Most Alberta bands’ legacies have the unfortunate tendency of falling into the abyss of obscurity as each succeeding generation breeds their own temporary starlets. Slow Fresh Oil celebrate their legacy with more than great songs, but a commitment to bettering the musical community and paving the path for young bands to follow as the members of the lo-fi ‘90s band have become personalities in their own rights in Edmonton. In this way, Slow Fresh Oil stave off the inevitable tides of obscurity and cement themselves a star in the Alberta music community. For this year’s Hot Plains Music Festival, SFO reunite, along with a handful of classic Edmonton bands, to take the stage once more. Their expansive, 90-song discography will be on display in Edmonton between May 16 and 18 and at the Palomino on May 23.
If it does indeed takes a village to raise a child, then Brent Oliver and Lyle Bell (SFO’s founding members) are the chiefs of said village and the child is the Edmonton music scene. Known to be a man of many music industry hats, Oliver finds precious time between his day job, family life and his million ongoing musical projects. Before talking about SFO, we chat about everything the led up to the band and the state of local music now.
SFO began during university, when Oliver dropped out of psychology to pursue classes in music. He went from an average student coasting through campus life into an “A+” do-gooder. By do-gooder, I mean “plays rock and roll and builds a better scene” kind of do-gooder.
This scene building started with turning CJSR (U of A’s campus/community radio station) into a force to be reckoned. Something Albertans tend to forget is that we have some of the most organized and well-respected campus/community radio stations in the country. On top of countless supporters, Oliver deserves an immense tip of the hat for his work at CJSR.
Coincidentally, the first SFO recording was a product of Oliver and long-time friend, Lyle Bell deciding to “go fuck around” in the CJSR studio. Oliver kept a shaky kind of time on the drums while Bell hammered out pop guitar riffs dressed in glorious fuzzy tones. After Oliver overdubbed a crunchy, lo-fi bass, the process was finished and something beautiful and organic was born. White Trash on Black Lacquer, the band’s first record, solidified them as a force in Edmonton and history began there.
“We were a product of our influences,” Oliver explains when asked about the signature SFO sound. Both him and Bell were listening to Guided By Voices, Sonic Youth and early The Weakerthans albums. The duo drew on what they loved to listen to and from that fertile soil, something new and all their own emerged.
At some point, just having great songs wasn’t enough and the need to play shows became apparent. The transition to becoming a performing band was heralded by the addition of a drummer known only as Gravy.
SFO hit the road, supporting more amazing bands than there is room in print to run and, in doing so, made a name for themselves on MuchMusic with their single, “Squeezin’ The Bale,” off their sophomore follow-up, Operative Socket Management.
The band continued to make strides through the Canadian music scene until a viscous combination of booze, anxiety and existential meltdowns wrapped things up in the early 2000s. But, fear not! Having grown as people and musicians SFO are set to play a triumphant last waltz at the Hot Plains in Edmonton. They are also doing Calgary the honour of playing the Palomino on May 23 with Night Committee and Dojo Workhorse. This will be your last chance ever (until they reunite again?) to see SFO before Oliver ends up running the province and Bell takes over the world with his new band, The Wet Secrets. Do the scene a solid and pay homage to those who have paved the way before us.
Catch Slow Fresh Oil at Hot Plains Music Festival (Edmonton) from May 16-18 and at the Palomino (Calgary) on May 23.
By Sean Hamilton