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Special Feature: The Racing Turtles

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There is a misunderstanding about high school friendships. This belief that we will meet up in coffee bars between meetings, and hang out every night playing board games in our thirties.

The reality is TV sitcoms have given us a false understanding of our high school friendships, a belief it will continue on a day to day basis as it had in our teenage years.

Our correspondence does continue on a platform of digital communication, we know one another, we wish we were together, but we have supper to cook, Netflix to binge, jobs that take up most of the time.

One thing that remains consistent from high school, is music. We share a connection through memories of battle bands and dances, teenagers learning how to play instruments in low key live shows. We continue to keep sharing songs as we grow older, links in texts and Facebook posts. It’s a means to keep the relationship going, to make up for our inability to meet up everyday.

This weekend, I personally will be given a blimp of teenagedom in a small form of high school reunion. Not the classic reunion with proms, revenges, and football players turned fat, but with a concert put on by The Racing Turtles.

IMG_5688The Racing Turtles were originally a three-piece band from Gander, where they began and ended many years ago. The band consisted of Rob Rogers, Matthew Thomson and Justin Avery. The Racing Turtles were one of the bands that played background music to my high school memories.

The thing is, in the late 90s, early 2000s bands were a part of every activity, in Gander anyways, but The Racing Turtles actually wrote songs and played covers I could appreciate.

Though I was not a musician, my house was a jam house. I witnessed a personal live concert put on by my brother and whoever was joining him that evening.

Our childhood home was perfect for live music: it had a drum set; it had many instruments, the crappy recording equipment, and the parents who were tolerant and let kids smoke. My teenage years were loud and admiring as my brother brought many people down the stairs to practice.

I am sure a lot of small towns find a place in music but it seems to me that Gander created this connectivity through music, everyone knew someone who played something. Groups found themselves performing together, people who under normal circumstances would never have hung out were writing songs, and teaching each other different cords. I went to a party and returned home to show my brother how to play a Weezer song. It became the norm, the essential, the everyday. That was Gander in high school: music, rock shows and buying crappily recorded burnt CDs of local bands.

Somehow, through something, small town connections and similarities perhaps, I got to know Rob of The Racings Turtles, who was a fan of brother’s band. So Rob found himself in my basement from time to time, and when he wasn’t jamming, him and I drove around town listening to cassette tapes and parking underground to meet up with other people who drove around Gander (honestly what everyone did).

I helped him with Physics and he reminded me to wear more cardigans and stop wearing so much make up.

The Racing Turtles were formed in high school and I remember I was PISSED ‘cause Dana Lebeau and Sarah McB got to sing Weezer with them and I was clearly the biggest Weezer fan on the island. That was probably the only time I was jealous.

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Rob moved after high school and it sucked, but I had a copy of The Racing Turtles “Koopa Troopa Car Pool” album to play in my university dorm.

Rob and I wrote letters back and forth, I think mainly because he had a typewriter and we stayed in touch.

Finally, Rob, Leslie and their two kids were coming to Newfoundland and The Racing Turtles decided they would have a show.

In a way the band had many lives since I had seen them in the cafeteria of Gander Collegiate. Andrew Mast replaced Rob after he moved. Later Matthew and Justin played with Danielle Hamel, mainly in Montreal.

But this Sunday, the original three are coming together alongside Andrew Hiscock (Curly), for what I like to refer to as a Gander reunion of sorts. There was absolutely no greater feeling of nostalgia at its finest when I heard “In The Garage” by Weezer blasting from Matthew’s basement, as I walked up the stairs to meet them at their first jam session back on the rock. (Wonder if they asked Dana and Sarah to sing it for them at the upcoming show….pfft).

Though this nostalgia was at its height for me as a fan, the reconnection for the band played out a bit differently for them.

“I don’t really feel nostalgic about playing this show… I kind of see performing with Matthew, Rob, and Andrew as a very natural extension of moving home (more Andrew and Matthew, less Rob, since Rob doesn’t live here). I’m treating it as a fun project to reconnect with people in a new city. It’s just really cool that Rob happens to be visiting as well and we have an opportunity to engage in this silly little project,” said Justin. “I’ve played music fairly consistently with Matthew since we were in grade 10 and Andrew throughout university. I’m hopeful to continue with other projects once this is complete. Hopefully those projects can be casual in nature, and include one or both of Andrew and Matt.”

Curly/ Andrew’s perspective has a pretty insightful and different experience since he was not a part of the original line up.

