Calgary's Brother Bicker Band dives into shades of roots, country on third album

Article content

In 2018, Jeremy Hrdlicka went on a pilgrimage to Music City.

The Calgarian had recorded backing tracks in his hometown, but it was a dream to go to Nashville to record. So he had guitarist Tom Mogan, his long-time writing partner in the Brother Bicker Band, record some guitar tracks to take with him. He went to the city’s famous Music Row and recorded vocals for the songs.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

“I wanted to be a Nashville recording artist, in air quotes,” says Hrdlicka. “So I booked some studio time when I was there. I was there for a long weekend and one morning I booked studio time. Tom cut the guitar parts and I went down and just laid down the vocals. They have never seen the light of day, but I just wanted to do it for the experience.”

The experience may have been short-lived and the recordings largely unheard, but Hrdlicka says it inspired many of the songs on Brother Bicker Band’s freshly released third album Another Kind of Train. While it may have a reputation for producing formulaic music, Nashville is also a city with hidden depths that aren’t hard to find.

“There is definitely a canned Nashville thing,” Hrdlicka says. “Every bar has a band and it’s usually five-piece with a female singer and she sings all the female parts and when the male parts are sung by the lead guitarist, she walks around and collects tips. So there was a lot of conformity in that. A lot of the songs were the same. But you could find some places that were off the beaten track and there was something a little bit different and I was able to find a couple of those places when I was down there.”

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

That said, Hrdlicka doesn’t harbour ambitions to make Nashville his new home. Brother Bicker is a Calgary band, through and through. Scratching a Music City experience off of a bucket list is one thing, but the singer-songwriter said being in the city and seeing the endless parade of talented musicians waiting to be discovered offers a dose of reality.

“I have a buddy from college who lives in Nashville and he says it’s the only place where you can get your lawn cut by a three-time Grammy Award nominee,”  he says. “There is so much music and it’s so inspiring when you get down there but, at the same time, in some ways it’s also sad. All these people who are playing in bars are looking for their big break and the number that actually make it is a very small percentage.”

It’s perhaps no surprise that Hrdlicka maintains a pragmatic approach to music. While he has been playing for more than 20 years, he had a relatively late start. It wasn’t until the birth of his oldest son, who is now 23, that he began teaching himself guitar and how to write songs. His early experiences were fairly typical. He went from practising alongside YouTube videos to playing with friends to going to open-mic nights before forming early predecessors of The Brother Bicker Band. He met Mogan in a Monday night ball hockey night in their neighbourhood, although it was quite some time before he realized he was a talented musician/songwriter.

Advertisement 4

Article content

In 2015, they formed an early version of the Brother Bicker Band and released their debut, Bucket List, in 2016. Hospitality and Northern Charm followed in 2020, an album that produced the slow-burning, YYC Music Award-nominated rocker Breaking Glass. If Hrdlicka’s Nashville experiences showed his pragmatic streak, it also suggests a keen ear and ability to soak up the deep wells of roots-music influences in the city. It doesn’t take long into Another Kind of Train to hear Hrdlicka and Mogan’s easy fluency in multiple shades of roots music. For their third album, the act expanded into a seven-piece band that included adding vocalists Jennele Coulson and Claire Wilkes. They help create big-sounding, raucous gang vocals when combining their voices with Mogan and Hrdlicka’s.

The objective was to give Brother Bicker the sort of unhinged, shouty harmonizing found on songs such as the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter. It’s just one of the influences that shines through on Another Kind of Train, which finds the band’s two main songwriters mining a similar soulful country and rock territory similar to the Black Crowes and Tom Petty and the twangier/bluesier moments of Bruce Springsteen. Tunes such as the rollicking, blues-leaning I Just Might, funky-blues of No Straight Lines and slow-building ballad Bottles suggest the seven-piece act is adept at negotiating a number of roots sub-genres. Many of the songs on the album, which includes a reverent run through The Greg Kihn Band’s power-pop 1981 gem The Breakup Song, sound custom-built for the stage.

“It’s where we shine,” says Hrdlicka about the band’s live act. “We’ve got a lot of energy.”

Brother Bicker Band will play The King Eddy on Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m.

Article content