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The Kramdens turn 30

For this Arts and Culture feature we dropped in on The Kramdens as they prepare for a 30th anniversary performance at Royal Electric on Sunday
2020 02 26 GT – Arts and Culture The Kramdens 30th – TB 03
The Kramdens are celebrating 30 years of creating and performing together: from left, Michael Plater Findlay, Mike Ostler, Steve Knox, Craig Norris and Rob Leader. Troy Bridgeman/GuelphToday

In the late 1980s and throughout the 90s the Trasheteria, or, ‘The Trash’, as it was affectionately known, was a breeding ground for original, alternative music.

Many local punk and grunge bands played their first gigs there and one of most enduring groups that rose from the proverbial Trash heap was the Kramdens.

“In 1990 we formed to play something called the Trash Fest,” said lead singer and keyboardist Craig Norris. “The band I was in before broke up and we were supposed to be in the competition.”

Guitarist Steve Knox remembers his role in breaking up Norris’s band by luring him away to form what eventually would become the Kramdens.

“Our band was called The Hate Factory and his band was called The Train,” said Knox. “I remember joking that we were taking The Train to The Hate Factory.”

Trash Fest was essentially a musical play off that pitted local bands against each other in a series of elimination rounds that took place over eight weeks. The experience challenged the newly formed Kramdens to get tight and good fast and develop a signature characteristic that has kept them going for the past three decades.

“We wrote like 10 songs in four days,” said Norris. “I’m not exaggerating. It was like, oh my god, we need our own songs. Some of them we still play. There were all these other bands in it and we went to the quarter finals and won.”

They are likely to get a little nostalgic and play some of the songs from that first gig when they perform at the Royal Electric on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

“Royal Electric used to be the Trash,” said Norris. “It’s the same room where we played our very first gig and that is why this show is going to be so cool.”

The Kramdens are a rare commodity in that they are a band of friends who, after 30 years, continue to write, record and perform together.

“It is one thing that connects us all together because we all live very different lives these days,” said drummer Rob Leader. “We have different jobs and lives and it is really important for us to get together once a week to play and write. That is what goes into creating a record. We have a musical understanding of one another.”

It is by definition a symbiotic relationship that, when the stars align, becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

“That really manifests itself live too,” said Norris. “Things happen live that I don’t think we could ever reproduce but we really trust each other for the most part.”

In 2005 they produced an album called XV celebrating what was, at the time, a remarkable feat for any band, staying together for 15 years. They have yet to agree on a title for their latest record but it’s a safe bet it won’t be called XXX.

“This is a new record but it’s not a 30th anniversary record,” said Leader. “We were a lot more critical about what was going to end up on it. That’s why it took a lot longer too.”

This will be their seventh record and it has been more than four years since their last release but if you were expecting them to mellow with age think again.

“It’s a lot heavier and darker than things we have done in the past,” said Norris. ”We don’t play as much as we used to but we still write great songs and I think this record for me is some of the best stuff we’ve written in a long time.”

It was recorded by Knox in their jam hall-studio in The Ward and it captures a rawness and honesty you can only get from a seasoned band playing together in the same room.

“It was probably the closest to doing it that way than we have ever done,” said Norris. “This record definitely feels like it was done with a band.”

They have experimented with a lot of styles and recording techniques over the years, but this is an unambiguous rock ‘n’ roll record.

“There was some intention to that in the beginning,” said guitarist Michael Plater Findlay. “We were going for something more cohesive at least we think it’s cohesive.”

They had a lot of material to choose from.

“We had about 15 songs and some didn’t make it,” said bassist Mike Ostler. “There are definitely no banjo or mandolin songs.”

They don’t consider it a return to their rock ‘n’ roll roots. It is just the style of songs they’ve been writing lately.

“It is a lot more guitar heavy than a lot of our other records but we just wrote the songs that way,” said Knox. “Sometimes we write songs that don’t leave a lot of room for guitar soloing and heavy riffing. This one just came out a little heavier.”

They have however returned to their roots as far as playing more club gigs and testing their new material in front of their fans.

“I think that is the great leveler when it comes to home recording,” said Norris. “A lot of people can record well at home. We record ourselves but where you separate yourself is live. If you are good live people will want to buy your record.”

The fact that they have been doing it for 30 years is as good a reason as any to celebrate what, so far, has been a working formula.

“This is an important year for us and there are dates coming up we can’t announce at this point,” said Leader. “We can tell you about the gig at Royal Electric Sunday and that we are playing at the Wooly’s 30th anniversary on June 20th. There are a lot of people coming out to our shows we haven’t seen in a long time. We’ve all had families and we just kept it going. Now those old fans are coming back out.”

As for the next 30 years?

“There is always something else to do,” said Norris. “There is always another song.”