Moonlighting in cover bands helps musicians make ends meet

· The Pulse

It's a Thursday night in late December, and 9910 is packed with fans eager to sing along with Twain Gretzky Overdrive, a party band self-described as "Edmonton's only Shania Twain rock 'n' roll tribute act."

The cowboy-hat-wearing musicians on stage in the basement venue beneath The Common aren't exactly impersonators, nor are they wannabes. They belong to some of Edmonton's most well-known indie acts: The Wet Secrets, The Bobby Tenderloin Universe, the now-defunct Shout Out Out Out Out, and others. But sometimes it pays to sing songs that everyone knows, get dressed up, and surrender to the party.

For Clint Frazier and his cohorts, these cover shows are a way to achieve the ends of both art and commerce. They'll do it again on April 6 with YO ABBA ABBA!, a tribute to Swedish disco icons ABBA.

"I've always had to wear multiple hats, even in more successful projects," Frazier told Taproot. He plays drums for the cover band in addition to Home Front, which plays original music.

The cover band shows are meant to feel like full-fledged events, complete with costumes and cabaret performances by drag artists, Frazier said. "We don't really view it as a traditional cover band project. It's more of like a tribute that's done in like a really tasteful way, with as well the cabaret and drag thing."

Frazier is also the talent buyer and events manager for The Common and 9910, meaning he booked himself for the upcoming YO ABBA ABBA! gig.

"(It) speaks to the state of music," he said. "You can't just be a musician, or you can't just be a music venue. You have to do other things to supplement, to make it viable, and to make money doing it," he said.

Frazier plays in the band alongside his sister Emma Frazier (who also works at 9910 and The Common as a shift manager), Emma's husband Christian Maslyk, singer and vocal coach Kayla Enns, and others.

A female singer clad in bedazzled white western wear makes finger guns at the audience from the stage at 9910.

Emma Frazier (front) and her brother Clint Frazier (back) are part of a tribute band that changes its name depending on the act it's covering. They'll next perform as YO ABBA ABBA! on April 6 at 9910. (Supplied)

Both of the Fraziers and Enns agreed that the project is equal parts art-as-income and a way to connect with audiences again after the distance imposed by the long pandemic.

But is it all one big joke for musicians who pride themselves on original work to go the tribute route? Not at all, Clint Frazier said.

"Because the group is my family and some of my close friends, I know that the product that we're going to put out is going to be extra-special, and we're going to curate it ourselves," he said. "We're going to try and walk the fine line of it being corny and it being fun."

Enns added that being a tribute player is liberating in a way that playing original music is not.

"I feel a lot more free," said Enns. "You're just getting to have fun and reinterpret these bands that we love."

Despite rehearsals for events that are billed as one-night-only at 9910, Emma Frazier doesn't find it to be a burden.

"I just love it, so it doesn't really feel like that much work," she said. "I get to sing lead in a band, which I don't do often … there's something about just being able to just go crazy."

Clint Frazier said it's also an affordable option for a night out. Tickets for the April 6 show are $15 in advance or $18 at the door, which gets you access to the concert, a DJ set by DJ DP, and drag performances by Chelsea Horrendous, Gemma NYE, LaDonna Cree, Strawberry Von Strudel, and Ruby Hymen.

"I think there's a demand for this kind of entertainment because it's familiar without the high ticket price," Frazier said. "If you want to go see Shania (Twain in concert) and have a night out, you're looking at hundreds and hundreds of dollars. If you want to go see this and have dinner, you're looking at $50."

Speaking of money, the Shania Twain event sold out, meaning each musician was able to pocket some petty cash. He's hoping for the same from the ABBA show.

"If this event is successful — which I hope it is and I think it will be — really, each musician that's in it will probably be able to buy groceries for the week," he said.

The tribute act is available to book for private functions, too, and has plans for another public event in the future.

"We're gonna do another event later in the year," he said. "This event that we're trying to build will grow eventually to the point where we can do venues that are twice the size, or three times the size, of 9910."