Bringing the bagpipes to rock 'n' roll

It will be time to get pumped up during Culture Days. Arcana Kings will be the band the band playing at the Anne Portnuff Theatre, and their mission to make music to get people pumped up. The show will take place on Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Anne Portnuff Theatre.

It’s a time of transition for the band. They have a new name, changing from the Johnny McCuaig Band to Arcana Kings. They have a new album, Lions as Ravens, out on October 15. John McCuaig said that they were discovering that the old name was a barrier for some fans.

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“We found that a lot of people can’t spell the name, they can’t find us on social media. As we all know, as an independent band struggling out there, social media is king. We were actually playing at Mosaic Stadium for the ‘Riders western semi-final half-time game last year, and the announcer said ‘hey everybody, the Johnny McCuaig Band,’ but really struggled saying the band’s name. After the show, I turned to the guys and said ‘guys, we really have to change the name.’”

But one thing that won’t change with the name is the music. They make high energy music, and McCuaig said that they want to get people pumped up for the day.

“That’s what we were going for with this album, to show everybody, look, there are a lot of singer-songwriters out there, a lot of mellow music, some rock stuff that is just rock, but we want to give the listener a little bit more of a good mood.”

Their mission was to pump people up, and McCuaig said that their song Here We Go, specifically, was written to get people excited for something like ‘the big game.’ The Saskatchewan Roughriders agreed, and played it when taking to the field in 2018.

“It was incredible, it was an amazing feeling. Having my phone rip off the hook... I didn’t even know it was happening. It was crazy, and my phone was going nuts... It’s certainly an incredible feeling, it definitely opened up a lot of doors for us and we’re still riding the wave from it,” McCuaig said.

One of the band’s trademarks is integrating bagpipes into the rock, which people assumed was a Celtic sound, something like Ashley McIsaac. McCuaig said that’s not what they were going for at all, and has a specific sound in mind.

“[I compared us to] AC/DC’s Long Way to the Top if You Want to Rock and Roll. Because they have bagpipes in it and it’s rock... When people show up to the shows, 99 per cent of the time, people go ‘wow, I never knew bagpipes could be played that way, they could sound that way with rock music...’ What we’ve achieved with the traditional Scottish bagpipes is taking them in and really making them meld with rock and roll melodies and hooks. Really taking it to another step.”

The sound grew out of McCuaig’s youth.

“It’s me growing up, jamming to the radio with bagpipes, my friends looking at me going ‘what are you doing?’ It wasn’t a normal thing .”

Recording an album took longer than expected because as a busy touring band,  actually getting into the studio was a challenge.

“We could only go in the studio three days at a time, and we would always have to hook up a show in Saskatoon while we there... It took us close to a year to get it, even though when we put the time together it was nine to ten days at the most.”

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