I once saw A Gentleman’s Pact (comprised of frontman Kaleb Kaiser, guitarists Jacob Kachowski and Matt Koopman, and drummer Darren Guy) when they absolutely held court over at Sneaky Dee’s during Canadian Music Week 2016. I had the pleasure of speaking with them at the Bovine Sex Club the next night as one of the members, Matt, went to shake my hand and in my buzzed state, my first instinct was to turn away and protect my beer from what I thought was a grabbing hand. We laughed about it and I realized that this was a cool group of guys – and that’s not always easy to come by in a high-tension world.
They had a long, strange journey starting from humble folk beginnings in Beaumont, AB. As the band developed, so did the sound. You may recognize their debut EP Sorry for the Mess I’ve Made, released the summer of last year. I caught up with them a few months later not long before they began recording their latest album, Who the Fuck is AGP? Kaleb described the unusual formation of their band, starting with their drummer Darren: “He showed up at a gig one time and he asked our manager ‘Do you think they’d mind if I played drums for them?’ And we’re like ‘Dude, just go ahead. Just jump on the kit’.”
With a more diverse influence in the band, the sound shifted to punk as their audience expanded. They still held some semblance of a folk sound, but it was clear that they were making a transition, deliberate or not. Their songs are anything but simple, moving away from expected 3-minute party songs that most bands are accustomed to and going for songs that are a bit more high-concept:
Kaleb: We actually just wrote a song two days ago and it’s called “Bathtub Gin: The Musical” and it’s got five different parts and it starts off acoustic, and then we repeat the whole first verse with screaming punk, and then it goes into ska kinda, a musical that’s kinda a happy, sappy thing.
Darren: Different perspectives too, one of the sections has the perspective of the narrator, and then the drug user, and then the next is the perspective of the drugs talking to the user, pulling him back…
That’s the style they’re up to right now, having 13 tracks on their upcoming album – all presenting a unique sound in a serial part story. They started doing shows at Live City, a bar that Kaleb runs and it didn’t stop there.
Kaleb: Now, we’re getting shows offers and the thing that we’re most excited for – there’s a band I was listening to since I was 14 or 15-years-old, and I was working at a youth center and the owner showed me it and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is the coolest punk I’ve ever seen! And fast-forward to now, we’re opening for them next week: It’s Chixdiggit!
AGP opened for Chixdiggit! in September, thereafter deciding to take a month and a half off of playing shows (unless a few really catch their eye). Right now, the focus is on their next album, ensuring that they’re bringing their fans something a little different but not out of tune with their original sound – starting the recording process in the studio to end all studios:
Kaleb: We go in the studio November 2nd, and we found this studio and it’s just the coolest place ever: there are arcade machines there…
Matt: You’ll walk in and see Metal Slug in the back.
Darren: … and then you walk around and there’s an espresso machine, and then you’re like: “Okay, that’s the selling point.”
Kaleb: They mastered our demo, I don’t know if you listened to it, it’s called Tongue in Cheek, it’s on Bandcamp.
Raz Mataz: Yeah, I did actually hear some of it.
Kaleb: Yeah, so they mastered that and we recorded a bit at BB Studio and then we sent it to Amell Either at Royal Studio and he remastered it and he did an amazing job. He spent a lot of time with us because he told me that in his whole career, he’s always been doing kinda indie bands. I think he’s a punk at heart and he’s been waiting for a punk band to come along and work with him… So, November 2nd we start in the studio and the album is called Who The Fuck is AGP?… We’re probably going to have to bleep that out because it’s supposed to be going into HMV and Black River Music and other online stores and whatnot.
After the break and after the release, the guys plan on kicking off a West Coast tour through Alberta and BC to promote the release. Another thing they cite as a point of pride is their zany album cover done by their friend, an Edmonton-based artist. They described a scene for her: Kaleb’s on stage with his head exploding while screaming and Matt kneeling with a bass string wrapped around his head while he’s bleeding out. Jake, their other guitarist who wasn’t able to make it to the interview, is standing there smiling at the crowd, but his right hand fell off. Drummer Darren is sitting there with a snare drum in the midst of all this madness.
Kaleb: And the whole idea is that we’re not very well-known yet, so we wanted to show that in our album… So, in the crowd, not a single person is enjoying us.
