Dany Laj and the Looks Reveal the Secrets of Great Garage Rock

Power pop heavyweights set their sights on the positive.

by Brad Simm

While garage rock comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and mutations, its primitive origins can be traced back to February 9, 1964 when The Beatles invaded the United States with their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Even though still in their infancy, the Fab Four themselves were no longer a garage band by that point. The songs were too smart, they were show-biz savvy and already basking in pop-star luxury. 

None of that mattered to the millions of teens and pre-teens that made up a sizeable chunk of the 73 million viewers who tuned in that Sunday night. What they saw and wanted desperately to experience was the power and glory of being in a rock and roll band. In the wake of Ed Sullivan’s historic telecast, between 1964 and 1968 an estimated 180,000 bands across America launched a revolution of bass, drums, and guitar straight from the basement and garage.

“The first band I loved when I was nine-years-old was The Beatles,” say Dany Laj of Dany Laj and the Looks. Although born two decades after that first burst of garage bands, the 60s sound and style of the British Invasion had a hold on Laj. At 14, growing up in Kirkland Lake, the gold-mining capital of Northern Ontario, he also discovered a pair of throwaway 45 singles by the Undertones and Teenage Head that he obsessed over and played non-stop.

“That changed my whole perspective, because I’ve never heard of those bands before and here I found them in some record bin. I started going to new and used stores, which is what they used to call them, and I’m finding stuff for cheap. We’re talking about the 90s and vinyl is 50 cents, maybe a dollar, and I’m coming up with all kinds of great stuff. Then I ended up getting this record called Nuggets; the bible of garage rock.”

Digging For Gold

The official title, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965–1968, was a double album full of 60s psych and garage bands that had charted with minor hits. Before he became the guitarist for the Patti Smith Band, Lenny Kaye was a record store clerk when he compiled the Nugget’s list of obscure bands that he then convinced Elektra Records to package and put out in 1972. For years it was an oddity, barely on the record buyer’s radar, and often wound up in the bargain bin. But when punk exploded those songs with trashy, rough edges became the impetus for a second wave of garage bands that surfaced in the mid-80s.

“I would suggest to anyone,” says Laj, “if you want to get into any of that type of stuff, (Nuggets) will explain punk in some way, it will explain garage in some way, it will explain psychedelia in one way, and you’ll start to understand how this whole thing moves. For me that’s been an exploration that’s never stopped. I play power pop, but that’s just an extension of garage from the 70s. The way I produce my records and the way they sound, come from that era mixed in a big blender.”

Bassline Spectacular

What Laj also throws into the blender is some top-notch R&B dancefloor grooves directed by his band’s bass playing authority, Jeanette Dowling.

“She’s phenomenal. The way she plays is exactly the way I want a bass player to play. We’re big fans of Motown and soul, where the basslines just move everything around. Even if you go back to The Beatles the bass playing is spectacular, The Kinks spectacular, The Who spectacular. I’m also a big fan of 50s rock and roll, although it’s just simple 12 bar, the bass is always what keeps it moving along. That’s important to me; it keeps the party going.”

For the past decade Laj and Dowling have been up and running full-tilt, living in Montreal and Toronto while criss-crossing the country playing small clubs and recording. Before the pandemic Dowling got a job at a record store in Sudbury so they decided to settle and set up a recording studio in their house.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Ten Easy Pieces is their fourth album since 2016 that continues with the Look’s punchy high-energy that oscillates between jangly melody, ripped-up power pop, a touch of psychedelic county lathered with galactic harmonies that sometimes soar super-sonic. Never a dull moment, never a negative thought.

Even though Sudbury is known for its industrial strength, with the proud distinction of having the tallest smokestack in the Western hemisphere, Laj’s songs are anything but grey, gritty and dreary. Just the opposite – a date with Dany and the Looks is a trip to the beach, waves crashing, blue skies and Mai Tais, high-flying rollercoasters, screams of joy and the amusement park lit up at night.

“There’s a whole thing about hope in my songs. I can dwell on things and be negative, but usually a lot of these songs come from negative experiences. I find the positives… There is a message, ‘It’s okay to have hardships, and everything will be fine.’ That’s the hope I try to express.”

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