On the afternoon before he leaves on tour with ever-expanding band The Sleepless Nights—Halifax's version of Broken Social Scene—Matt MacDonald, a co-conspirator behind the peachy power-pop duo The Superfantastics, finds time to chat about their quirky, irresistibly adorable, full-length concept album Pop-Up Book.
"My parents had a Beatles pop-up book," says MacDonald, as his shaggy locks fall and frame the rim of glasses. "On the last page there was this giant pop-up of them on the roof performing. "Hey Jude" played through one of those little electronic thingies they have in the backs of Christmas cards."
The syrupy pair of superlative-fantastical musical creatures The Superfantastics are comprised of MacDonald on guitar and vocals, while his musical better half Stephanie d'Entremont keeps it all together on drums, backing la-la-las and merch—her geek-chic craft skills have won the band Best Merch in this year's Best of Music Readers' Poll. Some merchandise tables are littered with tiny one-inch buttons, others with hand-printed decorative panties, but The Superfantastics took it one step further with their too-cute t-shirts and 1980s-style slap bracelets (the ones once banned from elementary schools across the nation).
"We're bringing the banned back in style," says MacDonald. "So far nobody has been coming up to us with gashes in their wrists or anything. It's worked out pretty good that way, I guess. People seem to like them, no deaths reported yet."
By combining their lovable personalities and seemingly offbeat mentalities, d'Entremont and MacDonald find themselves two weeks prior to their CD release with 500 pop-up books to complete—and there's soon to be half a country between them—as well as an urgent need for copious amounts of double-sided tape. But it's far more difficult to find pop-up printing companies, which enlists the skillfulness of DIY wunderkind d'Entremont. Once the CDs are shipped the duo must hand-cut all of the pop-ups, fold and then glue them to each disc's liner notes.
"Steph's going to start assembling them while I'm gone," says MacDonald. "When I get back I'm going to have a lot free time on my hands"—he's a recent retiree of a full-time position at an engineering office—"so it will be assembling Pop-Up Books, possibly having a few sleepovers with popcorn and movies, talking about our crushes and stuff, and assembling more and more Pop-Up Books."
The album benchmarks the band's first dip into the studio, rounding up the expertise of Charles Austin—formerly of Ultramagnetic and now of Echo Chamber, itself a Best of Music winner—and Dave Ewenson (The Sweet Tenders, Laura Peek and the Winning Hearts). Local visionary Mike Holmes was on artwork duties while the band recorded from December of 2006 to February 2007.
Pop-Up Book features some of the most honeyed, sentimental, coyly written pop tunes since Halifax's explosive Murderecords days. Hints of Sloan's Twice Removed and Thrush Hermit's Clayton Park-era pop-culture commentaries seep into the 10-track anthology, while glimmers of The Hollies, Turtles and The Beach Boys illuminate the album's sense of timelessness with songs like "Tonight Tonite" (a pun on Smashing Pumpkins' hit "Tonight, Tonight"), "The Only One I C++is U++" (a light little love ballad about a couple of hibernating computer programming students writing valentine-like codes for one another), the anti-romance ballad "Oh! How You Used to Know Me Well (Back Then)" and "Vantastic (Eastern Canadian Road Trip Blues)," a hand-clapping anthem-like documentation of The Sleepless Nights catastrophic tour of 2006.
The Superfantastics have certainly proved you can rock two by two.
A few days later, a giddy d'Entremont finds herself with a new-found bounce in her step —the mailman has left her four boxes filled with their soon-to-be bobbing vertical CD booklets.
"They arrived this afternoon while I was home on my lunch break," says the doe-eyed, petite brunette over tea at Heartwood Cafe and Bakery. "Last night I was assembling a few, it took me over 45 minutes to get one done. I am starting to think, "Shit, am I nuts for doing this?'"
After meeting playing Frisbee on the Common, d'Entremont took MacDonald up on his sincere offer for drum lessons. D'Entremont came into her fashionable, pink-hearted drum kit via her former musical beau Jon Epworth. He made it for her as a gift—the very same vinyl that artfully decorates her second-hand drum kit matches The Superfantastics' hand-made slap bracelets.
"Basically any time I have to spare, I'm making something for the band," she says. "I might be on my lunch break, or be watching a movie with my boyfriend, and I'll be putting together slap bracelets."
While d'Entremont holds down the fort on the crafty-production line here in town, MacDonald sends daily reports via email, missives filled with encouragement, band updates and tales of life on the road. Prior to the boozy Irish festivities of the season, he floods my inbox with a tangent on a March afternoon's rendezvous and a liquor-related event.
"Today we are in Guelph. It is 2:00 and Pinky and I have already started in the St. Patrick's Day festivities, even though St. Pat's day isn't until Saturday. We feel the need to celebrate today since we will be driving and playing all day. This tour is turning into an episode of Family Guy, where every 10 seconds we relate an anecdote of some past experience such as, "Remember last time we drove through Ottawa to Montreal, and the van broke down?"
Like an unrequited love affair, the highly devoted d'Entremont sits at home, sticking double-sided tape to cut-outs of the musical couple playing on a hillside with a pond of yellow-bellied fishes below, patiently awaiting his return.
"I feel like the older wife," she says. "And The Sleepless Nights is like the younger woman. I'm always waiting for Matt to come back to me. I know I am his home, the priority, but it's hard sometimes."
Fast-forward to 10 days later. With 250 completed Pop-Up Books under their belts, MacDonald and d'Entremont reunite at her Maynard Street apartment, scissors on the kitchen table, a fortress of cardboard boxes of CDs at their feet. A stack of glossy sheets with cartoon characters of the duo litter the counter closest to the stove.
"We're thinking of re-creating the album artwork for our CD release show," says MacDonald. "I want to drape a background like the rolling hills in the album's sleeve, perhaps even make a little pond with little fish under our feet. Maybe no one will notice that, but we'll be like Jesus Christ walking on water."
The Superfantastics w/ The Maynards and Memories Attack, March 30 at The Seahorse (1659 Argyle), 10pm, $6
Shannon Webb-Campbell waxes poetic about music, art and literature to nearly everyone she meets. She calls Newfoundland home, yet her birth certificate reads Calgary.