Friends in low places: Winnipeg’s Lower Companions will get you through it

Jason Maas shares a laugh with his Lower Companions. See them live on Thursday, Feb. 7 at the Times Change(d). Supplied

Local folk rock outfit The Lower Companions released its second recording, the six-song EP Lock & Step, in November.

The Uniter sat down with front man Jason Maas to talk about his influences, Winnipeg’s past and what inspired the band’s name.

The Uniter: Your debut, Clean, was released in 2009. What has life been like for The Lower Companions since its release?

Jason Maas: Well, we’ve gone through a lot of changes in the sound we’ve been going for. Clean was a wide range of folk and ‘50s doo-wop stuff - types of music that inspired us over the years. But since releasing that album we’ve been going in more of a rock direction. 

Speaking of influences, you have a wide variety: Lou Reed, Yoko Ono, Cheap Trick. How do they make up The Lower Companions’ sound?

JM: I’m glad you mention all of those; they are all a big influence on me. There are five of us in the band and we all bring our own influences. Our bass player is from Kentucky, so he brings a real down-south rock vibe. Our keyboard player brings an Elton John vibe. Everyone brings their two cents.

Has Winnipeg’s history had an influence on the album as well?

JM: Yeah, I’m at the point in my career where I still have to work a day job. I’m not making a living off (music) yet, and my job requires going into a lot of the buildings in Winnipeg so that’s where a lot of the themes in this album come from: walking into these 100- to 120-year-old buildings. I’ve always been fascinated by these buildings, imagining the inhabitants, looking at the ghosts of the past.

You mentioned touring in the summer.

JM: Yeah, we’re going to do a two-week tour out west. I hope to get as far as Alberta or B.C. if possible. I lived there for a couple years and spent a lot of time playing guitar and writing songs. I actually started busking out there. I figured, instead of playing in my apartment I might as well get out there. If you don’t have venues to play at when you’re first starting out, it’s a great way to get comfortable playing in front of people. It’s a good way to get beer money while you’re at it, too.

Do you see a day when going to the LC means seeing The Lower Companions, not picking up beer?

JM: I hope so! I like that. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the term “The Lower Companions.” It comes from Alcoholics Anonymous. There’s a famous test for people if they want to know if they’re alcoholics or not. There are 20 questions and one of them asks, “When you’re drinking, do you find yourself hanging out with your lower companions and hanging out in inferior establishments?” I sat around with my friends thinking, “We are the lower companions.”

Sitting around, drinking in “inferior establishments?”

JM: Yes, exactly. That’s where the name came from.

Published in Volume 67, Number 18 of The Uniter (January 30, 2013)

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