30 years ago saw the release of A Different Drummer, the one and only album by the Fredericton-based virtuoso laden collaborative music experiment, Lloyd Hanson’s Thrash Peninsula. In this feature, we explore the album and the many factors that led to its inception.
The early 90’s changed music forever. Look it up.
Arriving on the cusp of a major transformation in live music culture that would eventually see the omnipresent cover band shunned into near extinction as an entire generation of punk rockers, metalheads, goths, granolas, oddballs, weirdos, and MuchMusic-inspired would-be grunge musicians – now legal drinking age – became the new clientele at most music focused venues, Lloyd Hanson’s Thrash Peninsula, was, in some ways, a reflection of this long overdue upheaval.
Just as this new era of music fans were staking claim to stages and waterholes formerly occupied by a previous generation raised on arena rock and mediocre rhythm and blues bands, Hanson was seeking new inspiration from the jazz and experimental music he had been playing for years. His resulting experiments and the cross-genre assemblage that followed would present to an entirely new audience, many players from the city’s fringe scenes who, like Hanson himself, had been sharpening their skills for years in various ensembles with little to no notice from the bar band loving music scene at the time.
“You will never see me be part of a typical keyboards, bass, guitar, drums, singer band,” said Hanson, sitting beneath a portrait of Miles Davis in the control room of his Marysville recording studio. “Other people do that well, and I know it’s the formula that most people like to be entertained with musically, but it bores me to death.”
Despite his strong options on, and general distaste for formulaic music of any kind, Hanson’s list of credits associated with music’s predictable offerings is staggering, and played a key role in building the regional momentum behind the pivotal shift in live music appreciation that blossomed locally in the early 90’s. As owner and operator of ReelNORTH Recording Studio, Hanson was one of the first to make high quality recordings an accessible reality for bands across New Brunswick. From his first studio in his parent’s basement to the brick and mortar location that followed, his twenty years spent engineering, mixing, producing and mastering records contributed to more than a hundred studio projects including an album by Julie Doiron & the Wooden Stars which earned a Juno Award for Best Alternative Album in 2000.
Around the time major labels were flocking to Seattle to cash in on popular music’s next big wave, Hanson was a member of several ensembles including the Cosmic Quartet, a group that featured some of the Fredericton region’s most respected jazz musicians including Geordie Haley, Brian Mitton, and Eric Bourque. Known for their sometimes adventurous interpretations of familiar jazz sounds, the Cosmic Quartet was one of only a handful of jazz groups performing regularly in the province a the time. Despite this distinction, the group’s popularity on the regional festival circuit, and the wealth of talent the quartet possessed, Hanson was growing frustrated with the musical confines he found himself surrounded by.
“Around that time, Geordie [Haley] and I were both writing original material that was pushing boardries trying to find our own voices, not only as instrumentalists, but as composers and arrangers as well,” said Hanson. “And I just found that all the people older than us wanted jazz to be perpetually locked into a kind of late 50’s Prestige or Blue Note album. A best case scenario would be that everything came out sounding like the recordings Miles [Davis] made for Prestige before signing to Columbia. Or Art Balkey and the Jazz Messengers.”
The division of opinion that existed between Hanson, Haley, and their bandmates as to what the group should or shouldn’t do within these confines eventually came to a head.
“I remember standing on stage at the Shediac Jazz Festival in the fall of 1992 and having this realization that at any given moment, half the band didn’t like what was being played,” he said.
Following the performance, Hanson announced he would finish up playing all the shows the band had committed to but would then be leaving the group to explore his own ideas with greater intention.
“I wanted to form my own band and it would be something entirely under my control with no compromises,” he said.
Around the same time, Hanson met Pat Pelletier, a highly skilled rock drummer who was a member of an emerging rock band called DreamKick.
“He was an incredibly energetic and enthusiastic geek at that point,” said Hanson. “He had come into my first studio with a bass player and a guitar player to record a demo and I thought, here is a drummer with real energy and passion and a sense of adventure.
