Almost three years ago, Chris Eaton and Rock Plaza Central found themselves on the receiving end of a goodhearted fairytale. “When we finished the last record [2006’s Are We Not Horses, selfreleased/Outside/Yep Roc],” explains Eaton, “we only mailed it out to a couple of dozen people. We were just a bunch of friends that got together and played at the same bar. It was for fun. It was a reason to get together and drink, and music just happened. And it was gratifying and exciting to wake up one morning and my inbox has three hundred emails in it. Many of them are just ordering the CD or saying that they really like what we’re doing, and that’s probably the best part, hearing from those people. But then we’re also being put on the cover of CMJ and being invited to play a big outdoor concert in New York City and being called “stars-in-waiting” by David Fricke in Rolling Stone… it changes the whole game.”
Game change, indeed. With the increased requests to tour, line-up changes followed. The trumpet/accordion player and the guitar/banjo/trombonist both left the fold. “Maybe we just didn’t want to admit that they were gone,” Eaton tells the story, “so we just kept bringing their instruments with us. And because the instruments were there, the rest of us just started playing them.” Live shows began to involve more banjo from Eaton, who then started writing on that instrument. And almost everyone started grabbing the electric guitar, putting a little more of the “Rock” into Rock Plaza Central live shows.
On June 16th, RPC return at long last with At the Moment of Our Most Needing, Or If Only They Could Turn Around, They Would Know They Weren’t Alone, out on Paper Bag Records from their hometown of Toronto. Undoubtedly the band’s most ambitious and fully-realized accomplishment, Eaton describes the album as capturing that “rockness”: “We were just listening to a lot of classic rock stations while driving, and so the songs in my head were definitely big hair-band numbers. Then we played them.” Not that Needing will be mistaken for an Eagles of Death Metal or Thin Lizzy release any time soon. Instead, while nodding to acts like Palace/Oldham, Tom Waits, Van Morrison and even Led Zeppelin, the sound is undeniably their own.
Of course, after a concept record about robot horses, most people will want to know about the story. Lyrically, Eaton approaches each album as if it were a novel. With two critically-acclaimed novels under his belt (one that has been studied on three university courses already), Eaton is that very rare artist that has nurtured success in both the literary and musical worlds. What’s the story this time? Inspired largely by William Faulkner’s Light in August, the songs center mostly on someone who goes out into the world in search of an impossible dream: “The Faulkner novel is the story of a young woman, eight-and-a-half months pregnant, who leaves home with big dreams and returns in shame, which she wears with pride, as she searches for her lover/her betrayer/the father of her unborn child. She has so much faith in the beginning. Everything is possible. And even when it all goes against her, and nothing turns out the way she had planned, she still seems to keep all of that faith.
“With Horses, a lot of people told us that it had helped them through hard times: everything from a breakup to a tour of duty in Iraq. And that’s really special to me, that our album can have that kind of effect on people. Now that it’s finished, Needing has been doing the same thing for me. It’s been a rough couple of years on the road, culminating in flipping our van outside Saskatoon. Nearly dying can cause a lot of extra stress, and I wasn’t even sure the band would make it through that. Listening to the album, and hearing us all chant something like “Oh I Can” over and over puts everything into perspective for me. And whenever anything has gotten to me, I listen to the record and am convinced I can get through it.”