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Pack Rat: "One Thing That's the Same as the Original Vision of the Band Is That I Still Have No Idea What I'm Doing"

After starting as a Covid solo project by Chain Whip's Patrick McEachnie in 2020, Pack Rat quickly grew into an eight-legged outfit with vocalist-guitarist Bella Bebe, bassist Ripley McEachnie, and drummer Tony Dallas. Following up 2021's debut LP Glad To Be Forgotten and last year's Bite My Tongue EP, the band is biting back today with another single from their second LP Life's A Trap (Drunken Sailor Records) called "Neighbours," a sneering catchy rock 'n' roll number loaded with tough guitars and distinctively cutting male-female vocals that owe power pop a sizable debt. To dig deeper, we caught up with both McEachnie and Bebe who reflect on the evolution of the band and how they constructed the 13 tracks that make up Life's A Trap.

Paperface Zine: I know you also play drums in Chain Whip, but how exactly did Pack Rat get its start being a pandemic boredom project?  

Patrick McEachnie: Chain Whip had a month-long tour of Europe in summer 2020 that we had to cancel because of Covid. That would have been my first time touring Europe, and I was crushed when we had to cancel it. I figured I'd use that first pandemic lockdown to learn how to play guitar, to keep busy. I've been playing drums for over 20 years now, but at the time I had never owned a guitar or written my own song before. I bought my first guitar in March 2020, along with a Zoom R24 interface so I could learn how to home demo at the same time. I learned some Ramones, Buzzcocks, and Stiff Little Fingers songs, and wrote ten originals. I recorded all ten over Christmas 2020, then Drunken Sailor Records put it out. It didn't come out until January 2022 because of all the supply chain issues with pressing plants at the time though. 

PZ: How would you say the project has evolved since the Glad To Be Forgotten LP in 2022? What's different, what's still the same?

PM: I'd say it's changed Immensely. The tracks on Glad to be Forgotten were the first songs I ever wrote. I think there's a huge leap in songwriting between the first LP and the Bite My Tongue 7" on Under The Gun from 2023, and again between the 7" and this new album. The biggest difference is that I played everything on the first album, and now I have much more talented people doing all those jobs. One thing that's the same as the original vision of the band is that I still have no idea what I'm doing [laughs]. People often tell me that there's a surprising or a weird element to the band's songwriting, but it all makes sense to me just fine. I just try to write songs that sound like the songs I like. 

PZ: How was it expanding the one-man band into a four-piece with Ripley, Bella and Tony? What have you enjoyed most about this lineup so far?

PM: As cheesy as it is, my favorite part of growing this into a full band is being able to have a good time playing music with my friends. The live band was really only put together to play one release show for the first album, but things clicked and I kept writing songs and the band kept wanting to play them. Bella coming in to help with vocals was huge, as was her contribution to songwriting. As a drummer, it was really important to me to find the right drummer for the project, and that's Tony. He takes my demo parts and perfects them in ways I would have never thought to. Ripley will disagree, but she's grown so much as a bass player since that first era. "Two Sides of Your Heart" off the first album is about my first date with Ripley in November 2020. Now she's my wife. 

PZ: What has it been like trading vocals with Bella? What's the dynamic been like there? 

PM: I like to think the dynamic with Bella is that I can come in with inept ideas and out of key guitar leads, and she can make sense of it all and make it sound good. I collect records, and 77-83 power pop with male/female vocals is one of my favorite corners of my collection (Blondie, De Cylinders, Shivvers, etc). I'm stoked that we get to do his-and-hers(-and-hers) vocals like so many of my favorite records. 

PZ: What insight can you share about the upcoming album Life's A Trap and how the 13 tracks came together with the band? When and where was it recorded?

PM: Life's A Trap is I think both a departure from early promises and an elevation of what's come before. We recorded the album with Jesse Gander at Rain City Recorders in Vancouver in August 2023. The same place we recorded the Bite My Tongue 7", but that was live off the floor in a day and this we took three studio days to do. These 13 songs were also off the floor, but with leads and vocals overdubbed. Bella has four songs on the album, I have nine. 

PZ: How was it putting this one together compared to last year's Bite My Tongue EP? 

PM: We recorded the Bite My Tongue EP three times before we got it right. I'm glad we did, but I think by the time we figured that one out, we were already hungry for the next thing. There was a few months there where I was doing a demo a week, so it came together quite quickly. We even had an oppressively loud click going at band practice before recording so we could really lock it in and make quick work of it. 

PZ: Today we have the pleasure of premiering the video to the album's second single "Neighbours." How did this one come together?

