Shaddy Elsaghir is the last to show up at the Thursday evening rehearsal for Calgary-based hard rock quartet In/Vertigo. The group is convening at a southwest Calgary home occupied by Duncan McCartney, the bassist. Before guitarist Elsaghir arrives, vocalist Reed Alton makes a grand entrance.
“Duncan! Do we have any beer?” he bellows into the room.
Once Alton is settled in, he discusses his collection of vinyl records, which includes one particular title, Cold Fact, by ‘70s American musician Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was unable to achieve success in his home country until late into his career, but he first took off in an entirely different country — South Africa.
Rodriguez is a political act, with a message that resonated with South Africans during apartheid. Whereas Rodriguez garnered fame through underground bootlegs, today, thanks to digital culture, musicians can break into foreign markets with greater ease.
In/Vertigo is gradually seeing this happen as the group embraces a sound that is gathering international attention. The peak of their genre may have come and gone with the 1980s, but In/Vertigo is seeking to restore it to its former glory.
“Our music right now on Spotify [is] all over, through Canada, to Australia, and the U.S. and Germany … so we’ve spread out moderately well,” says Elsaghir.
“I don’t think it’s like North America, where you listen to whatever your buddy listens to,” Alton says. “I think in Europe and other places around the world, you listen to whatever you listen to, because that’s what you like.”
“We’ve played to Canadian audiences, and they’re great and we love them, and we know what to expect from them,” says Elsaghir.
Despite the familiarity of a fanbase that is closer to home, connecting with international listeners is also on the band’s radar.
“Any feedback we’ve gotten from the U.S. or Europe has been really cool, so we’d love to go there and experience that, too,” Elsaghir continues.
In/Vertigo lives in a digital world, one that grants them the opportunity to reach potential fans from every corner of the globe. “Hello from Armenia,” reads a comment on one of the band’s videos.
“With the internet, if you’ve got a decent sound and you’ve got a cool look … people are just going to gravitate towards it,” says Alton.
At the moment In/Vertigo can best be described as hard rock alone, but their musical influences are much more diverse. Posters of both Guns N’ Roses and Michael Jackson hang in the dimly lit living room.
“If you heard our band, it’d be pretty easy to pick apart,” says Elsaghir. “We have lots of roots in classic rock … lots of melodic music, but we also go through everything like classical, jazz, blues, R&B.”
These influences, Elsaghir says, will be heard in later work to “keep people surprised.”
In Alton’s mind, “genres and labels are for the listener, not for the musician … Every time someone listens to our band, it’s a different band.”
“Bad Enemy”: Behind the scenes
As of now, the band has only one song on digital platforms -- “Bad Enemy”. A music video for the track came out last September, created by FadeBack Studios United based in Saint Albert, Alta. Founder Barrett Klesko, a musician himself, built the production house out of necessity.
“I’m sure it won’t be a shock to you, but musicians don’t really make a lot of money,” says Klesko.
“It’s hard, when you’re running your own project, to source everything out. You need to be able to do a few things yourself.”
The video, which features the band performing spliced with a story about a woman rejecting unwanted advances in a bar, was adapted from a script written by Elsaghir.
“A lot of my work tends to be a collaboration between the artists and myself … Without the experience on the video side, it’s not always the easiest thing to know how much story to work into a video,” Klesko says.
“You need favors when you’re at our level, you need people that believe in you and are willing to work with you,” says Elsaghir.
The group later convenes for rehearsal in the basement of the house, marked by an abundance of soundproofing material and a mess of assorted items across the floor. Earplugs and cans of Rolling Rock are passed out as amps scream to life.
The band starts in on an unreleased song, called “Save Me From Myself”. The energetic and fast-paced instrumentation nearly swallows Alton’s high-range vocals, given the acoustics of the basement.
“This next one is by Cardi B,” Alton jokes once the song finishes.
Just then, another musician arrives. This is Kyle McKearney, who is collaborating with In/Vertigo in a writing and producing role. McKearney has been in many bands over the years, including The New Electric, known for their radio hit, “Life’s What You Make It”.
The band became familiar with McKearney from his performances at Morgans Pub, a 17th Avenue live music venue that closed its doors in 2018.
“They used to come into Morgans and watch my bands play, years ago,” says McKearney, who first met In/Vertigo around 2015.
“They work hard, and they’re focused, and they’re good at … giving everyone the opportunity to be creative.”
McKeaney has high hopes for the group going forward.
“I think that [In/Vertigo has] the potential to do something great in rock and roll, and help keep it alive.”
On The Road Again
The mystery that surrounded Rodriguez throughout his popularity in South Africa was captivating, as he was completely unaware of his fanbase. In/Vertigo, on the other hand, recognizes their overseas potential, keeping it in the back of their minds.
To that end, Elsaghir says that the band’s future will consist of both traditional practices in their road gigs as well as contemporary promotion.
“We like to play, and we like to travel, but through the modern age we will also be focusing on digitally releasing our music and trying to attract a broader audience,” he says.
“We are going to be hitting a town and a city near you,” says Alton. “I don’t know who you are, but we’ll be coming to you.”
In/Vertigo can often be found touring, or just skipping town for weekends alone. Performing has put the band through “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” according to McCartney.
“I cannot express, out of the close to 300 shows we’ve done, how many shows we’ve done where we’ve looked at ourselves after the show and were like, ‘Why are we doing this?’, says Alton.
“There’s been a couple of shows where no one’s been there, we didn’t get paid … We’ve been chased off stage before,” he recounts.
“It’s a career of extreme highs and lows,” adds Elsaghir. “The lows can be low, and the highs are extremely high.”
One noteworthy travel story involved a last-minute gig in Saskatoon, where a “pumped up” fan asked the group to autograph his face.
Another took place in Kelowna, B.C., in which the group wasn’t paid for a gig.
“We brought people, we played our show, we held up our end, now you gotta pay,” Elsaghir explains. “I had to guess they just assume bands tour through there … and leave with their tail between their legs.”
The venue was eventually shut down along with “most of the places” that have treated the band unfairly, which is “the In/Vertigo curse” according to Elsaghir.
“Get this on tape,” Alton jokingly replies, pointing to the microphone placed on an amp between the members. “Don’t f--- with us.”
- By Noel Harper