For those seeking something more, small-town life can be stifling. But its confines, and the desire to escape them, can also be the making of you.
That was certainly the case for three teens living in Belleville, Ontario (population 40,000, home of Avril Lavigne and a lot of hockey players) in the early 1990s. In response, Matt Deline, Tim McKeough and Nick Pye formed the post-hardcore band Shotmaker in 1993, disbanding three years later. The fragments of their ephemeral career have now been collected by the burgeoning Solid Brass imprint.
Shotmaker made their mark in the ’90s emo and post-hardcore scenes with music characterized by huge rumbling basslines, dynamic arrangements, and desperate vocals divided between all three members. They toured prolifically, sharing stages with an enviable who’s who of 1990s punk royalty, from Fugazi and Unwound, to Indian Summer, Policy Of 3, and Cap’n Jazz.
The trio bonded over a love for skateboarding, snowboarding, and punk rock. “At the time, skateboarding wasn’t mainstream,” says bassist Nick Pye. “You were a degenerate if you were a skateboarder, much like if you were a punk. So if you’re stuck in a small town, you band together with like-minded people. You find strength with people who are into differences rather than homogeneity.”
While hardly a punk rock Mecca, Belleville certainly wasn’t devoid of underground activity. “We had this friend, Daragh Hayes [final bassist for Sons Of Ishmael], who put on shows,” recalls guitarist Tim McKeough. “That was my first contact with a scene, and understanding that there’s this whole world out there.”
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“Daragh opened doors for us and gave us access to all this underground knowledge,” agrees Pye. “He put on shows at community centers—I think Fidelity Jones and Phleg Camp in 1990 was the first show I’d ever seen, and it was just mind-blowing. So Daragh was a huge, huge influence. He went on to release the first two Shotmaker 45s and came on our first tour.”
Using a copy of Maximum Rocknroll’s Book Your Own Fuckin’ Life (courtesy of Daragh Hayes, once again) as their bible, the band began making calls and mailing out demo tapes. “I think anything that’s worth doing, there’s an element of risk to it,” says Pye. “We wanted to just do it ourselves and that was the ethos of the time. Why can’t I pick up a guitar? Why can’t I play in New York? So that’s what we did.”
The tour proved life-affirming and also productive; the band wrote new songs on the road and soaked up performances by the likes of Greyhouse, Gauge, Los Crudos, and Blonde Redhead. They also learned about the practical logistics of organizing a lengthy tour: “It was six weeks, but we had, like, 22 shows,” says Deline drily. “We had a show in Seattle and stayed at a rest stop outside the city for three days because we didn’t know anyone. We didn’t have money for a hotel, but the rest stop had a bathroom and we had food in the van, so we just waited it out.” If the experience spoke to the folly and resilience of youth, it also suggested some rather permissive parenting. Pye was only 15 when the band set off; he turned 16 the day Shotmaker played legendary Bay Area punk spot 924 Gilman. “Some people are really good parents,” says Pye by way of explanation. “I lived with my mom and she wasn’t a bad mom, but she was more interested in being my friend rather than a parent. It was that simple.”
This early motivation to get out and tour typifies the band’s drive. In their three years together, Shotmaker completed three full U.S. tours and countless weekend sorties across Canada and the States. Their recorded output reflected their work ethic, the band rapidly shifting gears as they progressed from their splenetic early EPs to the fraught textures and deft interplay of their swansong LP, Mouse Ear [Forget-Me-Not]. “We were practicing two to three times a week and playing well over 100 shows a year,” says Pye. “You just get exponentially better because you’re putting in so much work. I was in high school and I’d knock off a couple of classes on Friday, Tim and Matt would pick me up and we’d go to play Philly or New Jersey. It was nonstop.”
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When McKeough moved to Ottawa for university, his bandmates followed. Before long, they’d plugged into a local scene surrounding punk spot and community space 5 Arlington, finding like-minded souls in Okara and Union Of Uranus. But for all their get-up-and-go zeal, there was no aspirational endgame beyond continuing to play and create for the sheer love of it. “There were things we definitely wanted to do—tour, play with the bands we admired, put out records—but there was never the thought or ambition that we wanted to ‘make it’ and become rock stars,” says McKeough. “That was totally not it.”
In much the same way some sharks die if they stop moving, Shotmaker’s death knell was sounded when Pye moved to Toronto and the band’s relentless schedule was punctured. “We intended to keep going, and we’d written at least two or three more songs after Mouse Ear but it just sort of faded away,” says Deline. “We were all growing and developing as people, so we sort of went our separate ways without realizing what was happening,” agrees McKeough.
Post-Shotmaker, Deline and McKeough played in the short-lived 30 Second Motion Picture, releasing one record for friend, photographer, and promoter Shawn Scallen’s Spectra Sonic Sound label. While only Deline has continued releasing music (he’s since played with Three Penny Opera, The Grey, and Dark Plains, among others), both McKeough and Pye pursued careers as a writer and visual artist, respectively. “It was something we built from nothing, and it could have—should have—failed so many times, but we just ran with it,” concludes Pye. “I think it’s given me my work ethic and my drive and my determination to do difficult things. I definitely have Shotmaker to thank for that.”