To say that Alec Myrfield is a poet is not too much of a stretch. When he sings, he takes you through his stories with the all-knowing, backwoods voice of a hunting guide who, though he scares you shitless, you trust to bring you home alive. Tonight, I am sitting in, interloping, on one of The Stumblers Inn’s rehearsals. Al composes the beginnings of a song on his accoustic and “then it morphs into its own when it leaves the accoustic and the boys get their filthy mitts on it.” I’ve come to watch and listen to that happen.
The “boys“ are his brothers, Graham (bass/vocals) and Jeff (keyboards), and honourary Myrfield, Chuck Dupuis (drums). Chuck and Graham are starting a fire in the living room when I arrive. Graham’s house is within walking distance of Vancouver General which is a fact I find very comforting. It seems everytime I even think of the Myrfield brothers, I end up fucked three ways from Sunday and staggering down a street somewhere. Graham opens the door, still in his work clothes, a reminder that successful musicians in this city are a rare bird indeed, and welcomes me in with a smile that few can beat. He changes into something less “work” and crashes down on the couch. Looking at his bare arms, I get tattoo envy. I have three from local singer/songwriter, Val Grahams’ gun, and Graham’s arms sport much of her work as well. Graham and Al have more ink between them than the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, including the word “Stumbler” written across their knuckles. Their arms, like The Stumblers Inn, are storytellers. We head downstairs to the basement when Jeff and Al arrive. Everybody takes their post, and Graham kicks off the night hammering at the piano keys. Jeff starts on the keyboards and Chuck keeps time.
The Stumblers Inn are returning to the studio soon to record their next album so the purpose of tonight’s session is to hammer out the notes and disagreements. I get the impression that a lot of the creative tension in the band resides between Al and Jeff. Jeff is an amazing keyboardist and quite possibly the most talented of the brothers musically. Graham shoots me a wink and a smile before telling Jeff the last take “fucking sucked,” a move designed to get under his brother’s skin. Jeff turns to face his brothers and when he sees Graham’s smirk, he can’t help smiling himself before getting back to business. Jeff wants the song in G, Al pushes for B flat, Graham doesn’t seem to care, and Chuck waits patiently, fully aware that his drums have nothing to do with the discussion.
Al’s raw songs are the starting point from which the band works. As the song moves between them, all The Stumblers add their piece. Jeff’s keyboards are probably what Ray Manzarek would have sounded like if he moonlighted doing the sound effects for 1970s Sci-Fi movies. I had the privalege of sitting in on a jam with Jeff the night before last year’s Green Mountain Music Festival in Nanaimo, and when that boy starts to play, he’s gone. I once described The Stumblers Inn as “Blue Rodeo tied to The Doors, soaked in whiskey and set gloriously ablaze in a marijuana patch.” Jeff’s carnivalesque keys certainly lend a Doors quality to the band, but when the four of them play together, it is pure Stumblers.
It is amazing to watch them work together. The bickering persists, but brothers will be brothers, and in the end it is for the best because all their needling about keys, changes, tempo, and arrangement produces a quality sound. I chime in with my two cents here and there and unwittingly open an old can of worms by bringing up the accordion. I ask Jeff if he can play one and I’m sure I see a slight wince. Uh oh. Al and Graham jump on Jeff with comments about accordions. Jeff fights back claiming that the one accordion they’d ever supplied him with was a piece of crap and completely unplayable. “Accordion-gate” quickly passes with smiles and laughs all around and I decide to keep my mouth shut from that point on.
As the evening moves on, I am reminded just why these musical ruffians are so dear to me. The music is top notch and contains both a darkness and sense of humour that many bands today are either too lazy or too inept to pull off. Graham is one of my favourite bass players in the city even if he does insist on wearing his band’s shirt on stage (heh) and he never seems to mind when I remind him (constantly) that I’m not-so-secretly in “like” with his wife. I’m glad he knows I’m kidding, because his hands are large enough to crush the life out of me with one snap of his fingers. As for hands, I’ve often remarked on how Al holds his guitar. Al is a very big boy, and god help you if you ever demean his kith and kin in his presence, but he holds his guitars with the heart and soul of a poet, even if he gives you a shot in the arm for saying so.
The Stumblers Inn play The ANZA Club (3 West 8th Ave, Vancouver) on Friday, March 5th, 2010. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.
You can view their MySpace page HERE.