By Blake Morneau
At its core, great music is about feeling – pure, raw guttural emotion. Virtuoso playing and technical skill obviously counts for something, but the music that lasts always comes from that most purely human part of us. It’s Soul. It’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s R&B. It’s Funk. All of which are labels that people have tried to apply to The Ballantynes. “I’ve had such little success accurately describing what we sound like. It’s remarkable, really. I can’t do it. It’s like if you were to go to a police sketch artist and describe your own face,” says frontman Jarrod O’Dell, talking to me from the band’s home base in Vancouver. “We’ve been called indie, funk, pop, rock, soul, ska and every other genre. I struggle greatly with describing it. We use the term garage gospel. I think that because it isn’t so much about tonality or what the sound is, it just kind of conveys something that I feel like what we are.”
Garage gospel is a perfect term for the ramshackle energy that radiates from the band’s songs. The Ballantynes look like a soul band and often sound like a soul band, but they play with the energy of a high school hard rock band on the brink of falling apart, all while dripping with the emotion of a hundred broken hearts. But, maybe it’s less complex than that. Vocalist and organist Jen Wilks sums it up more succinctly: “It can be kind of exhausting to try to explain what genre it is, but you know, it’s for dancing.”
While there’s nothing out there that sounds quite like The Ballantynes, they’re building from such a familiar base that anyone with even a passing interest in music is going to find something to dig into. “One of the major things I love about R&B and soul music is that it’s a counterpoint. There’s something about the juxtaposition of tragedy and heartbreak with a good dance beat,” O’Dell explains. “There’s something of a cathartic release when dancing to keep from crying. That’s always something I’ve been really drawn to. It doesn’t take away guts or grit, and in fact, it needs it to succeed, for it to be honest. For it to be a strong song it needs to be a balance of heart and dirt,” he adds.
“I like dancing and I appreciate sass. That’s why I like soul music,” quips Wilks; once again summing up the universal appeal of soul music more succinctly than O’Dell or I could ever hope to.
This past August – after a few years of existence and multiple 7’’s and an EP – the band released their first full length album, Dark Drives, Life Signs. A 40-minute blast of energy, the record moves plenty quick enough to put on at a party and full of enough emotion to make it suitable for any headphone experience you desire.
“Greene,” a soul ballad of the highest order is one of the most arresting heartbreak songs you’re going to hear this side of Otis Redding. “I try very, very hard to be honest in what I’m writing about. That song I tried to pull away any way of hiding the content. It was about someone I cared very deeply about. I needed to write it as straight forward as possible. It was pretty raw still, which usually isn’t the case with me. Most of the time I have some time after the experience before I write about it, but this one took place in that time for me,” says O’Dell of the standout track from a record that has more than its share. That The Ballantynes are out there, easing their pain through music, is a victory for all of the lovesick among us that just need a little dancefloor therapy.