Editor’s note: On April 15 a senseless tragedy rocked Calgary and its close-knit music community. NMC sends its heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of all the victims and hopes music can play a role in healing our community. Musician and NMC staff member Tyler Stewart reflects on the music of two of the victims, Zackariah Rathwell and Josh Hunter, and how their talent and love of music will live on.
My first encounter with Zackariah and the Prophets (ZATP) was playing a show together with Jesse and the Dandelions (with whom I play bass) back in July 2012 at the Blind Beggar here in Calgary. I had never heard of them and had no idea who they were, but they were all incredibly nice and expressed how excited they were for the show, and for us to play together.
They played first that night, and had quite a few cover songs thrown into the mix, but their originals were so good that I couldn’t understand why they would bother. After their set, our lead singer Jesse Northey and I told them how much we loved their original material and couldn’t wait to hear them write more.
I was completely taken with Zackariah Rathwell’s voice and how much he reminded me of Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill, both in his vocal timbre and in the simple, direct and effective approach Zackariah took in some of his own songwriting (for any of you haters of recent KOL releases, I strongly feel that their sophomore album Aha Shake Heartbreak is one of the best albums of the past decade). I was also astonished at the talent and drive they possessed, and was certain they were barely even out of high school yet (they were, but not by much).
The next time I ran into ZATP, it was the weekend of Music Calgary’s SOUNDOFF showcase, where they brought in music industry executives from all over the country to check out some of Calgary’s best new talent. ZATP were not one of those featured bands, but were playing their own show at Vern’s that night. I met up with Jesse and we went down to check them out, as he explained he had been discussing the potential of recording an album for them soon.
This time, I was completely blown away by their new songs, crazy energy, and overwhelming stage presence. It was like they had studied every live video of their favourite bands and been determined to outdo them. From Zack’s stoic presence stage-centre anchoring the group, to Josh Hunter’s wide grin pounding out the rhythm on drums, to the wildly animated antics of Barry Mason and Kyle Tenove flanking to round out the band; it could only be described as musical magic.
There was clearly something special happening with these kids, and I was extremely excited about the potential of them working with Jesse and having some recorded material in hand. We went to catch the end of the SOUNDOFF showcase at the Gateway, and while I respect and admire the acts who were playing there, all I could think was that all those label reps from across the country really should have been at the ZATP show instead.
We caught up with ZATP again last Halloween at the Palomino, which I believe was their first gig there. As always, they were incredibly kind and excited to be playing, and killed it as usual. They also definitely won the award for best-dressed band that night, as they had arrived in matching costumes as “droogs” (codpieces and all), from Stanley Kubrick’s classic film A Clockwork Orange. They weren’t just talented kids with ambition; they knew how to have fun too.
We talked about when their album would come out, as they had finished recording with Jesse down in Lethbridge, and I think had originally hoped it would be ready to release by then. I had heard some early mixes from Jesse, and he had done a great job of capturing their energy. They were like racehorses kicking at the barn door, just itching to be let loose and run free.
Flash forward to last Saturday night at the Palomino. A room packed full of super excited kids ready to rock out. Parents and family friends smiling proudly, and right there on the dance floor too.
ZATP headlined the show with their EP being officially released that night, and our set with the Dandelions was right before them. The crowd was full of energy as we played, and when we left the stage, you could feel the electricity in the air. I can still see Zack standing stage right in his cutoff muscle shirt, arms held high, grinning and “flashing the horns” as we moved our gear off to make way for them to setup.
Before they even played their first note, the crowd was absolutely eating out of the palm of their hand. Musicians who regularly play the Palomino know the low ceiling can be a hazard if you start to get too crazy on stage, but Saturday was the first time I was genuinely concerned some people in the crowd might hit their heads on the ceiling from jumping around so much.
As the band’s name implies, Zackariah and the Prophets could have literally led that crowd wherever they desired. Almost as if a musical spell had been cast, the room was completely captivated and thrashed along through each verse, and sang along with every chorus.
By the time they plowed their way through nearly an hour’s worth of their own material, the room was drenched in sweat and beer—exactly the way rock and roll is supposed to be. They weren’t even able to leave the stage before being compelled to stay for an encore, and launched into one of the greatest songs of all-time, The Isley Brothers classic “Shout”—a song that was written and recorded 30 years before anyone in the band was even born. As they barreled through an extended version of the song that kept reaching even higher and higher climaxes, it was clear the band had created one of those special moments that will always be remembered by those who were there, regardless of the tragedy that was to follow.
After finally satisfying the crowd’s hunger for more with one last cover, this time Young MC’s “Bust A Move” (hey, they did have a knack for picking some good covers), they all walked off the stage to hugs and high fives from friends and family, autographing copies of their new EP Goodbye Icarus like they were mega-stars just coming off a major festival stage. The love, joy, and pride that was in the air that night was a just reward for years of hard work poured into their efforts as a band, but also as their time together as friends and musical brothers.
Though Zack and Josh have been stolen from this world in a confusing and heartbreaking manner, we can be thankful for what they left behind for us to remember. Though we were never close friends, there is a special bond between musicians and the many times we shared a stage or a beer together will always stick with me. Their impact will live on through the musical legacy left behind with the Goodbye Icarus EP and the memories they created, not just from the good times at countless performances, but through everything else they accomplished as people during their time on earth.
Goodnight Icarus was released this past week and is available for purchase here.
Starting with “Cat Eyes” the EP is immediately accessible, but doesn’t come across as something that you’ve heard before. Strong rhythms and great melody provide a simple introduction to the band before “Sick Daze” delivers its building intro riff like the burning fuse of a firework about to explode. Building layers of guitar harmonies lead into a classic Red Hot Chili Peppers-influenced breakdown chorus that is an instant dance-floor filler. From driving funk-rock they move into the delay-led “Foxy” that sits nicely beside anything the top indie-rock bands in the world are doing right now.
“High Hopes” showcases Josh’s strengths as a drummer with an incredibly tight syncopated drum part that propels the momentum forward, and feels to me like that perfect kind of song that can bring thousands of people together at a music festival; everyone smiling and dancing underneath a beautiful sunny sky.
Over the past couple months, Jesse (who recorded and mixed the EP) has told me he thinks “Lockstock” is the best-sounding recording he’s made yet, and it’s certainly a touching number, beginning with demurely crafted textures before developing into its big-stadium rock sound. Closing out this six-song testament to the potential of a band just beginning to hit its stride is “Double Vision”, a straight-up rock ‘n’ roller providing a stark reminder that at its base level, music is supposed to be fun.
And you can be sure they always kept that thought first and foremost in their minds.
– Tyler Stewart