Canadian Mennonite
Volume 13, No. 15
Jul. 27, 2009


Artbeat

Secondhandpants surprised by popularity

By Aaron Epp

National Correspondent

WINNIPEG, Man.

Curtis Wiebe (as Francis Leonard) and Marlon Wiebe (as Wyll Maynard) are The Secondhandpants. They are pictured with Space Robot, who frequently collaborates with the band.

Move over, House of Doc, there’s another set of Mennonite siblings creating a buzz in Winnipeg’s music scene. Instead of songs about faith and grandparents, they sing about space, robots and wild Saskatchewan prairie goats. Sound silly? It is. But it’s also serious.

Curtis and Marlon Wiebe formed The Secondhandpants in August 2004 when Curtis, an artist by profession who attends Hope Mennonite Church, wanted to write and record an entire album of songs in just one weekend. Using cheap computer software, a $10 microphone, guitars, banjos, ukuleles, penny whistles and a gutbucket bass, Curtis and Marlon created songs with titles like “Confessions of a Prehistoric Man Brought Back to Life in the Twenty-First Century Through Unorthodox Scientific and Technological Means.” They dubbed the finished recording, Featuring Space Robot and began circulating it to family and friends.

“We didn’t think it would go any further than that,” Curtis explains, “But then we were asked to perform at Mennofolk Manitoba.” The unexpected gig at the annual festival celebrating Mennonite music and art gave the brothers the chance to develop the mythology surrounding The Secondhandpants.

When they take the stage, Curtis adopts an alter ego named Francis Leonard, while Marlon adopts an alter ego named Wyll Maynard. The story goes that Maynard grew up in deep space as part of an “alien adoption” after being orphaned on earth. Leonard, meanwhile, was also orphaned, but raised by the very last two wild Saskatchewan prairie goats in existence. After leaving their respective homes to find out more about their biological origins, the duo met each other at a secondhand store where Maynard was buying a pair of pants Leonard donated a month earlier. Having bonded over the pants and their similar adoption stories, the duo decided to form a band with one goal: to spread “science folktion” music throughout the world.

Since that first recording, The Secondhandpants have released two more: Random Adventures in Space and Space Radio Mission. They’ve also filmed a handful of videos explaining the mythology surrounding The Secondhandpants and posted them on YouTube. The Wiebe brothers’ wildly inventive props, costumes and music, combined with their excellent sense of humour, have made them a hit. Curtis and Marlon have also performed for the past few years at the popular Winnipeg Folk Festival with their Science-Folktion Jukebox Sideshow. The name pretty much says it all: Curtis created a jukebox large enough for the duo to fit inside. Concertgoers insert a quarter and the duo plays the song of their choice. Being able to participate in a festival that draws more than 40,000 people each year is surreal, Marlon says, considering The Secondhandpants were never meant to be long-term.

“It’s mostly just for fun,” he says. “It’s not intended to be too serious.”

That said, Curtis adds that the brothers have spent more and more time on the project as its gained popularity. Visit www.secondhandpants.com.

Music Review

Country music with left-of-centre edge

Stringer Lake.
By Stringer Lake (Andrew Reesor-McDowell and Aiden Boyd, and others).
Self-produced, 2009.

Reviewed by Dave Rogalsky

Stringer Lake is urban country music with urban subject matter.

Aiden Boyd and Allan Reesor-McDowell sing the requisite songs of loss and longing to an accomplished background of music reminiscent of 1970s rock. One review has called them “a unique folk, country, bluegrass sound in the spirit of James Taylor and Crosby, Stills and Nash.”

But unlike the right-of-centre politics that much current country music (except perhaps the Texas-based Dixie Chicks) espouses, songs like “Ain’t It Crazy” paint a picture of the falsehoods of commuting to, and working in, the big city: “Then I’m joinin’ in fast food for mealtime; then two hours a day at the gym; a half dozen lies in the blink of an eye; homeless on the street—we blame and call them lazy, could we ever be so wrong?”

But not all is longing and politics. The album closes with Big Round Eyes, an upbeat song of love found and a hopeful future.

Stringer Lake recently performed at Breslau Mennonite Church, just outside Kitchener, Ont., in support of Fraser Lake Mennonite Camp.

Reesor-McDowell is the Youth & Young Adult, Toronto Ontario Opportunities for Learning and Service, and International Visitor Exchange Program coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee Ontario.

Stringer Lake is available for order by calling 416-832-0211 or by e-mail at music@stringerlake.com.

Dave Rogalsky is Eastern Canada correspondent for Canadian Mennonite.


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