Playing in front of a new audience always comes with an element of uncertainty, but the Ballantynes can usually gauge the success of a show, particularly when they're on the road away from their hometown fans, with a simple test they call "the three song rule."
On a good night, the crowd will listen to the first song, interested, engaged, some light head bopping going on. When the second song starts, friends will turn to each other with a "hey, these guys aren't bad" nod of approval. "And then by the third song people are up at the front, they're dancing, they're really enjoying themselves," says Corey Poluk, vocalist and guitarist for the East Van garage-soul ensemble.
Busy in the recording studio recently, it's been about three months since the Ballantynes last did a live gig and Poluk is hopeful he'll see some toe-tapping and hip-shaking by the time the band breaks into the third song of their set at Performance Works tonight (Feb. 20). The show is part of Granville Island's annual Winterruption Festival, with live music presented by Coastal Jazz, and features guests Miss Quincy and the Showdown. It's shaping up to be a big night for the Ballantynes. For one, they will be playing music off their forthcoming LP — their first full-length — set for release under independent label La-Ti-Da Records later this year. The show will also mark their debut as a six-piece band. Until now, the group has been composed of seven members, including two drummers who play simultaneously to achieve a modern Motown sound. As it goes, drummer Trevor Racz decided to amicably step away from the Ballantynes and focus on his other bands, while the remaining six members have elected to drop the two-drum system. In addition to Poluk (who also plays in the Valuables), the current lineup includes Jarrod O'Dell (organ, guitar, vocals) Vanessa Dandurand (vocals) Jennifer Wilks (organ, vocals) Max Sample (bass, vocals) and Michael McDiarmid (drums, vibraphone).
The group recorded their yet-to-be-released album with Felix Fung at Little Red Sounds.
"We wrote four of the songs on that record in the studio, which I've never done before and it was a really interesting process because we always come in with everything ready to go and we just bang it out," Poluk says. Their discography to date includes three seven-inch singles and the 2013 EP Liquor Store Gun Store Pawn Shop Church — all engineered and produced at Little Red Sounds.
Writing in-studio was a new, and very collaborative process that resulted in a more cohesive sound, Poluk says. "There's all sorts of different stuff that just kind of came up organically," he says, explaining the album has hints of Muscle Shoals, Brit pop and '70s music all wrapped in a northern soul context. "We're exploring some uncharted territory."
The Ballantynes can't be bound by genre, but, if he had to label their sound, Poluk would describe it as he always has — '60s-inspired soul and garage.
"I think that still stands for us, I think you still hear that in there."
Originally from California, Poluk moved to Vancouver seven years ago to attend Emily Carr University of Art and Design. The Ballantynes got together a little more than three years ago, the members all either patrons of or affiliated with the monthly East Van Soul Club dance night at the Biltmore Cabaret.
"We've all known each other since before the band," Poluk says, explaining that their foundation as friends helps the musical group write, rehearse and tour together. "It's kind of like a big dumb family."
Coastal Jazz presents the Ballantynes with special guests Miss Quincy and the Showdown, Friday, Feb. 20 at 9 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) at Performance Works on Granville Island as part of Winterruption 2015. Tickets: $25 at northerntickets.com; $29 at the door.