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Des Arcs Find Prosperity While Honouring A Fallen Friend on Masks

The Calgary rock quartet pay tribute following the sudden loss of bandmate Dave Alcock.

by Sebastian Buzzalino

Illustration by Mandy Stobo

Des Arcs had everything set for the release of their third full-length album, Masks. The 12-track slab of what they call “Hunca-Munca” rock and roll, swaggering, grooving riff jams that belie their seniority in the Calgary music scene, was recorded, mixed, and mastered. The artwork, courtesy of local visual art icon, Mandy Stobo, is immediately recognizable and sets the tone for the themes on the record. On the inside, different friends had come together to celebrate this years-in-the-making project that was finally set to see the light of day.

But on January 1, 2023, Des Arcs were faced with an impossible crossroad: their childhood friend and drummer in the band, Dave Alcock, had died by suicide. It was an absolute shock not only to the rest of the guys in the band, but to his surviving family, friends and community.

“Devastating,” says frontman Travis Davies. “Very surreal. None of us saw it coming. I heard from him that morning, maybe half an hour before he took his life.”

In the wake of that initial phone call, Davies worked through the shock and started calling his bandmates to break the news. Each call was more gutting than the last as the waves of grief rippled out in the community. Not only was Alcock the steady beat behind Des Arcs, but he touched countless lives in Calgary, drumming for what seemed like everyone of note since the 90s, including Chixdiggit, Jann Arden, Knucklehead, Huevos Rancheros, National Dust, and many more. He also worked as an engineer, mixer and producer, helping bands put down blistering tracks with a methodical attention to detail and an encyclopedic knowledge of music. 

A week later, crates of Masks LPs arrive at Davies’ house, ready to be celebrated and released into the world. “The first question quickly became, ‘What do we do with this band?’ Crates and crates of the record show up at my house and there’s this thing hanging over the band. We had to get together and it was always like, Des Arcs was always almost like four of us in a self-help group: we met once a week and it had this effect of like off-gassing music and emotions. We all really relied on it, it was this big part of our lives to get in there with our best friends and shoot the shit. 

“We quickly realized that if we still wanted to play, we’d have to release this record. And Dave would have wanted us to still play, still release the record. If we were going to survive, we needed something.”

Des Arcs released Masks on May 13 at the Palomino in a maximalist celebration of Alcock’s life and career, the show acting as a fundraiser for his next of kin. Bands, including Night Committee, Forbidden Dimension, Pussy Monster, Meds, Ramblin’ Ambassadors, Dolphins Love Kids and Vailhalen, immediately jumped at the opportunity to take part of the evening.

Des Arcs vocalist/guitarist Travis Davies performs at the band’s Dave Alcock tribute show at the Palomino on May 13, 2023. Photo: Sara Kuefler

“[May 13] was an absolute barn burner,” says Davies. “Every time I turned around, I was face-to-face with someone I once adored but hadn’t seen in over a decade. It was a special night, populated by special people, celebrating a special man. Dave would have loved it. He would have been hiding in a corner out of the throng, but grinning from ear to ear.”

Now, on this side of the cathartic release, Des Arcs sets their sights on a brand new future that they never thought they’d had to imagine. The beat goes on, with veteran Brendan Tincher filling in behind the key in a full-time role. “It’s kind of like running through a pane of glass: the faster you go, the less it hurts,” says Davies. “Tally ho, towards the light!”

Plans include hopping in the van to tour to the west coast and back, maybe hit up some dates in Quebec, where they have an unexpectedly loyal following in Trois-Rivières. And as the seasons turn back to winter once more, they’ll hunker down and start writing a new album. But, for now, the band remains focused on celebration: “Right now is about celebrating the record, our time with Dave on this mortal coil, and all the ways he made us better players, writers — and people.”

Des Arcs guitarist David Anderson performs at the band’s Dave Alcock tribute show at the Palomino on May 13, 2023. Photo: Sara Kuefler

Des Arcs bassist Mark Rudd performs at the band’s Dave Alcock tribute show at the Palomino on May 13, 2023. Photo: Sara Kuefler

Des Arcs’ substitute drummer Brendan Tincher performs at the band’s Dave Alcock tribute show at the Palomino on May 13, 2023. Photo: Sara Kuefler