Enter the Haggis: Wanna Taste?
Playing in a band has never been easy work, but today’s players probably look back to the good old days when all they needed to do was write, rehearse perform and record.
Enter the Haggis is a case in point. After recording eight albums for various record labels the Canadian band took control and released its ninth, Whitelake, on its own. It financed the recording, upon completion it hired a publicist and a radio tracker, as a result managing all of the thankless tasks necessary for musical success.
“We are now a lot more in touch with the business side and feel like we are now in charge of our own destiny,” said Craig Downie, the band’s founder and only original member. “We have to work harder but it’s more rewarding. We have five people, if everyone takes on a different task and we coordinate ourselves we can get everything done.”
Success in a do-it-yourself world can be a crapshoot, but Enter the Haggis has a pretty good chance. There is first the sound, an energetic romp that colors compelling words and music with bagpipes and fiddles with results that are both unique and familiar.
The band’s music is creative enough, but t he innovation results from its marketing strategy. It is a common fundraising tool to award larger incentives to those who spend more money, but no one as yet has sought to finance an album by inviting people to observe and participate in the recording process.
On “Whitelake” two fans $1,000 for the privilege to come to the band’s studio, a cottage in rural Ontario, and add background vocals on one track. Another $1,000 incentive was for multi-instrumentalist Brian Buchanan to design a small tattoo that he would share with a fan, the ink on that contract is scheduled to dry sometime in the spring.
There were some ideas that didn’t draw any interest, such as a trip into space with the band and a $12,000 package where guitarist Trevor would drive his car to a fan’s house anywhere on the continent, cook them dinner, do their laundry, hang out and then hand over the keys to the car and take a bus home.
The genius stroke is a spring excursion where fans will pay $1800 plus airfare in order to go on tour with the band in Ireland, a move that redefines the concept of music and tourism. These committed fans will get up-close views of several performances, but will also be part of musical mayhem on the bus and in the bars.
For information about the April trip go here.
All this for a band that seeks success but doesn’t really want to be all that famous. The bagpipe-and-fiddle driven rock and roll sounded great to the like minds on the Cayamo Cruise, but there are some listening groups who might find it too weird.
“This is boutique music,” Downie said “The Internet makes it possible for groups to play a style of music that is intended to be enjoyed on a smaller scale. And our fans would find our music less appealing if everyone was listening to it.”
This is not surprising, if they really wanted to be huge they would not have chosen a name that prompts a gag reflex.
“The name is a metaphor for a bunch of different things that are thrown together,” said drummer Bruce McCarthy. “They are less desirable by themselves but provide something much more interesting when they are combined.”
Using a connection with fans as a marketing strategy wouldn’t work if the band members were the introspective sort. But the five members–Downie, McCarthy, Buchanan, guitarist Trevor Lewington and bassist Mark Abraham–are either genuinely nice people or really good actors.
It’s naive to think they would hang out with you if there wasn’t a chance to sell their music, but it is their sense of fun and humor that makes you want to go along for the ride. Otherwise, you could just sit in a dark room and listen to the new CD in solitude.
Humor was part of the deal, from the beginning.
“When I put the band together I had done some acting and comedy and wanted to find a way to pull all my skills together,” Downie said. I also wanted to create something a bit different, the idea was to grab people’s attention with poppy tunes and then move them into something more introspective.
“The first album was quite comedic in nature, but when Trevor and Brian came into the band it became more about playing music than being an attention-grabbing novelty act.”After pop music the band’s biggest influence is Celtic, which isn’t always cheerful.
“We write depressing music, we just do it in an upbeat way,” Lewington said. “The band has been an ongoing musical experiment, we have the freedom to try different things and find ways to keep it fresh for ourselves and our fans. The subject market is dark, but the songs aren’t.”
On this year’s Cayamo Cruise, the band’s second, they hosted a wine tasting in one of the ship’s restaurants (shown at left). This was unique on several levels, beginning with the fact that the five sample wines were offered in full glasses, if you finished all of them you might behave in ways unbecoming of a “serious” tasting.
As for the band’s wine expertise it fell under the “I don’t know much but I know what I like” school, as evidenced by Buchanan’s evaluation of one of the reds:
“An all-American wine, and definitely a favorite of football fans everywhere,” he began. “Note the leathery finish. This wine has had a wide reception due to its tight end, and it’ll have you running back for more. Not really known as an offensive wine, but it makes up for that with fantastic coverage on the back end.”
After the tasting the band members visited each table and chatted, giving the participants a warm feeling that didn’t come from the wine. It was underscored how these are really nice guys, and you want them to succeed. And if you are on the ship you want to see them perform at the next possible opportunity.
Even so, I never managed to catch their entire set. They were such nice guys, I thought, that they wouldn’t mind if I was late a time or two. On Saturday afternoon I did get to see an uninterrupted 30 minutes which represented the band’s closer, the outstanding “Down With the Ship.” The song is evocative enough, but became transcendent when performed on the top deck of a ship in a windy sunset. (The ship in the song was metaphorical, but the similarity to watching “Airport” on a cross country flight probably crossed a few people’s minds). Describing it for you doesn’t even come close to doing it justice, and another person present may not have been as moved.
But if a band gives you this kind of experience; a potent, meaningful song played in an astounding setting while next to the person who rocks your world, you will remember it forever. Enter the Haggis provides these moments everywhere they go, so they deserve all their success and a taste more.
I didn’t shoot enough pics of the band to create a slideshow, so I used this as an excuse to recycle some of my boat pics that were lying around.