FURNACEFACE? Who the hell are they?
Whell, in Ottawa back in 1986, there was a little new-wavish guitar pop combo by the name of Fluid Waffle, with four lads in it named Steve D'Annunzio (guitar and vocals), Tom Stewart (bass and vocals), Pat Banister (guitar and organ) and Dave Dudley (drums). They released a 45 and a 12" mini-album (ewww, how 80's) to international...national?...all right, local acclaim--fine, local confusion, if not a lot of sales, and the present shame of at least two of their alumni. D'Annunzio and the rest of the band parted for health reasons--well, they were getting sick of each other--and he went on to the band Tongues & Bones (Kim Mitchell wore their t-shirt in his "America" video) and is now in Tenspeed, who have a CD out.
This left three lads with nothing to do...for about a week after their last gig. They chose the name Furnaceface from a list of hundreds of possible band names compiled by their friend Alex Mortimer (ex-Whirleygigs, now with the Unbeatables), hammered their old sound into a harder piece of coal, and started recording under their new name almost immediately. Furnaceface hit the stages of Ottawa later that year, and the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the fans told them, "Hey, we've got something here." Early in 1990, Skull Duggery Records in Hopkins, Minnesota put out their first single, "Sucked Into Drugland," because they thought the band was destined for great things (and the label is run by Dave Dudley's brother). Now finding themselves with something they had to sell or go into debt, they started touring across the U.S. (why not start there?) and Canada to reactions ranging from, "Man, this shit is great!" to, "I'm trying to pick up this chick. Do you know any slow songs?" Ain't rawk and rawll glamorous?
The second single, "New Pad," grooved the good people of Ottawa even further, and their energetic live shows made them realize that they had an entity in their own back yard who was able to mix elements of punk ("Sucked Into Drugland"), rap ("White Boys"), pop ("Let Down Your Cool") and a ska song for the hell of it ("Lady From the Embassy"), and still sound healthy and down to earth, unlike a certain funky white L.A. band who has been spending the last few years crawling up their own asses. The cassette Let it Down followed, with slightly different versions of a few singles tracks and some songs that still breathe good air to this day (and a couple of songs that the band finds embarrassing, but hey, these things happen). For an album that was largely recorded in a living room with rented equipment, with guitars and vocals laid down at Marty Jones' (previously known as Marty Flagpole of the punk band Honest Injun, whose song "Fatherland America" Furnaceface later covered) Sound of One Hand Studios, it sounded really damn good, and both runs of the cassette sold out.
Always determined to be colourful and have a lot of fun on stage, they have performed while wearing grotesquely gaudy thriftstore duds, boiler suits, karate gi's, wedding dresses, an inflatable silver Mylar suit (as seen in the "She Thinks She's Fat" video), custom-made country/western-type suits and see-through bubblewrap (nice undies, guys). More touring across our Frozen Unpleasant Land spread the word of these three oddly dressed lads, and Marty Jones dragged them out of the living room to make their second cassette epic, Just Buy It., and release it on One Handed Records in 1991. He added some deft sampling to our boys' ever-tightening sound, and after awhile his acrobatic leaping, keyboard mauling and extra-added guitar crunch landed him membership in Furnaceface, first under the name DJ Gimmick, and then as Smarty Moans. At this point in time the other lads changed their professional names to Pat Badmister (then Badminister, then his real name...make up your fucking mind!), Mr. Poopyhead (a moniker which has been officially retired by Mr. Stewart, who now answers to Slo' Tom), and Dave Deadly (so he wouldn't be asked to sing "Six Days On the Road" anymore). Why they did that, damned if I know, but that's what they're called on Just Buy It. and they're just going to have to live with it.
After the first two runs of the cassette sold out, they decided to drag the master tapes off to Toronto to be remixed, remastered, sprinkled with fairy dust and strange voices, professionally redesigned, and finally pressed up on digital drink coaster. With help from Cargo Records, they managed to sell 15,000 copies of it, and the video for "About to Drown" grabbed the eyes of MuchMusic (our MTV, for those of you who live outside Canada), who gave it a Canadian Music Video Association award for Best Independent Video in 1993. More touring and fun ensued, including the release of the CD single "Nobody to Vote For," their statement about the Canadian federal election of that year, and an appearance on the short-lived CBC Television show Friday Night with Ralph Benmergui performing said song.
About this time they came up with the idea to put together a festival of different bands that they would headline, to be called Furnacefest. The first one included local bands such as Black Boot Trio, Ground Control and Heaven Dog, and nationally known acts like Acid Test, King Cobb Steelie and 13 Engines. Despite the ambitious prospect of holding it at the football stadium at Lansdowne Park (and the rain which drenched the living bejesus out of all of us), it was considered a success. Their own set scorched, with the turntable wizardry of Ground Control's DJ Kingswift, a white backdrop which several local artists spraypainted a portrait of an old woman on, and a ton of commemorative frisbees thrown out to the crowd.
