Listening to the story of Canadian duo cleopatrick is a bit like hearing the plot of the best, most righteously validating coming-of-age film never made. Two friends meet aged four in Hicksville, Nowheretown (real name: Cobourg, Ontario, population 19,000), grow up completely inseparable, form a band and, against numerous obstacles, blossom into a genuine, global underground sensation. There are heroes and villains, highs and lows and, crucially, some of the most poetic plot twists that could seem almost too perfect, were they not completely true.
Take the story of 2017 breakthrough track ‘hometown’ for example. “It’s one of the craziest, most ironic things that’s ever happened,” begins vocalist and guitarist Luke Gruntz. “I was going to college because I was too scared to put all my chips in the band pile, and that’s what ‘hometown’ is about: it’s a song about feeling like we’re doing all this stuff and we’re working so hard and we’re just never going to be heard. It’s literally a song about people probably never hearing our songs. And then by some act of the universe, that song ended up unlocking all the doors for us.”
Today, cleopatrick has logged 77 million streams and counting – all from an increasingly dedicated fanbase who’ve found the duo, completed by drummer Ian Fraser, their own way: no major label, no big budget, just two best pals knuckling down, cementing a unique sonic alchemy and filling a space of honest, empathetic yet undeniably heavy-hitting rock music that they’d been searching for themselves for years.
But let’s rewind back a little first, to 2002, at a Canadian kindergarten. “There were only three boys in our class, and as a four-year-old boy, girls are yucky,” chuckles Ian. “I remember it being Luke and another kid; the other kid hung around for a bit but it didn’t really stick.” “It was like that thing where, growing up, we developed our personalities through our relationship and that’s how we figured out who we are,” Luke continues. “If I found something cool I’d show Ian and we’d both like it together, and music was very much a part of that relationship.”
Aged eight, both sets of parents conspired to purchase the two friends guitars and lessons for Christmas (“Kind of like an arranged wedding, but an arranged career…” Ian jokes). And from there, first messing around in school bands as teenagers before splintering off as the only two that really wanted to take a music career seriously (if you were wondering why cleopatrick are a bass player-less duo, it’s because Cobourg literally had no other prospects) began the seeds that would lead the pair to the present day.
However if a childhood spent mutually nerding out to the opening note of AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’, replaying its sledgehammer introduction over and over again (“It gave me butterflies every time,” the singer nods) sounds like a potentially ill-fitting mindset in a town like theirs, then it’s exactly this separation that cleopatrick embrace as being their secret weapon. “Just being where we’re from, and being pretty chilled guys, I think we never think about the world in the right way until something clicks for us. Even booking shows: I’d call venues asking if they would book us and it would just be the bartender talking to me like, ‘I just work here…’. I recently went back through our email and saw a bunch of those messages we’d sent to random sports bars asking to play and none of them have replies,” Luke recalls. “But that innocence has been our lucky key and the way we’ve been able to grow this band and keep it cool doing our own thing; we’re already outside the circle so we naturally just think that way and it’s something we’ve become really grateful for.”
Growing older and growing into their music tastes, Luke and Ian’s blossoming love of hip hop (the pair cite Drake and Kendrick Lamar as particular obsessions) began to quickly seep into their songwriting. Cemented in their abilities as a duo (“I don’t know how we could find a third member it worked as well with, even if we tried”), it became as integral an element within the sonic mix as the bands they’d first fallen in love with. And so, with the MO of making rock music that hit as strongly as the hip hop tracks they loved, but spoke honestly about the things they knew, the spiralling success of ‘hometown’ soon started an increasing wave of opportunities. They toured Canada for the first time, played their first real headline tour and found themselves adorning the cover of Spotify’s ‘Rock This’ playlist. “I was working at a coffee shop and Ian was working at a hardware store and we’d be getting emails from the Head of Rock at Spotify asking when the next song was out,” Luke recalls. “It was like Hannah Montana, it was like we were living two different lives,” Ian nods.
Since then, they’ve been “drip-feeding” new material, purposefully taking it at their own pace and doing it their own way; EP ‘the boys’ landed in 2018, while the last couple of years have seen a slow tease of interim singles. And between multiple sold out tours in Canada, the US and the UK/EU, appearances at Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits and Reading/Leeds, a recent Amazon Ones to Watch 2021 tip and inclusion on Apple Music playlists, the pair have been crafting BUMMER: a debut album that sees cleopatrick harness all the magic they’ve been brewing over their two-decade friendship and funnel it into a record that aims to reinvigorate the rock landscape from the ground up.
Taking the ethos of their New Rock Mafia collective – a group of friends and fellow bands, united in making a more inclusive, equality-driven space in rock music – and imbuing it with the sonic ambition and ferocity of a record designed to be played hard and loud, BUMMER is an album made to mean something.
“We want our music to feel as big as hip hop does in the club – big subs and loud drums and vocals right up front. But lyrically, we want to sing songs that everyone in the crowd feels comfortable singing along to. There’s a [historical] formula to rock music where people sing about drugs and alcohol and sex and it’s so fucking phony; it makes us so angry that kids who want to hear guitar music and get something from it and have a favourite band have to settle for that, and listen to these dudes lying to them,” Luke asserts. “It’s so gross to me and completely the opposite of how this genre started.”
Recorded with 21-year-old NRM peer and producer Jig Dubé putting their supportive, community-driven money where their mouths are, cleopatrick’s debut is a time capsule of a record – nodding to their insular, small town beginnings (second single ‘THE DRAKE’’ was written in reference to a traumatic gig in which their high school bullies turned up and started punching people in the mosh pit) but reaching for something altogether more exciting, utopian and full of life.
And at its heart, it’s an album about two friends, who’ve been with each other since the formative first steps that adorn ‘BUMMER’’s heartwarming cover images (two pictures taken by the pair’s kindergarten teacher from when Luke and Ian accidentally showed up to school in matching sweaters) and made something that’s a testament to the power of sticking to your guns.
“To look back and reflect on the people we were at the start of all this when it was a pipedream and still feel like the same people, that feels cool. Although there’s a lot that’s changed, it still feels like the same vision,” Ian smiles. “We’ve been comparing the album to the Voyager One probe – it has everything about us in it and we don’t know if people will get it or if people will care, but it feels so good to have it out there,” Luke nods. “It feels like a small way to live forever.”