The Skinny sat down with the extremely amicable Chris Arnett, founder of Vancouver’s legendary first punk band the Furies. The extremely learned Arnett was very candid, speaking articulately to a myriad of subjects over a beer in a dimly lit Main Street bar.
“I’m at UBC pursuing a PHD in Archaeology,” said Arnett of his current foray into the world of academe. “I’m looking at three years. But it’s something I’ve been interested in since I was a kid. Even when I was rocking out in the Furies; I was actually at UBC then, first year, studying anthropology. I got my BA, then I got into a graduate studies program in Fine Arts and then dropped out because it wasn’t relevant to what I was interested in. Back then it just seemed a little removed from the real world.”
Arnett was heavily involved with the infant stages of the Vancouver punk scene and found the contrast between the university environment and playing house parties in the east end a little overwhelming. “The contrast was too much so I said well fuck it---I’m going to pursue a life as an artist. So that’s what I’ve been doing since the early ‘80’s,” he revealed. “I kind of dropped out of the academic world and pursued music, art, writing. In the meantime, I also raised two kids. So now they’re all growed up and I’m free to go back to my old bad habits. But I’m a serious student now, because you have to be. Serious student, full-time punk.”
The ethos of punk has remained a constant in every aspect of his life. “Questioning authority, not recognizing authority, doing what you want to do. I think you have to have some social conscience about it; you can’t be hedonistic,” reasoned Arnett. “It has to serve a purpose and I think rock and roll does serve a purpose. And art does too; just to sort of challenge the structures imposed on our lives. It’s a way to negotiate the rigid structures that we have to deal with in contemporary society.”
Arnett was musically inclined from an early age, trained against his will in classical piano. After reaching a certain level, he abruptly quit and picked up one of his musician father’s guitars, teaching himself how to play. By the time he hit high school, he knew it was time to start a band. And he did, playing parties and lunch time concerts at school.
The Furies were born in response to the complacency of contemporary music at the time. “A lot of the so called revolutionaries of the ‘60s became these complacent kind of laidback insipid professionals of the ‘70s, looking for the same kinds of jobs their parents had; the good life,” said Arnett. “Listening to the Eagles and Supertramp...I didn’t like sort of the hypocrisy and I definitely didn’t like the music that was being played.”
Luckily, bands like David Bowie, the Stooges and the New York Dolls were starting to emerge on alternative radio station CKLG FM. “That’s where I heard David Bowie and Lou Reed as a solo artist, although I was always into the Velvet Underground when I was a teenager,” reminisced Arnett. “I picked up the album White Light White Heat. I still have my original copy, and I think that’s one of the best records ever made. It was recorded in 8 hours, and it’s just a noisefest. And that was a big influence on me---I just love that album because of its cacophony of sound---it was a nice balance to the kind of music we were listening to on the radio.”
He and his friends gained a reputation for being rockers, listening to really loud, edgy music such as Alice Cooper, weaned on albums like White Light White Heat. “We liked it because it was a counter-balance to the dominant forms of music. And this is how the Furies started because we just kept pursuing this style of music unbeknownst to what was going on in the rest of the world.”
In retrospect, Arnett finds the entire punk movement incredibly interesting. “Punk was sort of a critical mass that happened around the world. We had our little band and we were playing loud rock and roll because…maybe lack of ability,” he mused. “I hadn’t played guitar that much so I was limited to bar chords and stuff. But it didn’t matter because of the style of music I liked.”
By this time, the once wide eyed hippie kids had cut their hair and donned a much slicker image that would later help characterize punk. It was the antithesis of anything else that was going on at the time. Never having heard their music, but seeing pictures of the Sex Pistols, they were shocked at the similarities. “We saw and heard about them, but we never heard their music,” he said. “We were the only band in town that had this kind of sound or this look; all that stuff; attitude, and people didn’t really know what to make of us at all.”
