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Meet The Patients

Toronto — Many rock musicians have large music collections, but not Stu Stout, leader of Toronto garage-rock combo The Patients. "Stu is a man who has sold his entire record collection," Patients guitarist John Wilson said. "I am not sure why. But he sold it."

"I think I've got enough going on in my head," singer/guitarist Stout explained. "I don't need any more chaos."

Stout is committed to rock 'n' roll. He knows music history and plays the role of frontman with passion. During a recent Ottawa gig, he got so lost in the music he dove off the stage and then tried to slide on the dance floor on his knees. Bad idea. He landed on his kneecaps and badly hurt himself.

Two years ago I walked into the Cameron House on Toronto's Queen Street West and was floored by the intensity of the band onstage. I only stayed for a few songs, because my friends wanted to drink elsewhere; still, I could not get The Patients' music out of my head.

The Patients have a rich garage-rock sound. There are traces of the dirtiness and dark swagger of the Velvet Underground, juxtaposed with the innocence and yearning for love of the Modern Lovers. Like The Strokes, The Patients' sound borrows from '70s punk.

The band — Stout (who also plays piano and organ), Wilson (who also plays organ, lap steel and contributes background vocals), Chad Byreiter (bass, tenor sax, tambourine and background vocals), Ian Lane (drums), and Christopher Sandes (keyboards) — is fairly young; the members are all in their early to mid 20s.

The Patients use diverse musical time signatures to go beyond their influences. The band is tight, and often their atmospheric songs have a series of mood shifts — they build, tease, stumble, regain their footing and ultimately climax.

I had a chance to speak with Stout, Wilson and Sandes during the second evening of one of Toronto's heaviest snowstorms of the New Year. We met at the Green Room, a large two-story bar, located in a back alley of Toronto's trendy Annex neighborhood. For the next two hours, the boys filled in the details of their history, chain-smoked, and drank pitchers of beer.

"Part of the beauty of the band is the fact that we've all come from very different backgrounds," Stout said, speaking slowly with a monotone delivery. "There are things that bind us together, and it's just a matter of trying to use pop music as a template, if only to see how far we can stretch it and how much we can get away with."

Stout's lyrics express both emotion and his observations. "Gimme All Your Affection" and "Too Expensive to Wear" are all attitude, snotty and confrontational. His vocals have an urgency that demands that you listen to them. Stout counts among his influences Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, the Motown sound and American soul. Wilson is a jazz head, and Sandes said, "The only guys who shake my tree are guys like Leroy Carr, Chopin and a country-blues guitarist named Henry Thomas [who recorded in the late '20s and is best known for his composition 'Fishing Blues']. And of course early Weimar Republic Recordings of Lotte Lenya [singing] Kurt Weill, that's my bag." Clearly, The Patients draw inspiration from eclectic influences.

The group's first recording, 2003's Mary Claire La Flare EP (Permafrost Records), is a 20-minute, five-song tease of what The Patients can accomplish.

"Mary Claire La Flare" [the song] speaks of the awkwardness of adolescence, gossip and infatuation over catchy guitars and a soaring saxophone. The song is "almost an absurdist character sketch of a woman that I had never met," Stout said. "I had a friend in high school that spoke very highly of a woman by the name of Mary Claire La Flare. Whenever he would talk to my friends and I about her, we just burst into tears laughing, because there was no way we could take him seriously when he was swooning over a girl named Mary Claire La Flare. I just thought the name was hilarious."

"Gimme All Your Affection" is probably the band's loudest song, finding them blasting through an angst-ridden plea. Stout calls "The Softest Pillow in Town" "a lullaby to myself" — it is a simple and sweet song.

Stout calls "We're Gorgeous" a "parody" and a "discourse on men's bone-headedness." The lyrics, sung with conviction, are a contradiction for the boys who feel the attitude and lyrics do not reflect their appearances and behavior. "We're gorgeous, we're gorgeous, we're gorgeous, now we live gorgeous lives, women love us, they love us, they love us, well, oh that's no surprise, drinking whiskey, whiskey, whiskey, now don't we look lovely, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, you can hide like a four letter word, so for me, my love, sunshine...." On stage and CD, Stout tosses the lyrics around with such nonchalant swagger he confuses the line between belief and bragging. "We're not pin-ups," Sandes said.

"I mean look at us, for Christ's sake," Stout added.

Still, Wilson said, "We are very confident in what we do." And that is another thing that is compelling about The Patients: Despite their youth, the boys play with a determined confidence.

The Patients had only played a few shows when I first saw them perform in 2002. "I had been playing around Toronto with a couple of people," Stout said of the group's formation. "I had a couple of songs that I did feel were worthy of taking seriously and getting a real band together, [but] nothing really happened until I met John through a mutual friend.

John and I immediately hit it off," Stout continued. "We shared the same aesthetic. Chad (who I went to school with and who was also my roommate), after a bit of convincing, joined the band. And then, we started to play around town in various forms and things have just been snowballing ever since."

"I thought the songs that Stu had written were really great as soon as I heard them," added Wilson. "I felt we could do a lot with his tunes."

Asked about the source of their name, Stout said, "It's as good as any name. It just seemed better than no name."

In the autumn of 2003, The Patients signed with the new Toronto label, Permafrost Records. The group expect to record their first album in the spring, following a Canadian tour during March and April; the album should be out before the end of the year. They also hope to tour the U.S. this year. "We're not out to have a hit record and peter off," Stout said. "This is something we want to do with our lives." — Timothy Hawkins [Friday, February 20, 2004]

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