Their name sets teeth on edge, but their music sets hearts on fire.
You may think the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer is a death metal band, but Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers are far from that. Together they produce a sound like no other: gritty, raw and wounded blues bleed from Rogers’ axe and Hall’s harmonica sinks its spear deep into your psyche.
This is the future of blues.
Hall says Rogers planted the idea in his head after discovering the sound of Michael Jerome King. “He just started watching all these amazing finger pickers and he thought we could do this, just the two of us,” says Hall, currently on break from tour at his Nanaimo home.
It was 2006 and both men were making commercial recordings, Hall was also touring with Rogers’ brother as the Corduroy Kid.
“I was doing this electro-soul kind of stuff. In 2005 we toured across Canada,” says Hall.
It took a few years for the pair to carve out a unique sound as a folk blues duo. “There wasn’t a big folk blues scene in Vancouver at the time – there wasn’t a big folk blues scene at all. We played one coffee house and realized we were too loud so we went straight to the bars.”
As their sound got bigger and louder they found ways of adapting without adding members to the band. Rogers, who lives in North Vancouver, also plays a porch board and moves to a kick drum for festival performances, while Hall went electric on the harp.
“I play a bigger harp. We have an amp on the pedals, it’s deeper, darker with more texture. … It takes a lot of love and also it’s a bit of a science experiment,” Hall says. “We had to figure out how we could sound bigger – not just louder – but fuller, with more interesting texture. Not just a cacophony.”
It took a long time to get the sound, but the duo is finding popularity, not just at festival performances.
“We were fortunate to meet a couple of people in LA over the last couple of years. This one guy loves Canadians, he thinks they’re so exotic, everyone’s from a small town. … He loves the music and latched onto us – it’s pretty cool.”
Their music was featured on NCIS and The Good Wife. “My mom loves that show, so that makes me happy,” says Hall.
The duo, whose name is inspired by a lyric from Kris Kristofferson’s Bobby McGee that references the blues harp, (‘I took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana’) and axe, a common term for the guitar, is enjoying a great year with the release of A Real Fine Mess in June and a sellout show at the Commodore ballroom in Vancouver. “That’s a massive thing to do. It felt amazing. We’re having a good time working our butts off. Trying to do everything we can and still be half-decent dads.”
The duo’s first Victoria show was at 2014 Rock the Shores, a performance Hall says was, “long overdue.”
Despite doing the festival rounds, their music appeals to all ages with university students bringing their parents to shows.
“It’s an incredible thing to see in the blues world. That never happens – younger people bringing their parents: ‘Mom and dad, you have to check these guys out.’ It’s a big reason we’ve had a run of success the last couple of years. Linking up the generations, what more could you ask for?”
Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer Jan. 24 Distrikt.