Take large-scale passion, couple it with a Kootenay upbringing, and you’ll end up with Small Town Artillery — a rock band fronted by Meadow Creek natives Tom and Derek van Deursen.
“Part of the name of Small Town Artillery is keeping that lightheartedness and community-fed spirit that is imbued in kids that grow up around there,” Tom told the Star, in the lead up to their debut Nelson performance at The Royal on Baker on Sunday.
“We come from one of the smallest towns I can think of — there were about 100 people there when we were growing up —and that mentality we grew up witnessing is what we carried with us into the world. We’re friendly and light-hearted, not jaded.”
This comes through in their high-energy, funk-flavoured music, and it also comes through with their flamboyant personalities. The pair have learned a lot from their years gigging in Vancouver — including how to deal with the strains of constantly touring — but they feel they’ve retained their essential identity throughout everything.
And though they’ve been rocking out together since they were 11 and 9 (Tom is now 26 and Derek 24), their trajectory didn’t work out quite like they imagined it. First, Tom found success with the Boom Booms, who have performed in the Kootenays on multiple occasions.
“When Tom first moved away and joined the Boom Booms, that’s when I realized what serious music is really like, how hard you have to work,” said Derek. “I was so happy for him, but at the same time I kind of felt left behind.”
That didn’t last long.
“Our plan as young brothers who were extremely passionate about music was to take the world together, to grow up and succeed as brothers,” Tom said. “So even as I was touring with the Boom Booms and having a great time, I was wishing he was there.”
Eventually Derek moved to Vancouver and started picking up drumming gigs to gain experience. In 2010 they were finally able to team up, releasing their album CRASHDROPS shortly after. It’s the juxtaposition between rural and urban life that informs some of their work.
“We’ve got a song called ‘Surface Guns,’” Tom said. “It’s about moving to the city and at first feeling weaker than my city peers, because I didn’t have an ego-shield, so the things they said, the sarcasm, all that stuff hit me directly in the heart. I wrote ‘Surface Guns’ when I realized I’d successfully built that shield.”
The track is helped along, he says, by “devastatingly heavy drums and screaming guitars.”
And though it was a transition getting used to city life, there was plenty to write home about too. While Tom continued to play with the Boom Booms, the pair received encouragement from a local restaurant, Nyala Ethiopian Cuisine, that gave them a weekly gig.
Around that time they picked up bassist Carson Webber, and started incorporating trumpets and trombones into their act. Things culminated in June 2014, when the pair won the Molson’s Big Band competition and $10,000 to complete a second album.
“When we won we knew right away all that money was going straight into doing this album, and doing it right,” said Derek. “I think we’ve grown a lot since that first go.”
One track Tom is happiest with is “Letters from the Past.”
“That song’s about this time I was entering this new relationship, it was going well, and then totally out of the blue a mistake I made in the last relationship and hadn’t chosen to share suddenly came up.”
The resulting drama was unavoidable.
“Every time you think you’re in a new place, you’re going to receive that letter from the past and then you have to man up and say ‘okay, I admit I did that’ and then move forward from a truthful place. I don’t approach it with any malice, it’s about accepting. You know you wrote that letter from that past, now you have to deal with it.”
The 11-song album is due out in 2016. And that’s the album they’ll be playing from when they arrive in Nelson for their first performance back in the Kootenays. They’re touring with JP Maurice, who recently won the PEAK Performance Project’s $75,000 top prize.
“We’re super excited to go back and play,” Derek says. “Tom’s played there a bunch, and we still have all our connections there, so it’s going to be interesting to see how it turns out. We’ve cultivated a bit of scene out here in Vancouver, and they know us and what we’re like. It will be cool to share that with Nelson.”