“The Blue Jays are going to be sick this year.” says Dan Vacon as our beers arrive at the Ship and Anchor. We talk a little baseball before I get started on our interview. He’s also really looking forward to ‘Dirtbag Baseball Sunday’s’ and laments the lack of inner city baseball diamonds. “I think we might have to up it to four teams this year too.” The two team “league”, is a collection of musicians and bar staff Dan plays in every Sunday in the summer. Calgary music fans know Dan Vacon best as the lead singer of the Dudes, who seem to be everyone’s favourite band. At least I can’t find anyone who doesn’t think so. Well that’s not true, I found one person who disagrees but they quickly follow with “I like Dojo Workhorse much better.”, another one of the many Calgary bands Vacon can be found playing in. We got to talking about Calgary’s music scene and why moving to Toronto isn’t the goal for most bands any more.
You’ve gotten the chance to see Calgary’s music scene grow over the last 15 years. How far has it come and where is it going?
It’s a hard thing to measure I guess. The best way would be to take a random day like a Tuesday, and what the hell was happening on a Tuesday? There would be shows but who the hell is going to them? It was a struggle to get people out to shows. You still played them just to get on stage. Now come Tuesday, Thursdays, you’re going to get a good crowd and a major part of that was the slow build, the snowball effect. Everyone got more confidence. Now people are willing to take a risk on bands they’ve never heard of and venues have done a killer job bringing in quality acts. It’s easier for everyone because you know you’re going to see a good show no matter what.
What’s kept you and the Dudes from relocating to Vancouver or Toronto? What’s kept you in Calgary?
Besides loving the city, more so the people, the damned people. The internet and the death of the record industry has gone a long way. I mean, you can be a successful band in the middle of Greenland if you have a Wi-Fi connection. Now it’s just about making good music. You still have to be willing to get into a van and show people you exist. I don’t know anyone who’s moved away from Calgary to get their success and done nothing but alienate themselves. A lot of people don’t realize how important your community are for you to make good music, you need that support network, playing shows. You need your friends to keep yourself real. Dropping yourself in the middle of Toronto and being alone might make for some good tunes. That’s why I’ve been able to write so much, I’m so comfortable here, rent’s good and I got a girl. I can focus on the music. I haven’t had a real job in like 12 years. I’m honestly happy as fuck.
How was your experience curating Sled Island last year?
I love Sled Island. Curating is good work if you can get it. I got to pick some of my favourite bands. Mostly people thought I was more involved than I was, so I get to enjoy the success of a festival off the backs of the volunteers and the staff, I got some of their high-fives. I may have played it up.
You got to put your musical stamp on the festival, who were some of the acts you personally wanted to see and what were some you couldn’t?
Top of my list was the Archers of Loaf and the Hold Steady. I would have paid the ticket price just to see them. I got to party with them after. It was crazy. Eric Bachmann from the Crooked Fingers played my guitar at the secret show at Broken City. I got to pick a lot of my favorite local and Canadian artists so if you were local and didn’t get in I’m sorry, you can hate on me.
It’s not like being in more than one band is unusual, but Calgary’s musicians seem to be especially incestuous. Is that fair to say?
Not unique but it’s especially heavy. I think you can attribute that to what I was saying before, being able to live comfortably in a city you love. I mean an easy life, a happy life affording you the mental space to branch out and do what you want. At the same time the Calgary music community is so tiny and tight knit, anyone asks me ‘I need a bass player for a single show’, well I got three days to cram, I can do it. I just joined Roaming Storms. I don’t really have the time but God dammit they play great music and they want you to be a part of it, I’m not going to say no to the glory.
Has Calgary inspired any of the music you’ve written?
Absolutely. It’s the old addage, write what you know. In all my stuff I reference streets I’ve lived on and people I hang out with. It’s peppered through all my stuff. You can see lots of Calgary in my work.
Favorite place to play music?
Calgary, we don’t have a ton of venues, it depends on what kind of show I want to play. If I want to play a 200 seater, then Broken City is amazing. The super low stage and the layout, really makes it feel smaller than it is. You’re forced to play in the middle of the action. If I’m forced to play a bigger room, the Republik is great.
What’s 2013 got in store for you?
I’m writing like crazy right now, or at least attempting to write like crazy. I think I suffer from ‘Calgary’s been too good to me’ syndrome sometimes. I don’t need to need to write. I work better when a whip is cracking behind me. I’m releasing a High-Kicks album, that’s just been mastered. The full length will be out this year. Just released a Dojo Workhorse album. The Dudes are going through a shuffle but we’ve got a bunch of tunes and we’ll be heading into the studio. More of the same, just keep moving forward, keep making stuff.
Finally, what makes Calgary Awesome?
So many things, but it’s awesome because of the human beings here. It’s super hard to put your finger on what’s so rad about us, I tend not to ask too many questions about it. Just enjoy it for what it is.
Photo Credit: Nick Taylor