“I was extremely pleased and humbled to be asked to play with the band. It has been a wild nostalgic trip for me. I have been taking out all the old albums lately, and while at the time we thought we had a good thing going on in Gander, in retrospect it was really remarkable. I suspect that is similar in small towns everywhere, and it speaks more to the capabilities and ambitions of young adults. At 35, I am learning to play these songs for the first time, even though I have known and loved them for 15 years, and it strikes me again and again just how awesome they are, and how with it the high school versions of Matt Thomson, Rob Rodgers, Justin Avery, and Andrew Mast were” he said. “At the same time, there is a certain earnestness and innocence in the songs — lyrics with lots of video game and fantasy novel references, the preoccupation with being noticed by girls and never having the courage to talk to them. All that seems very precious at the moment, all the while in the middle of these great melodies and riffs. I don’t want that to sound dismissive — they very much the product of the time-of-life in which they are written. There are some pretty intense things there too… does a heart break as hard as it breaks when you are 17? It’s hard to find better clarity in than in the moments captured in some of these songs.”

In high school, the moment that you were in, you weren’t even sure it was happening. It’s as if The Racing Turtles had the ability to capture moments of that time and space, in emotionalIMG_5690  connection too and with great talent.

“One thing I would like to add, though, is that Matt lives the happy ending to all the songs. I don’t know specifically if the songs about girls were written about Danielle, but she was there at the time. So if they were written after they met, they are about her, for sure. I like to think that Matt’s song are about her, whether they are or not, because you have this time capsule about anxiousness and nervousness and desire, but they’re still together and it all worked out. So Matt and Danielle are *literally* the happy ending to the whole thing. It can get a little surreal,” explained Andrew of Matthew and Danielle who are now married.

WHOA.

“So few people can look and the length and breadth of a relationship, a largely happy relationship through their shared art. That is something special, and very cool to be a part of. Warm and fuzzy, just like Matt’s pedal board,” he continued.

“Funny enough it was my wife Danielle, who actually played with the Racing Turtles on stage once, (wow we’ve been together for a long time) who’s idea it was to play a reunion show. When Rob first told us he was coming to NL for a wedding she jumped on the idea,” explained Matthew. “I suggested it to Rob and Justin (who was moving back to St. John’s from Montreal in a few months) and they were down for the idea. Andrew Mast, who joined The Racing Turtles when Rob moved away after high school, was also excited about it but unfortunately lives in Hong Kong now and so was unable to make it back for the show. And even though we always played as a three piece, in both configurations of the band, we decided we wanted to play these songs as a four piece with me and Rob on guitar. Hiscock was the natural choice to fill in for Mast on bass since he has kind of been the unofficial 5th member in his support for the Racing Turtles over the years. Andrew, Justin and I have been playing together in various different projects over the years and Andrew was the head of the Gander Band Union when we were teenagers in which the Racing Turtles had a pretty big roll. Hiscock probably knew these songs better than the rest of us. I’m excited to play with The Racing Turtles again, and am always happy that I asked Rob to start a band with me that day in English class. Gina I believe you were sitting next to us in that same class.”

YES, that means I am officially part of the band, even though I was probably just sitting there, but still.

Though Andrew and I have a lot of history and memories backed up into this show, for Rob it’s less about the past and more so about enjoying the moment.

“For me, there’s no real nostalgia, it’s a weird mixture of disgust at some of my lyrics, but at the same time they feel just like the 2 covers we’re doing. They’re all songs I’ve known for 15 years, so I know the lyrics, and how to play them, but they were written by other people. I’m not really connected to them like I would be connected to a more recent song, which makes them a lot easier to play,” he said.

So if they aren’t songs Rob wrote, who wrote them?

“That one line might not make sense, but it’s not like I wrote it, some 17 year old kid from Gander wrote it 15 years ago, we just share a name and I’m singing it now. I’m also playing guitar on a lot of songs I didn’t play guitar on before, or singing and playing Mast’s or Justin’s songs, so they’re REALLY covers for me. Covers we can rework a bit if we want without it ever being played wrong. Not that we won’t play something wrong. That’s a guarantee,” he explained.

I am thankful we can all separate ourselves from who we were in high school and move forward with who we are today. It must be cool to connect musically with your past self and friends, and compare it to how far you have you have come, as a person and musician.

“I’m really excited to be playing with Rob again. There have only been a few song writers over the years that I’ve really enjoyed playing with and Rob is one of them. I also enjoy collaborating with him because I think Rob and I have a very similar taste in progressions, melodies and music in general,” said Matthew. “When relearning these songs I was constantly surprised by our choices of chord progressions, licks/solos and melodies. It was impressive that a bunch of 16-17 year olds could come up with this stuff. Though there is also a lot of really embarrassing stuff on these records too, the singing and lyrics for a number of my songs are pretty cringe worthy for example. Rob always had the most intelligent songs I felt with the nicest melodies. Justin had a lot of really good ones too especially on our second album. I remember them always being more ambitious than any of our previous stuff, backwards guitars, tempo changes and overlapping melodies. And we pulled it off. Andrew Mast had great straight up pop and punk songs.”

So for an unique and amazing piece of Gander from the years gone by and a musical viewing of four guys who have worked together on stage in different capacities, with an appreciation for who they were and who they are, join us all at Pete Easton’s on Sunday.

Check out some of The Racing Turtles tunes and get fired up before the show.

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