They won’t be able to pick them up in person, but Punch Drunk Cabaret has already won two soundtrack awards from international film festivals in 2021 for their work the in local short horror film Boneyard Racers.
To say the garage rock/steampunk-abilly trio are somewhat surprised by this turn of events would be an understatement. After all, it was roughly this time last year when the three musicians (Randy Bailer, vocals and guitar; Twotone Teddy Roy, bass; Sean E. Watts, drums) sat down and pondered a long stretch without live shows. For a band that prided themselves on their stage show, the future looked bleak indeed.
“We challenged ourselves to make videos for the first five or six songs on the album that we had ready to go before the pandemic hit,” Bailer says of Vampire Anthems.
Punch Drunk Cabaret met and connected with film producer Preston Ewasiuk after the 2019 Edmonton Music Awards. The result was vague promises of keeping in touch, so when they heard from Ewasiuk last summer, they assumed he’d seen the band’s social media stream and a connection between their dark, somewhat macabre videos and the new movie he was working on. Ewasiuk was familiar with the Punch Drunk Cabaret’s back catalogue and requested a song from their 2014 release, The Juke Joint Revival Hour; Bailer and his bandmates countered with a number off their latest album, Too Tired for the Devil Tonight. When Ewasiuk heard the song, he immediately acceded and asked for a couple more: Bad Crush on Goth Girls and Damnation Station Radio.
Beyond the songs, the band was asked to perform as themselves, their eye-catching and flamboyant stage attire fitting in nicely among the assembled ghouls, ghosts and demons in the background.
“We show up playing a Halloween street dance,” Bailer laughs. “It was like any other gig, really. We performed, and then we went home.”
Meanwhile, the team on Boneyard Racers, cheekily describing the movie as “Riverdale meets Fast and Furious with a dash of Supernatural,” went about completing the 15-minute film. Made for less than $500 under the COVID-19 guidelines for filming at the time, the short was in post-production by late summer and, a few months later, Bailer and his bandmates were hearing rumblings about it.
“We started seeing talk on social media about it making the rounds of film festivals,” he recalls. “Then they started getting awards (Vegas Movie Awards; Independent Horror Movie Awards), which was cool, and then we got this email saying that we were being entered for best soundtrack.”
The band was shocked and pleased when they pulled down awards from both the London International Monthly Film Festival and the Dark Story Festival, an honour they shared with David Heacock, who wrote the incidental music in Boneyard Racers.
“It really wasn’t anything that we expected, you know? The whole thing came out of nowhere, and we were just happy to be part of it,” says Bailer, revealing how the film has gone well past the initial mark its producers set for it.
Full-length film in the works
With success at the film festivals, a larger production company has agreed to take over and shoot a full feature on a much larger budget, and Punch Drunk Cabaret has been asked to partake in the remake.
“We’ve been told that we’ll be reappearing in it,” says Bailer. “It’s exciting because a short indie film only has a certain reach, but if you can get something to the Netflix level, there’s the possibility of more work.”
With music revenues on a downward slide for indie bands, this is an important consideration for the trio, whose members are scattered around Alberta — Bailer living just south of Edmonton, Watts in Hanna, and Roy hunkered down in Sylvan Lake.
Formed in 2010, the trio made a name for themselves as an entertaining live act, fusing a revved-up melange of swing, rockabilly and garage-rock with dramatic industrial visuals, securing a diversity of festival slots at the Edmonton Rock & Roll Society’s Rock Fest, Medicine Hat Jazz Fest and even the cowboy-loving Big Valley Jamboree. With live gigs gone for now, but costs of recording and promotion remaining steady, the traditional way of doing things simply isn’t viable at the moment. Luckily, the band is more than ready to pivot.
“We’re very self-sufficient because our drummer has his own studio,” says Bailer, who is performing with the band as part of the Cancer Foundation’s Jammin’ for a Cure livestream on March 26 and 27. “The producers are excited that we can record on spec, or write on spec. It’s not something we considered at the time, but it kind of fits.”
This may be Punch Drunk Cabaret’s shot at the brass ring, or then again, maybe it won’t. Bailer has been around long enough to know high times and low, from multiple festival bookings and decent paycheques to struggling through periods without gigs. He’ll be happy to see where Boneyard Racers takes the band, but truthfully, he’s just pleased to ride a winning streak in a time when just about everyone else is barely getting by.
“Years ago we had Jay Semko of the Northern Pikes produce one of our albums, and we stayed in touch with him,” he reflects. “His philosophy was that, ‘if you just stick around long enough, they’ll give you some kind of prize.’ We just celebrated 10 years together in this band and there are times when I think we’re like the luggage in the carousel at the airport. They go round and round and eventually someone claims them, even if it takes a very long time.”