Updated: May 10
by Scott Roos
Leisurely strolling out of the gate with an appropriately Canadian sense of quiet desperation, Smokekiller’s evil genius and Saskatoon scene stalwart, John Antoniuk, is releasing his latest interpretation of fuzz laden, nostalgia imbibed, riff rock into the world on Friday, Oct. 2nd. It’s simply entitled Chiba - named after kung-fu master Sonny Chiba (WTF?!?!).
This seven song opus from Antoniuk sounds sort of like a mixture of the aloof vocalizations of Weezer, the straight ahead anthemic tones of the Foo Fighters and a not so subtle but fortuitous portion of random 90’s Canrock (like maybe The Northern Pikes because they’re from Saskatoon and stuff). At any rate, you get the point. Basically Antoniuk has spawned something vibey and cool even though it took him a while to do it since his last at bat using the Smokekiller brand name.
To sum up this journey to Chiba, Back in 2012, Antoniuk had released what was essentially a tribute record to his late mother. Not wanting the word “killer” on the record, on top of working with producer and musical peer Leeroy Stagger who pushed Antoniuk’s music in a more rootsy/folksy direction, it was decided that the record he made entitled Always With You would not bear the Smokekiller moniker. Other projects on his own imprint, Poor Kitty Records, also took precedence and there was also the birth of a child in there. Until finally...
“I was jamming with the drummer from the band Foam Lake (in 2016) - Barrett Ross,” explains Antoniuk, “I was writing songs for that project that was a duo and I was calling the duo Chiba. I just thought Sonny Chiba (the) karate guy. I just wanted something that was a little different (musically) that sounded heavier.”
The work for the Chiba project sat on the shelf for a while until he received money from Sask Music, Factor and Creative Saskatchewan to do more demoing and recording in the studio. As a result, Antoniuk was able to revisit some of those original songs from that session with Ross as well as explore his heavier side on some newer material. Thus it made sense to call what he had created Chiba after those original sessions and so the first Smokekiller record since 2008’s Thirteen was born. And Chiba is a self produced, road tested set of tracks that was definitely well worth the wait.
“When we’re rehearsing with
the band you feel the songs out and you can kinda tell when things are getting too long or if it’s taking too long to start the words,” says Antoniuk of the writing and recording process for Chiba.
“Before I start to think that I’ve been listening to a part too long I kind of want it to change or shift. And so that’s where our songwriting comes from. Just trying to keep it nice and tight so the intro comes, the lyrics come, the chorus hits quick and then there’s not too much fat in the whole process. It was about having (everything) ready to go. So I worked on the songs for a while with the band. We would just rehearse and rehearse and listen to them. And we did some live shows where we would go play them and that’s sometimes when you can notice ‘Hey I think I need to kinda go and trim this section here’,” clarified Antoniuk.
It’s this kind of economy to his approach that makes Chiba so good. But Antoniuk is also a great lyricist. He gets into the “character” when singing his songs which is not necessarily a unique approach but meritorious all the same.
“I think inside every song there’s a character that’s singing it. (My songs) come from a place and there’s a story for them and I kind of feel like I’ve got that from listening to other albums that I’ve liked. (When singing), you kinda have to find those characters inside those songs and what’s supposed to be there vs you just intonating the right notes. You want the timbre of the voice to carry that story especially if you’re recording it and telling that story and expecting people to listen to it and to feel something from it. You want yourself to feel it so that hopefully it translates to people listening and they go ‘Oh man I felt that because of the way he sang that,” said Antoniuk.
At the end of the day, Smokekiller’s seven track Chiba is quality over quantity. It’s a well paced and well emoted record. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard something from Smokekiller but that only gave Antoniuk more time to plan, mull over, deconstruct and construct his process in order to achieve something thought provoking and noteworthy.
*pics of John Antoniuk and Jen Lane courtesy of Chris Jorgensen