Local talent on the rise

Left to right: Curtis Courtemanche (drums), Omar Saab (guitar/vocals), Dave McCamus (guitar), and Graeme Moffatt (bass). COURTNEY LEE PHOTOGRAPHY/PHOTO

It can be difficult to pin down a band’s sound. When it comes to Toronto’s Alright Alright, their “sound” gets lost in the diversity of influences. In his recent list of bands to watch for 2012, Alan Cross, a renowned Canadian music journalist, gave Alright Alright the compliment that they sounded like “a 1960s Arctic Monkeys”. But that description does not do justice to the multiple facets that drive this up-and-coming group.


The Medium sat down with  vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and UTM student Omar Saab to get the sound straight from the source.


“It’s energetic. There’s definitely pop elements to it. The constructions of the songs are basically through listening to The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Phil Spector  records for years and years. It kind of gets ingrained in your head,” Saab explains, quickly adding, “Not to put our band on the same level, of course, but just that sensibility of what we’re going for. It’s kind of gritty. If you listen to the new songs, there is a grittier quality to them.”


The foursome—which comprises Graeme Moffatt, Dave McCamus, and Curtis Courtemanche on bass, lead guitar, and drums, respectively—has been jamming together for almost six years, but have been a dedicated band for the past three. With two EPs behind them, the group has decided to take a somewhat novel approach to releasing their music. Rather than compose a full-length album or another EP, the new songs will be released in a series of stages throughout the year, as part of their alliterative project “Cellar Singles”—so named because of their recording in a wine cellar.


“It used to be a wine cellar, but it just seemed to have a good sound for us,” explains Saab. “These singles weren’t done in a proper studio, but they were mixed and mastered in a studio.” The first song, “Bingo Bango”, was released in early January and has received enthusiastic reviews. The video—a compilation of ’60s footage—complements the energetic musicality that has come to characterize Alright Alright’s sound.


However, their music does not appear to fit any pre-existing mould. Yes, they sometimes produce lyrics reminiscent of teenage troubles: missed opportunities, frustration, and the like. Yet the musical arrangements complement those same old seeds and nurture them into blossoms full of colour and delight. In the same way, the buoyancy and joyous drive that characterizes many of their songs is hidden behind a name that evokes, for some, only casual indifference. It was not inspired, as many seem to think, by Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused. It has a more discrete inception.


“My first year at UTM, I had my headphones on, listening to Exile on Main St. by The Rolling Stones and they do this cover of a song called ‘Stop Breaking Down’ (a Robert Johnson song), and before they go into a guitar solo, Mick just sort of adlibs in, ‘All right, all right,’ so I stopped in the hallway. The name came back to me and I emailed the guys.”


Alright Alright. It’s just such an ordinary and common word, which underscores the ambiguity of this less than ordinary group. From humble beginnings to a present about to meet a promising future, the group will remain grounded and dedicated. After all, when everything is said and done, the main inspiration, the driving force and joy of it all, is the creation of that recognizable sound: rock and roll.


“Personally, I know when I’m listening to rock and roll. It’s a feeling that you get,” says Saab. “I think it’s just a feeling that you get, and it hits you really hard, whether you are listening to, say, the Beatles or the Stones or the Kinks. Something hits you, and that’s when you know that you’re listening to it.”


Alright Alright will be playing at the El Mocambo for the Sound Affects CD release party on Tuesday, January 31 to benefit War Child Canada.