On the eve of their latest tour I managed to grab a chat with Nick Rose, one of the founding members of Dwayne Gretsky; the Toronto band that gained popularity through their well delivered renditions of classic pop and rock covers.
Can you tell me about Dwayne’s origin story?
We were just a group of friends who were playing in various original bands and we would come together and hang out for the fun of it, in the dingy basement of an apartment building that several of us lived in. We would learn and jam on and play songs by artists that we liked; The Band, Tom Petty, Van Morrison, people like that.
And when did you play your first show?
Our first show was at the Dakota Tavern and during the set someone in the audience shouted out “What’s your band called?” and Dwayne Grestky was, literally, the first name that came to my head. I got an image of Wayne Gretsky’s not so talented cousin. People seemed to have a good time, we had a good time, we booked another and all of a sudden we found ourselves playing every Tuesday night for about 3 months straight at the Dakota.
What do you think people enjoy about your shows?
The spirit of the band is very celebratory. It’s an unpretentious joyful celebration of music and these classic songs so I think that’s why it’s resonated with people and that’s why we’ve continued doing what we’re doing. Our job is to celebrate the greatest songs ever written.
Who suggests the songs for the band?
We wanna play to everyone’s strengths and we’ve learned a lot of songs over the years. We’ve kept a spreadsheet of songs we’ve performed live and it’s around 700. At our shows we tend to choose those that we feel represent us and that we can perform well.
How do you make the songs you cover your own?
The jumping off point was to take a song by artist A and try playing it in the style of artist B. It was a way into exploring songs in a different way. Then we tried to just make them our own. Play around with them in the studio.
Is it challenging to learn the songs?
Any music can be challenging to bring to life because you gotta be able to do it justice. Just capturing the essence of the different keyboard patches and dense vocal harmonies of [songs like] Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Those are difficult songs to pull off and we’ve enjoyed trying to tackle them. We’ve gotten more ambitious with the songs that we’ve chosen. And ultimately we choose songs that we really love and connect with, and that we think we can pull off, and that the audience will connect with.
How did you choose the songs for your debut album?
That was a new process for us, [up until now] we’ve covered songs quite faithfully to the original recordings. We felt that releasing reinterpreted covers was more interesting. [It] gives us an opportunity to be creative with one another which is exciting.
In terms of what songs to select I don’t think we really had a plan going into it. We would just rehearse and try different things, like what about that Beach Boys song that we love but in this sort of garage rock distorted kind of way.
How many songs did you go through before you settled on the final eleven?
We chipped away at this project for a couple of years. When we had some spare time we would go out to The Bathhouse [recording studio] in Kingston, most of the album was recorded there. 11 songs [made] the record. I think we recorded close to 20 in various stages of development.
Have you played many tracks from this live album yet? How are you feeling about your next show?
A little bit but not much. We’ve been rehearsing this material for the past little while and [our] show [at the Phoenix on 27 Sept] will be the first time we’re playing most of it, so I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it.
Have you played the phoenix before?
Yeah several times. For the past 6 years or so we’ve had an annual 90s show and we’ve done a handful of other shows there as well. It’s a classic Toronto venue and it sounds great and it’s a good size. We’re definitely looking forward to [the tour] and it’s always fun to play in different cities.
What would be your dream venue to play if you could play anywhere in the world?
Oh gosh [pause]. I think for a band like this…our motto now is “Go big or go home”. We’re now this 10-piece band and we’re playing Under Pressure and Bohemian Rhapsody. Tackling all these epic stadium songs. It’s totally unrealistic but playing a Wembley Stadium [with] these incredible bombastic songs.
Dwayne Gretsky are on tour in Ontario from 27 September to 8 November, 2019. Find tickets here.