Class of 2020: WLMRT Are Dead. Long Live WLMRT
Published Dec 30, 2019"I guess we should be honest with you. We're done in January. That's it."
Hunched across the table from bassist Kat McGouran in a booth at Houndstooth in Toronto, vocalist Shelby Wilson isn't mincing words about the end of WLMRT.
After years attending shows at formative Toronto DIY spaces like Siesta Nouveaux and Skramden Yards, the pair conceived the band in spring 2015 after a night at S.H.I.B.G.B.'s, roped in guitarist Adam Bernhardt and drummer Ryan Hage, and booked their first gig when a band Hage played in dropped off a show, before they even wrote a song.
Wilson had been wrestling with performing comedy in live contexts, but punk's horizontal playing field felt like a more accessible alternative to open mics, and a fertile environment for her dry humour to run wild.
"I've always wanted to try standup [comedy]. But it's very hard and scary," Wilson explains. "So I was just like, I'll just do it with this thing."
With WLMRT, Wilson's deadpan observations on subjects as broad as patio culture and icing fell neatly into place amongst the jagged hardcore progressions, the heightened intensity of shouting them over three-chord blasts compounding their humour, while endearing the band to a sardonic mode of over-the-top modern angst, like a ragged clown dragging itself through a crowd of upwardly mobile weekend warriors hitting King Street for a liquid dinner during Friday rush hour.
The band churned out a series of EPs, joining Deathsticks, Nüshu, and Nightbummerz on a four-band split seven-inch, eventually joining the Pleasence Records roster and releasing Lube 2 in 2018.
This past June, they returned to the self-release economy with their fourth EP. Ironically titled WLMRT Forever, at the time, it landed like a defiant declaration, but in light of this news, it also reads like a hard goodbye.
As parting gifts go, it's a thrifty and inventive blast, summoning a rotating cast of local guests to infuse their economical funhouse episodes with a little extra weird. Eliza Niemi (Mauno)'s cello glides over the rumbly grooves of album opener "Nice Song," Eli Spiegel (Merc & the Montclairs) pours a scrambled sax into "Egg," Ralph Clarke strums a mandolin on album closer "Barn Life," Deathsticks' Matt Post contributes vocals on "Matt and Laura," and somewhere in there, there's a timpani.
The padded-out album credits read like studio excess, but it's the furthest thing from a bloated, over-produced undertaking; the ten-track EP comes in just under 18 minutes and McGouran says the band weren't sure how they would employ their guests as late as the hour before they came into the studio.
"It was like, 'Where are we even gonna put them? What songs are they gonna play?' We just have friends that play all these instruments and we wanted to have fun, so it was like, let's just not sit in the studio and do this ourselves. Let's throw a bit more sauce on there. Do something fun with it, make it a real wacky time," McGouran enthuses. "It's called WLMRT Forever, like Jesus."
The album's sonic diversity hits with the off-kilter spontaneity of a knucklepuck, but it has precedent in WLMRT's catalogue. Between 2017's Plan B and followup Lube 2, Hage brought drummer Alex Wood into the fold so he could cast synthesizer tones over the melee, and the new instrumentation propelled the dynamic into even zanier post-punk territory. They still manage to fit three-track burners like namesake "Take Me to Walmart," from their 2016 debut, Fuck Me I'm Joking, into their sets, a literal reminder of their humble beginnings practicing at Hage's place across the street from Dufferin Mall, listening back to their jams on sugar highs fuelled by department store candy.
In the past year alone, the band's yielded opportunities to open for more established touring acts like Ceremony, Show Me the Body and Urochromes, and as the pair look back on the band's arc, successes like those are icing on the cake.
"I mean it took us four-and-a-half years, we've played really cool shows, met a lot of good people… Nick Flanagan of Brutal Knights did a comedy show and he asked us to play along with musicians and comics, and wow, that's cool." Wilson reflects. "We got to go on tour, we released physical media."
As WLMRT come to a close, McGouran and Wilson estimate they're leaving behind a full album's worth of half-finished material, but they're calling it now to open up stage space for the next wave of bands, pursue new projects, and end the show on their own terms before the joke gets too played out.
McGouran groans, "You know how many people have told us that we should get sued?"
Before the group dismantles, locals will have at least one more chance to catch them live as part of Exclaim!'s Class of 2020 series, co-presented by Collective Arts, where they'll play alongside Burner, Luge, Dish Pit and Piper Maru on January 4 at the Monarch Tavern in Toronto.