Nomeansno: but Yes means Yes

by Kortney Jmaeff (April 2003)


When uttering the words “Best Canadian Power Trio”, most plebian Canucks would primarily envisage Rush. For my money, however, the throaty bellows, funky distorted bass lines and battle-axe guitar choppings of Nomeansno slay Geddy’s cat-in-in-a-lawnmower vocals, cheesy magniloquent synthesizers, sci-fi dungeon and dragon ramblings any day of the week.
For over two decades, Victorian trio Nomeansno have journeyed the globe, recorded over 10 albums, and spawned a cult side group, the Slapshot and the Ramones inspired Hanson Brothers. A band that has the tenaciousness to cover both a Ramones and a Miles Davis song on the same release deserves a scrupulous perusal.

Good things come in threes, as proven in the Nomeansno formula. Ringman lead vocalist and bass player Rob Wright erupts like a volcano with a robust playing style in the same league as some of his bass heroes, Jean Luc Burnel from the Stranglers, Jah Wobble and Lemmy from Motorhead. Brother Tom Wright pummels the set and cites no favorite skinbashers currently, however Tommy Ramone was mentioned because of his stewardly timekeeping. The very genial Tom Holliston regulates the guitar and is appreciative of axemen parsimonious in their operation of solos, including his favorites Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention), D. Clinton Thompson from the Morells, and friend Scott Hendersen of Shovelhead. The ferociously stringent and taut trio that is Nomeansno commence to flabbergast fans and critics alike by possessing a storming resonance that many quintets travail for.

Inspired equally by jazz and fusion as trashy punk rock, the trio continues to bulldoze through genres. Describing the ardently amazing hybrid of styles is similar to tossing a delicious cacophony of jazz, fusion, blues, hardcore, rock, new wave and punk in a blender, setting to liquefy, and serving on the rocks. To label Nomeansno a punk band would be a transgression of mammoth magnitude. The word “punk” invokes images of acting and being, coining a phrase from the Dead Boys 1977 release, “young, loud and snotty.” Nomeansno possess none of the aforementioned credentials, replacing biker jackets and spiked, kool-aid dyed hair with toques and assorted Canuckwear, looking more in place at a junior high school teachers’ lounge than your local mosh pit.

The Wright brothers started their musical careers by experimenting with a TEAC Portastudio multi-track tape recorder in 1979. By 1980, the duo had chosen a name they would perdue throughout their career- an anti-rape slogan, No means No. Rob peeped the slogan scrawled on a garage door and thought it would fit into the bands stance on sexual politics, which early Nomeansno focused on and the rest is history. Inching on as a two-piece drum and bass outfit until 1983, Nomeansno independently released seven inches and a full length Mama.

1983 saw the addition of original guitarist Andy Kerr, who played with the group until 1991, when he pursued an alternative path in Europe. Andy currently resides in Amsterdam where he was recently employed as a pajama model for a major Dutch department store. Although still playing music for himself, he has forsaken professional music for a Dutch family life.

After touring the U.S. and Europe, Nomeansno were picked up by former Dead Kennedys vocalist Biafra’s label, Alternative Tentacles, officially recording what is considered the trios piece de resistance, 1989’s Wrong. With the addition of Tom Holliston in 1991, the trio crept along, spawning the Hanson Brothers side project on their own label, Wrong records. The idea was emanated in 1983, fueled by a favor for the back-to-basics crunch of my all time personal favorite band, the Ramones. I can attest to the fact that Nomeansno are agog aficionados of the Ramones. While assisting Nomeansno with bringing in their gear, Rob Wright and I both admired each other’s Ramones hoodies, mine an off-the-rack mall special, his a much rarer Italian bootleg version. Nomeansno idea of a Ramones-style group and decision of a beer drinking, hockey dandling Canadian theme led them to be christened by Slap Shot’s trio of the Hanson brothers, a candid fit. Always reckoned as a fun project, the sideshow did eventually release an album in 1992, which took on its own life with well-deserved success. The Hanson Brothers also took the role as a breather from the hustle and bustle of the more serious Nomeansno, which served to reinvigorate the group habitually.

With the recent deaths of Joey and Dee Dee Ramone, viewed by some as major icons, the future or rock and punk may be affected. The general consensus of Nomeansno is that although the Ramones deaths were tragic and that the band stood as examples in integrity and musicianship, they never chalked them up to be icons. Nomeansno is not concerned with the future of music, but do feel that some of the best music comes out of the harder economical, recessive eras, which may soon grace our presence. The Ramones being the fuel for the fire that is the Hanson Brothers, opinions flew regarding the moments that Ramones truly shone. Road to Ruin, It’s Alive and Leave Home were panegyrized, while The End of the Century was viewed as a major bungle.

