Between rock and a hard place, Needles to Vinyl scratches out its story

There are a handful of rock bands in Edmonton that have been branded “too mainstream” – which is a laugh because isn’t becoming successful the goal of every rock band?

What the critics might really mean is that these poor bands are not cool enough for this particular school: where the modern rock status quo holds sway, where the coolest new songs often contain synthesizers or other non-guitar rock touches and will therefore be good contenders for Sonic radio’s Band of the Month program. It’s trending more towards folk now, says Sonic music director Adam Thompson, who in all fairness tries his best “not to lean too heavily on any one sect of the Edmonton musical community.”

Some sects work better than others. Some Sonic Bands of the Month stay on the air past their month. Some do not, especially when they’re a misfit from the cool school. It’s all up to the listener.

Edmonton’s Needles to Vinyl, despite its name, has neither turntable scratcher nor DJ, nor any synths, nor is particularly folky. It is a straight-ahead, radio-friendly, four-on-the-floor rock band influenced heavily by the Seattle grunge sound of the early ‘90s. No synths there, either. N2V in fact played the part of Pearl Jam in the Starlite Room’s “Bands as Bands” event on Halloween, ironically making its first television appearance (on Citytv’s Breakfast Television) as another band instead of itself.

With a new power ballad fresh off the presses, called Stumbling with Strangers, Needles to Vinyl will open for Ed Kowalczyk (of Live) this Friday at the Edmonton Event Centre. In a recent interview, N2V Singer Nick Martin addresses the difficult question: “Too mainstream? First time I’ve heard that. That’s one of those insult-compliments.”

Needles to Vinyl was in fact a Sonic Band of the Month contender, but because of a personnel change and a period of dormancy, it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe one month soon. Adam Thompson can’t say, but lays out the philosophy behind the decisions, “Bands have to have a good single, but they also have to have built up their story in Edmonton.”

In short, pay your dues. Martin says that Thompson told him the recording of Stumbling with Strangers might be “too epic” for Sonic, which may just be another way of saying too mainstream. Asked if his band is actually trying to be radio-friendly, Martin takes a long pause before answering, “Yes, I guess we are. It’s a dangerous question. Are you trying to write commercial rock? And the first band you think of is nasty Nickelback and I don’t want to be aligned with those guys. If you’re talking about that kind of hook rock, then no. Are we looking at writing honest, well written rock songs? We sure are. I’d like to think we’re an honest band.”

The singer admits he’s not a fan of several previous Band of the Month selections – no names, please – due in part to the prevalence of the synth-fueled “dance pop” sound. Martin in fact resubmitted an application where he stated, “Put down your synths and put on the vinyl!” which at least got Thompson’s attention again. He says N2V is an “amazing” band and should use this year to build up its fan base, to strengthen its story.

But why sweat it? The guitar-driven music of Needles to Vinyl might actually fit better on the Bear 100.3 FM. Just one little problem: Edmonton’s active rock station suspended its local band program, Red, White and New, several years ago. Who’s mainstream now, huh?

Martin isn’t complaining too much.

“As frustrating as it’s been with the personnel changes in the band, this city has been very good to us,” he says. “We want to keep on building on that. We’re happy with this song, and I’m very proud of it. And if the criticism is that we’re too commercial, I’m a little befuddled with that, but I guess I’ll embrace it. There’s nothing wrong with that – I guess.”

No, there’s nothing wrong with that, just as long as you don’t sound like you’re trying too hard. That wouldn’t be cool.