As the Werm Turns: Salmonblaster’s Self-titled LP at 20

Salmonblaster illustration

Nicholas Friesen @Nicholastronaut September 7, 2016

Twenty years ago, I was just a kid sitting around watching Daily RSVP on Much Music – it aired at 4:30 in Winnipeg, and every afternoon after school you would watch as people called, wrote in, sent faxes, waited in the Much environment and occasionally emailed to try and get their favourite video on the air. It was a mixed bag of Backstreet Boys and Buffalo Tom videos, thrown to by Bill and Rick and Sook-Yin, usually while holding up elaborate mail-in requests crafted on coloured dot matrix printer paper. It was a fun party for 30 minutes a day, a break from the norm.

This is where I first came across a London, Ontario trio called Salmonblaster.

The band only had two videos, the hilarious and heartbreaking “Freeway” (featuring Nicole from Scratching Post in a pre-breakout role) and the spaced-out “Sugarrush”. Why were these videos so popular? Possibly because frontman Matt Werm was a major dreamboat. The way he shrugged off embarrassment in each clip, flipping his Rider Strong hair while sporting a faux (real?) gas station attendant uniform, backed by a couple of Marshall stacks and his sunglass-clad bandmates, made him Teen Beat pinup material.

That’s not why I listened. I saw – and heard – more of a Stephen Malkmus thing going on. Salmonblaster’s music was poppy as fuck and chaotic to boot, my favourite combination, and it was introduced to me by Werm, drummer Brady Parr and bassist Mat Davis.

I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I definitely remember where I was when I found the record. It was probably later in 1997, and I was in the “s” section at Musicworld (RIP). HMV had let me down time and time again while looking for this one, and Sam the Record Man (RIP), Record Baron (RIP) and the Bay’s music section (I assume RIP) didn’t even have anything by Phish or Marillion, let alone Salmonblaster. But Musicworld always had everything, because nobody shopped there.
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I stood in the black Musicworld stacks, surveying the section the way the guy on the album cover stares at (what I assume) is a Gremlin. I’d never seen a “Parental Advisory” sticker that big, it looked custom made for the album. The two songs I knew were on there, and a bunch of others I’d never heard, but was this the band’s only album? I knew I needed to be a completist, even from an early age. I didn’t hesitate. I took it to the counter, was met with indifferent confusion by the clerk, and went on my way.

Housed safe inside my black Sony Discman (the first of four Discmans I would own) it got many a spin with instrumental “Floating Eyes” making it onto multiple mix tapes, usually just to fill out a side that was about to end, but not because it wasn’t good, because it seemed as though the tape was unwinding and losing its mind. I’d always hope that it would make it to the end of the song, where Laura Dern (in an unlicensed sample from Wild At Heart) reacts to a radio story about necrophilia, but it never did.

Werm’s dirty, distorted guitars and screamed-at-the-top-of-his-lungs vocals shine big on “Brian Jones” and are a stark contrast to the delicacy of “The Perfect Fit”, the standout track for me (I even named my university-era “production company,” Cinematic Scars, after a line in the song).

For me, this was a disc that opened the doors for experimental pop sounds from Change of Heart, Transistor Sound and Lighting Co. and Pure. I don’t know if I would’ve gotten there without Salmonblaster. It’s also a disc that I’ve shared with a lot of people. Not all of them have “gotten” it (or gotten past the name) but the few that have, have really gotten it. The record still holds up in a big way, and a million bands sound like this today, so one has to wonder “what if” …

Salmonblaster was in fact prepped for more than the one record, there was a single from the “second album” called “Secret Agent” that I had a lo-fi download of on an old computer, never burned to disc and lost forever. The only thing that confirms this song’s existence for me is that the band played it during the end credits of a Tom Green Show episode.

Whatever became of Salmonblaster? It wasn’t until two Canada Days ago that I stumbled across the band’s Wikipedia entry, discovering that Werm and Parr released music under the names Panic Coast and Tournament!, the latter of which has some great stuff available via Bandcamp.

I did find Matt Werm’s personal Facebook page, and I sent him a message asking if he’d like to be interviewed for a piece about the 20th anniversary of the record, but because Facebook is stupid and doesn’t show messages from non-friends (or more likely because he doesn’t want to talk to some rando on Facebook about a 20 year old record) he did not respond. If he ever does read this piece, I hope he knows how much his beautiful disc of chaos meant to a music-loving kid from Winnipeg, and how much it still means today.