WRITTEN BY JOHNNY PAPAN
The rat is a zodiac for new beginnings. New beginnings are not always a simple thing, however. Sometimes a fresh start can only be incited by times of grief and turmoil.
In 2020, the Year of the Rat, the latter rings true. For nearly 12 full months society has been suffocating on the smokes of death, loneliness, uncertainty, violence and hatred brought to the surface by the COVID-19 pandemic. But on the flipside of that, the year has also been one of innovation, change and tenacity. A time to see what we are really made of.
Terminal City Rats released the aptly titled Year of the Rat at the tail-end of 2020. The album is a speeding oxford boot to the jaw. The drill-sergeant-esque vocals of frontman Jameson Trenholm is complemented with a thrashing raw electricity that refuses to slow down for the album’s entire duration. The five-piece punk act consisting of Trenholm, bass/vocalist Jeremy Starcok, lead guitarist Crash Campbell, rhythm guitarist Mandy Green and drummer Marco Bieri, recorded this impressive 13-track offering with Stu McKillop at Rain City Recorders.
“We knew the pandemic wasn’t gonna stop us,” says Trenholm as he walks around Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on this chilly winter night. The Zoom call begins to glitch, so he grabs a table for one at the Cambie Bar & Grill for a smoother wireless connection.
“Of course, there were restrictions with COVID,” he explains. “But when hard times come you gotta get through them. At the time jam spaces were still open, we could still jam. We kept on writing music. We followed the guidelines and we wrote a sick album.”
Overall, Year of the Rat is a lyrical commentary to these trying times and how COVID-19 affected the world as we know it.
“I don't write bullshit lyrics,” Trenholm states. “They have to mean something. In 2020, there are things you have to understand that are right and wrong in morality. I think it's easy these days to make a right and wrong choice. I mean, the Year of the Rat, 2020, it is a fuckin’ bonkers, wild year. We're not a political band, we're not gonna tell you to make decisions that are right or wrong, but I think as a human being there are morals that you have to have. If you understand what is right and wrong in society, you'll understand what this album is about.”
RIOTS IN THE CITY, POLICE BRUTALITY
THE WORLD'S ON FIRE, PANDEMIC, WE CAN'T BREATHE
THE ANGER INSIDE US WILL UNITE OR DIVIDE US
TAKE ACTION, PUNK, OR HATE OUR FUTURE WE CREATE
"YEAR OF THE RAT"
In certain ways, Year of the Rat is not only a timepiece for the world as a whole, but life in Vancouver as well. The Downtown Eastside’s drug epidemic has only gotten worse and, aside from the pandemic, this is partly due to Vancouver’s consistently increasing cost of living.
“I'm not a millionaire, none of us in the band are millionaires. We're all hard workers,” Trenholm states. “We all have full-time jobs and we work very hard Monday to Friday and it's very expensive to live in this city. I don't think any of us could afford to buy a house in Vancouver. I don’t want to sound like a complainer but it hurts my feelings that nurses can't own a home in Vancouver. Any job that you have, you should be able to have a roof over your head. I've just seen this situation get worse and worse. I've lived in the same place for five years and every year the rent goes up. I see more homelessness, more poverty, more drug use.”
Adaptation was the key to survival for musicians in 2020. In a period of time where musicians cannot play shows, the primary source of income for most independent artists, many have adapted to livestreaming as a way to keep an open connection with their audiences. Terminal City Rats embraced this tide, doing a YouTube livestream to celebrate the record’s release. An experience Trenholm felt was just another day at the office.
“Anytime I’m performing with Terminal City Rats, whether it's in the jam room or on stage or in a studio or whatever, I give it 150 percent. There’s no difference. Once the guitars start and I hear the feedback and I hear the drums, my brain just kinda shuts off. I'm in the moment.” He continues: “When it comes to music, especially punk music, we aren't fuckin' around. It’s my number one thing I really like to do. So I'm not gonna half-ass it. I'm not even gonna 100-percent ass it. You gotta play till you throw up.”
Trenholm admits that working hard is embedded into his DNA. Though the Year of the Rat has been tough for all of us, Terminal City Rats pushed forward to drop and heavy-hitting classic punk rock release. Now that 2020 is behind us, one must wonder what Trenholm and company hope for 2021, the Year of the Ox.
“I got a nice pair of oxblood Doc Martens,” Trenholm laughs. “I got 12 holes I'll lace up forever and a day because I believe in punk rock. As humans, we need to look after each other. As punks, we need to support the scene. Live music will be back, things will get better. Up the punks, up the beers and up the cheers forever and a day.”