Are they a comedy act, the weirdest band you’ll ever see or are they one of the most underrated rock bands in New Brunswick? It’s anyone’s guess, but their ability to entertain can never be called into question.
What is Young Satan in Love all about? Are they a comedy act playing out some shtick that ran its course somewhere after the band’s first few gigs? Are they the weirdest band you’ll ever see? Or are they one of the most underrated rock ensembles in New Brunswick?
I recently asked a friend how she would describe Young Satan in Love. Her reply was immediate. “It’s more of a smell than anything else. The smell of hot dogs.”
I get that. Describing the band as the smell of hot dogs is more accurate than you may think. Hot dogs are a mystery. I mean, does anyone really know what hot dogs are made of? The answer is no, but we eat them anyway. We have a vague idea of their ingredients but nothing concrete. The details don’t really matter. You could say the same about YSIL.
The hot dog thing goes a little deeper though. The first time I saw YSIL perform, they cooked hot dogs on stage and handed them out to the audience, leaving the bar smelling like a cross between a Circle K at high noon and the concession stand at your local community fair. The time after that they smashed open a pinata full of cigarettes in a back alley while performing karaoke to their own recorded music. Needless to say, I’ve never been able to figure out what this band is truly about. I’m not even sure if they know what’s going on half the time.
For me, YSIL might best be described as a strange work of abstract art. The kind you keep coming back to without really knowing why, like one of those paintings you can stare at for hours and hours and always find new meaning or notice some new detail. There is a definite, indescribable satisfaction in there somewhere.
If you’re only now learning about the band, this article will no doubt leave you with a lot of questions. Without getting too deep into the history of YSIL, they began as a bit of a rock opera and continue to be more than a little theatrical on stage. There are characters, storylines, props and costumes and more often than not, each performance involves varying degrees of audience participation. If you’re at all socially awkward or anxious, I recommend standing at the back of the room. Also, an hour with the band’s current catalogue would prove helpful.
YSIL have always existed in two separate worlds for me. There’s the recorded version of the band, the one I associate with such catchy hits as Bibles For Missions and Viral Sensation, and then there’s the hot dogs, the pinatas, the glitter, the costumes and the confetti cannons that are often a part of their live performances. There’s also a storyline which seems to have become less essential to understanding the band these days than perhaps it did earlier on. And there’s also that strange on stage disconnect that seems to exist between the core musicians in the band and the group’s two vocalists. Somewhere in between all of this is the real YSIL, the one I’ve been trying to nail down since their earliest shows.
What I’ve always known about YSIL is this: they boast one of the strongest lineups you’re bound to come across in Fredericton. With current or past members of countless Fredericton bands including The Trick,The Shorty Tubs, Das Radio, The Colony Recording Club, Yorks and so many others, YSIL’s musical strength has never been something I’ve questioned. Their collective history speaks for itself.
The challenge I’ve always faced when it comes to this band, is where or how exactly their musicianship intersects with their stage personas and live show. If you want to really try to understand YSIL, you must look at the whole and not the individual pieces. I think that’s where I’ve always fallen short.
Back in July, my good friend, the YSIL guitarist who goes by the stage name Lil Leviathan, invited me out to a show at The Capital. It had been a few years since I saw the band play. I came to find the whole storyline confusing and because of that, I stopped going out of my way to see them. Since the back alley pinata episode mentioned earlier, my connection to the band has largely been based more on the enjoyment I get out of hearing friends tell me about what happened at the last show, instead of actually being there to see it with my own eyes.
Around the time of this particular show, the band had just reconfigured its lineup slightly, strengthening its core to provide a better platform for both vocalists to lead the performance art side of things. I was curious to learn if or how this minor change would alter my impression of the band.
That night, following sets by DenMother and Brookside Mall, the six members of YSIL took to the stage and began the usual process of mapping out their individual real estate on the bar’s 12’ x 10’ platform. While this was happening, I went over to check out their merch table to see what they had for sale. I found no recorded music. No t-shirts. No typical merchandise of any kind. Instead, they had an assortment of coloured plastic cowboy hats from The Dollar Store and a large bible with a note explaining how if anyone was interested in hearing a reading from The Book of Revelations, the cost would be 10 cents a word or $2.99 per page. I made the tough decision to buy a beer instead but have always regretted my choice.
Several things about the band’s set impressed me that night. The band was tight and the shenanigans, though present, felt less like the distraction I remember them being and more like a compliment to the songs. This was obviously a very different band than the one I saw a few years earlier. I was surprised to still see a pinata and the hot dog machine but was pleased to see their context had evolved. This time the pinata was shaped like a cowboy hat and was smashed open on the head of a dedicated fan, and the hot dogs were vegetarian. It’s the little things.
While the band was definitely impressive and far more dynamic and exciting than I expected, the biggest takeaway for me that night was seeing how the audience reacted. Twice I heard someone shout a sincere and well-deserved “wow” when the band flexed its musical might, and on more than one occasion, most of the night’s modest audience was confidently belting out the words to just about ever song. It was an eye opening experience. I felt like an undercover cop infiltrating some strange cult rally. I entered the bar that night as a curious onlooker and left as one of the converted.
Last week I was given an advanced copy of the band’s forthcoming album, Dancing With A Goblin, and I think it’s their best album by far. For my ears, it’s the first YSIL album that truly sounds like a full-band effort. The songs, though still a lyrical joyride through the group’s loopy mythos, are well arranged and less predictable in their delivery. Recorded at Monopolized Studios in Saint John by Corey Bonnevie and mastered in Montreal by Ryan Morey (who has also mastered albums by SUUNS and Arcade Fire), Dancing With A Goblin adds a degree of serious intent to a band I once looked at as purely a novelty act.
If YSIL began as a backing band for Mack Brockton (aka Young Satan, aka …) to project his latest batch of comedic pop songs onto an audience, that is less likely the scenario now. A balance has been struck. The music has reached a new level, full embracing its role in the complex equation that is YSIL, to emerge with an identity every bit as commanding and unique as the front stage pairing of Young Satan and Zebadaya.
Young Satan In Love will celebrate the release of Dancing With A Goblin this week with a show on Halloween Night at The Capital. Sure it’s a school night, but sometimes you just have to ask yourself – what would Young Satan do?