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Self-Cut Bangs Are Ready For Their Brush With Fame

The Calgary-based pop rock supergroup bring their DIY daydreams to life.

by Christine Leonard

Photo by Heather Saitz

Picture a candle-lit sunken living room with one of those red cone-shaped fireplaces from the 1970s. Flowing down the shag carpeted stairs you catch the aroma of melting Swiss cheese. Fondue for two? Nay, nay. Fondue for five is way more far-out according to pop rock outfit Self-Cut Bangs. Calgary’s newest supergroup was born in a time of desolation and despair, but their latest album, Circle Around The Free, is an uplifting joint that will have you tripping the light fantastic.

Ignited by couple Cayley O’Neill (Dark Time) and Shawn Petsche (Napalmpom), who co-created the band’s self-titled debut in September of 2020 as a two-piece, the group has expanded to embrace the talents of percussionist Joel Nye (Hot Little Rocket), guitarist Dillon Whitfield (Astral Swans, Reuben & The Dark) and bassist Nicola Cavanagh (Cardiograms, Night Committee). The perfectly formulated quintet swings unapologetically between slick numbers that lean into glossy urban tones and speedy, danceable outbursts.

“We both play in bands outside of this project, Napalmpom and Dark Time, and during the pandemic we couldn’t play with those bands anymore. So, as it was carrying on we decided to distract ourselves mentally in our little apartment by making little musical demos at home with no real intentions other than passing the time and having fun,” Petsche explains of the band’s origins. “Three or four songs into doing that we thought ‘This is pretty good. Maybe we should make an album. And, maybe this is a band afterwards!?’”

Eager to break free of the quarantine doldrums and jump on the sparkly vehicle their friends were souping up for the ‘after times,’ Petsche and O’Neill’s musical dream team practically assembled itself. “I think the spirit of our band is quite similar to that of the New Pornographers in that everyone is an artist and an incredible musician in their own right,” O’Neill says. “It’s about what happens when you put all of that talent into one room. We stand on our own as artists, so it makes it easy for us to stand together.”

Hungry for novel sources of inspiration, the burgeoning outfit landed on a hybrid of 80s and 90s rock that mingles spacey new wave harmonies and garage-dwelling post-punk traffic. It’s a heady cocktail, but one that is as accessible and appealing as Calgary’s signature Caesar. And, the mixologists in Self-Cut Bangs may just surprise you with a big ol’ Maple bacon garnish. 

“I tend to gravitate towards guitar-based music,” admits Petsche. “Napalmpom is a little louder and more straight-up rock and roll, but this band draws out the early 90s, Halifax, Can-con, indie rock influences a bit more. When we’re in the same room we talk about Sloan, Flashing Lights, and Thrush Hermit, so there’s a common language with those folks. Dillon is a guitar wizard who plays in a bunch of bands; he’s mature and not too flashy but we knew he could shred. It’s fun to constantly tell him ‘You can turn up!’”

Amplifying their alternative reality, the band turned to producer Lorrie Matheson (Art Bergmann, Rae Spoon, Ghostkeeper) to polish their chiefly self-recorded second LP to a hi-fi lustre. Little wonder that campus and community radio stations across the country (and the CBC, too) are picking up on Self-Cut Bangs’ catchy yet insightful reverberations.

“The last album was very escapist because all we had to inspire us was what we had in our apartment. Books, movies and all the things we were doing to entertain ourselves, like online murder mysteries,” O’Neill relates. “The new record is probably more personal than the first album was. I’m pulling from a lot of the experiences we went through – realizations around equity and some of the politics going on in Alberta. Some really big topics were digested into our visual language.”

Translating their full-length release into a spectacle to behold, the group opted to celebrate the launch of Circle Around The Free by pairing each track on the album with a visual counterpart, which they premiered for their album release party when the album dropped. “It seemed like a good way to get people to sit down and really listen to the record in sequence. Adding visuals to it gives it more context. Instead of running around stressed about performing and setting up gear, we wanted to enjoy ourselves and make sure people are listening to the album, not just the live, loud band, which they’ll have plenty of opportunities to see in the future. In January we’re going to come out in full force for a few festivals, and at that point we’ll find out if people like them live or if we should go back to the drawing board!”

Will video kill the radio star? Self-Cut Bangs forecast a fruitful meeting of the multimedia minds when it comes to presenting their audio and visual artwork to the masses. “Shawn has been taking the lead on most of the videos and video editing. I’m in three of them and directed two of them. Nicola is taking on one and now Shawn is clipping and fitting everything together,” says O’Neill. “It’s a bigger endeavour than we thought! It’s taken over our daily lives but we’re grateful to have that because it is a joy. It brings together the community and gives us a little bit of joy outside of our day jobs.”

Considering the amount of work that has gone into reimagining their songs through the camera lens, perhaps they should feature a 12-month video-shoot wall calendar on their merch table. Wig out with the fuzzy sounds of Self-Cut Bangs as they break the fourth wall, join you on the couch, and claim the remote control as their torch of victory.