Prime Junk are a bit rattled but charismatic and full of adrenaline as they start their set at Trent University’s Battle of the Bands at the Red Dog Tavern last month. Without a soundcheck, and with minimal time allotted for the changeover from Television Rd, they launch into the first song still arguing over whether the guitar is in tune.
Minutes before their set begins, the area in front of the stage fills with members of Lonely Parade, Stacey Green Jumps, and visual art group the DROOL Collective chanting “Prime Junk! Prime Junk!,” laughing at themselves. When the music starts they dance and gesticulate wildly, partly in earnest but also partly ironically. They’re friends and admirers, but their fandom has a playfully arch quality to it.
The Battle of the Bands is a real contest with real judges, and the winners get real cash money, something rock bands are often short on, so the cheering has a clear utility; all the bands have friends and fans on hand to lend power to the performance. But in the case of Prime Junk, the people cheering with a knowing silliness are old friends, former bandmates, current bandmates—even a sibling.
Prime Junk, Lonely Parade, and Stacey Green Jumps are more than fans of one another’s bands, and more than a scene. They share members, they share space, and they share bills. They are related by heredity or upbringing or by active decision, and they support one another’s creative development with light-hearted love.
The scene is young, and developing. Lonely Parade have made it big—a few days before Trent’s Battle of the Bands, Lonely Parade were featured on the CBC, on The Strombo Show’s International Women’s Day Special—but others are on the verge: full-length albums are coming out in the next few months from Stacey Green Jumps and Prime Junk, both recorded at the same recording studio, which is also their rehearsal space.
Prime Junk’s set at the Battle of the Bands is loud and distorted, significantly punkier than their recordings. They’re arty but they’re actually pretty accessible, their lurching, atonal chord changes laden with melodic hooks.
Nat Paproski-Rubianes, Prime Junk’s avatar-guitarist-singer-songwriter, has a unique technique: left-handed, on an upside-down right-handed guitar but, unlike Jimi Hendrix, chording only on the lower-sounding strings, letting the higher-sounding strings ring out—an effect that’s alternatively lovely and jarring, but always there.
There’s an undeniable 90s feeling to Prime Junk’s music, from Nat’s Kathleen Hanna-esque vocals, alternately sing-songy and cathartic, through the stoner sludge of the guitar and Jake Ryan’s Byrds-esque bass lines, right down to Ambrose Veno’s crash-heavy broken funky beats.
Prime Junk come second to Bailieboro’s Velvet Bison in the contest, pocketing $600 towards the making of their album. They exit the stage as swiftly as they entered, and are followed by a band featuring Nat’s former close friend and ex-bandmate in Watershed Hour.
Sure to be remembered as one of Peterborough’s legendary Peterborough bands, Watershed Hour was a harsh and uncompromising yet shy and self-deprecating bass-and-drums duo that split up in early 2016.
Watershed Hour played a lot in the four years it was on the Peterborough scene, but was somewhat of a mystery to outsiders. The band exuded supreme self-sufficiency, but the two members were in some ways a study in stylistic contrasts, the bass and vocals rough, almost unhinged, the drumming technically precise and disciplined.
The band’s inward focus partly reflected their status as Durham Region migrants. They met in Whitby when they were in elementary school. Nat bought a bass on eBay, and the two played in various bands with various guitarists before settling into the duo format a couple of years before they relocated to Peterborough to attend Trent University.
While Watershed Hour studied at Trent, they played shows in Peterborough and Oshawa and toured around quite a bit. When the band was playing at Kazoofest in Guelph one year, they met Jake Ryan, a Bowmanvillian who knew of them from Oshawa shows, and who was studying at McMaster University in Hamilton.
Jake and Nat started a relationship—long-distance at first, but Jake spent more and more time in Peterborough, and eventually transferred to Trent. He was happy with the change for musical reasons. “The Oshawa scene was fun. My friends were playing shows. I didn’t really like some of the bands they played with, but I still went out,” Jake says. “In Peterborough you can do the same thing but the bands are really good.”
Prime Junk started as a solo side project in the summer of 2015, Nat recording and releasing a home recording “as a one-off.” But soon after, the constraints of Watershed Hour as a bass-and-drums-only band, started to weigh on Nat, who increasingly “found it incredibly stifling.” When Nat left Watershed Hour in early 2016, it reflected a “conscious decision to start talking to people,” to resist the “feeling of being on the fringes” that was so central to Watershed Hour’s band culture.
Prime Junk’s first performances in the spring of 2016—what Nat calls the band’s “ground zero”—were coloured by the exhilaration of claiming a place on the scene. “I knew couldn’t play by myself,” so Jake joined in. It was sloppy, fun garage rock, with extended improvisational breaks. But it was enough to “light a fire under my ass,” and feed the urge to record the songs.
That summer, Nat was asked to join Puberty Hands, a two-piece band comprised of Candice Cloutier and Augusta Veno. “It was fun,” Nat says, with marked emphasis. It was also “an incredible support system” for someone who was still adjusting to life outside of Watershed Hour. Musically, it was Nat’s first time not being the principal songwriter, and their first time in a long time playing a more conventional bass role of accompanying guitar chords.
