Tom van Deursen grew up jumping around the basement of his home in Meadow Creek, a sparsely populated community at the northern tip of Kootenay Lake, deep in the B.C. Interior.
He was imitating his musical idols — Ben Kowalewicz, Mick Jagger, Jack White — for stage performances he would begin doing 10 years later.
Van Deursen started playing guitar at age 11 and his brother and fellow bandmate Derek, nine at the time, began playing drums.
The two made for a “fuzzy rock duo of pre-teens” along the lines of Jack White or the Black Keys, according to van Deursen.
Their first performances were to 60 to 70 people in the gym of their high school in Kaslo, a small town in its own right, an hour-long school bus ride away.
The band has since grown far beyond those gym walls, based on the two brothers’ dreams of starting an anthemic rock band inspired by who the two grew up listening to, bands like Billy Talent, Supertramp and Alexisonfire, among others.
Van Deursen graduated and moved away first, leaving to Vancouver and eventually playing guitar as part of The Boom Booms, an East Van rock band.
Once his brother joined him and The Boom Booms slowed down some, the two started taking Small Town Artillery more seriously, adding bandmates Carson Webber, Mike Kayser and Nathan Barrett — and occasionally more, up to eight members, including a horn section.
A key part of Small Town Artillery’s success thus far has been its live shows.
Van Deursen recalled that when he was 17, his uncle gave him some advice, saying a band first has to find its groove and then work on its stage performance.
“No way, man,” van Deursen remembers saying to his uncle, insisting the opposite was true.
“He said, ‘No, you’re wrong.’ And I was wrong. But approaching shows where it’s energy first, music second — we did that for years, and the shows were crappy, but we made up for it by being very exuberant,” he said.
Now, van Deursen said the band is stocked with seasoned players and although “the groove has really landed,” there is still a mentality that performance comes first, making for shows high in both energy and quality.
That energy is backed by van Deursen’s small-town philosophy and his experience going from Kaslo, population 968, to Vancouver.
“In a small town, you’ve got a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker — or really, loggers and hippies, who are against logging — and because they live in such a small environment and have to see each other every day, they are encouraged to get along and treat each other with honesty, empathy and understanding,” he said.
“Whereas in the city, I think with the anonymity of living in a place with millions of people, you can behave differently, because likely you will never see the same person again.”
Van Deursen said even though he now lives in Vancouver, his own life philosophy remains rooted in his Meadow Creek upbringing.
“You have to ask yourself what role you can play, how you can be empathetic and listen. That’s the artillery of a small town, and it totally permeates our personalities, and I think our music, too,” he said.
Small Town Artillery will perform at The Blue Grotto, 319 Victoria St., on Thursday, June 27. They will be joined by two bands van Deursen heartily endorsed: Wooden Horsemen, out of Vancouver, and Kamloops band Thunderchild.
Tickets are $10 in advance, available online at http://ticketor.com/thebluegrotto, or $15 at the door.