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It’s all about the music at Bully’s

Michael Kraushaar and Eugene Parkomenko have been running Bully
Michael Kraushaar and Eugene Parkomenko have been running Bully's as a rehearsal space and recording studio for the past couple of years, cultivating up-and-coming talent and becoming a home-away-from home for an assortment of bar bands and session musicians from across Metro Vancouver.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

The first rule of Bully’s is to always make sure the doors and windows are closed. Otherwise, an irate neighbour might show up, armed with a sledgehammer to put an end to the cacophony that up to five bands can make playing all at once.

The second rule of Bully’s is, well, there is no second rule.

Which is just the kind of casual, easy-going vibe that’s been attracting young upstart bands, veteran session musicians and hardcore working groups from Mission to North Vancouver to the warren of jam rooms and one studio on Sixth Street, between Agnes and Carnarvon, for the past eight years.

The musical heritage of the nondescript two-storey cinderblock building goes back much further than that. For years, starting in 1959, musicians auditioned and bought their instruments from Bob Tartini’s music store that occupied the first floor. When he passed away, Mark Watkins converted it to rehearsal rooms, one of only a handful such facilities in Metro Vancouver.

For the past two years it’s been run by Eugene Parkomenko and Michael Kraushaar, musicians themselves who realized the potential to create a space to cultivate new talent, liberating them from the confines of cold garages and parents’ basements.

Home away from home

Like the three members of The Best Revenge. Evan Joel, Maxim Patrich and Pearce Donnelly have been hanging out at Bully’s for more than a year, when their welcome in the half-insulated basement of Donnelly’s familial home in New Westminster wore out. For the past six months they’ve been getting more serious about their music, working with Parkomenko and Kraushaar on their first album, Young Nihilists’ Gun Club.

With only backing vocals left to lay down on a few tracks, the band files in early on a damp, cold Saturday morning, their hands wrapped around warming cups of coffee from Tim Hortons. Joel has brought a tin of home-baked brownies. A startled mouse bolts across the linoleum floor.

Bully’s has two jam rooms downstairs, three upstairs. They’re dimly lit by one or two bare 40-watt lightbulbs. The small, rectangular spaces are painted dark shades of brown, black or purple, like caves. A ragtag assortment of worn thriftshop couches and chairs snug up against walls. Stools, drum kits, music, and guitar and mic stands are strewn around the floors. Two vintage arcade video games, Crime City and Ghosts & Goblins, stand sentry at the top of the stairs.

“It’s not your million-dollar studio,” says Joel, whose violation of Bully’s first rule invited the sledgehammer-wielding neighbour (he’ll never do that again).

“But there’s a good work ethic here. There’s a comfort you feel in this building.”

A creative space

That’s by design, says Kraushaar. They’ve kept Bully’s decidedly working class to keep it affordable to young bands and new musicians, most of whom are funding their musical adventures out of their own pockets. He charges a flat rate of $250 per song for his engineering services, no matter how much fiddling and fine tuning that song takes to get it sounding just right. That process can take some weird turns.

Such as putting 13 mics on a four-piece drum kit to capture its full power. Or squirreling a mic in an adjoining bathroom as The Best Revenge laid down vocals, giving one track a distant, echoey sound.

“We can try different things here,” says Donnelly, who founded the band in 2004 while he was attending New Westminster secondary, then hooked up with his current collaborators through music connections a couple of years later. “We’ve got the freedom to arrive at the right sound naturally.”

Plus a lot of hard, repetitive work.

For more than 30 minutes, Joel stands behind a mic in a pitch dark jam room next to the mixing studio, a grey wool touque pulled down low over his brow. As Kraushaar works the computer mouse to control the tracks and slides the knobs on his massive electronic board, Joel screams “Take me, take me away” over and over again, matching the tempo of Donnelly’s lead vocals.

Kraushaar asks him to sound a little “angrier.”

The Best Revenge are, after all, a power punk trio.

Creating a calling card

Donnelly says this album of nine songs will be their calling card to break out of playing youth festivals like YamJam and get them onto local college and university radio, and into club gigs. It’s an expensive dream. By the time it’s ready for release in May, the band’s members will have invested about $5,000. Then there’s all the time maintaining and updating their website, Twitter feeds, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube pages, putting up poster and handing out flyers at shows. And once they sell one CD, who knows how many times it will be shared over the Internet and copied for free.

But right now, they’re not thinking about that.

“We want to create something we’ll be extremely proud of,” says Joel. “You shouldn’t do it unless you’re proud of it.”

Kraushaar and Parkomenko share that passion. It shows in their attention to detail says Donnelly. No adjustment is too fine. No suggestion is dismissed.

Musicians have responded, says Parkomenko. This week Bully’s booked its 26,000th jam session.

“A lot of people have made this place their second home,” says Parkomenko. “Even if they’re not jamming, they just hang out. It makes it a community.”

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