Darren: And at the very front at the corner, there’s a guy leaning into another guy saying, “Who the fuck is AGP?”
Kaleb: And then there’s three of our best friends in the middle and they’re the only ones who’re enjoying it.
Later on, they described a time when they had a mismatched gig where no one in the audience not only didn’t know who they were, but the genre for this age group… here, how about I just let the guys take it from here:
Matt: We once had a gig that our manager set up, it was advertised as a festival! And we’re like “Hell yeah, we’re the headlining band! Wow, this is so cool!” When we get there, the stage was in a gazebo about as big as this room right now [gestures around a pretty small room] and they actually said: “Yeah, if you guys could keep it pretty quiet.”
Kaleb: And we’re like, “Fuuuuck…” It was literally a busload of senior citizens loading up, and we thought: “Do you guys have an idea who you booked? We sing about murder, and drugs, and… they’re not going to enjoy this at all!”
Raz Mataz: They got you for some bingo garden party?
Kaleb: Yeah. Pretty much… and it was funny to see how we were basically all looking at each other. We have this song called “Exes Chainsaw Massacre”… (not Texas), and it’s about your ex-girlfriend brutally murdering you.
Darren: Yeah, it’s one of those high concept songs where it’s like “Scene 1” and the chorus has the girl coming down in the basement. We all stop and Jake, our guitarist, makes a chainsaw sound with the guitar. And we all say, “Fuck! She’s got a chainsaw!” And then there’s this insane solo. They enjoyed it! We finished our set and the old people were like, “One more song!” And we said “Whaaat?” I don’t think they fully comprehended it until we said: “She’s got a chainsaw!”
Raz Mataz: I’m glad the old people were able to connect with a brutal murder from an ex-lover.
Kaleb: I’m a big horror movie fan, I’ve been trying to convince him to go with me…
Darren: … I don’t like theatres…
Raz Mataz: Understandable.
Darren: I’ll go alone, if I have to…
Matt: Well, my girlfriend wants to go, so I’m going I guess.
Growing up in a rural town, Kaleb was always into punk music. It took time before he found his high-energy style to take on punk as the band’s main style. Before, soft-spoken folk music was the band’s style. Punk influences like the kind that drummer Darren brought molded A Gentleman’s Pact into something else: “Growing up punk, I would think of a name like The Somethings, like The Ramones or something like that. The people here at A Gentleman’s Pact, they literally have no idea what to expect coming out of that name. If we were called The Slugs, people would say, ‘Well, okay, they’re probably a punk band’.”
Not every one of A Gentleman’s Pact’s older fans welcomed the change, according to Kaleb: “I would get these messages from people in New York and England and stuff and they’re like, ‘When is the whole album coming out?’ And I said, ‘This was four years ago, I don’t do that anymore’. And they’re like ‘What the fuck?!’.” Since then, the guys have amassed a whole new fanbase which is evident through their upbeat Facebook page.
Darren: I have to point out that it was also Matt joining the band that kinda fueled the change.
Kaleb: Oh right, we didn’t even talk about that!
Darren: Two of our old members, our old lead guitarist and bassist quit…
Matt: Right before Canadian Music Week.
The bassist I met at the Bovine Sex Club was about two months fresh into the band. Incredibly, all the songs played at Sneaky Dee’s the night before were old two months old. In the tone of new music, the guys try to keep their sound diverse. Kaleb listens to a new album by a new artist every day through Apple Music. Something else that makes a huge impact on AGP’s sound is the musical democracy amongst band members, Matt explained: “We all kinda want each other to get their own. It wouldn’t be A Gentleman’s Pact if we all kinda didn’t get our own say.”
Darren: It gets bounced around a lot.
Kaleb: We all came through and put our own twist on it. It’s like yesterday, I was playing Matt this new song. It was a 45-second song, playing it on speaker phone, and then I sing it for him. He comes to my bar and I play it for him again, but after I finished the song, I kept playing this one riff, and he just started singing an he created a whole second part to that song. We’re like: “Let’s not stop there, let’s keep going.”
Kaleb: So yeah, we called it “Bathtub Gin: The Muscial”
RMM: So, it’s kinda like an impromptu musical democracy?
Just About Everyone in AGP: Yeah.
