What’s in a name?
For the Herbicidal Maniacs, it’s all shock value.
“It’s a bit controversial,” said lead singer Steve Palen of the band’s moniker, which he added is “just a catchy name, like Barenaked Ladies.”
“I always get a chuckle (when I say the name), which is good,” he said. “You always want to be remembered.”
The group plays something that Palen calls “West Coast original folk rock.” It’s a danceable blend of rock, blues, folk and even reggae influences.
“We try to get ‘em (the audience) moving,” said drummer Ed van Benthem.
The group’s sound has developed over the years as the band’s line-up changed. First, the Herbicidal Maniacs started as a duo between Steve Palen on guitar and Dan Dube on keyboard. They were soon joined by Brent Redberger on bass guitar and that trio worked around Nanaimo’s restaurant scene for over a year before they decided to add a drummer to the mix.
Palen said it took the group a few auditions but they finally found the right musical fit with Qualicum’s van Benthem, who had worked with Palen and Dube a decade earlier. As a four piece, they expanded their venues to include clubs, pubs and summer festivals. Then last fall, Roly Sandoval came in on lead guitar to round out the group to its current line-up.
“We’ve created this unique sound,” said Palen. “All the guys in the band are really talented.”
More so than their sound, however, the Herbicidal Maniac’s defining characteristic is the fact they almost solely play originals.
In fact, the only cover the group plays is a blues medley that Palen arranged himself.
However, Palen said the group doesn’t write songs together. Instead, members will bring in songs that they have already created and then the band will put their spin on it.
“Everybody in the band is very artistic and we wanted to do something a little bit different,” said Palen. “It’s more unique to be able to play your own music and get away with it.”
And getting “away with it” isn’t an overly dramatic turn of phrase, said Palen. “When you’re doing your own thing like this it can be a hard sell,” he said, explaining that some venues see cover bands as a safer choice. “You have to be a bit of a salesman.”
Their tenacity is paying off though and the Herbicidal Maniacs continue to play gigs around the Island.
“We really appreciate the support that we have gotten,” said Palen.
The group’s next stop is at the Shady Rest this Saturday, March 7, at 7 p.m.