Photo: Lauren Capri in a video still from the release of “Heavy Gun” (Leo Kopelow)
After a lengthy delay because the pandemic, Black River Drifters have released a new video along with their latest single, Heavy Gun today.
Despite the time of year, it’s not a Christmas song. In fact it’s decidedly dark. But dark themes are something fans of the Drifters have become accustomed to. Back in 2015, their very first single (and video), Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run documents a true-crime story about a notorious serial killer in depression-era Cleveland.
In this latest release, the group’s principal songwriter, Don Norman spins a tale of a cheating man whose lover exacts murderous revenge on him for his indiscretions. However, this tale contains no basis in fact. “Nope, it just comes from the dark recesses of my tortured mind,” joked Norman. “But seriously, it’s just a sped-up murder ballad, in the vein of Marty Robbins.” Marty Robbins was a country and western singer from the 1950s who became famous for writing songs about love, hate, jealousy and gun fights. And the song certainly fits the bill. You can definitely hear the nod to the musical stylings of vintage cowboy songs, but with a faster tempo and an edgy intensity.
While the lyrics and melody were written by Norman, the musical arrangement is a collaborative affair. “Generally, I take the seed of an idea to the band and see what they make of it. Kevin is particularly opinionated,” said Norman, referring to the band’s former bass player, Kevin Morin who plays on this track. “He’s gonna kill me for saying that,” laughed Norman. “But honestly, he’s a great sounding board. We’ve co-written a few songs, including Mad Butcher – he’s a stickler for a well crafted storyline in a song.” The late bar nights became a little much for Kevin and he stepped down as bass player in the time between when the song was recorded and when it was released. “But he’ll still fill-in in a pinch, and I’ll still bounce ideas off him.” said Norman.
Norman sings on this track, but he shares lead vocal duties in the band with drummer, Ryan Cyr. And while he’s not singing lead on this song, Cyr does lend his voice to the backing harmonies and of course plays drums on the track. Though they live in Winnipeg now, both Norman and Cyr have ties to Pine Falls. Cyr was born and raised in Pine Falls. Norman moved to Pine Falls as an adult and also has lived in St. Georges and Belair. The band name was inspired by the Black River that runs across Highway 304, north of the town. The band’s press-kit photo was taken at Manitou Rapids and the first gig that Norman and Cyr played together was at the 4P Festival back in 2011, although with a different band. Normally, at this time of year, Cyr would be heading up to Pine Falls to spend Christmas with family and friends. But the pandemic has meant those plans have to wait. He’s making the best of a bad situation. “The close quarters are getting old and music is an escape for me,” he said. So, he’s playing lots of guitar and teaching himself the ins and outs of multi-track recording. But still, he finds himself “pining” for Pine Falls. “I miss being able to spread the holiday cheer at the Papertown or the Legion,” he said. “Wishing all the best to old friends back home!”
The video was directed and produced by the band’s lead guitar player, Leo Kopelow. He skilfully creates a moody tableau that perfectly reflects the songs dark messaging. Kopelow also directed the band’s two other videos, the aforementioned, Mad Butcher as well 2018’s These Chains I’m in. For Kopelow, it’s a labour of love. “I really like making music videos for fun,” he said. “It’s the first one I’ve made that doesn’t feature any band members and instead is like a mini movie,” he said.
“I tried to get people to call him, “Francis Ford Kopelow” but the nickname didn’t stick.” Norman said with a grin.
The “mini-movie” stars Winnipeg actors John Lister as the cheating husband and Lauren Capri as the murderous wife. It was shot at Leo’s aunt’s cabin near Gimli late last year. Check out the video below.