John elucidates his love of music as a child inaugurating in the school band system. Getting bitten by the punk bug in the late seventies exhilarated him and his brother to embark on writing and performing music. He explains his extant musical interest as such- “As far as listening to music today, I’m not a big record collector. I mean a lot of the stuff I listen to is Suzuki Viola, (laughs) that my son is learning.” Rob was fond of pop music and heavy metal in his salad days; names cited included the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, and also later became a punk aficionado like his brother. Fusion and jazz spiced up his palette later on, and remain his current thrill. This is due to the uniqueness, passion and dedication of a genre meandering from the median. Tom started out as a Beatles and Stones esteeming adolescent. Today, classical music really turns his crank, especially central and Eastern European composers, including Shostakovich and Bartok. A drummer who doesn’t cull records, a jazz and punk cherishing bassist, and a guitarist devoted to classical jams makes for an explosive synthesis of personalities.

Nomeansno are a vastly unique group who follow the beat of a different drummer, if you’ll excuse the pun. They do feel that other bands exist that are on the same wavelength as them, and relish touring with such groups. Fellow Wrong Records cronies Removal was one group that was namedropped. Removal, who has no lead singer and doesn’t name their songs, are a top tour band for Nomeansno. Alice Donut and Japanese noise rockers Ultra Bide were also mentioned as premium tour acts, namely for protoplasticity and unpredictability. Joy Division, Sonic Youth and Minutemen were noted as peers because of their ability to just be themselves, which is precisely what NMN have attained. Inquiring about other groups, I found that NMN doesn’t luxuriate in the melismas of Pink Floyd, Tool, Radiohead, King Crimson or Rush but has affectionate penchants for such seminal and conglomerate archetypes as the Residents, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart, Pere Ubu and Duke Ellington.

Having formerly being on Alternative Tentacles until the 2000 release One, Nomeansno have now returned to their original home, Wrong Records. This was an amicable parting of ways due to distribution issues of Nomeansno main breadbasket, Europe. Nomeansno collaborated with Biafra for his 1991 release The Sky is falling and I want my Mommy on Alternative Tentacles. Jello’s songwriting technique was marveled at and strong musicianship was heeded by the procedures that Jello embodied; not playing any instruments yet still singing his songs on a tape deck sans any accompaniment. Interrogating Rob on what it was like working with Jello, which also happened to be his least favorite interview question, he retorted, “When people ask me ?What’s Jello like?’ I usually say ?Well, he lives in this huge mansion on top of a hill in San Francisco and only comes out at night, and feeds off the blood of the living.’ (laughs).” Jello is still regarded by NMN as a capital fellow and cogent mate.

Touring Canada for almost two decades, Nomeansno possess a bird’s eye view of the Canadian music scene. They have a positive attitude, for the most part, of the Great White North’s accomplishments vis-?-vis music. Their hometowns of Victoria and Edmonton were esteemed in possessing fantastic insular scenes. Northern climates, such as Finland and Norway, were appreciated for collecting spectacular groups. Although Europe was hailed as a cherished stronghold for NMN, a consonant tour of Canada since the early eighties has invoked a sense of amour, in that people are still coming and catching NMN in the Great White North. Issues noted in the Canadian music scenes were distribution shortcomings and a sense of apathy of Canadian music by the rest of the globe.

The newest addition to the Nomeansno canon is 2002’s Generic Shame. Conversely, the album wasn’t named after Flipper’s ambitious 1982 release, Generic Flipper, although NMN are Flipper fans. The name was revealed to come from three leftover songs from the One album. They didn’t make the cut because of generic feel; hence the joining and birth of a shameful Generic rock EP to NMNs already bustling canon.

With over two decades under their belt, over 15 releases, and pervasive worldwide touring, the question arose, what’s next for Nomeansno? How long will they soldier on? The answer came clear and bold in twofold. First, the experience has to be fun and affordable for NMN, and second, fun for the audience. NMN continue on with the pledge to motor on and continue honing their craft until the time comes when it’s apparent they must hang up their instruments.

Providing evidence that Nomeansno reigns as Canada’s foremost power trio, permit me another legitimate harangue. For every solitary Nickelback and Tragically Hip purchase, an equal measure of Headstones and Big Sugar should balance the sale. Canucks with a musical sweet tooth should refashion Avril Lavigne and Sum 41’s empty calories with mellifluous cadences in the gems like Robin Black and the Intergalactic Rock Stars and Hawksley Workmen. Most substantial is the motif of Rush’s reconciliation. Additions like Permanent Waves, Rolling Bones and Moving Pictures to personal libraries should be supplemented with healthy doses of NMN: The Worldhood of the World (As Such), One, and Wrong. Heeding my enlightened stance will promote a beefed up musical archive, a truly rubric emprise.

Nomeansno are a monster live band, meticulously churning out numbers like “The End of All Things” and “The Tower.” “Oh No, Bruno,” my personal favorite, was absent from the roster, but that’s life. Possessing ivory hair, jovial hilarity and uncompromising skill is rare in veteran bands of this genre, but as the trio have proven habitually, Nomeansno have never been anybody but themselves. Music lovers can embrace this fact. I know by the jam-packed attendance that frosty November night that I wasn’t alone in my praise for my favorite Canadian power trio.

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