And so the quest to find the perfect musicians for Arnett’s project began. He and his friend Malcolm Hasman, now a multi-million dollar realtor, had dreams of super stardom. “He and I were kind of the nucleus of the Furies, but we couldn’t find any good musicians, we auditioned lots of people and they all sucked---we didn’t like their look or they were too old or they weren’t into the same sound we were…”
So, he posted a flyer near Long and McQuade at 4th and Burrard saying “guitarist looking for other musicians into the New York sound” with bands like the New York Dolls in mind. A few days later, he got a call from Cat Hammond. “She was part of the Vancouver art scene and all these people were into the sound because they read art magazines and stuff and were kind of hip to what was going on in England and New York.” Hammond wanted to be in the band, but there was one major problem; she wasn’t a musician. But as a punk rocker, she felt it was her duty to help, so she booked the Furies their first gig.
The first Furies gig took place at Pump’s Art Gallery in Gastown in May of ’77. They played an art show with artist Richard Hambleton, famous for drawing outlines of bodies in the streets. He went by the name Dick Tracey. “We blew everybody away just because we had this sound,” recalled Arnett. “We could tell by the way people were reacting that we were on to something and so, we just sort of went from show to show.”
Arnett and Hasman met drummer Jim Walker through Simon Werner. “As soon as Malcolm and I played with Jim we knew. We said ‘shit, this guy’s awesome’ and he was. He had just come from the Berkley School of Music in Boston and was on the top of his game.”
Walker was a professional country musician who immediately fell in love with the punk sound and attitude exuded by his fellow Furies. The band clicked, Arnett writing all the material and booking gigs wherever possible. “I’m into just creating things for the moment and I knew we had this unique sort of harsh music that could get a reaction out of people right away, so I thought, this is really fun, let’s play all kinds of places.
“I didn’t know anything about the music biz, so I got us in at a talent show at Blue Horizon,” said Arnett. “We beat another band that did Beatles covers, so they said, ‘we’re going to have you guys back next week for a face-off or something.’”
Arnett and Hasman went back the next week, only to find that Walker had neglected to turn up. He was instead in North Van in search of pot. So Hasman went to collect the rogue drummer.
“It was just kind of an odd night and we weren’t playing too good and there was a bunch of jocks at a table and they wanted to pound us. They just said ‘as soon as you guys finish we’re going to beat the shit outta you.’ So we used our music as a weapon and drove everybody out of the fucking bar,” laughed Arnett. “We played about a 40 minute version of “Sister Ray” by the Velvet Underground and these guys left. Actually, most of the bar cleared out…needless to say, we never got invited back to that venue.”
The band continued to play parties in East Van confident that they had found their sound. Hammond however, had big ideas and booked the Japanese Hall on Alexander street. She wanted to put on Vancouver’s first punk rock show.
“By then, I’d met the guys that were going to become DOA and the Subhumans, but they were all hippies living out in Coquitlam. We introduced them to the music. And anybody who was there knows that,” said Arnett of the kids not quite ready to open for the Furies. “I think they were very puzzled by our whole sound. They were okay guys. We actually did a show with them before the Furies even formed. Malcolm and I and Simon and Wimpy and Dimwit and Joe did a gig in Port Moody.”
The Furies were still left with a dilemma. There were no other bands in town so Arnett enlisted the help of his cousin Jill who happened to be really into punk and was one of the first to purchase a Ramones record. “I knew she was jamming with a bunch of her friends and so I got a hold of her and said, ‘hey, do you want to open for our show?’ And the three of them, Scout, Dale and Jill, who’s now known as Jade, came over.” Those three women would become the first all female punk band, the Dishrags.
The Furies hyped the show as much as possible, appearing as the first punk band on the Vancouver Show and spray painting everything in sight. They were even interviewed by Terry David Mulligan who didn’t quite know what to make of them, despite the fact that he was allegedly following “the scene” as it unfolded in England.
