Siksika Nation is located one hour’s drive east of the city of Calgary. Home to roughly 7500, and proudly part of the Blackfoot Confederacy. It also boasts one of the most interesting heavy music bands in the province of Alberta – Iron Tusk.
Playing music has helped them overcome adversities in their lives as young Indigenous men. And minorities in the Calgary music scene.
“Historically speaking, Calgary is on Blackfoot Territory” says drummer Carlin Blackrabbit. “When we play or attend shows in Calgary, we never feel like outsiders but there’s always that thought about being those guys. There’s a family feel to being involved in such a great community. However, we recognize and feel the affects of racism.”
“One thing I will add is that punk and metal music is not something that gets a lot of attention. More specifically with Indigenous musicians. The focus is more geared towards pow wow, country and hip hop. You don’t see any Indigenous metal or punk bands in Indigenous featured content. With the exception of CBC’S Reclaimed. We have a lot of respect for Jarret Martineau for giving bands like No More Moments (Carlin’s other band) a platform on a major music outlet. Our hope is to see more Indigenous metal and punk bands out there playing shows. Getting radio play and we want to help with what we are doing with our band.”
Recently, there has been turmoil in Canada around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Trans Mountain oil pipelines. A pipeline that carries crude and refined oil from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia, across Native lands. Without Indigenous consent. It has been a large focal point in Canadian news. There have been many protests that have resulted in the violent arrests of many. This year alone, there have been several protests. Including one where people across the country set up barricades on train tracks, roads and bridges, in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en Nation.
“As Indigenous musicians in Canada we are constantly in tune with what’s happening in our country. The protests, the activism, and the racism” states Blackrabbit. “We will always be allies, and do what we can to support what’s right. Staying united with our fellow Indigenous people.”
“A lot of the focus is in our own community. Our goal is to see what we can do to help. As a festival organizer for Moments Fest, I try to bridge gaps and offer something special to the youth and children in Siksika. I strongly feel passionate about healing traumas though music. I have seen so many positive outcomes with interaction and connection, music has allowed us to do that.”
Iron Tusk’s band members are quite busy outside of the band. Working as addictions counselors and tradesman. Elected officials on tribal council. I asked Carlin Blackrabbit how their day jobs and careers affect the music and the band.
“I feel like our life experiences contribute to our music playing and song writing. We take a real life approach to the composition of our lyrics, and the feel of our instruments. We all have a purpose and with what we are doing in our livelihood outside has meaning. Music will always be a part of us, its something that will never be ripped away from us.”
See also : Iron Tusk “III – Dream Eaters” Review
Iron Tusk are about to release their third EP, titled “Iron Tusk III – Dream Eaters”. A two-track affair. Each one has a unique sound ot it, while the listener still feels like they’re listening to the same group. There are many influences at play here. Several styles blended to create the Iron Tusk sound.
“In this day and age music is constantly evolving, there is so many unique ways to release music” says Blackrabbit. “We want to keep our listeners and supporters wanting more. So our unintentional approach is to put two or three songs out at a time. I feel that our song writing has matured over time. Ty and Buddy really stepped up their game on the vocals.”
“Ty has a love for fantasy games like Warhammer and Dungeons and Dragons. Buddy has a realistic approach to writing songs, and when you mix the two its something special. We entered studio with Eric Andrews (who plays in a bunch of cool Calgary punk bands), we felt that Eric had perspective of our band as we shared the stage with countless times.”
“When we arrived at his house, an old church just off 17th ave SW, we felt the vibe. Eric put us to work, he challenged us to dig deeper with the songs, we had input and helped make the songs grow. I feel we all went into this with open minds and wanted to do something different. We achieved it with the time spent with Eric in summer 201″ explains Blackrabbit.
“Then we commissioned local artist Chris Zajko to do the artwork for the album. He hand painted the cover. We gave him ideas of what we wanted – we always to have a gloomy, creature like feel to our artwork for albums and shirt designs. Chris brought our vision to life. Finally, I got Stu Mckillop from Railtown Mastering to complete our puzzle with mastering the songs. Stu has a long resume of punk and metal bands that I love, and felt like it was another milestone in my musical journey. He helped bring our songs to life.”
“Along the way, we have added a second guitarist to the band. We always felt that we needed two guitar players. Craig Bear Chief is our second guitarist, he fills that void and we have always looked up to him.”
“I first seen both songs as paragraphs of lyrics” adds bassist Marty Wolfleg. “Ty would give us some riffs then we would lock ourselves in the studio and compose the crap out of them. It’s a lot like, “Dragon’s Den” and Neil DeGrasse mathematics in there, while throwing in some legends. Many ideas got thrown to the wall, but a lot of good came out of it. Cloud Eater is based off of a favorite novel of Ty’s. He described it to us as Machines in the sky.”
“So, when I heard that I thought, This has to be heavier than or previous recordings” says Wolfleg. “That same attitude was kept on Dreaming City, with more deep lyrics from Ty. First time I stepped back a tad from writing lyrics and to listen to my piers, see their vision and see how I can help. I felt each EP were all contributing more as a band, this one is Iron Tusk matured. But…still likes Chicken On The Way before sets!”
“From Eric, we gained knowledge and confidence steppin’ into the studio. We know we’re going to get a good recording and we thank him so much for his expertise. He was a major part of making this record sound as powerful as it is. It’s actually hard to describe what influences that come into play because… you can’t put your finger on it.”
Iron Tusk have now released three EP’s. All of which on cassette tapes. In a time when vinyl is seeing a massive resurgence, it would also seem that more artists are opting for cassettes too. Yet, Iron Tusk have only released tapes. And digital copies. No CD’s or vinyl release as of yet. They say curiosity killed the cat, so I had to find out why this choice was taken.
“I have always wanted to give music collectors something to add to their collection” begins Blackrabbit . “The Calgary Cassette Preservation Society has a long history of music in their vaults. As a young punk rocker I always wanted to be a part of that history. On top of that, driving around in older vehicles and vans with no compact disc players forced us to listen to cassettes.” I hadn’t even consider this situation. In was starting to make sense.
“We do plan to do a 7” and release it in the summer, but something about cassettes just has an old, comforting feeling to it” continues Blackrabbit. “Cassettes remind us of growing up on the reserve. Visiting a relative who would have recorded pow wow music on cassettes or old country and rock albums that would be playing. It brings back a time of peace and clarity, remembering the life of being a child. No worries.”
I believe we all yearn for simpler days once we reach a certain age or point in our lives. And childhood memories often offer comfort. I know I do.