Last friday, Hello Darlin’ Productions presented the launch of The Custom Outfit’s first full length album at the Mainline Theatre on St. Laurent. The Mainline Theatre is a lovely black-box theater venue that lends itself well to intimate shows and events. The lobby is decorated with many a Fringe Festival poster.

I arrived early and had the opportunity to sit down with The Custom Outfit and chat with them before the show. The Custom Outfit is Russell Simco (Fiddle), Derek Harrison (Mandolin, Vox), Kevin Moquin (Guitar, Steel), Dave Dickson (Upright Bass), and Derek Williams (Vox, Guitar).

The name for the band comes from the tradition in Chicago of calling gangs Outfits and so, Derek W. explained, since the group has changed in membership in the vein of customizing sound, The Custom Outfit was thus dubbed. They cite amongst their influences rockabilly, hillbilly, bluegrass and the likes of Steve Earls, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, The Pogues and east coast sounding tunes. Watching them perform was a real treat and these guys pack a talented punch: Kevin Moquin delivers some sweet guitar skills evoking old time rock, Russell “Rusty”’s performance has a touch of jubilance befitting of the fiddle, Derek W.’s suspenders and “this is how it is” vocals deliver just the right amount of grit. Derek H’s tie and mandolin skills are quite colorful, whilst Dave’s black upright bass and smooth rhythms create an air of mystery.

During the show, they played most songs from their debut album “The Dark Side of Town”. Amongst them my favorites were “Goodbye to the Moonshine”, “Bad Chemicals”, and “Hookers and Thieves.” When asked if this album has a theme, Derek W. explained that it was “informed by drinking” and the track titles corroborate this. In terms of getting a good brew (for inspiration), The Custom Outfit name Honey Martins, Barfly and Grumpy’s as their go-to drinking holes. When it comes to rockin’, they name Quais des Brumes, Divan Orange, Grumpy’s and Casa Del Popolo amongst their favorite venues in Montreal.

But they’ve played beyond the Island having recently toured Europe for twenty one days, mostly in Belgium and the Netherlands. During this tour, they played shows at a couple of prisons – a venue one rarely thinks about in terms of touring stops. When asked what the experience was like, Russell wittingly answered: “It’s really a captive audience.” More seriously, Derek W. added that playing shows for prisoners is a strange experience and hard to know what to expect. Dave explained that there was a notable difference between the audiences at maximum security prisons and minimum security prisons: “The minimum security prisoners were acting like punks, they didn’t want to be there. The maximum security prison was just off the wall and every one of those guys thanked us and wished us good luck. That was a good feeling.” Most recently, The Custom Outfit played a show in New York, barely missing Hurricane Sandy, at Trash Bar in Brooklyn: “It was a complete hole, it was great,” said Dave.

Along with being very stylish, these guys were overall a wonderful treat for ears that had longed for some whiskey soaked rockabilly. However, the picture of this lovely evening would not be complete without mentioning the opening act: Sarah Jane Scouten and Her Brilliant String Band. The Custom Outift had personally asked Sarah Jane to open their show and it was a very wise decision indeed. Having just come back from a tour, Sarah Jane was all smiles and stories and her and Her Brilliant String Bad (Sarah Frank on fiddle and vox, Mathieu Lacombe on double bass, and Luke Fraser on mandolin) delivered some fun charming southern vibes. Amongst the most noteworthy were the tunes “Ballad of a Southern Midwife”, “Poverty Wind”, and “My Country”. Hearing these melodies live was a warm delight on a cold fall evening.

*Photos by Pascale Yensen