Havin' A Ball

Artist: Oliver Black
Published: 2004-10-01

So few words describe as well as kickass and f*ckin awesome. I know. I've tried them.

I could say "a solid rock band with real potential" or "skilled musicians with a clear future" and you wouldn't know them any betterÖbut when I say Oliver Black f*ckin rocks - you know what I'm talking about - especially if you're a member of the band.

"We're not your average band," they say. "We f*ckin rock."

"Hey, are you Oliver Black?" says the adoring fans who spot us at Tortilla Flats during the interview, "we saw you liveÖyou guys f*ckin rock"

Few bands challenge the English language as much as they do.

"With us, there's no f*ckin' lies. A lot of bands make videos that rock and then you see them live and they just stand there....but we rock live and when we make a video it'll rock too. ." That's Serena Puryn. It's four hours before the concert and she's already so excited she can barely sit still, anticipating every question like she's on a game show. She would talk about the band for hours given the chance.

"Our shows have an intensity that you can't really describe" says Nick the teeth playing guitarist who'll drench you with sweat if you're too close to the stage. He's soft spoken and the only member who isn't overflowing with profane excitement. He'll later warn me, as though he's been waiting for just the right moment, that if I eat several tablespoons of salt without drinking water I'll be dead within two hours.

He's right on both counts.

Busloads of fans packed the Horseshoe on September 10th, for a show sponsored by Jack Daniels. Surrounded by industry heavies including Gavin Brown (Billy Talent, Tea Party), members of the Watchmen and Robin Black and the Jackass himself, Johnny Knoxville. Record execs were invited to check out the rumours about Oliver Black while fans had simply come back for more.

With bleached blonde hair and red/black velvet pants Serena saunters onto the stage likely unable to hear herself think amidst hundreds of screaming fans. When she turns around she's smiling from ear to ear, eyes wide taking the time to look at every single person who's jumping up and down thrusting their arms in her space. From the split second the band kicks in - she's gone. I can't keep the camera on her to save my life. So I zoom back and watch her go. She covers every inch of the stage stopping only to look out for miles and soak in the energy that songs "State of Muse" and "Where I Am" just filled the room with. Serena's looking far past the Horseshoe's four walls when she sings with that powerful, raspy voice most of us only have at 3am if we're lucky. If Tina Turner sang lead for The Cult I'd have something to compare them to. Without the reference, think "the rock band you've been waiting for."

"We know we're good. We work hard. We do this seven days a week." Meet Allan Colavecchia, the man behind the drums. The band formed in 2002 with Greg Zack on bass after etching out an existence in the cover-band music scene in Welland Ontario and surrounding regions. Two years later they're headlining yet another sold-out rock show in Toronto premiering an 'anti-poser' song, The Cool, given to them by U2 producer Daniel Lanios who was encouraged to see them at an earlier show and quickly became a fan.

But why the name, I ask? Serena says they were trying to come up with something catchy, "it's a guy's name and we're a girl-fronted band. We figured, If it doesn't make sense, people will look into it." The rocker-girl dynamic is a hot topic these days and not without issue.

"People mould us a certain way because I'm in the band and I'm a girl, and they think because I'm a girl 'oh they must suck'...and some girls suck, for sure but lots of guys suck too.
But there aren't enough persistent women who wanna go out and have a ball. A lot of them are too preoccupied with their midriff."

"It's mostly a challenge for other bands." Says Greg with a grin. "Some bands think we're doing well because we have a girl. Then others think we suck because we have a girl."

At this point it's up to the labels to decide what to cash in on. And Oliver Black is open for business.

In the midst of writing and performing the band is always fending off less then perfect offers from record labels says Greg, noting that most bands who jump at the first offer aren't around very long.

Serena says it differently. "We want the biggest f*cking deal there is right now!"

A deal is inevitable. Oliver Black has amassed a solid fan base playing with Thornley, Sam Roberts and Three Days Grace. They've had substantial airplay on college radio and Toronto's 102.1 The Edge - an amazing feat for a band without a label. They were singled out during North by Northeast and have scored a perfect 10 in every review to date.

"We just want to go that extra mile so that we get the best deal," says Allan, "We want offers and we've been talking with the same people for three months so our advantage is that they're sticking around knowing they can always offer more if we hold out for what we're worth."

And if it doesn't happen, I ask Nick? "We're all really really young - in our 20s. We can go back to school." Maybe back to science class where he learned, and is too pleased to inform us all, that a human being can not eat 11 crackers without having a glass of water. A challenge taken up by Serena and Allan later on outside the bar. Serena, the victor, slowly swallowed cracker #12 without a drink - afterwards suggesting that Nick keep his night job.

Good idea, I think, but Greg said it best - much to the dismay of parents everywhere: "If you're going to school to be an electrician would you have a back up plan? Would you spend your life learning the skills but plan something else in case it doesn't work out?"

With a huge, dedicated group of people working six days a week, bigger things are bound to happen. Signed with an agency group and well connected management, (remember Daniel Lanois?), Oliver Black is undoubtedly coming to a city near you and I suggest you check them out while tickets are still cheap.

Writer: Kelly Thornton

Photo:Kelly Thornton

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