While smiling through the vertical bars of a rather imposing gate in Strathcona, Liam Butler, bass player and vocalist for local band No Gold, unlocked the entryway and led me to a small courtyard between two houses. Butler shares the one farther from the street with his two band mates, guitar player Jack Jutson and drummer Haley Pearse, who were poring over a large cookbook on the kitchen table as we walked into the house. This thick volume with tiny type is called The New Best Recipe. “Our bible,” Jutson told me as he closed the book and put it aside. “It’s got everything.” He went on to extol the virtues of the book (which did sound pretty comprehensive) in what remains of his Australian accent. Jutson left Sydney for Vancouver with his family just days after finishing high school because his dad took a yacht-designing job in the city. He met Butler a few years later, in 2005, and the two have been hanging out and making music ever since.
They met, appropriately enough, when they both found themselves on the wrong side of the tracks at the Commercial Skytrain station, trying to make their way out to the suburbs. As Butler remembered it, he saw Jutson and thought, “This guy kind of looks like he would know what he is doing, so I’m just going to follow his lead.” Jutson had the same idea, and pretty soon they were both lost.
“A couple of hours later, we were in a burger line-up together,” Butler said, laughing. Pretty soon they had started a band called Yukon that, after a series of radical transformations—including the addition of Pearse, a high school friend of Butler’s—became No Gold in early 2007.
Since then, No Gold has been a near-constant presence in the Vancouver music scene, playing countless shows in different venues across the city. Their loud, tropically-inflected take on dance pop is unlike most other music being made in the city and the intense energy of their shows has kept their audiences coming back for more. When asked about their unique sound, the band seems as pleasantly surprised as any member of their audience.
“We all come from different influences, what we really like to listen to and stuff. The style that we’ve developed comes from playing our individual instruments, then getting into a room, drinking some beers, sweating a lot and then whatever comes out, comes out. As long as it sounds good to us, that’s what we’ll play,” said Butler.
Looking to his band mates for confirmation, Butler shrugged and said, “There was never any specific intent on building a sound. It just sort of came out.”
This loose collaborative process can be felt in their live sets, where the band is open to experimentation on stage. “A song, for us, is really just a sort of structure to work within, rather than something carefully worked out that you just sort of repeat on stage,” said Pearse. “the song gives us guidelines, but that’s it.”
The result is the sort of dynamic interaction between them and the crowd that the band aims for. Ultimately, they seem to be less concerned about their precise sound and more about the energy they’re able to establish in the room with their audience.
And as far as No Gold is concerned, you can’t find a better city than Vancouver for their kind of show. While we may hear no end to the complaints about how hard it is here for bands, with what seems to amount to an open war against independent live music venues being waged by the city, the guys are rather upbeat about the whole situation.
“There are people who are willing to put a whole lot of effort into [the music scene in] this fucking crazy city,” said Butler, and that seems to make all the difference. “There are a lot of people who want to go to shows and dance in Vancouver, so people are always going to make venues out of non-venues, figure out weird shit in basements, or whatever else needs to happen.”
The guys actually prefer a makeshift venue to a more legitimate one, because it lets them focus on what they like best about making music. A high-tech sound system generally leaves them wrapped up in specifics, but basements and dive bars let the band relax.
“In places that are less technically advanced, I don’t give a shit, and all I see are the people in front of me having fun,” said Butler. To make things work, sometimes you have to make compromises, an idea the band seems to like.
“Making concessions is definitely part of the appeal, and I think that, as a band, an analogy between us and a concession stand, I likel,” said Pearse. “Pretty accurate I think. We’re just giving people hot dogs and popcorn.”
The band currently has plans to set up their concession stand in record stores, with a debut LP tentatively slated for release in the fall. After losing their practice space when the Emergency Room was closed at the end of last year, Butler’s dad offered the band his freestanding single car garage so long as they left room for his gardening tools. Pearse is now putting the finishing touches on their new soundproofed studio, a project they all consider a great success—considering he did it with no experience or training other than some 1970s handbooks on acoustics he found at the VPL. The guys are looking forward to taking their time in the studio, finding a way of translating their sound from the stage to a record.
“We’re going to have to make a hobby of recording before we get to a finished recording,” Pearse admitted.
Jutson nodded, adding, “it’s going to be a longer process than just writing some songs and going into the studio and recording them in a couple of weeks. It’ll be sort of slower. We’ll take time to try things out, and I think in the end it’ll be better.”
Their label, Unfamiliar Records, is behind them 100 per cent on the project, and is giving them as much leeway as they need.
“It’s pretty weirdly ideal,” Butler said. “I don’t know how we stumbled into it.”
This summer, when they’re not slaving away in their new studio, the band plans on spending as much time as possible out at cabins of friends and family. They just got back from a week at Pearse’s family’s cabin on Lasqueti Island, which is apparently overrun with feral sheep. After offering this bit of trivia, Jutson paused and said, “We actually have one in the freezer right now.”
At this point, Pearse—who has been flipping through a cookbook on Indian food for the last ten minutes or so—looks up to tell us he’s trying to find a recipe for lamb samosas. Taking this as a cue that the interview is over, Butler hefted a pot of gazpacho out of the refrigerator and began ladling it into bowls with generous dollops of homemade hot sauce. After handing me a spoon, he told me, “I hope you like it spicy.”
It tasted pretty good.