“I feel dirty.” I looked over at my friend. She was looking flushed. Even blushing a little. Her voice was almost giddy. We were sitting at Governors Pub and The Pranks were halfway into the first song of their set. I smiled at her reaction. I thought it fit the band perfectly.
The Pranks play a raunchy kind of rock’n’roll. Sonically, they have often been compared around town to the Velvet Underground, but what I’ve felt most in their music is a real early ‘70s Rolling Stones vibe—kinda loose, blues-based, and rhythm heavy; like the fundamentals behind the Exile on Mainstreet, Sticky Fingers, Let It Bleed era. They describe their sound as “sexy and unpolished”, “very familiar yet very distinct and original…blending a multitude of influences into a big pot of slow cooked rock n’ roll”. However you want to say it, what they’re doing works.
The Pranks is a four-piece band from the northside fronted by singer-songwriter-guitarist Russell Sullivan. Bill Potter on guitar and vocals (3 Piece Suit, Sweet Zombie Jesus), Connie Boutilier on bass and vocals (Digger, Hadrian Seven), and drummer Rob Rushton (Thought Machine, Fallen) round out the lineup. They have been playing together since December 2008.
“The band formed when Bill and myself discussed the songs I had been working on and he took interest,” Sullivan says of The Pranks’ origins. “Bill then contacted Rob and asked if he would be interested and he jumped on board. Connie is a friend of mine since high school and I knew he had recently moved back into town so I approached him about the position of bass player.”
Having never been in a band before, Sullivan wasn’t really sure what he’d gotten himself into. “Rob, our drummer, at the ripe old age of 22, thought music started with Metallica and ended at Nirvana,” Sullivan exaggerates for effect. “And Connie, our bass player, was king of the north side grunge scene. I was just coming off a heavy stint of Dylan, the Velvets and Lou (Reed), along with an eternal love for The Band. For someone concerned with creating a very controlled environment for presenting songs that relied heavily on mood and presentation, while keeping an honest feel…it made for a long list of influences, and differences to be more exact. Topping it all off with a rhythm section seasoned in grunge, metal and prog, and all of us being pretty much strangers, there was more talking and defending our opinions—so as to not step on anyone’s toes—than there was jamming. But over a period of about 6 months, we beat ourselves into an actual band and made good friendships too, which was a pretty good start.”
Sullivan writes all the tunes and then the band helps arrange and smooth them out during late night jam sessions. “It was tough to let go of the songs and the control I had over them when I was writing and recording on my own,” says Sullivan. “It took a while for me to realize I had to give everyone room to breath, to stop trying to micro-manage and let them just be themselves. It was at this point that I really started to appreciate their talents and knew that if I really wanted to do this then I would just have to let it ride. Things started to sound good and every song we tackled came a little easier. Once we all found our role and it started to feel good we knew it was going to be something fun.”
“It was Russell’s baby and since then we’ve all kinda put our two cents in,” says Potter, who is known for playing in a couple of different bands. “For me it’s nice to play some good old rhythm and blues and explore a new project. The four of us have been working together very well and we’re looking forward to making as much noise as we can.”
“We’ve recorded a few demos, for our own sake,” Potter continues, “just to capture new material. The writing process is coming along so fast at the moment. We’re mostly just enjoying writing and playing and solidifying our presence and sound.”
The Pranks have been building a fan-base with every show, as they play around town more often, but a showcase during the recent ECMAs was a revelation for Sullivan.
“For me it was making a connection with your audience while performing,” he explains. “One show we played over the ECMA weekend at Bunkers, I had realized for the first time what really gets an individual hooked on this racket. It is a totally unexplainable feeling when you know that the people watching your show, are actually watching your show! And they like it! And they are hanging on your words and movements and interactions with your band mates and smiling and laughing along with it. Just generally getting what it is you’re doing and understanding how serious you are about it. And for that 45 minute set, the audience makes you just as real as anything in this world and you know they can just feel it. It’s this pure energy! It’s crazy. It just takes right over the whole room and it is no longer you and them, it’s just a moment—a really great moment shared by a bunch of people.”
Inspired by the power of that moment, realizing that people are into what you’re doing, and with the band working so well together, The Pranks are ready to take it to the next level.
“As far as recording plans go, we do have a plan which consists of playing shows and making cash with the hopes of spending it on recording in the early fall,” says Sullivan. “I have been talking with Albert Lionais (Tom Fun Orchestra) about working out a tune at a time, pay as we go kind of deal most likely to take place at Soundpark starting in late September after he finishes up summer touring and some other projects. With or without Albert we hope to start this in the fall and have at the very least an EP, at best an album, leading up to the ECMA’s next year in P.E.I.”
If you can’t wait until then to hear more from The Pranks, you can check out a couple of demos on their MySpace page. Or better yet, go out and see this band play live. They have a few shows coming up around town. Saturday, May 8 they play at Governors Pub with popular blues duo Buck and Kinch, and The Ladyslippers, a new band led by Victor Tomiczek (Tom Fun Orchestra) on guitar and vocals with John Hatcher (Carleton Stone Drives the Big Wheel) on lap steel, and Buck and Kinch’s Donnie Calabrese and Merlin Clarke on bass and drums. The Pranks are also scheduled for an outdoor show in downtown Sydney and an evening show at Maxwell’s on May 15, and the Blue Mist with the Easy Bleeders, Roots and Rhythm Remain, and Robbie Simms on May 29.