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 "Dead Bob Lives" - An interview with John Wright


By Myk Brazier 

photos by R.d. Cane

Alright folks, full disclosure: I’ve been accused of being a NomeansNo super fan. There are unconfirmed reports that I have frequented internet forums declaring “NomeansNo is the greatest band in the known universe!”. Allegedly, while under the influence of certain psychedelic substances, I have proclaimed, with tears streaming down my cheeks “When I listen to NomeansNo it’s like I’m hearing the voice of God!!!”.

While all this is hearsay one thing is certain: John Wright, former NomeansNo Drummer, craft brew aficionado, Hanson Bros. frontman and notorious leader of the robot band CompressorHead, is back in action and on tour with an elite squad of super friends known as Dead Bob. I caught up with him just before heading out on their “Live Like Tour” and calmed down my inner fanboy just long enough to have a civilized conversation.

The genesis of Wright’s current project Dead Bob “came about rather accidentally, there was no grand plan. During Covid like so many people I had some time to relax from the very stressful life I was living trying to run a pub. So I started revisiting a lot of old songs. Some stuff from back in NomeansNo days and some more recent ones,” Wright shared.

As the project quickly progressed, Wright realized he had the makings of a solo album.  He put the word out about his new project and fans everywhere were excited about the prospect: “So I went ahead and finished this album Life Like the title track actually being another version of a NomeansNo song. That song was released on Dance of the Headless Bourgeoisie (1998) but it was relegated to a bonus track on the double vinyl. We never really played it live, but I always really liked it! I always thought it was one of the strongest collaborations between my brother and I, which were many.”

Wright gave "Life Like" the pop reboot he always thought it needed, utilizing the talents of singer/songwriter Selina Martin to create a co-ed vocal arrangement. The song’s lyrics describe a land where divine miracles abound but the inhabitants are too distracted to notice…sound familiar?  He started collaborating with Byron Slack of the Invasives and his partner multi-instrumentalist Kristy Lee Audette (Rong) also played on the record. “Ford Pier contributed lyrics to the album. I met him as a child really, back in the eighties in Edmonton when he was playing in a band called ‘GOD’.” Wright explained. Wright’s son Aidan also made a contribution to the album. With Slack, Audette and Ford (Ford Pier Vengeance Trio, DOA, Roots Roundup, Junior Gone Wild, Rheostatics) on board for live performances the line-up was rounded out with the addition of Colin MacRae (Pigment Vehicle). Forged amidst the vagaries of a worldwide crisis, Dead Bob was brought to life. 

After honing their live chemistry with nine shows across B.C. the newly formed five-piece super group was ready to hit the road. Wright shared “Next up was to get out into the prairies. So we booked ourselves 14 shows in March here. Heading to Saskatchewan - March 9th we’re at Amigo’s in Saskatoon but we’re also playing in Prince Albert (PA Brewing Company - March 12th!) which I’ve never played in before although my father was actually born in Star City. We would visit my Grandma in Tisdale when I was just a boy so I think the last time I was up in that neck of the woods was when I was eight years old or something.”  At this point in the conversation I did everything I could to keep from hyperventilating and just repeatedly screaming “OMG!” after realizing that NomeansNo has a very significant Saskatchewan connection. I may be biased but North East Saskatchewan is the birthplace of a staggering amount of creative genius.

The last name Wright means “a maker or builder”. Living up to his namesake Wright is a craftsman behind the drums - shredding deadly beats with consummate elegance. As a drum nerd myself I had to ask about his decision to perform side stage (as opposed to center stage like drummers in most groups).

Wright explained “When I first started playing my brother and I were a two-piece and I sat in the middle but we quickly realized: this is stupid. We’ve got to play on stage like we practice. Side by side so we can look at each other and really in the jazz world that’s totally normal.” Having found myself now on a journey in John Wright’s rock & roll time machine I decided to delve deeper into the legendary origins of NomeansNo. John had this to say about the west coast Canadian punk scene of the early eighties: “Punk rock was not really anything musically in the sense that if you listen to the Sex Pistols and The Ramones it’s all just rock & roll in a different shape. Victoria was a very tiny scene and the people that were into punk rock were into things that were different and the ethos was not really political so much as just ‘anybody can do this’. What’s important is just to do it and have fun. Don’t pretend to be a rockstar just be yourself. So a lot of bands came out of Victoria and they all sounded totally different! It was the idea of not really trying to sound like anything - just write songs…and that’s what we did.” For readers interested in exploring the storied past of NomeansNo which is interwoven with west coast punk history you can read about it in the new book “NomeansNo: From Obscurity to Oblivion: an oral history” by Jason Lamb.

The fact that John Wright is an elder statesman of Canadian punk rock and a legend of underground music has been firmly established but as a purveyor of timeless music his attention is fully in the here and now. “It’s very satisfying to know that you’ve created something that can stand the test of time. It’s not trapped somewhere. When I started this project I made it clear to everyone including myself that it’s not NomeansNo 2.0. I’m not going to go up there and try to be NomeansNo. I’m doing this because I really enjoy the music I’ve created for this record. I’m now working with these wonderful musicians who are, in themselves, great songwriters and we haven’t even begun to explore what we can do as a band,” John explained, “ Right now it’s just reproducing what I was working on all those years. I’m doing this because, for me, this is current music. I’m not regurgitating something from the past. I’m not nostalgic.” 

Lastly I asked John what advice he would give to all young musicians out there:

 “Just write songs! Don’t worry about what you look like - don’t worry about your career path. Just write songs…the rest will follow.”

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