Counterclock is the very embodiment of rock ‘n’ roll. You can hear it in the band’s self-titled debut album, songs that tell stories of strippers, barely legals, users, losers, players, and even one or two ex girlfriends. After all, who can be tied down when they plan on playing big, brash melodic rock all over the world?
On the band’s self-titled debut album, produced by Jeff “Diesel” Dalziel (Edwin, Thornley, Tupelo Honey), Counterclock keeps its focus on the prize: radio-friendly pop songs — often disguised in fierce, boisterous rock ‘n’ roll mixed with emotive power ballads that are all about girls, sex, and more sex. Or is that more girls?
From the brass-pole beauty queen in “Shake It (Like You Want It Stirred)” to the manipulative industry-sucker in “Angel With An Angle,” the skillful daddy’s little girl in “Barely Legal” and the shameful hangover of “Remember Your Name,” the band manages to mine familiar territory without being contrived.
“I’m basing the songs on my life and the lifestyle I live, so it can’t be contrived,” says singer-guitarist-keyboardist Gaby Tanielian. “I see the way people react around me, when I do my shows especially. I know that my lifestyle is not cheesy and cliché, but I’m still careful. I find politically correct terms to say things, and I keep it simple and straight to the point.”
Gaby’s life has been anything but simple. Born in Lebanon of Armenian decent, he moved with his family to Montreal to escape the war. He was just five years old and didn’t speak English or French very well. “I was lonely. I couldn’t make any friends because I was an immigrant and didn’t think I fit in anywhere, so I turned to music,” he remembers.
He started on piano at age 6, but soon picked up guitar and bass. At first, he sang R&B, gospel, even opera, but eventually got into rock so that he could play instruments and feed off a live band. By then, he had written about 130 songs on his own, some about escaping Lebanon, but he feels political songs of that nature, some as long as eight minutes, don’t belong on a rock album aimed at commercial radio. “Maybe later on, I’ll release some of them,” he says.
After putting a rock band together four years ago, he booked more than 120 shows that first year and continued that pace the following two years. In their repertoire were about 60 cover songs and a few originals. “I just wanted the band to have stage experience. I filmed some of the shows, watched our errors and fixed them. I’m a perfectionist.”
Meanwhile, as Gaby kept his eyes and ears open for the right players, he flew to Toronto to co-write for the first time with Jeff Dalziel and Dane Hartsell and came up with the ballad “Remember Your Name.” “I loved co-writing,” enthuses Gaby who then extended his two-week trip to almost three months and wrote with Christopher Ward (Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet”), Andrea Wasse, Dan Davidson (Tupelo honey), Nicole Hughes, Chris Perry, among others.
“Every song I was with two or three different writers,” says Gaby. “The way we did this was amazing to me. I was telling them stories about my life, about what I do and how I am, and with each story a song came.”
“All You Never Wanted” was written about an ex-girlfriend who couldn’t handle his lifestyle. “I told her, ‘I’m all you never wanted. Find yourself somebody else,’” he recalls with a chuckle. “Barely Legal” is about the girls with fake IDs or who have just turned 18 and go to his shows. “Tip of your Tongue” is about telling his last girlfriend, “I love you but I’m with other girls,” and “Shake It (Like You Want It Stirred)” is how he has trouble telling a girl in a club how he feels. “The title says it all. It’s an experience I had once at a strip club,” he says.
Gaby then took all these songs to Jeff’s studio in downtown Toronto. “I’ve worked with many producers and Jeff was my favourite. I’m a musician so when I get an idea in my head, I can play it to him, or show it to him, and although the final product is in a million different parts, he’s the first producer that has actually understood exactly the way I imagined it.”
As the album came together, so did his band, all hand-picked by Gaby from existing Montreal bands that he found in the clubs — guitarist Lino Scalia, bassist Stevie Trixx, rhythm guitarist Alessandro Greco and drummer Gary Ritchie. “I wanted people that are serious, hard working and are living the dream.”