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Mars Crossing infuses originality into Sea to Sky music scene

The local band next plays May 11 at the Pemberton Legion
Mars Crossing band members, left to right: Brad Nichols, Tom Rimmer, Mike Grenzer, Joseph Salay and Caleb Mackenzie.

You’ll find a lot of cover bands in Whistler, and understandably so. As a world-renowned ski resort that transforms into an elite mountain bike hot spot in summer months, this town attracts a revolving door of visitors which leave artists with a different crowd almost every night. Perhaps that’s one reason groups like A Whole Lotta Led have remained successful for so long without having to branch out to other areas. 

That said, there’s always value in originality: which is exactly what Pemberton band Mars Crossing intends to bring to its upcoming show. 

“The few times we played locally in Pemberton before, we’ve had great feedback,” says drummer Tom Rimmer. “People are stoked and they want to hear it again. Folks want to enjoy listening to music, and I think Whistler locals are maybe getting a bit tired of hearing the same music played over and over and over again.” 

Rimmer will be joined by lead singer Caleb Mackenzie, bassist Brad Nichols and guitar players Mike Grenzer and Joseph Salay, a.k.a. Sal. The group coalesced by chance, on a night when Grenzer went to Mackenzie’s house (the location of a lively party) and asked him to turn the music down.

What might have been a contentious encounter turned out to be awfully serendipitous.

The two men fell into a musical groove and stayed up all night playing together. Mackenzie’s the youngest member of Mars Crossing: he’s in his 30s while the rest are in their 50s and 60s. As a result, he brings a different style compared to the classic rock roots of his mates. 

“We are a bit of southern rock, a bit of funk and some blues,” Rimmer explains. “Caleb’s songs are really good—they’re kind of standard, with not a lot of complexity or chord changes, whereas Mike’s songs are the total opposite. We have some easy-listening songs, but we also have some complicated-music songs. As a musician, they’re both fun to play.”

Punk rock

Rimmer is indeed a lifelong musician. His dad once played in a high-school orchestra, while his mom was a pianist, and there were always instruments kicking around their family home near Guelph, Ont. At age nine, he managed to save $90 and buy a drum kit off
of his neighbour. 

By his mid-teens, Rimmer had immersed himself in the burgeoning punk rock scene of Montreal and Toronto: an era where one could take the metro to three or four different shows per night if desired. Sporting a mohawk and a pair of Doc Marten boots, Rimmer gained plenty of exposure opening for more established bands before selling his instruments and moving to Whistler at 17 years of age. 

He came for the skiing, but ultimately stayed for the music. 

Rimmer’s first band, The Dank Nuggs, lasted for almost eight years as he and two other locals toured across British Columbia. They covered everyone from Grateful Dead to the Allman Brothers before going their separate ways. Subsequently, Rimmer and Grenzer played with A Whole Lotta Led guitarist Phil Richards for nearly two decades until Richards moved to Vancouver Island.

Musical growth

Just like with any other skill, practice makes proficient when it comes to music. 

“Playing with all these guys over the years, it allows you to grow musically,” says Rimmer. “Music is a passion for me. I’m not playing for the income or the adoration of a crowd. I’m playing because I love playing music, and drumming especially. 

“Rhythm is really what drives people to dance, so I get to have the fun job of controlling the crowd. Over the years, I’ve learned to listen. We really take time to craft the songs that we’ve been writing. We have songs that we wrote three years ago and we’re still tweaking their endings or
their beginnings.” 

Going forward, Rimmer hopes Mars Crossing’s fresh stuff will continue to win over audiences and promoters alike. 

“Wouldn’t hiring an original band that writes their own music and is self-produced [be a great way to promote arts]?” he asks rhetorically. “People are getting gigs based on the covers they play, and then they inject one or two of their original songs. We’re trying to do the exact opposite: we have 20 original songs and two covers. ​​I think people are going to be surprised at what they hear.” 

Mars Crossing takes the stage May 11 at the Pemberton Legion.