“It took the pressure off,” says Nat. “I felt like I was repeating myself in Watershed Hour towards the end.” Puberty Hands was recording with Augusta’s brother Ambrose, the drummer for Stacey Green Jumps. Nat asked if Ambrose would record Prime Junk, and he agreed. Although Jake was supposed to play drums on the recording, Ambrose ended up playing them instead, and Prime Junk became a trio.
The resulting album, Sunnyvale, is a wonderfully awkward amalgam of pop and sludgy art-rock, with a perfectly calibrated cautious enthusiasm. It’s brooding, but with a nice summertime shimmer. “I was exploring things I felt I couldn’t before,” Nat says of the album. “Being read as female”—Nat identifies as non-binary—“I’d always been afraid to write poppy songs.”
Since then they have been central parts of the scene, sharing a rehearsal-space-cum-clubhouse with Lonely Parade and Stacey Green Jumps, and sharing a member with Stacey Green Jumps.
Unlike Prime Junk, who came together over the past few years, Stacey Green Jumps have been together for a long time—essentially their whole lives. Ambrose Veno, Jemma Woolidge, and Rhys Climenhage have been all but family since they were toddlers. “I don’t remember existing without Rhys around,” Jemma says.
Their parents met at the public library, and formed an immediate social group that Ambrose affectionately named the Cult that has house parties, goes on trips together, and grew up as families together. At Cult parties, all the kids—Ambrose and Augusta Veno, Rhys and Anwyn Climenhage, plus Jemma, Charlotte Dempsey, and so on—would mess around on various instruments in various agglomerations, in a practice space at Ambrose and Augusta’s parents’ house.
It started as make-believe, air-banding along to favourite songs, but as people started learning how to play instruments, it became real. Eventually out of this “supergroup” of ten or so kids messing around, a group called the Undecideds emerged, featuring Jemma and two members of Lonely Parade, Anwyn and Charlotte, plus two others.
Ambrose and Rhys, meanwhile, formed a bunch of different bands with amazing names: the Sewer Rats, the Broken Curfews, and Pepto Bismarck. As Pepto Bismarck, a power trio playing a mixture of Nirvana covers and original songs, they shared a bill with Lonely Parade—Ambrose’s sister Augusta plus Anwyn and Charlotte—Saturday, April 4, 2012 at the Spill. This was Lonely Parade’s very first gig.
Pepto Bismarck folded shortly after, and Stacey Green Jumps, with Jemma, free after the demise of the Undecideds, enlisted on bass, started up just as Lonely Parade got famous, touring the country and playing festivals and appearing in Exclaim.
Like Lonely Parade, Stacey Green Jumps are technically proficient but also proudly self-taught. Jemma learned piano from her dad Pete Woolidge, but learned the bass by playing it. Rhys and Ambrose studied a bit with Rhys’ dad John Climenhage, but mostly got good by playing together. All three can read music, and have played in bands with notated parts—a rarity among bands that play bars.
They also have pretty broad tastes. They love classic rock and current pop, but for Jemma in particularly, jazz—Charles Mingus’ bass lines and Thelonius Monk’s left-hand piano parts especially—is an important resource for ideas. Ambrose lists King Crimson as an early influence, and Rhys, who’s still a bit fixated on Nirvana, cites his dad’s band the Burgess Shale, a short-lived prog power trio of then-Silver Hearts members, as an inspiration.
This penchant for jazz and prog didn’t show itself much in Stacey Green Jumps’ early material, when Rhys was writing what he calls “shitty blues songs,” lead-guitar-heavy material that sounded a bit like the White Stripes or the Black Keys. But now the band is really drawing on its technical chops and its wide tastes to make its music more idiosyncratic and challenging.
“Science,” which was released as a video last month, was something of a turning point in the band’s sound, “the first time we tried to do something different,” as Rhys says. Built on seasick jazz chords and featuring a woozy time change, it shows them incorporating their more esoteric influences into a loosely rock format, the only hint of their guitar hero days being a restrained Robert Fripp-esque solo at the end of the song.
Like all great experimenters, Stacey Green Jumps are now sick of “Science,” but they still enjoy it when “people get hit by the time change.” Whether they appreciate it or not, it’s a rush to have that effect on the audience, to surprise them and overturn their expectations.
Stacey Green Jumps’ long personal history pays huge musical dividends. Rhys, who brings most of the songs to the band, enjoys having Ambrose and Jemma “blow it up and swirl it up.” They trust one another’s contributions completely. Their bond is intuitive, and not just musically. Growing up side-by-side-by-side, Jemma says, “You know every embarrassing phase.”
Now they share a rehearsal space and recording studio with studio with Prime Junk and Lonely Parade. “It’s a hub for the bands that practice there,” says Ambrose, who does the recording. Ambrose, like his bandmates, still lives at home and is still in high school, so he, unlike his sister and her bandmates, has the luxury of rent-free space.
Like a lot of creative spaces in Peterborough, the space is prone to flooding, so they built a small stage to protect the equipment. “It’s where everybody has come to practice.” Along with the Spill, which is still the main venue the three bands play together, the rehearsal studio is the spatial embodiment of the bands’ bonds.
Prime Junk play with Nick Ferrio at the Spill on Saturday, April 7.
Stacey Green Jumps play the Spill on Saturday April 22 with Lonely Parade, marking the fifth anniversary of their first gig together at the Spill.
Photos by Karol Orzechowski.