The Creepshow changed my life.
Okay, maybe not. My life changed anyways, but The Creepshow were along for the ride. There’s a sliver of time where they were the best Psychobilly band on the planet, never mind Burlington, Ontario. In a lot of ways, The Creepshow remain unmatched in a genre that has only faded in relevance since. They’re the reason I started media writing to begin with, and a lot of the reason that I still do, too. They’re kind of the reason I’m with my partner – I owe Sickboy, Rev. McGinty and the Blackwood sisters a lot.
But I’m starting at the end. Let me rewind.
A thousand years ago, way before I became a writer and a million other things, I was a ‘junior’ radio jockey at Simon Fraser’s radio station, CJSF. By ‘junior’, I mean I’d barely completed training: I got the grand tour, I wandered through the recording booths and bothered people, then I promised to either volunteer for the station or pitch a show of my own. Before I left they even let me crossfade a track on-air, which was a big deal because I was a teen. CJSF was running a Clockwork Orange-themed Goth show at the time called The Milk Bar. As a young, embarrassing goth myself I got it into my head that I’d start a show of my own, starring a maligned, overlooked genre that I had decided was my new thing: I was going to start a Psychobilly show.
It was my destiny, I was going to be a radio DJ. Or whatever.
I never went back to the station.
Or rather, I never went back to the recording booth. As a volunteer I’d been given access to a way, way bigger resource: the media library. The library, which you could see from the outside walkway, was a cramped room behind frosted glass papered with show posters from the past couple decades: D.O.A., Skinny Puppy and Nardwuar were all well-represented. Beyond, rolling stacks of CD’s and vinyl records waited. At the time I was told there were over 14,000 of them. I’m sure the number has only ballooned since then.
To a kid hooked on music and pop culture, it was heaven. I’d take my laptop and disappear into the stacks for hours at a time, ripping anything and everything that looked interesting. It’s how I nailed down albums by dozens of the bands I still love to this day. And, of course, I was skimming for Psychobilly bands for my hypothetical radio-show the whole time. As a University freshman with no idea what I was doing, it was the dream.
I was off to a running start, but there was a wrinkle in my plan. Canadian college radio has certain ‘CanCon’ requirements that mandate a minimum amount of Canadian-made content per broadcast hour. It meant that not only did I had to track down bands in an admittedly-niche genre, I had to find them from Canada. I had my work cut out for me. Step one was to figure out if there were any Canadian Psychobilly acts at all – and it quickly turned out that there were.
The incredibly-named Zombie Night In Canada collections were indispensable. I’d keep a notepad open on my laptop and sketch down names as quick as I could before people who actually worked in the radio station came back from lunch. It was on Zombie Night 2 that I stumbled across one of the most striking Psychobilly tracks I’d ever heard, then or since. It was one of two early demo tracks by The Creepshow and the one that scored them their first record contract. It was “Shake”.
I’d struck gold. The Creepshow married Psychobilly instrumentation (slap-bass, spooky organs) to pop sensibilities in a way I’d never heard before. “Shake” isn’t so much a Psychobilly tune as a kind of heavy, screaming-fast Boogie embellished with pop-punk call-and-response. I couldn’t get enough. It didn’t hurt that singer Jen ‘Hellcat’ Blackwood had pipes; in a genre saturated with boring flat-topped Danzig impersonators her high-pitched, pitch-perfect wails were a beam of light. She earned the comparisons to Gwen Stefani in No Doubt: she wielded an unpretentious energy that seemed to effortlessly set her band apart in its field, backed up by a bedrock of technical skill. I knew I’d stumbled onto something big. I ripped Sell Your Soul in a heartbeat.
For good measure, I also grabbed a CD by London, Ontario’s own Psychobilly group, The Matadors. Their singer Howlin’ Hooch Parkins will matter a bit later.
With the radio library raided, I settled in at home and organized my own library of Psychobilly tracks.
Then I quit the radio station.
It was a combination of a lack of opportunities and the growing knowledge that no one in my city was likely to give a damn about a dedicated Psychobilly radio show, no matter how I worked on it. I packed up my drives upon drives of niche music and took up with the next job likely to give me access to loads of free music: SFU’s The Peak newspaper, as a music critic. I was promised free CD’s and tickets to shows in exchange for coverage in the paper itself. The volunteer position ended up being exactly what I was looking for – and wouldn’t you guess the first CD I was assigned.
