The History of Gunpowder

This eclectic band has burlesque dancers to accompany them on stage

The members of The History of Gunpowder aren’t afraid to take risks. Not only is their music a mix of swamp pirate blues and growling vocals, but they have an ostrich as their mascot. The five-piece band has been touring Montreal to promote their most recent album, Stained Glass, Rye and Wax, which was released last May.

Alex James Morison, the singer-songwriter, composer, manager, sound engineer and creator of the band, said they’ve recently added a new and exciting element to their live performances: burlesque dancers. According to Morison, this makes their shows more visually appealing.“We want someone to come into our show and not want to have a cigarette the whole time, and not want to get a drink the whole time, and not be able to take their eyes off the stage the entire set,” he said.

Morison initially started the band in Vancouver five years ago. He is now the only remaining original member and has gone through more than 24 different musicians. It was when he moved to Montreal two years ago that he felt the band really came together. Quinn Dennehy, a childhood friend of Morison plays drums. Henri Rabalais, the synthesizer and keyboard player, was one of Morison’s first acquaintances in Montreal. Both Stephan Krims, the upright and electric bass player, and Aleksi Campagne, the violinist and backup vocalist, joined the band a year ago during Morison’s search for more players in his band. These musicians are the first to have stayed in the group longer than four or five months, said Morison, adding they are also amazing people to work with. “They’re my brothers. They’re the best bandmates I’ve ever had, definitely,” said Morison.

Bandmates of The History of Gunpowder. Photo by Elizabeth Louise

The talent of his fellow musicians blows Morison away. “My violin player, Aleksi, is just a monster,” said Morison. “I give him so much time just to solo. He’s been playing folk music his whole life and studied jazz in Paris. Quinn is just like a punk and funk guy, but I make him play things he’s not used to playing. And it’s just a really good line-up of people.”

Four burlesque artists were added to the band’s live shows in November. Out of the seven songs in their set the burlesque dancers join in for four of them. There is Jessica Rae, who isn’t only a burlesque artist but also a performance artist. “She makes puppets, so she’s making puppets just for this routine,” said Morison. They also have Aria Delanoche, who Morison said is one of the most beautiful and sexy burlesque artists in the city. Fifi Fantome also performs at their shows and, according to Morison, is a mime and circus burlesque freak who is also a wonderful lady. Finally, there’s Sugar Vixen, who Morison said is kind of the rock and roll girl of burlesque. “She’s is all tatted up and crazy,” he said. Having burlesque artists in their shows has been great so far, said Morison. “It’s been wonderful. [It] shakes things up, gives the audience something beautiful to look at,” he said. “All the girls are great to collaborate with. It really lights up the performance and gives it a new importance.”

The History of Gunpowder will be performing with the burlesque artists at the ShazamFest Winter Carnival in West Barnston, Quebec on Jan. 28. They will share the stage with the band Old Time Honey. Dennehy, the drummer, is the man behind the band’s strange yet alluring ostrich mascot. The ostrich started out as something nonsensical but later became an emotional outlet for Morison. “I think it’s become an icon for me to direct certain feelings towards,” said Morison. “Some of my songs are about the bastards that exist. There are a lot of bastards, and it’s good to put a face to them so you can direct things to them.”

Adding new and interesting elements to their live shows is one of the ways the band works to achieve success in the music industry. “Nothing happens to you unless you make it happen to you,” said Morison. “The cold truth is you’ve got to work hard for [success] and that’s it. There’s no other way around it.”

Burlesque dancer, Jessica Rae. Photo by Tzeitel Puig Andreu

The band’s full-length album is set to come out in May or June 2017. “It’s a monster of an album. It’s going to be the longest piece I’ve ever done,” said Morison. Morison said he really pushed himself musically when creating this album. “There’s a lot of different things I’ve never done before on it—like harp, I’ve never really composed with harp before,” he said, adding he plans to get an all-female backup vocal group to work with him. “I’m doing a lot of new things with this record and exploring new ways of writing songs. I think it’s going to be the best stuff we’ve ever done. It’s going to be a big deal, I think.”

Morison said the band has plans to tour their new album parts of Canada, including Quebec and Ontario as well as Europe. Until then, expect the unexpected from The History of Gunpowder. You never know who, or what, they will come up with next.

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