by Mike Alexis | originally published at CNET Download.com Music
No one can accuse Showroom of passivity. Within just a few years, the band already has a fully formed and impressively accomplished sound. The four Showroom members also boast a demo and an EP under their belts, and a full-length is in the works–and all this, too, while they’re fully immersed in four years of liberal arts studies at the University of Toronto.
Yes, we know, higher learning institutions sprout bands like weeds. And no offense to all the hard-working, dorm-dwelling, would-be rock stars out there, but it takes more than a dream and campus-wide notoriety to launch a career. Many college bands call it quits upon graduation, much in the way frat guys leave behind binge drinking–it was fun while it lasted, but a lifetime’s worth is no picnic.
Showroom, though, could prove to be a rare exception–a band waiting in the wings of academia for a chance to prove its greatness. Ben Hutchinson (vocals), Tristan Samuk (bass), Rory Lindsay (guitar), and Tyler Dokis (drums) have been sweating through such arbitrary subjects as religion and political science–well, ‘arbitrary’ when rock ‘n’ roll infamy is at stake–but with graduation on the horizon and potential bursting at the seams, it’s now time to shed light on this immensely promising but as-yet-unsigned band.
Steeped in ’80s jangle pop and, well, college rock, Showroom exhibits a healthy obsession with the Smiths and Jeff Buckley, and the group’s near-perfect pop fits nicely between the sensitive musings of Death Cab for Cutie and the melodic roar of Thursday. And while it’s true that all bands have missteps and growing pains, with Showroom it just isn’t as obvious. “The sound was never forced. It came together quickly and naturally,” explains Lindsay. “We all appreciate pop/rock, though our individual tastes certainly differ.” This would explain the reggae-inflected bridge towards the end of “Paradise Misplaced,” and the unconventional song structure of “Clarity,” which quickly builds to a gorgeous crescendo leaving the listener wanting more. “I think we share a common wish to write parts that are creative and, hopefully, innovative,” says Samuk. “It’s popular music, so it’s got to be accessible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore the limits of a particular song idea.”
It’s nuances and surprises such as these that propel Showroom’s songs beyond the standard formula. However, what really sets them soaring is Hutchinson’s passionate delivery and idiosyncratic approach. “Ben writes intelligent lyrics that sound remarkably poppy,” explains Lindsay. “The content and delivery are seemingly on opposite ends of the spectrum, which makes for unusual music. A lot of our originality comes from that.” On “Residence of Ben,” Hutchinson treats the song like one long answering-machine message, capturing a state of restlessness and ennui with imagination and wit.
With such commitment and chemistry it’s unlikely Showroom will stop anytime soon–school or no school–though we’ll have to wait and see if fame is in the cards. At the very least, Showroom deserves a healthy and fruitful creative existence. “It all depends on what happens in the next couple of years,” says Samuk. “We’re all in our early 20s and at a point in our lives where we can take different directions and not suffer too much by taking risks. If we can continue with Showroom for the next five to ten years, I’ll be ecstatic!”
The question remains, though: Is a liberal arts education good for the life of a musician? With degrees in such subjects as philosophy and aboriginal studies, it seems like the members of Showroom aren’t exactly preparing for the rat race.
“Either (we) attain rock infamy or retire from the beastliness of the real world to the blessed realms of the academy,” explains Hutchinson. Samuk agrees: “If music doesn’t work out, then I think we’re all looking at the possibility of doing some further schooling. The decision will probably be made for us by the time we come to it.” And sounding like a man who knows well the differences between Descartes and Sartre, Hutchinson justifies the group’s intellectual endeavors, explaining, “If nothing else, this education has taught me that life is activity. It is to be lived, not passively experienced.”