They went on to liken their sound alchemy to Neanderthals struggling to discover how to make fire. Their latest album, they decided, will be a testament to this process and variety with a scattered assortment of sound. As long as it tips a hat to a more nostalgic time late ‘90s early, 2000’s, everyone’s happy:
Kaleb: When you say nostalgic, I was just having this conversation with Brendan the other day, I feel like we live in a generation of people searching for things that make them feel nostalgic…
Matt: It’s funny, because I’ll listen to certain songs and it will remind me of how a Disney movie used to make me feel as a kid. And then I’ll go get drunk and put on a Disney movie cassette on VHS.
Kaleb: It’s weird because it’s 2016 – we’re all ‘90s kids – and Pokemon is back, and cassettes are coming back, and those are like the biggest things.
With the change of sound came a change of management. Sabrina Kuhn was the band’s manager up until recently, helping the band to make some strides. Sean Powell took over when Kuhn pursued another opportunity, though most of all management seems to be taken on by frontman Kaleb Kaiser who has a hands-on approach to booking shows and making contacts. Powell has connections of his own that have benefitted the band, but Kaleb’s connection with him went beyond business and went into the realm of personal tragedy along with another old-time friend Nick Brandle: “When I was 18, a couple of my friends died and just some other shit happened to me at a young age, and I was taken in by these rock stars, these punk guys. Sean is not musical, but he’s awesome – he taught me everything I know about punk.”
Hanging out at a place called the “Punk House”, the sound of it stuck with him. He began transitioning from the 14-year-old folk writer into something else. Edmonton-based music promoter John F. Kennedy (yes, that’s his real name) also took part in making them heard, previously promoting bands like Chxidiggit! and Sum 41. Powell is currently operating as the face of the band, finding shows that relates to their being the most.
Kaleb: You know, people have been looking out for us and Sean Powell – he’s always wanted to be somewhat a part of a band.
[Darren explodes into laughter]
Kaleb: He told me that himself!
Matt also has a business angle with the band, taking on the trend of the DIY indie band with an at-arms-length managerial presence. But this experience came with a variety of lessons that can be applied even outside the industry.
Matt: If you try to apply books to it, it’s not going to work. It limits you and it paints you into a picture that you might not want to be in. As artists, we have a responsibility to express ourselves and our freedom and inspire people to express their freedom.
Darren: We never want to do anything by the books. We want to do it our way and hope that people dig it.
Raz Mataz: Chixdiggit!
Raz Mataz: Yeah, you gotta write your own book sometimes, right?
Matt: Exactly, right?
Darren: Kaleb’s book!
Matt: Kaleb actually did write a book, it’s a graphic novel.
[Kaleb seems reluctant to talk about it]
The guys of AGP are fully aware of the potential pitfalls that record labels present. Through all of the rock biographies they’ve read, they know that the reality of being fucked over screams true, but they maintain a faith in record labels like Fat Records and Stomp Records that avoid warping the band’s original sound.
Raz Mataz: [These biographies] portray the record industry as a series of bear traps before you find that one square-inch of where you want to end up, because you either don’t want to contort your image or change in some way. And in law, there’s so many cases like that. Does that sort of discourage you?
Kaleb: Not discourage, because I think there are some people high up who are aware of that… Getting on the labels that we would like to get on, we’re still going to be working our asses off for ourselves and for what we want to see from ourselves.
Matt: It’s a long shot, but if a major, major record label ever approached us, I don’t think I’d have any interest in it. It scares the shit out of me.
Kaleb: To sum it up, we know what we want, we know how we’re going to get there, and we don’t want to take any shortcuts because we know the road at the end of a shortcut is a lot less…
Kaleb: We want a big pay-off for all our hard work.
Darren: It’s a metaphor for drugs.
[Everybody laughs their asses off]
Kaleb: I think we’re coming to Canadian Music Week next year.
The guys are a perpetually busy bunch, currently working on a new studio album and getting ready for a balls-to-the-wall performance at Canadian Music Week in April. You’d better look out for them at Canadian Music Week in April. They’ve also got a new album, “Who The Fuck is AGP?” coming out in Spring 2017. You’d better look out for them (and after slogging through this article, really, why wouldn’t you? These are a charming bunch of guys!) through Facebook, Twitter, official website and check out their albums and tracks on their Bandcamp page.