With the glut of barely-teen stripper/singers and winsome boy-men choking the airwaves, there have been mighty few out and proud artists on the pop scene. Pioneers like Erasure, Bronski Beat and The Pet Shop Boys have left some pretty big boots to fill. But bands like Slave to the SquareWave are stepping up to be counted.
Headed by singer Colin Troy and guitarist/producer Rob Stuart, the Slaves have racked up an impressive following with international touring and three independently produced albums. Their latest CD, Big Change, is the boys’ first label release after signing with Toronto’s Sparks Records. It’s a long way from a chance meeting in Oakville.
“We met at a rave,” says Stuart. “We were playing separately in this field to nobody, being eaten alive by mosquitoes.” The two spent the hellish evening discovering some musical common ground, despite fairly disparate backgrounds.
“I was a hockey player and wannabe drummer growing up,” Troy says. “I discovered I could sing in church, and eventually made my way to study theatre directing and acting with the American Stanislavsky Theatre.”
While Troy was stick handling and dreaming of percussive stardom, Stuart was in England playing the violin — well, sort of. “I didn’t like it at all,” says Stuart. “I played in an orchestra and would fake my way through the pieces.”
Salvation appeared in a much more modern form. “My first love was the synthesizer,” says the erstwhile violinist. “I bought myself one by working three jobs one summer, and started writing and recording music at 14.”
That love of electronic sound is the foundation upon which their album Big Change is built. Pulsating tracks like “Sinners of Saint Avenue” and “Pumpin’ Up the P House” (featured on Degrassi: The Next Generation and Fashion Television) make the perfect backdrop to any happening party, while the near-ballad “Hopeless Believers” offers a timely break to the uptempo beats.
Troy’s warm baritone, a sort of mash-up of Talking Heads and Devo, is nicely matched by Stuart’s syncopated rhythms. Together the two create an irresistible blend of smartly delivered lyrics and happy dance music.
As excited as they are with the CD’s release the duo’s first love remains live performance. Successful gigs across Canada and Europe have earned rave reviews, as well as some run-ins with disgruntled peers.
“We were doing this concert at the Opera House and there was a really loud, growly type band playing before us,” Stuart remembers. “We blew them away and then we went backstage and they called us a bunch of faggots. But that’s only because we blew them away and they were jealous.”
Troy and Slave guitarist Andrew Starr are members of our light-footed tribe but the singer doesn’t feel his orientation enhances or limits the band’s appeal.
“I’m a musician first, who just happens to be gay,” says Troy. “We’ve played some hard heavy metal thrash gigs and they’d come up to use afterward and say we killed them with a great show.
“We have a huge straight following and a huge gay following. When people are up singing and dancing… that’s all we worry about.”
Stuart, representing the hetero team along with drummer Doug Lea, shares this sentiment. “Our whole goal is to entertain people,” he says. “We want them to move and smile and sing along.”
And what’s behind the band’s mysterious moniker? “Your money is square, your house, your car and your paycheques are square,” says Troy. “Basically its about being slave to everything square.”