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Whyte Ave Womprats // Supplied

Flesh and Blood: The chaos behind the Whyte Ave Womprats

Whyte Ave Womprats " Flesh And Blood" Album Release w/ guests 5 Cent Freak Show, The Confusionaires , and Leo Martinez Project
April 18 (8 pm doors)
The Starlite Room
Tickets $10

by Ellen Reade

A Whyte Ave Womprats live show is always a party—sometimes too much of one. The group has been banned from Two Sergeants Brewing in Fort Saskatchewan and the now-closed Mama’s Gin Joint due to the members’ drunken antics.

“We got banned from playing Mama’s Gin Joint because our mandolin player was getting his nasty on in the back room,” says Jarret Gray, the band’s fiddle and trombone player.

“I went back and apologized the next day and they seemed pretty good,” says Jordan Frank, the upright bass player.

“We don’t remember everything we’ve done,” says Brett McCready, lead vocals and guitar.

“Oh I remember everything. I wish I could forget,” Gray adds.

The Whyte Ave Womprats’ music is a chaotic conglomeration of folk punk, bluegrass and ska, and the band’s high-energy live presence and use of unconventional instruments have allowed it to carve out a place  in Edmonton’s music scene. The band is known for its uses of upright bass, banjo, fiddle, washboard, saxophone, trombone, and previously mandolin, and the members can often be found busking on the streets of Whyte Avenue at any time of year.

“We’re like folk punk but we shower regularly,” says Daniel Watson, saxophone and banjo player.

Taking influence from bands like Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains, AJJ (Andrew Jackson Jihad), NOFX, and Ramshackle Glory, the Womprats’ sound stands out amongst other Edmonton bands.

“I don’t want it to sound like arrogant or like we got our noses up but it’s hard to find other people that do what we do,” Watson says.

Whyte Ave Womprats’ new, full-length album, Flesh and Blood, tackles a diverse set of topics present in the band’s collective mind. The album deals with everything from the “colonization of North America and the consequences of such,” to deep dives into personal tragedy, to smoking crack and masturbating.

While the music and songwriting are a collective effort, McCready is the primary lyricist.

“I think some of [our] best work was done collaboratively, but most of it is Brett,” Watson says.

The album’s title track is McCready’s recount of personal tragedy that became “kind of a therapy” for him during the writing process. The song takes the listener through a series of major losses and the emotional journey that followed. “Botox and Bibles” is built around a verse that Watson had left unused for years, and is a commentary on the hypocrisy of the Bible Belt and falsely upheld “good Christian values.”

Album cover of Whyte Ave Womprats’ Flesh and Blood

The song “Gutter” has a less serious focus.   

“I wrote one song about like jacking off and smoking crack and stuff like that … It’s not about me,” Frank says. “It has a really like, kind of a fucked up meaning, but it’s actually about like two different people I know that suck so hard.”

Unlike the previous album, the majority of Flesh and Blood was recorded live-off-the-floor to ensure that it would fully capture Whyte Ave Womprats’ sound. Small mistakes are left on the recordings for added depth and personality.

“When you listen to the album, it’s like when you go to see us live,” Frank says.

McCready and Watson met through Kijiji and formed Folksy Mama and the Suitcase String Band with Whyte Ave Womprats as a side project in 2015. They then met Frank when his old band showed up and played a gig that they weren’t actually booked for.

“The booker told us the wrong date and we show up and he’s like ‘Oh you guys aren’t on the bill? Oh well … play anyways,’” Frank says.

The rest of the band met on the streets of Whyte Ave.

“I would go busking all the time … I’d bring Brett along,” Watson says. “We met Jarret on the street. Our freight train-riding, mandolin-playing extraordinaire is living in a treehouse now on the West Coast but we found him on the street too, playing music.”

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