By late 1993, they went, "If we have to perform these same fucking songs again, we're gonna go postal," and locked themselves in the studio to hammer out This Will Make You Happy, their first for the Cargo label (albeit under the same One Handed Records number code). More touring, more beer, more sales, and a second Furnacefest to premiere the new album. This 'fest was not quite as popular as the first, since it was held in a scorching parking lot downtown the day after Canada Day to a crowd of tired, hungover and generally half-dead revellers, but it still left a good taste in everyone's mouth (a now-dead local punk collective's protest of Dayglo Abortions' set notwithstanding). Acclaimed videos were shot for "(If You Love Her) Would You Buy Her a Gun?" and "How Happy Do You Want to Be?". Their status as A Local Band Ottawa Can Be Proud Of was locked in.
Marty Jones was continuing to co-run Sound of One Hand Studios during his membership in the band, and his status as a producer par excellence meant that he was always in demand, so he had to decide which required his attention most. The mixing desk won the Indian thumb wrestling match, and he left Furnaceface on good terms in 1995. This meant that Dave Dudley had to trigger the samples himself (as if laying down the rhythms didn't keep him busy already) and since no one in the core trio could be bothered to make new loops, they scaled things down again. This meant that the punkier elements of their sound reasserted themselves, and the recording atmosphere was more relaxed and songs were finished quicker as a result. An appearance on the soundtrack to English wood artist Gordon McHarg's Sandpaper Blues exhibit (which led to actually going to England to play a couple of gigs) and the "Overcome" 7" single on Nova Scotia's Cinnamon Toast label whetted our appetites for their next album, unsafe@anyspeed, which included the songs "Slip and Stumble" (for which they shot a very wet and nearly fatal video in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico), "Ode to Grant Hart" (a song which musically pays tribute to the ex-Hüsker Dü drummer's pop stylings), a cover of the Creation's (Kenny Pickett, may you rest in rock) gem "Biff Bang Pow," and the experimental "Ode" rearrangement "Ed Acranez" (listen closely to the voice in the right channel). With Cargo Canada gone belly-up, no one's been pressing any new copies of those last three albums, but the band still have all the rights to and masters of them, so they'll be back sometime in the near future.
They were very quiet for a while, with Banister spending time in Vancouver doing art direction on several TV series and movies being shot there, but the silence didn't last very long. Tom Stewart fills the time by performing solo around Ottawa as Slo' Tom, sometimes accompanied by ex-Punchbuggy member Jim Bryson on banjo and guitar, sometimes with a small band (which Dave Dudley drums for) called the Horseshit Heroes, doing country drinkin' songs. They recorded one of their Ottawa gigs at Lucky Ron's (which later was changed to the Hi-Fi, and is now closed down), and released it on the CD Liquor's My Lover. However, Furnaceface is still alive and well, still meeting and working (and sometimes gigging) together every so often, and even released an album in 1999 on their new Upright label called and the days are short again..., which jumps around from crunch to pop to hiss to chatter and back again. Bug MuchMusic to show their "Heartless" video, if at least to keep the bubblegumscheisse and mook metalrap at bay for a while.
Not too long ago, they took care of the back catalogue situation a bit by releasing a compilation of early tracks entitled Clobbering Time!, which includes the Let it Down songs "I Don't Think..." and "Sucked Into Drugland" on CD for the very first time, and the rare B-sides "But I'm Different Now" (a mod-metal retooling of the Jam classic) and "Bottled Up" (previously on the "You Poison My Cup" 12" single). Plans are in place to remaster and rerelease the original albums at some point (possibly with added bonus tracks), but the band are waiting until they're able to remix the Let it Down material properly before they put that out again. At this time, Tom and Pat are still writing songs for Furnaceface when time and day jobs permit, and Tom is planning another Slo' Tom and the Horseshit Heroes album.
While the lads don't put too much into image, they still have a fairly distinctive one, but they got rid of one of their most prominent sights at a Halloween gig at Barrymore's Music Hall in Ottawa (2000 10 27, with the Pop Shove Its and Montreal's legendary tyrants of teen trash The Gruesomes opening). The lads rocked the hometown again, this time dressed as mummies, with a stage ringed by candles (which I lit most of). In the middle of one song, Slo' Tom stopped playing and sat down on his monitor speaker. Huh? His lovely wife Christina came onstage (dressed in mourning clothes), wielding a pair of scissors, and proceeded to methodically cut off Tom's dreadlocks, which he had been cultivating for the last 12 years. Several members of the audience, including yrs. trooly, were more than bloody surprised by this. The hair ropes are now in Christina's possession, since she really didn't want them cut off, but hey, at least now she won't catch them in the face when she's standing next to Tom and someone calls to him.
Furnaceface recently became a quartet again. They have just added Blake Jacobs, late of Peterborough's mighty Hot Piss, to the line-up as a second guitarist. While waiting for Pat to be able to tear himself from his film production assistant career for a while, Tom, Blake and Dave have taken to playing the occasional gig around Ottawa under the name Manpower. Song creation continues unabated; it'll be interesting to hear Blake apply the big metal sound he brought to his last band to the 'face's music as soon as all four are together and rehearsed again.
That, up to this point, is the history of Furnaceface. You've listened to what I've had to say; now lend an ear to the lads themselves if you have a chance (start with the links on homepage@anyspeed).
Neil Ellard (Proofread/edited by Furnaceface)
Return to Furnaceface: homepage@anyspeed (and its aforementioned links).
Return to Watson's WorldWideWasteofTime Page: Music and Anime.