Rob Ford Explorer
Rob Ford was the mayor of Toronto from 2010 to 2014. He’s best known in this country for various controversies—including drunken, belligerent behavior and substance abuse up to and including smoking crack. He died last year.
Cameron Sax, who, despite his surname, is a guitar player, wanted to name a musical project after Ford. (Sax is from Toronto.) It was originally just “Rob Ford” until a friend jokingly suggested the appendage Explorer. It’s a good pun—linking the former mayor to the popular sport utility vehicle. But, as a band name, it also has the ring of a proggy classic rock band, like the Jimi Hendrix Experience or the Alan Parsons Project. And the music has the energy and intensity of a serious exploration.
Sax met drummer Greg Lewis through the jazz program at the University of Nevada, Reno. Before college, Lewis had played in hardcore and metal bands on the heavier end of the rock spectrum. So Lewis was a good fit to play on some rock-oriented compositions Sax wrote.
However, it’s not really “normal” rock music—if such a thing could even be said to exist. (It can’t.) The compositions are all instrumental, and the rhythms are full of syncopations and complex meters. There’s a bit of jazz in the mix, befitting the duo’s ground zero, as well as some math rock in the vein of Hella, a bit of Zappa, and some prog rock or post-rock or post-prog rock or roast pog puck.
The duo started playing together two years ago, but it was a full year before they started playing shows. Sax’s songs needed a creative approach behind the kit.
“It took a long-ass time,” said Lewis. “It was a struggle, for sure. … It’s very rhythmic, and I could just learn the rhythms. Just tap them out with him and then just put them on the drum set and move it around melodically.”
In other words, he could just follow the guitar line closely, which he does some of the time, but other times he writes contrasting parts or plays grooves that frame longer guitar phrases.
In addition to learning the songs, Lewis also had to learn about Rob Ford.
“I didn’t know who he was,” said Lewis. So Sax played him some choice YouTube clips.
“He’s a ridiculous guy, and our music is pretty ridiculous,” said Lewis. “When I tell people, ’Rob Ford Explorer,’ they either say, ’Oh, cool,’ and look kind of confused”—probably because they don’t recognize the name—“or they bust out laughing.”
Unlike some bands with small lineups, Rob Ford Explorer doesn’t use loops, pre-recorded parts, samplers or other technology to supplement the sound. Sax doesn’t even use many guitar effects—not even reverb.
“I’m trying to get the sounds from my hands and the guitar, and just having it be minimal,” he said. “If I show up to a gig, and I forgot all my pedals, I want to still be able to play.”
The stripped-down lineup affects the songwriting as well.
“We have a lot more responsibility because it’s just the two of us,” said Sax. “It influences how I write, because I totally hear lines on top of what I have written, and if we had a bass player that would totally free me up and let me do those things. So the instrumentation determines how the songs are written because it needs to sound full.”
But it also makes it really easy for them to just pack up and go for out-of-town gigs—or other explorations.