Their hard work paid off, and about 400 people showed up to what is now the legendary first Japanese Hall punk show. The bands played with no sound system, but left a lasting impression. “The Dishrags came on stage first and just blew everybody away,” said Arnett who recalled first hearing them play a few days before the show.
The shy girls wouldn’t let them watch and made them instead go upstairs. “So we’re upstairs in the kitchen having a beer and they start playing and Jim looks at me and goes ‘fuck, they’re better than we are!’ They just had a real, intense sound. We were 20, 21 and they were like 15. And their youthful energy made us think ‘we better focus here or these young chicks will blow us off the stage.’”
On the insistence of Walker, despite objections from Arnett, the band recorded and mixed a two song EP in half an hour at a studio in North Van for a scrambled $50. “We just did it really quick. And one of those songs keeps resurfacing in a lot of different places and provides me with royalty money every year. Thank you SOCAN,” laughed Arnett. “Although lately, they’ve been getting a little stingy… but we’re not in it for the money because the money will corrupt you.”
As a machination of Walker and his friend John Werner, who remains a member of the Furies to this day, Hasman was kicked out of the band for “not being punk enough.” He soon became the band’s manager and Werner the bass player. “He was a little older than us. He was 25, so we were always giving him heck about being too old and I was always saying, ‘I’m going to retire when I’m 25.’ You know, fuck this. But he gave us a really strong sound.”
Hasman then landed the band a gig at the PNE where they played on a national TV show; first punk band to be broadcast nationally across Canada. This continued the series of firsts for west coast punk bands in which the Furies led the charge. They played Seattle in what was likely the first punk band in Canada to play the US.
“By then, the Sex Pistols were happening and people had heard their music; we had got their singles and stuff. And punk started getting into the press and that’s when it all started to change actually,” said Arnett of the quickly evolving scene, “because the media portrayal of punk sort of created a lot of punk bands. They didn’t come to punk in a natural way, was my feeling just from being there. There was just a lot of disenchantment with the way radio was going, because of this commodification and professionalization that was happening in music and we were just totally against that.”
As it happened, the beginning of mainstream punk was also the end of the Furies. They played one last show at the Japanese Hall with the Lewd and the now fully formed Skulls, the precursor to DOA. “They showed up and they made their own kind of Sex Pistols outfits and wore German helmets, it was kind of funny, but they played well; no original music though, it was all Pistols and Ramones covers. Then the Lewd went on and they had a kind of interesting sound. Then we came on and people said it was our best show, but it was also our last show.”
The dynamic of the band had changed. Walker and Werner, who had earlier conspired to kick Hasman out of the band, had their own ideas of which direction they should be heading in. And these ideas clashed with Arnett’s. “School was starting up and they kind of gave me an ultimatum. If you go back to school that’s it, and I said well, fuck I’m back in school buddy and so that was it.”
Walker and Werner moved to England where they formed a band called the Pack before Walker auditioned and won a spot behind the skins for Public Image Ltd. “He came in there and literally bashed the kit across the room. And they were just sitting there with their mouths open,” laughed Arnett. “I was really proud of Jim because he took that Furies sound into England and Public Image. When their first album came out, I was really worried cause I thought, oh fuck, he’s going to steal all my songs…but some of our Furies sound is in that first album and I just love that first record; it’s the best PIL album.” But Walker would only play four gigs with PIL; half as many as he’d played with the Furies.
The original Furies played nine shows from May of ’77 to September of ’77, but made a lasting impact on the city. “I knew at the time that this music had a lot of weight and a lot of carrying capacity. We resurfaced what rock and roll was originally about. It was about young people making their own fun, making their own music and not going by any rules.”
Without the Furies, punk in Vancouver basically fell apart until DOA came onto the scene. “It’s funny, when the Furies broke up, the Dishrags kind of fumbled along for a little bit, but then the scene just kind of collapsed. The guys in the Skulls went to Toronto… they came back and resurfaced in ’78 as DOA. And I remember their first show at the Japanese Hall and they were good. They had gelled as a real punk outfit.”
