Cannon Bros Take Us On a Tour of the Teenage Wonderland Known as Suburban Winnipeg

Plus, listen to their new song "Can't Sleep."

Oct 9 2015, 2:31pm

All photos by Simeon Rusnak

Youth is rough, but youth in the suburbs is worse. Cul-de-sac’s, two-car garages and eerily empty parking lots are not exactly a hotbed for inspiration or any sort of rambunctious fun. For that, you have to take Winnipeg's 67 bus to the mall, and it only runs at rush hour and is often late. Yet for Cole Woods and Alannah Walker, coming of age in the Winnipeg suburb of Charleswood was the best thing to happen to their music career.

Driving from the city’s congested downtown to the wide, serene streets of Chuckhood is a drastic shift in pressure levels. Blue Conservative signs begin to pop up on the well-manicured lawns and we’re even followed by the “Fletcher-mobile,” the official minivan of Charleswood’s MP and the first quadriplegic in the Canadian House of Commons.

“Welcome to Steven Fletcher-land!” Woods plays backseat driver as he guides us to Walker’s parent’s house, where every street is named after a stable accessory. “Oh sweet, they got a new door. Very nice.”

Woods and Walker first met in elementary school and have been pals ever since. Forming their first band in grade eight, The Playing Cards would have their parents shuttle them to all-ages shows at coffee shops and the nearby community center. The fresh-faced kiddies even got so far as opening up for Toronto downer-rock group Great Lake Swimmers. After various stints backing Winnipeg indie heavy hitters such as the blue collar shredder Greg MacPherson, Woods and Walker came to form Cannon Bros. Set to release their sophomore album Dream City October 9 at The Goodwill Social Club, Cannon Bros. are cooler than a cucumber.

“It’s a ways away still, there’s tons of time,” Woods shrugs when asked about jamming with local bassist Marie-France Hollier before their release party. The show is five days away. Most bands would have been rehearsing for months for this but Cannon Bros. aren’t other bands. This is casual music for casual people.

Our first stop on the C-hood tour of teenage ennui is “The Treehouse”. The hidden gem is located a five-minute bike ride away from civilization, through fields of waist-high thistles and past “the jumps”, a dirt bike playground by day and bush party-central by night. After kicking past a couple Mike’s Hard empties, we climb the newly hung rope and holy shit climbing to the top of a treehouse (well, platform in the trees) never gets old.

“Yup so this is the spot,” Woods says. “ It was built by some urban shaman guy. I think he must be a carpenter or something. He was really chill.” After a short anecdote involving a young Woods stepping on a nail and a disinterested Health Links dispatcher, the conversation settles in favor of listening to the geese fly south. “Charleswood seems like it would just be a regular suburb but it’s kind of cool that it feels like the country,” Walker says.

Up next is “The Couch”, which sadly appears to be no longer. Fine by everyone. The soggy outdoor living room setup wasn't ideal and Walker has bad memories after stepping in human feces on the carpet. Her shoes even had to be tossed.

Cannon Bros.' first album, Firecracker/Cloudglow, was long listed for a Polaris and established the young duo as an act-to-watch on Canada’s 90’s revival soundscape. With raging guitars, simple hooks and honest voices, Cannon Bros.' sound is reminiscent of stone-washed favorites Pavement, Guided by Voices and The Replacements. Released via Disintegration Records, both Firecracker/Cloudglow and Dream City were produced by master mixer Cam Loeppky (The Weakerthans, Imaginary Cities) with the latest recorded in his home studio/attic.

“The process was super quick,” Woods explains. “All the basic parts one day and overdubs the next day. It’s great with only two of us ‘cause there’s not too many cooks, you know.”

We’re currently on our way to “The Car”, an infamous C-hood spot. Rusted to shit and half swallowed by Assiniboine River mud, the car frame is the perfect place for a romantic can of wine by Winnipeg’s muddy water. Having toured extensively from SXSW to Sappy Fest out east, to the Pacific and many weekend prairie excursions in between, Woods and Walker are well attuned to each other’s routines on the road. “It’s always so nice with two people ‘cause if one person isn’t in the mood to talk or wants to have a sleep there’s no third or fourth person making noise,” Walker explains. “And it’s cheaper too.” Even when the group toured with Manitoba-based singer/songwriter Shotgun Jimmie, they could fit all their gear in a small car and managed to find couches to crash on. Cannon Bros. can even make touring appear breezy.

The last stop on the Charleswood tour of restless boredom is, of course, 7-11. Graced with a massive parking lot, the curbs surrounding the compact brick building have edges black with wax. “I guess this is still the spot!” Woods says as he gets out his board. Pairs of slouchy teens skate up to get their cool ranch doritos and slurpees as Walker tells me about The Dirty Dale, the neighbourhood bar across the street. They layer their nachos. That’s the good news.

With Firecracker/Cloudglow having come out four years ago, Walker is ready to get the band’s newer songs off her chest. “Some of the songs we’ve been playing since shortly after we released our other album so I feel like they’ll even seem new,” Walker states. “And then of course there’s some that we haven’t even played live yet.” With a 50/50 split between Walker’s and Wood’s songs on the record and majority of the tracks being named and having lyrics written in the studio, Cannon Bros. have no inclination towards the sentimental. And boy, is it ever refreshing. The evening dog-walkers have pulled out their polar fleece and are lit perfectly by the orange glow of the street lamps. I’m sure the light pollution is beautiful from the treehouse.

Jillian Groening is a Winnipeg-based writer who is not from the suburbs. Follow her on Twitter.