PM: Living in the city, sometimes you see your neighbours banging through the window. Sometimes you're the neighbours. It didn't take me long to start wanting more guitars, so in 2021 I bought a 1966 Melody Maker D. This is the first song I wrote on that guitar. The chorus ring outs resonate forever on it, and the guitar solo just kind of fell out of me quickly on it. I love '60s girl groups, so I asked Ripley and Bella to have a Spector-esque spoken word part instead of a second verse. That's the kind of stuff I love that I couldn't do in a true solo project. 

PZ: Let's dive into some of the other tracks here. What can you say about the opening cut "Heart Beat”? 

PM: In the home demo era, I recorded a song for my niece's tenth birthday called "Happy Birthday Avery." I don't think she liked it, but I did, so I wrote new words, sped it up like 200%, and that became "Heart Beat." It's one of my favorite tracks on the album, and it just had that side one, track one energy to me. I was trying to be Devo with the guitar bends, and at some point Bella suggested we double the very short chorus and solo over it. I figured putting a janky guitar solo in the first song to warn people of what they're in for was a good idea. 

PZ: What can you say about "Sleepless"? 

PM: This was the first song Bella brought to the band, and it's the song that opened me up to sharing songwriting duties. This one makes me think of Powerpearls compilations and Sing Sing reissues. Bella wrote it, so she should answer this one.

Bella Bebe: I was drawn to Pat's music right away when I heard it, specifically the craftsmanship of his songs, and I was excited that he was open to the idea of collaborating, as songwriting is a passion of mine too. So, I wrote "Sleepless" in an attempt to win the band over. Pat has introduced me to a lot of great music since becoming friends and bandmates, including The Nerves. The opening line of Sleepless is "I want to call you on the phone," and the general theme is sort of my homage to their song "Hanging on the Telephone." I wanted to capture the rollercoaster of emotions one experiences when they are desperately in love with someone and in the throes of it. The chorus came first. I did in fact have a night of no sleep, thinking of someone and the next morning the melody and lyrics came from that.

PZ: How about now "Two Makes One”? 

BB: I had the music done for this one first, and it was more upbeat, so I wanted to darken it a bit with the lyrics and touch on the reality of how life can be confusing and frustrating as if there's no hope in sight. I like when there can be a juxtaposition between the lyrics and the feel of a song. I had in mind the idea of writing a duet for Pat and me to sing, and it sort of fell into place when figuring out the lyrics over top of the music and playing around with the concept of how that would sound. For the verses, I wanted to intertwine our voices, finishing each other's sentences, and eventually coming together at the end of the chorus to affirm the idea of "Two Makes One," signifying our shared feelings. I wanted to keep the song simple and ended up making the chord progression the same underneath the verse and chorus, changing the vocal melody to signify the different parts which was a fun puzzle to figure out.

PZ: One of my favorite cuts is "Electrified." What can you say about this one? 

PM: Another one from that Melody Maker. I'd walk from room to room in my house playing that scratchy verse riff all day long until the other parts came into focus. To this day this song is one of the first things I play when I pick up a guitar. We almost made it an instrumental album opener ala Durango 95, but I think B1 is just as important as A1, so we stuck it there. 

PZ: How did the closer "That's That" come together? 

PM: I love fussing over track order, and I always pick the last song on the album intentionally. “That's That” was the obvious choice. I was listening to a lot of Kinks records and I'm pretty sure that's how the verse riff came together. Rhyming clover with shoulder definitely felt like a Ray Davies move. I really dig the tremolo on the Acetone in the intro. 

PZ: How did the rat sculptures come about by Helen Young for the album's cover art? 

PM: Helen Young is a super talented friend from Calgary who does very cool clay monster sculptures, animation, and rugs. I was a fan of her stuff for ages before the idea came to me to have her do us as rats for the cover. She even matched our correct gear and everything. I love that Tony's drum sticks are matches. We tried a more colorful album cover originally, but it was a bit too Pee-wee's Playhouse, so we went with black and white around the sculptures. 

PZ: What else is on the horizon for Pack Rat within the new year?

PM: It feels like we've been very busy in the last two years with now two LPs and a 7", but we've still only played under ten shows. We really only play a few times a year when the situation is right. We're going to continue with that, but focusing on Eastern Canada as much as Vancouver while Ripley and I are in Ontario. I'm living in a cottage in the woods at the moment, so there's lots of time to demo for the next thing while I'm here. 

PZ: Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.

PM: Thank you Joe for the thoughtful questions and for premiering the new single "Neighbours" today. Paperface is a great resource in an era where music blogs barely have a pulse. It's a thankless job, but we appreciate you doing it. Our new album Life's A Trap comes out on July 12th on Drunken Sailor Records. 


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