Big John Bates: Noirchestra by David Jacklin Photography 2019
“Moon of Alabama” from the 2019 LP Skinners Cage


Here’s the story …. John Bates was an adopted, solitary kid who liked to invent monster stories to scare his family. His birth father was a contributor to Montreal’s “The Beau-Marks” so maybe it was inevitable that John picked up guitar around age 14, taking a few lessons and watching any players he could find. John considers himself a “creative” guitarist (and a vocalist / lyricist after his instrument was stolen), influenced by bands from The Doors to Metallica to Bauhaus. With zero interest in crushing the soul out of music as a day job, instead John connected with Jeff Waters to create the legendary thrash-metal band Annihilator. They developed the first two Roadrunner albums in a cold basement under 604 Bank Street in Ottawa.

THE DOLLZ: John went in a different direction, moving to recording a goth-rock LP in the 90’s with his band Bates Motel (with Waters behind the desk) and hit the road. Soon, as a long-time Cramps addict, Bates fell into the punk-rockabilly scene as Big John Bates & the Voodoo Dollz and then things really started happening. From their first shows down the West Coast to getting banned in Las Vegas (and run-ins with Federales from lesser-known locales) to literally thousands of shows over ten years in 18 countries. They were basically a roaming circus in the aptly-named Murderbus (a blacked-out ex-HandyDart), sharing stages with bands from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to the Supersuckers, the Blasters to Solomon Burke. Luckily much of the touring was video-taped by this cult-ish group that was almost unstoppable through the 2000’s. They eventually produced four independent LPs with Todd Simko (Pure) and a pair of live DVDs (Cinestir), with eye-popping performances, props and charismatic stage antics built from elements of 1950’s and 1960’s B-movies.

NOIRCHESTRA: While all that was happening John was stretching to make a more personal statement and fell under the influence of other eclectic musicians like David Eugene, Tom Waits and Jon Spencer. He met upright bassist / vocalist Brandy Bones while her band was opening for a BJB tour and invited her to join him on a summer tour of Europe. After those fateful dates and some massive outdoor events, they began digging deep into their roots to create a style they have variously referred to as Rustic Punk or Americana Noir. By the second LP they had floated through a cornucopia of musicians (and a dirty dozen crazy tours) until they met Ty-Ty the Saviour; whose bombastic percussion and easy-going personality melded him right into their circle. The final piece of the Noirchestra was violinist and soundscape artist RequiEmily. Always ready for new sonic challenges, she also found herself a big part of Brandy’s gymnastic performances. The four of them built on each other’s unique talents to perfect a dynamic show while together they recorded the dystopian 2019 album Skinners Cage in Germany and on John’s liveaboard Caleuche in Vancouver – an LP which truly brought the band’s chamber-punk sound to life.

Big John Bates has appeared on movie and TV soundtracks and been featured in coffee-table books and glossy magazines worldwide. The Noirchestar appears on Netflix’s Sci-Fi series Snowpiercer (2021). The albums chart on campus radio across Canada, NPR in the USA and community radio in Europe – where the band brings together artistic and diverse music fans from every country.