Gay Nineties


The last time I’d heard The Gay Nineties play, it was February in a shitty little makeshift jam space, somewhere in butt-fuck nowhere East Vancouver bordering on Burnaby. I remember thinking, “Whoa, is this what the Zombies would sound like in 2011 if they weren’t doing the Casino circuit?” I spent the next five months in Berlin, oogling at photo shoots of the dapper gentlemen online, and confirming attendance for gigs I’d kept hearing about.


Back in Vancouver, I’d try to pick up where I left off. It felt like I’d left The Gay Nineties as toddlers, and come back to see them all grown up. Stranger yet, I live with two thirds of the boys, and was suddenly thrown into The Gay Nineties universe; equal parts musical analytics brought out in the deconstruction of a perfect CCR song, beer drinking on the porch, and the constant search for that perfect Serge Gainsbourg meets Bowie outfit. The Gay Nineties are Parker Bossley (Guitar & Vocals), Daniel Knowlton (Bass & Vocals), and Malcolm Holt (Drums). They work really hard, but they’ll make you laugh even harder.

A recent online forum for the band’s EP release party was greeted with 99% enthusiasm, paired with this display of aversion, “thats an annoying band name if i ever heard one.” The lack of punctuation holds to the authenticity of its author’s writing skills, while the statement itself begs the question we’ve all been wondering: what’s with the band name? Sorry to burst your defensive bubble kids, but as Malcolm explains, “The 1890’s, [were] a decade of decadence and glamour,” that went on to be criticized for it’s lavish ways once The Great Depression hit, or as he sums up, “There were all these wine orgies.” For Daniel, the band name is challenging, “It creates good conversation. The 1890’s were a formative decade, and I feel like we are going through formative years within our music scene in Vancouver right now.”

For Parker, it’s as simple as, “A band of friends trying to live out their rock ‘n’ roll fantasies,” name aside. Aware of the tongue-in-cheek nature of their name, the band welcomes negative feedback with open arms, “It makes it easier for us, because it has the word ‘gay’ in it, it helps us filter out people who are going to be offended or turned off by that,” says Malcolm, while Daniel adds, “I’m kinda surprised that we haven’t been confronted by the gay community, not in a negative way, but because I feel for some reason that I want to be challenged.” In the end, a name is just a name as Malcolm points out, “It’s kinda like the Red Hot Chili Peppers; that is a retarded name, but then it just becomes… it’s as good as the band is good.”

And the band is good. The boys’ musical scope is varied. For Parker, “Bowie’s got a lot to do with it,” lyrically and otherwise. Malcolm sees Parker’s Bowie as more of a Mark Bolan homage, while he also notes the Zombies, The Pixies, and Pavement somewhere in the mix of influences.  Daniel’s bass grooves channel Zeppelin, and he admits that unlike his band mates, The Strokes have little to do with where he’s ended up as a musician, “It’s just one of those bands that floated past my radar undetected, but that’s just because I’m obsessed with music made 40 years ago. I was probably just still listening to the Neil Young and The Beatles.”  Always clever, Malcolm adds, “You know, this little band, The Beatles, that haven’t influenced any other bands, but have totally influenced us.”

Finally, while the boys fail to point it out, if you have a listen to their track “Coming Together”, you’ll pick up on some hard-hitting Sabbath vibes. I ask the band, hypothetically, who they might hire on as a fourth member. Besides Rick James, “The person who plays the sax solo on ‘Careless Whisper’,” and a dancing James Brown, the band seems to agree that a fourth member would put a damper on their work ethic. Malcolm explains, “You’re within the confines of this box. We are a three piece, two singers, how can we make the fullest most interesting dynamic arrangements?”

Meanwhile, The Gay Nineties have been collaborating with others in Vancouver’s art and music community; from buddy band The New Values, to wing woman and brains Stacey Armstrong, to documentarian Owen Ellis, and finally artist Robert Mearns. The band’s surrounding creative synergy goes far beyond the scope of a song.

Malcolm praises Mearns, who recently created the bands EP release poster, (the boys’ faces adorned with Gay Nineties mustaches) “We just want to keep working with him as much as he will fit us into his life.” They’ll need him, as Malcolm and Parker admit they can’t grow a proper mustache, while Daniel’s claim to mustache fame ain’t nearly as bad-ass as Mearn’s portraits convey. Moreover, the band expresses thanks to Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat, who has taken The Gay Nineties under his wing. The band’s celebrated EP was recorded at Bays’ studio, TugBoat, with the help of drum technician Ian Browne.

As they continue to play shows on a weekly basis, why should people keep coming to see The Gay Nineties? Their friends and fans humble the boys, and as Parker sees it, the band is, “Writing new songs, [their] material is always changing, and [they] are always changing as well.” Malcolm believes wholeheartedly that there is something in their sound for everyone, “From moms and dads to little kids; it’s dance music, it’s rock ‘n’ roll music, it’s soul music, and I think everyone can find something that they like about it.” Daniel sees their shows as an opportunity to improve upon Vancouver’s creative community, “The shows are getting better, we’re writing more songs, but as a byproduct of that, our community is also broadening.

The more people that keep coming to shows, the more juxtapositions of people becoming friends.” Parker stresses that The Gay Nineties are, “Completely open-minded to collaborating with anybody who is inspired and creative,” and wants to work with, “Everyone in Vancouver who [the band] believes in.”

Roots, influences, and community building aside, I decide to end on a lightning round of questions:

Would people in the 1890’s dig your music?
Everyone: Nooooo!
PB: We would be revolutionary!
DK: Malcolm’s dad doesn’t even dig our music, and that’s only going back 20 years.
PB: It’d be hard to plug in our instruments; I think that our sound would drastically change.
MH: But I think we’d all still be entertainers.
What would your 1890’s alter ego be?
MH: I’d probably be a tap dancer.
PB: A pianist.
DK: I think I’d probably be the shoe shiner.
Where will The Gay Nineties be 40 years down the line?
PB: Malcolm will be an interior designer, Dan will be completely belligerent, you won’t understand a single thing he says, and he’ll be rocking on a porch playing old Gay Nineties songs reliving his experiences in the suburbs of Africa. And I will be in a mental hospital weeping in the corner.
How gay are you, really?
PB: 40%
MH: Depends how much ecstasy I’ve shoved up my butt.
PB: Depends which part of my life you’re asking about. Even though we’re not completely gay, we are definitely queer as far as the queer community goes. We are into wearing women’s clothes, and we’re open to anything. We’re the most open-minded people you’ll ever really meet.
DK: It’s all just holes.

There you have it ladies and gentlemen, “It’s all just holes.” I told you they’d make you laugh.


Photography: Owen Ellis + Sydney Gregoire

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