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Suzie Joseph was one of the first members of “The Devices,” as we were called, before we slapped “American” in front of it, which members of my first punk band The Electric Vomit had formed with ex-Ulterior Motive bass player Phil Nolin in 1979. When Vomit singer Rabid Roy Random left, Devices were a three-piece for a bit with Vomit drummer Guy Lapointe. I was on bass & Phil sang & played guitar. Keyboardist Suzie joined this formation, playing Farfisa Organ, & then eventually also String Machine.
At first you could tell which Devices songs were made from my riffs & which ones were Phil’s but as we got better at playing with each other a unique hybrid sound began to evolve. Guy got replaced on drums by an old friend of Phil’s, Carl (Cups Von) Helm, & after seeing us play a few times Rob Labelle, from one of Montreal’s first seventies punk bands The Normals, asked if he could join on extra guitar. This blew my mind because seeing Rob’s band when I was a teenager was what made me wanna start a punk band in the first place.
Devices were listening to a lot of garage, punk, post-punk & no wave back then. A loose list of what was constantly on my own turntable would go a little something like this; “Pebbles” Volume 2, Iggy & the Stooges: “Raw Power,” The Germs, Can: “Ege Bamyasi,” Velvet Underground: “VU,” “No New York” (especially The Contortions), Suicide (second LP), Lydia Lunch: “Queen of Siam,” & The Feelies (first LP). Everybody else brought their own influences into the mix, I started playing a six-stringed bass, & the resulting songs were unlike anything we’d ever heard before.
When Phil left, along with all the tunes he’d written, Rob took over on vocals & guitar & I went back to guitar so we could start writing a brand new set. This is where we slapped “American” in front of “Devices,” keeping the brand name going for previous fans while differentiating ourselves from our old outfit. Despite Rob & I occasionally switching from guitar to bass for a few of my old riffs carried over from the Devices & The Electric Vomit, most of the earliest American Devices numbers deliberately had no bass because Suzie was able to provide all the bass we needed with her Farfisa organ. We ended up sounding even weirder than before. This is where the strange sound of The American Devices solidified.
Suzie left the band in the early eighties & we’ve been through many member changes since then, but Rob & I have remained since the beginning, continuing our odd combo of intertwining riffs throughout the decades without ever having broken up once. He & I have gigged every year together as The American Devices since 1980 & we continue to write new numbers. But for our next show we’ll be reunited for the first time in almost 4 decades with keyboardist Suzie, performing the very first numbers we ever wrote. She’ll be accompanying our current lineup with Howard Chackowicz on drums (since 2000), & Andre Asselin on bass (since the mid-nineties). As such, we’ve had to tweak some of the tunes so everybody could contribute live, for instance there will be bass guitar care of Andre on songs that originally had none, there will be new riffs written by Rob for songs where he originally played bass but can’t anymore because Andre is now playing his old bass riffs, & I dug up my old Hagstrom Corronado six-stringed bass for the tunes that were written with that insane instrument, but since Andre will also be playing bass there will be two basses on those songs! More for your money’s worth! Don’t worry, we figured out a way where Andre & I can alternate between the high notes & the low notes so it doesn’t all sound like mud! We worked very hard to recreate/refurbish this peculiar classic American Devices set & I’m incredibly proud of the results, so please come check out this ultra-rare opportunity to hear what was considered by many to be one of the oddest combos in early-eighties Montreal!
For anyone familiar with our tunes who’d like to know which ones we’ll be doing, below is our set-list. Note: Since Rob was the lead singer during Suzie’s tenure the first few years of The American Devices (I only started writing lyrics & singing circa 1983), the band wanted to throw in some token songs where I do the yammering, so we added a couple of relatively recent numbers that Suzie’s gonna sit out so she can take a little break. Buy her a beer! She deserves it for having tolerated this messy concoction the past bunch of months that calls itself The American Devices!
1) BAY OF PIGS (Suzie keyboards, Rob guitar, Rick guitar, Andre bass, Howard drums)
2) SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION (Suzie keyboards, Rob vocals/guitar, Rick guitar, Andre bass, Howard drums)
3) SEE MY WORLD (Suzie keyboards, Rob vocals/guitar, Rick guitar, Andre bass, Howard drums)
4) GOT THE FEELING IT’S (Suzie keyboards, Rob vocals/guitar, Rick guitar, Andre bass, Howard drums)
5) FIFTY/FIFTY (Rick vocals/guitar, Rob guitar, Andre bass, Howard drums)
6) SUDDEN DEARTH (Rick vocals/guitar, Rob guitar, Andre bass, Howard drums)
7) IN LOVE WITH THE FACT (Suzie keyboards, Rob vocals/guitar, Rick six-stringed bass, Andre bass, Howard drums)
8) SOMEONE WE ONCE KNEW (Suzie keyboards, Rob vocals/guitar, Rick six-stringed bass, Andre bass, Howard drums)
9) COALSHAFT (Suzie keyboards, Rob vocals/guitar, Rick six-stringed bass, Andre bass, Howard drums)
10) WET NURSE AKA DEATH CAMP (Suzie keyboards, Rob guitar, Rick guitar, Andre bass, Howard drums)
11) MEANING OF LIFE (Suzie keyboards, Rob vocals/guitar, Rick guitar, Andre bass, Howard drums)
Pictured below: L to R; Rick Trembles, Rob Labelle, Cups Von Helm, Suzie Joseph. The American Devices crucify Santa around 1981. Not only was the Xmas theme supposed to be dripping in sarcasm but so was the term “new wave” in the tagline. We didn’t think we were “punk” anymore but we certainly didn’t identify as “new wave.” We didn’t know what we were. “Post-punk” was a term I only started hearing about much later, which is what we apparently were/are. The caption coming out of our drummer Cups’ mouth WASN’T sarcasm though, because we thought he looked like Donny Osmond. We only had one PA head but we did a special effect to make it look like we had many by reproducing the same one over & over again in the shot to poke fun at all the “after-punk” people we knew that were jumping on the electropop bandwagon at the time. Whenever we’d go see their bands they’d have so many synthesizers onstage stacked one on top of the other to make themselves look futuristic it seemed like half of them were just props. So we wanted to one-up them & show off how much fancy fake techno-looking gear WE had. Kinda like fake Marshall stacks. All that product placement in the foreground of The Ulterior Motive was from photostats I snatched at the commercial art studio I was working in at the time, doing paste-ups for shopping center catalogs. They kinda look like stocking stuffers. We made that Satanic Santa crucifixion scene ourselves too. Poster by yours truly, Rick Trembles. All photography by Cups Von Helm. Ulterior Motive bass player Dave Hill pictured left eventually became an American Devices member for years in the nineties (he was also one of the founding members of Men Without Hats in the seventies). To see image full-sized, click on it to open in a new window & use the magnify function.
Pictured below: Current gig poster drawn by American Devices drummer Howard Chackowicz. THE AMERICAN DEVICES / LES DEVISES AMÉRICAINES with BLEU NUIT and NONESSENTIAL PERSONNEL, Halloween weekend, Friday, October 27 at Casa del Popolo, 4873 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal. Doors: 8:30 PM, Music: 9:30 PM, Admission: 10$/PWYC. To see image full-sized, click on it to open in a new window & use the magnify function.