Rock 'n' Roll Not Just For Kids

(From the SGF Tripper, 10.10.13)
Joe Lukach drops his hefty 6’4” frame into the big black faux leather couch against the wall in the small rehearsal space near downtown Toronto and takes a swig from the bottle of Keith’s that looks a little lost in his big hand. Beads of sweat collect on his forehead.
"N-n-n-n-n-n-n-noonann," screams the bassist for Toronto band simplyGoodfriends, pointing and shaking the near-empty beer bottle like a rattle.
His half-song, half warrior cry is directed at drummer Mike Noonan, now setting up his kit less than 5 feet away, directly in front of the hulking Lukach.

As if on cue, singer/songwriter Mario Di Simine and lead guitarist Steve Hawryluk chime in: "N-n-n-n-n-n-n-noonann!"

Noonan shakes his head. "Assholes," he says, a smirk rounding on his face, and continues putting his drums together.

It's obvious this is a close-knit bunch of guys.  They’ve known each other for years, as musicians and as colleagues from their day jobs. They’re not 20-year-olds – those who haven’t leaped past 50 are mere years away from that neighborhood. But don’t call them old.
“We’re a mature band,” says Di Simine. “What that means is we have experience. We’re not Justin Bieber. When we sing about relationships or life or death, we know what we’re singing about. It’s our history.”
simplyGoodfriends (spelled as one word, with only the “G” in upper case) is one year old. The band came together after Di Simine lost his wife, Yuko, to cancer and needed some form of catharsis to help him deal with the loss. After her death, he quit his job as a managing editor at Thomson Reuters and began traveling and writing songs. Two of those related Yuko and he decided to record them as a legacy for her.
“I had two songs, Shine and Come To Me, Girl,” he says. “I thought it would be nice for her parents and family and friends to hear them so I set about recording them. When they were complete I thought, why not put a band together and do a full CD? I had other songs already, they just needed to be worked into shape.”
It was easy, he says, to get it together because he’d known Lukach and Hawryluk for years and had played with both before. They eagerly agreed to help with the project and Joe introduced old friend Noonan into the band. The puzzle was complete.
The initial idea was to create a good CD, at a professional level. But as they perfected the songs while also jamming covers, they quickly knew it would not be a one-off.
“We were just having such a good time, why stop?” says guitarist Hawryluk.
With everyone set up, tuned up and ready to play, Lukach lifts himself out of the sofa, straps on his bass and joins his mates in a semicircle around the drums. They launch into a rocking cover of Baker Street that more resembles the Foo Fighters than Gerry Rafferty.  A quick take on their original song Colour of Your Dreams also goes off well.

"Alright boys, let's get to work," Di Simine says.  "Tequila Baby."

This is a new song the band hopes to record next year. Drummer Noonan jokingly refers to it as To Kill A Baby.

"We have one about a murder in New Orleans (Mississippi Moon) so the first time I heard the title  I just thought, what the hell? To Kill A Baby?"

The others laugh as Noonan tells the story.  For the record, the new song, a shuffling rock number with an infectious chorus, is about a guy who gets seduced by a Mexican beauty while in a bar down there.

The first time through is pretty rough but a few more takes and you can hear it coming together.

A few more rounds and it's time to take a break. 

"We're old," cracks Lukach.

"In a good way," laughs Di Simine. 

Lukach and Hawryluk have kids, with Joe's still a teen. Noonan and his common-law wife have two great big dogs. They all have mortgages and day jobs.  Di Simine is the only one alone, and since selling his Toronto condo in the afternmath of his wife's passing, he's also homeless and jobless.  "Living the dream," he laughs.  Together they bring almost 200 years of life experience to their music and that, says Di Simine, is an asset. 

"We know our audience will be older and that's who we're catering to.  We think there's a huge slice of population of a certain age aching for songs and music they can relate to. We can provide that.  All we need is an outlet." 

The band draws its influences from a wide swath of players: Billy Joel and The Beatles are prominent for Di Simine, while the others are more from the hard rock vein: Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Rush  They are all products of the 80s punk-new wave era. 

"That's why we fit so well together. The songs are initially going to be sort of pop sounding," Di Simine, the key songwriter, says.  "The guys then add an edge that really brings the songs to another level."

Hawryluk says it's a collaborative effort from the get-go that bring the songs from one place to another during the working out process.

"It's fun to work on an original song until it's so well-done it feels like a cover of someone else's song," he says.

They also enjoy bringing covers into their live shows while trying to make them their own. Dire Straits, Grand Funk Railroad, Joe Jackson, David Bowie, Johnny Cash -- the songs and styles are all over the board. 

"We just play what we like, although we try to do covers that aren't usually covered," says Di Simine. "Like Ride Captain Ride by Blues Image. You don't hear that one in a bar very often. It's more fun that way."   

For simplyGoodfriends, that's what this is all about: having fun.

After a break, they try out another new original they'll likely record in the new year, Pirate People.

"The creative juices never stop flowing," says Lukach.

They may be middle aged, but simplyGoodfriends is nowhere near finished.  They're just starting.

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