THE HARPOONIST & AXE MURDERER
“With a name like The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Vancouver-based duo is some sort of concept group based on a hypothetical love story between Captain Ahab and Lizzie Borden.” (Chris Oke, Yukon News)
In reality, Shawn ‘The Harpoonist’ Hall and Matthew ‘The Axe Murderer’ Rogers evoke much more than just grisly nautical imagery. Armed with an arsenal of harmonicas, a mess of foot percussion, and a road-worn Telecaster, the duo kick out raw and primal blues in the tradition of a ‘decades-deep blues style’ (Scott Brown, What’s up Yukon), while infusing the genre with a jolt of renewed energy.
The two met and bonded over music while recording a radio jingle. Their memorable name is inspired by a lyric from Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Bobby McGee’ that references the blues harp, (‘I took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana’) and ‘axe’, a common term for the guitar.
Their influences range from the iconic songwriting of Willie Dixon to the boundary pushing of Jack White and Danger Mouse but their sound is distinctly their own, smothered in greasy, gritty soul and imbued with funk. Shawn Hall provides the rousing, rugged vocals and blues harmonica, while Matthew Rogers rips on the guitar and pounds the skins with his feet. Their music is unapologetic. It slaps you in the face and makes you sweat like it’s a sticky, summer night. It cuts you to the core. It’s the blues played the way it was meant to be played.
The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer released their self-titled album in 2008, which was followed in 2011 by the widely acclaimed ‘Checkered Past’. Their third and latest album, ‘A Real Fine Mess’ is scheduled for release on June 17th.
The new album explores complicated dichotomies, like how one’s life can appear successful on one hand, yet be clouded by doubt and struggles on the other and how all that is celebrated hangs in the balance with the potential to fall apart at any moment. Recently the band found themselves increasingly inspired not only by the electric ‘groove blues’ of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s but also by the music of their peers. A wee hours stairwell serenade led to unprecedented vocal collaborations and an awkwardly mismatched festival workshop made the two realize that they needed to ‘up their game’ as songwriters and lyricists. The recording came with its own challenges as the two live in different cities separated by 34 nautical miles of sea. After 18 ferry trips, 3 missed flights, countless breakdowns, and a barrage of text and email arguments later ‘A Real Fine Mess’ was born, like the offspring of a can-can dancer and an oil tycoon.
Shawn and Matthew have received considerable recognition in the last few years. They have been nominated for multiple Maple Blues Awards and won ‘Blues Act of the Year’ at the SiriusXM Indies in 2013. The duo has also pounded their fair share of festival stages including SXSW 2013/14, Winnipeg Folk Fest, Ottawa Blues Fest, Calgary Folk Fest, and Montreal Jazz Fest. Along the way they’ve shared the stage with Taj Mahal, Booker T Jones, David Wilcox, Mother Mother, The Sheep Dogs, and Serena Ryder. They’ve also had songs featured on television shows such as the ‘The Good Wife’, ‘Blue Bloods’, and the aptly-named TV movie ‘Lizzie Borden Took An Axe’.
The duo has no plans to slow down after their hectic summer of festival-hopping. They’re on a continuing journey, constantly finding inspiration from musicians they meet or collaborate with. These encounters challenge them to deepen their songwriting and to keep performing with their trademark fervor and honesty. And the result? As one fan put it is, ‘blues that gets you in the crotch’.