A rock band that Vonnegut would be proud of

The Bokononists turn a fictional religion into their brand of dirty rock ’n’ roll

Splish, splash, they were takin’ a bath: Winnipeg skuzz-rockers The Bokononists. Courtesy Bokononists

Bokononism is the fictional religion in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle that regards all religions (including Bokononism) as a set of untruths, but advises to follow the set of untruths that make you happy.

“The name has nothing to do with our music,” said lead guitarist Bobby Desjarlais. “It’s just a name.”

In March, The Bokononists (rounded out by vocalist and guitarist Rene Campbell, bassist Johnny Calderon and drummer Jed Desilets) had the most illegitimate CD release party ever.

Held after-hours at an Asian food restaurant on Pembina Highway, attendees paid $5 cover and received a burnt CD with the names of eight tracks scribbled on it in Sharpie marker.

“We just wanted to get that stuff out there,” Desjarlais said of the CD release.

The self-recorded album wasn’t visually pleasing, but it proved that The Bokononists can make an album sound good despite poor recording conditions. Standout tracks included Cold, Calm, Blind, Dumb, Fascists and The Symptoms.

“Thinking back on those tracks, we recorded them in a cheap little space with really cheap gear, we did it not knowing what we were doing, so it kind of sounds like that,” said Campbell.

Since then, the band has been working with Matt Peters of The Waking Eyes and Royal Canoe fame, re-recording five songs from the CD for an upcoming album with six new songs.

Technical instrumentals and a filthy, Stooges sound define The Bokononists’ grungy throwback-style rock ’n’ roll.

“We were focusing on energy, we were focusing on the right feel, as opposed to correct speed or time, and Johnny coined the term (for our sound) years ago, he called it skuzz,” Campbell said.

“It’s still got the skuzz, but it’s with actual equipment that’ll pick up the subtlety of the skuzz,” Calderon added. 

There is no central songwriter, rhyme or reason to the songwriting process, according to The Bokononists.

“Someone starts something and everyone just adds on,” Calderon said.

“One practice back at our old place, I said to Jed and Johnny: create a song, and when you make us dance we’ll put something over top of it,” Campbell said.

“I like matching up my kick drum with Johnny and my snare drum with Bobby,” Desilets said.

“I’ll catch myself humming at night and think who the hell is that? Oh shit, it’s us!” Calderon said.

“Yeah, me too, I think we’re all writing in our sleep,” added Campbell. “I swear, sometimes we dream these songs.”

Published in Volume 65, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 16, 2010)

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