It was The Creepshow’s third album, They All Fall Down.
It turns out that before I’d discovered The Creepshow, the band was already going through lineup changes. Jen ‘Hellcat’ Blackwood, the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist for Sell Your Soul, had already departed to have a child with her husband – Howlin Hooch of The Matadors. In her place was her sister Sarah ‘Sin’ Blackwood, also the singer for their second record, Run For Your Life. Sarah’s voice was a dead-ringer for her sister’s, but smoother and more dextrous. She lacked some of her sister’s edge but made up for it with pop acumen and a vocal crystal-clarity that, again, sounded nothing like anything else in her genre. The Creepshow was, again, one of the most distinct Psychobilly bands on the planet.
I reviewed They All Fall Down for The Peak so long ago that the archive doesn’t appear on their website. Take my word for it; it was great. I had the opportunity to tell Sarah ‘Sin’ as much, at a show in 2011. She rewarded me with a cookie.
To date, it’s the most I’ve ever been paid for a music review.
In 2012, Sarah ‘Sin’ guested on a cover of GOTYE’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” by fellow Burlington, Ontario band Walk Off The Earth. The video received 127 million hits in the 4 months after its release. Right now, it’s sitting at about 189 million. Less than a year later Sarah left The Creepshow to join Walk Off The Earth as a full-time vocalist, where she remains, ending the Blackwood sisters’ tenure in the band. The rest is history.
The Creepshow linked up with their third singer not long after, Kendra ‘Twisted’ Legaspi, for their fourth and fifths albums. They’re still out there somewhere, carrying the Canadian Psychobilly torch over a decade later.
I took my partner to one of Kendra’s first shows with the Creepshow over seven years ago. We’re still together, so that turned out great, too.
But this article is about Sell Your Soul.
Aside from the series of weird coincidences that resulted in The Creepshow being a formative part of my early career, they’re simply an excellent Psychobilly group. Psychobilly is a strange genre to begin with, one built equal parts on innovation and a strict sense of tradition. The Hallowe’en pastiche hides a deeper stylistic adherence to the Rockabilly ethos: three person bands, slap bass, and surf-rock guitars. That’s it. From the Dead Cats to the Stray Cats themselves, it’s a genre overwhelmed by identical men with very similar sounds – and even the genre’s closest devotees have to admit that much. Knowing exactly what to expect is a part of the charm – like the Surf Rock and Rockabilly at its root, Psychobilly thrives on Monster-Mash homogeny. The Creepshow are one of the great bands that disrupt that uniformity, and they do it by striking at the core of its sound.
First of all, Hellcat had real Pop-singer chops; it’s no surprise that her younger sister literally became a Pop singer. These aren’t traditional Psychobilly Klubfoot anthems – they’re driving Rock songs with Pop-Punk hooks and a singer willing to commit to the vocal backflips. You can hear it when Hellcat sings, or in the way she gasps for breath between verses: she’s pushing her voice to its limits. She chews the scenery on every track, and it sets her band apart from its many, many peers. Her energy is unparalleled.
Second, there’s the total lack of pretension. Maybe it’s because The Creepshow are Canadian, but there’s no posturing on Sell Your Soul nor on any other Creepshow release. Take it from the goofy ‘Sermons’ that open their first four records: this is a band comfortable wearing their camp on their sleeve. There’s a palpable sense of joy in the way they scream through the chorus of “Cherry Hill” or dive into the guest features (from Hooch!) on “Doghouse”. You can’t fake the total cheese of a doo-wop number like “Zombies Ate Her Brains”, you have to commit, just the same as a love song like “The Garden”. Anything less just falls apart – and the Creepshow never, ever fall apart. It’s just fun, for them and for the listener.
Having fun, and committing to the bit without sarcasm or irony, really makes a difference. It’s the beating heart of Hallowe’en too, after all. It makes for one of the most fun, earnest Psychobilly records ever put to record. So for anyone looking for the perfect Hallowe’en party music for this year’s Zoom gatherings, give the Creepshow a shot.
I think you’re going to like what you hear.