“I like long improvised pieces,” said Hanson. “I’m at my happiest playing music when someone just starts playing and the music takes off. After hearing Pelletier play, I thought he would be a great fit for that type of playing.”
As it turned out, he was right. Pelletier would end up playing a dominant role in his next studio project and the live band it spawned: Lloyd Hanson’s Thrash Peninsula.
The concept behind the project had already been in the experimental stages for some time. While exploring his interest as an arranger in his home studio, Hanson recorded a series of layered improvisations using bass, guitar, and keyboard. On one of his compositional experiments he invited sax player Eric Bourque and drummer Barry Hughes in to add a final layer of improvisation to complete the track. Later named, The Thrill of the Chase, the instrumental track was released on a 1992 compilation of New Brunswick artists called Showcase. The album featured contributions from a diverse mix of artists and bands including Saint John folk artist Brent Mason, Fredericton singer/songwriter Jon Fidler, emerging rock bands Power Syndrome and DreamKick, Hanson’s Cosmic Quartet bandmate Geordie Haley, and Kwame Dawes and Micheal Doherty. Hanson cites Thrill of the Chase for being one of the prototypes for the kind of music he was looking to create. An additional point of inspiration came while listening to Horses and Trees, an album by Ginger Baker and Bill Laswell. Hanson has a distinct memory of listening to the album and dissecting the formula behind it.
“I was listening really closely and I thought, it just sounds like Bill recorded Ginger playing by himself and then he just layered all these world instruments on top of the original tracks and then mixed it. I thought, fuck. That’s a good idea!
“Being a fledgling producer and composer, if you have an exact piece of music, you struggle and struggle and struggle to get exactly the right drum track. So I started bringing in a number of drummers to just play something off the top of their heads, passionately, and then I would use those unedited drum tracks to build compositions around. This way, when you’re starting the composition you already have a perfect drum track already recorded and ready to go. There was no tedium of composing something and then trying to teach people how to play it.”
These ideas would eventually lead Hanson to record an entire album inspired by this concept. A Different Drummer features nine improvised drum solos recorded as the Different Drummer Series featuring multiple performances by Pat Pelletier with additional guest drummers Karl Gans, Tony Graci, Gary Nightengale, Michael Doherty, John Alphone, and Paul Delong. The album also includes five additional improvisations that preceded the finished concept. 14 tracks in total running almost 75 minutes. In addition to Hanson (who plays a range of basses and guitars, a chapman stick, and keys on various tracks) and his list of handpicked drummers, the album features contributions from a who’s who of regional talent contributing trumpet, trombone, saxophone, cornet, congas, organ and screams (yes, screams) to the finished work.
Armed with a new album and a new platform to improvise and experiment, Hanson then put together a live version of the group that included guitarist Eric Peterson and Michael Doherty on congas, with Hanson and Pat Pelletier at the centre of it all. The band had a rotating cast of horn players that included Grahame Rhodes, Gavin Moore, Matt Robinson, and Chris Mitchell. Exploding Meet founder and guitarist Mark Carmody bookended the band’s existence as a live act playing only two performances – the very first and the very last.
As Lloyd Hanson’s Thrash Peninsula, the group performed roughly a dozen times over a two year period including two performances at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, the Poley Mountain Music Festival, and various points in between before calling it a day.
“I really think all bands are finite and way too many people don’t know when to stop,” said Hanson, speaking fondly of the group’s short lifespan. “Thrash Peninsula became almost more of an avant garde rock band because of the musical vernacular that Pat played. Stylistically, it was an original ensemble. It doesn’t sound like anything else.
“After Bitches Brew, a lot of bands were doing jazz rock. No one had really done jazz metal. That appealed to me, to take that kind of energy and present it in that way. But I’ve never had the desire to do any version of it again. The only theme for the music was to start it and see where it went. And we did that.”