From there, bands like the Pointed Sticks and Arnett’s new project the Shades started to emerge. “In the Shades we played lots of cool shows,” he said. “The Modernettes opened for us their first show at the Smilin’ Buddha. We did a three night stand there; packed every night. DOA played there the week before. The Buddha was a cool scene. Except my wife got beat up there once, but there was always that hidden violence around the scene too because we weren’t conformists.”
In 2007, at a Pointed Sticks reunion show at the recently defunct Richard’s on Richards, Carola, proprietor of the JEM Gallery, started talking to Werner about the possibility of a Furies reunion show. “John comes up and says ‘I was just talking to this promoter and she said if the Furies got together, you guys could play here.’ And I said ‘wow, fuck, I’d love to play here, that sounds great! I’m into it. Let’s do it,’” enthusiastically recalled Arnett. “‘Who should we get for a drummer?’ And we’re sitting there talking and he says, ‘well we could get this guy John Card, you know, he’d be really good…’ and Taylor Little comes up to me and he says ‘I want that fucking gig!’ And I’m going, ‘what? Ok, you got the gig!’ Taylor was in the Shades so Taylor and I go way back as musicians. So we said sure and the next day and I get a phone call saying, ‘do you want to open in three weeks for DOA?’ And we did and it was really fun. That was a good paying gig. It pays to play with DOA.”
Though he admittedly had incredible amounts of fun at the show, Arnett was still thinking it was a one off sort of thing, but the gigs kept coming. “We just keep getting gigs; that’s basically it. I often think this is going to be my last show because it takes a lot of energy to do those shows. You want to put everything you’ve got into it, because why do it if you don’t?”
Approximately 30 shows later, the Furies are still getting calls. “I keep thinking this will be my last show, but then somebody phones me up in a week and says, ‘you want to play this show?’ Like the Skinny Magazine got a hold of me and said ‘do you want to play this show?’ And I said, sure, why not?!”
In January, Arnett plans to record a double single to be released on vinyl. At least that’s the plan for now. “I don’t know yet. We’ve got to record it first,” he said. “I’ve got one song, it’s called “Olympic Madness,” that I just want to have out for the Olympics because I think it’s a fucking great song. It’s basically about how the Olympics have impacted the city of Vancouver, especially the people of the downtown eastside. So it’s for those folks.”
Arnett said it will be recorded the same way the Furies debut album was. “We booked the studio, we recorded the album in a day, we mixed it in a day and we mastered it in a day---the way it should be. And I’m happy about it,” he paused and laughed, “we shouldn’t have mastered it I don’t think…”
The original Furies set consisted of twenty one songs. Of those, only twelve have been recorded. “My favourite song [from the record] is called “No Fun City.” It’s a song about Vancouver. I love Vancouver; I’m a fourth generation Vancouverite. My family’s been here since 1887, so I care about what goes on in this city, in every aspect.”
Arnett, a well published author in the fields of anthropology and archaeology, with four works under his belt, plans to one day pen a book about the beginnings of the Vancouver punk scene. “I’m a historian and I don’t bullshit and I don’t lie. It’s an ongoing process and something I’m working on, because I know what happened. This is going to be my first semi-autobiographical piece.”
Though the Furies will continue until the well of gig offers dries up, Arnett’s musical aspirations certainly do not stop with them. He also has plans to play and record with his sons, the assortment of musicians on Salt Spring Island and at UBC, as well as ‘Canada’s Stompin’ Tom Connors of punk,’ Joey Only.
Arnett is deeply rooted in not only the scene here, but the city itself. “To me, this is the world. I haven’t been away from here really; I’m rooted in this town, this place. I live on Salt Spring Island, but that’s not really my home, that’s where I live; Vancouver’s my home. It’s a unique kind of scene here.” Posted: Apr 8, 2010
In this Article Artist(s) the Furies