Head of the Herd’s Neu Mannas and Clayton Frank might never have met and formed their popular blues-rock band if their former girlfriends hadn’t been roommates.
Both guys were attending the University of British Columbia — Mannas studying economics and Frank in commerce — when they began bonding over their shared love of sports and music.
“We started hanging out during a road trip to Boise, Idaho, where we were going to watch college football,” recalled Frank, who performs with Head of the Herd on Saturday, May 3, at the International Beer Haus and Stage in Red Deer.
The 28-hour round trip was made more bearable by listening to music they liked in the car. And Mannas and Frank were blown away by their common taste in blues-flavoured rock ’n’ roll.
They decided to start playing their guitars together as soon as they got back to Vancouver. And that’s basically how Head of the Herd, which generated No. 1 hit By This Time Tomorrow and the singles Ain’t My Day and We Could Be Together, came into being.
Their musical partnership has now survived longer than Mannas and Frank’s romantic entanglements (listen to the songs on the first album to discover what went down with the former girlfriends, said Frank). In 2011, the two musicians were urged by a friend to enter their five-piece band into a Fox Radio talent contest — and despite only playing together publicly four times previously, Head of the Herd ended up winning the Seeds prize. Former winners included Nickelback, Bif Naked and Matthew Good.
The mentoring opportunities this presented are still causing positive ripple effects. Frank said that’s how he and Mannas met the illustrious Gggarth Richardson, who helped produce Head of the Herd’s By This Time Tomorrow album, along with Rick Jackett and James Black from the band Finger Eleven.
The title track from that 2013 CD didn’t just gain legs on radio — it’s also been used as a soundtrack for NHL playoffs. Some of the group’s other songs leapt off the airwaves to be featured in videos for Rip Curl, GT Bikes and Red Bull (Knock Me Down), and a show on Billabong’s Sony TV channel (Erinyes). Frank doesn’t think allowing commercial uses for his Vancouver band’s music should be considered “selling out” as much as opening up different listening opportunities for audiences.
“As long as we’re open and honest in our music, what does it matter?”
The 30-year-old Comox, B.C., native believes he and Mannas, a 26-year-old Calgarian, are about as real about conveying raw emotions as any songwriters can be.
“Some of our lyrics are about stomach-turning moments,” Frank said, pointing to the “Don’t you leave me” chorus in By This Time Tomorrow, which he feels will be recognized as gut-wrenching by anyone who’s ever tried to staunch a bleeding relationship.
That you already know, on a subconscious level, that an affair is over by the time you have to plead with someone to stay “is what makes saying (those words) so hard,” he added.
Frank similarly used real-life disappointment to write Knock Me Down. He recalls being so sick of writing sad songs after a relationship breakup that he turned his hurt into something else.
“It became a positive song, saying if you knock me down, I’ll be all right. I’ll always fight.”
Another tune, the darkly lyrical Erinyes, is about an experience so personal to both songwriters that they don’t like talking about it.
Like The White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age and The Sheepdogs, Head of the Herd is among a handful of groups that have found success playing in the classic blues-rock tradition of bands like The Rolling Stones.
While the genre’s popularity is eclipsed by pop at the moment, Frank believes it will always survive in some permutation since “everything goes in cycles.”
He’s thankful to radio stations, such as Red Deer’s The Drive, for keeping this music alive on the airwaves. Head of the Herd is so popular, locally, that the group’s last Red Deer appearance sold out, along with shows in Toronto, Vancouver, Oshawa and Kingston.
“People really seem to respond well to us there. Playing in Red Deer was a highlight of our last tour and I hope people come out in strength again,” said Frank.
Tickets to the band’s 7:30 show with Diesel May are $17.50 from Ticketfly.com. For more information, call 403-986-5008.