Dave Barton of The Peelers interviewed

SnO – Palace of the Fiend is in my list of top 5 Celtic-punk albums of all time (and depending on the mood sometimes it’s #1). After six plus months of spinning your newest release, Down and Out in the City of Saints, it is catching up fast on Palace of the Fiend. Looking back on the album, were you happy with it? How do you think it compares to Palace? It must have been a disappointment not to be able to go on tour to support.

Dave – Hey John, I understand the question in terms of the tonal differences between the two albums, ‘Down & Out’ being much more guitar driven, and I see how that could isolate fans of ‘Palace’, much like that album is different from ‘Liquordale’. The most obvious explanation for the disparity between the two, is what I was going through at the time; ‘Palace’ is a darker album. I was dealing with some personal issues when I wrote it and that’s evident in the lyrical content. ‘Down & Out’ is me coming to terms with a lot of that, and I think it’s a much more positive album. Maybe that’s why it’s more aggressive?

I am happy with ‘Down & Out’, it’s the album that we needed to make at the time. I think first and foremost, it’s a well written, well performed, and immaculately produced album. The personnel in the band has changed, and that’s a part of the evolution of the sound as well. There are currently only two original members in The Peelers, me and Eric (Irish Whistle/ Organ). When we started the band in Glengarry County in Eastern Ontario, Canada, the players were mostly local musicians whose background was rooted in traditional Irish and Scottish music, and I was as well… but I was also a punk, a fan of The Ramones, Clash, Two-Tone and Oi, and for me ‘The Pogues’ were the perfect melding of both genres. The writing on ‘Boots and Suits’ and ‘Liquordale’ reflects both the lineup and the influences in my opinion. It was always my goal to get a little dirtier in terms of guitars and you can see that through the progression of the last two albums.

The band is now based in a major city, rather than rural, and in a definite way the sound has followed suit. I can tell you that there was a conscious decision to push the guitars on ‘Down & Out’. This was due to the musical stimuluses at the time of writing, so there are some songs with a more traditional punk feel. It was also a concession to the constraints of touring as an independent act. It’s almost impossible to put a seven-piece traditional Celtic punk band on the road in 2021, for a myriad of financial and logistical reasons I’m sure you understand. Driving the sound electrically fills in the holes when you’ve only got one or two trad instruments on stage.

Having this album as the first release for our label Stomp Records, has opened our music up to a whole new audience as well. That is important to me and I was aware of this during production. The last thing, nearest to my heart, is that I made this record with some of the best and closest people in my life. And in the end, that’s what I’m most proud of. And yes, it’s been disappointing not to have toured to support the album yet, but we’ll just call it a delay, and that’ll happen beginning in March. We began recording it in December ’19 and like everyone else, we had no idea what was coming. We just played our first show in 617 days, since we had everything cancelled mid-tour in March 2020. It felt great.

SnO – 617 days! Quebec City, right? How did the show go?

Dave – Quebec City, the old town, very beautiful. The actual performance was ‘acceptable’ lol, a few hiccups here and there but that was to be expected. We could’ve used a few more bodies in the room, but with the Covid numbers jumping back up a bit recently up North, I think people are still a bit wary.

SnO – You mentioned Down & Out being the peelers first release on Stomp and that it’s opening your music to a whole new audience. Who is this new audience? Down & Out also came out on vinyl. Has the vinyl release been successful? Any chance the peelers back catalog gets the vinyl treatment?

Dave – When I say “a whole new audience”, I mean it in terms of music fans being exposed to us who might not have been without the exposure of the label, lovers of our genre or not. I feel like we’ve always kind of floated in this netherworld doomed to wander aimlessly between trad and Celtic punk with no real definition. Stomp Records, have given us a platform and admittedly credibility on the scene and we’re grateful for that. I’ve had people say, “we had no idea there was a Celtic punk band in Montréal” lol despite the fact we’ve been around for 22yrs. So yes, visibility has been a big part of the label experience.

The vinyl release of “Down & Out” has been successful in as much as people are actually buying records anymore. Record sales are still not staggering, but we’re stoked to have the option. And moreover, as child of the waning years of the heyday of vinyl, it’s still hard to believe there’s a 33 rpm option with our music on it. And we had fun doing the artwork and content. As far as the back catalog; I have spoken to our business manager Eric, who also plays Irish whistle and organ in the band, as well as our producer and it’s a definite possibility. At least for ‘Liquordale’ and ‘Palace’. We wanted to wait and see how the new album worked out first. The problem with vinyl right now, is that Covid has created a massive backlog in production. So we’ll concern ourselves with the upcoming album and then address the old stuff later.

SnO – You mention the upcoming album. Where are you in that process and what can we expect from the new album?

Dave – We are still in pre-production. Songs and lyrics are written, and tracked for recording. Drums are up first, probably just after Christmas. I would say it’ll be similar to ‘Down & Out’ in style, maybe a bit less guitar driven. But it’s hard to say until we start laying down tracks and hearing the songs develop in the studio. I think I mentioned before that there’s a big backlog on vinyl production right now, so we want to get it recorded asap, but also not compromise anything by rushing

SnO – Thanks Dave. Final question. Will we every get you across the border and playing shows in the US (esp. Boston) when the world gets back to normal?

Dave – Ha!! Well we used to play quite a bit in the U.S. before we took that hiatus. But strangely enough, we’ve never played in Massachusetts. I’d like to, Boston is a city close to my heart, wandered her streets many times. So yes, we want to get back to playing U.S. dates, and we’ve been looking for a booker down there. We have Canada and Europe covered, but nothing stateside, as we always booked ourselves. So if anyone knows a good agent… wink wink.

The other impediment to crossing the border that no one likes to talk about is the red tape for Canadian bands. A work visa is required for all members, and the initial admin and application costs before we even set foot there put us way behind before playing a show. It’s not easy. And it’s disappointing. I understand completely the goal of keeping jobs in country, but I love travelling stateside. I write about the places I’ve been before, and we just want to spread the love and see all the faces. It’s not a monetary thing at all. Hopefully we can get back at it once the border opens up fully. And we’ll make Boston a priority. Thanks John

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