an integral part of Sunday Morning since the beginning. The man’s eye and ability to bring out what’s important in an image or on screen is a rare talent and working with him is always a joy. That first video I made with him for the song ‘Come the Rain’ will always be one of my favorite experiences.” Bruce tells me. “Last fall he got me into the studio to sing on a couple songs he recorded. When he calls, I’ll pretty much do whatever he asks of me. We shot a video for one of those songs, ‘I Need a Drink’, before Christmas and he had me stumbling around the Vancouver streets in my underwear at dawn in the freezing rain. I caught a vicious cold afterwards, but it was worth it. The video is hilarious and looks amazing.”
I flash back to a previous word, and have to ask … what exactly is a Jibbernaut?
“I think of the Jibbernaut as an ancient entity that some might call a demon. A devourer of light. It’s also slang for a crystal meth enthusiast.” Bruce confesses. “Most importantly it’s the name of a musical side project I formed with Hamm, Terry, and Ford Pier, who are all, incidentally, former Tankhog members.”
Jibbernaut Photo by R. d. Cane
So Jibbernaut, while still a young band, is a solid band. Not some side-project that’s evolved in a strange way out of Sunday Morning. A fully breathing ad completely independent entity.
“Jibbernaut is very much its own presence.” Bruce assures me. “Hamm approached me about forming a loud punk band just for the hell of it, and that sounded like a brilliant idea. I went home and wrote an album worth of songs in very short period of time. I was experimenting with sigils and chaos magic at the time and incorporated those practices into the songwriting process and shit happened really fast. I also set certain parameters. The songs needed to all be under 2 minutes long (preferably 90 seconds) and have a standard pop song structure. That helped keep everything relatively reigned in and cohesive. We got Ford on guitar and Terry on drums, and it all came together so fluidly. And the fact that we can rip through a 12-song set in under 25 minutes is incredibly satisfying. It’s also always fun to get up on stage and yell. I hope we do at least one or two shows this year.”
While Jibbernaut seems to currently live and breathe primarily through the punk techno industrial scattershot Instagram being of @JIBBER_NAUT, there is also a sweet little split EP treat with Phuture Memoriez called Coulrophobia that came out last June. Available on Bandcamp, it seems to encapsulate the rough-edged synth punk edges the band was created for. Like punk rocks scraping across sheet metal. It might not be what the Sunday Morning crowd was expecting, but it was an intriguing way to introduce a new band. The EP was instigated by Phuture Memoriez’ MarQuo and Jessica Blaquiere, who take up the second half of the EP in a slightly more deranged sort of way. Bruce explains that it had very little to do with them aside from writing a couple songs about clowns and playing a release show.
“MarQuo and Jessica originally approached me about doing it with Sunday Morning but it seemed like Jibbernaut was the way to go, and they ran with it. Phuture Memoriez are another Vancouver band who are always doing something cool and innovative.”
It’s a fantastic teaser for what seems to be another dynamo of a band, and while Sunday Morning has some music coming together, there are definite hopes that a full length Jibbernaut album will appear this year as well. It seems that’s the dream, but it’s just a matter of getting the band all together.
“We’d love to release a full length, but everyone is super busy with their own stuff right now so it’s a matter of finding space to do that.” Bruce tells me. “Ford’s in the middle of the new Dead Bob album cycle (John Wright from Nomeansno’s project that he’s playing in), Hamm’s new Theremin Man album is almost done, I’m immersed in the new Sunday Morning album, Terry’s flying around securing computer networks from clever hackers … so we’ll see what happens.”
I had to look up coulrophobia. It’s defined as an irrational fear of clowns. Listening to the EP, it fits. I wonder if Bruce suffers from that fear, but no.
“Clowns don’t really bother me,” He explains. “But I did watch both Terrifier movies to prepare for writing those songs though, and they kinda messed me up.”
Caught on side-projects, I skip back, remembering Bruce mentioning a novel. Going through some of his lyrics, and getting little hints of his history, I’m already invested in that future read. I know from experience that the focus needed for that kind of writing is very concentrated. But it seems that right now, the attention is on the music.
“I have faith that novel will get finished eventually. I’m not a person who can do more than one thing at a time and writing a book takes all my energy and focus,” Bruce admits. “I need to go through my last draft and really tear it apart. That’s where the aforementioned cabin in the woods would be handy.”
And now the clowning around is over. I let Bruce get back to his music and his writing, and I get back to my listening. Currently it’s Jibbernaut’s “No One’s Laughing Now” on full volume. But that’s okay. I ain’t afraid of no clowns.
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