Catriona Sturton is a household name in Canadian music and beyond—her masterful blues guitar and harmonica stylings combined with her angelic sweetness are the trappings of a true musical powerhouse, a fact undeniably demonstrative in her live performances. Her songwriting, in juxtaposition to her inundated playing, is deliberate and subdued, yet both offer a sort of honest intimacy that rattles and soothes, an experience similar to getting socked in the gut while someone tenderly strokes your hair. It’s often too much for audiences’ hearts to handle and I’ve had the pleasure of bearing witness to that collective heartbreak on two separate occasions, with a third opportunity coming this Friday, April 13th at NAC Fourth Stage on a double bill with Alberta singer/songwriter, Liz Stevens.
This show will be markedly different than any previous iteration of her solo work in two signifanct ways; for the first time she will be backed by a band and, perhaps more startling, Sturton will be playing violin publicly, something she hasn’t done since she was a child. I spoke with her about what inspired these changes as well as what else she has planned for Friday evening.
Interview with Catriona Sturton
Can you tell me a little bit about your history with the violin and how you came to pick it up?
I played the violin for years as a kid. My grandfather was the local fiddler in the Irish village that my mum was from (he was also the seventh son of a seventh son!). I liked the idea of learning fiddle music as a kid but ended up taking classical violin lessons. I wasn’t a great student (ok, I was kind of terrible; I once showed up to a lesson with an empty violin case) but am now thankful that it gave me a good musical base. I used to think that I never fell in love with playing music ’til I discovered the harmonica, but I’m realizing now that I have really deep feelings for the violin.
What sparked the resurrgence?
I went on tour with The Noisy Locomotive and played with Trevor Pool and Ben Nesrallah, who accompanied me on violin on several songs. Since then, I knew there was something magical about the combination of violin and harmonica. I kept thinking I should find a violin player to tour with in the future, then one day I decided that I should try to play it myself.
What was the most challenging part?
My experience was that it wasn’t like riding a bike at all…. it felt like a very new instrument even though I had played it for a long time when I was younger it felt very new to pick it up again. Part of that was I had to hold it in a different way to be able to play harmonica at the same time. The fun part was that I kind of used the harmonica as a teacher to show me what I wanted to do on the violin. I do like a challenge though, so there is something grounding in being humbled.
Did you experience an awakening of sorts?
Last year I went to learn Irish music from my uncle and it made me really wonder why I hadn’t tried to learn some sooner. At that time I was playing songs on the diatonic harmonica and he also gave me an accordion. But starting violin made me feel really strongly and deeply that I should be connecting more with this side of my family’s musical heritage.
Do you feel vulnerable without your guitar?
Very much so!!!!
You’re working with drummer Ben Deinstadt and bassist Kristy Nease now, a departure from your usual solo performances. What brought you all together and how did you manage to find cohesion as artists?
I have been working as a one person band for 5 years. While working on arranging my songs, it became apparent that some of them have pretty idiosyncratic structures, which kind of explains why it was sometimes hard for me to explain what I wanted from other musicians in the past. I met Ben Deinstadt through GINNY’s Lesley Marshall and had heard he was interested in touring. When we started to get together to play music it was just for fun and we became good friends in the process. I was really impressed with how much attention he would put into learning little details and arrangements for the songs and I also loved how some of the parts he came up with weren’t what you’d expect at first but fit the songs in a way that it now feels weird for me to not hear them. And he helped me fix a bunch of my gear! He’s great! I think he’s a bit of a secret weapon, he said some people he knows don’t even know he plays the drums, but I can’t imagine that will be for long.
I have played with Kristy since I first started to seriously consider playing guitar and harmonica at the same time. She’s a real inspiration to me as a musician. One of the very first tours I did was with her, years ago, in Nova Scotia. She’s solid as a person and a bass player, and I feel very lucky that she can join us for this show. I think she’s in 5 bands at the moment, I’m not sure if this makes 6! I was standing next to her at a show and saw how intently she was watching the bands play and I didn’t even know if she played music, I just had a feeling based on how tuned in she was that she’d be great to play with. Years later she’s a great friend and I feel so comfortable playing with her.
I’ll also have Birdie Whyte and Sal Valley as special guests. They are two gems of songwriting in Ottawa and we’ve just started to play together, the three of us.
That sounds so incredibly special! I mean, though you live in Ottawa, we are rarely gifted with a chance to see you perform and it sounds like this Friday is going to be particularly incredible!
I try not to play in Ottawa too often, so that I have time to prepare and pull out all the stops when I do! This time I’ll have a Wheel of Fortune, made by Montreal artist Emily Comeau and props made of my art by Ottawa’s Kate Greenland (who performs as Mabel Beggs, solo and in Aiken and Beggs).
Not to mention the addition of Liz Stevens on the bill!
I can’t wait to hear Liz live. Her voice blows me away but I’ve only gotten to experience it on video and recorded. She has such a great ability to capture nuance and feeling. There is a video of her singing Wicked Game by Chris Isaak that is devestatingly moving.
You are also a visual artist, creating the most sunshiney of illustrations. Your smiling heart is almost a signature of sorts. You create artwork for others upon request seemingly just to brighten others days. What drives you to spread such positivity? Is it something you consciously curate or is it something you feel comes to you naturally?
It’s funny, when I first made a website my friend, Jason Cobill, who designed it, suggested I have my drawings on it. At the time I wasn’t sure how they fit with the music I was making. I write a lot of quiet and very moody songs. But the drawings I make definitely have a light and funny quality to them. I started making drawings online for people when I got a scholarship to an online group where my role was to be a cheerleader in exchange for doing the course for free. I really enjoyed tuning in to where someone was at and trying to see if I could draw something that would encourage them in that moment. I discovered an app I could colour in the drawings with and it all clicked for me. I started drawing more this year because after I got a concussion sound really bothered me and after months of laying pretty low I think I needed a creative outlet.
My favourite drawings to do by far have been for people by request, or when they ask for one for someone they care about so I’ve kept making more and more. It makes me happy to be able to do them and I feel lucky when I get to tune into people caring about each other. For example, parents might ask for one for their kids, or people will ask for their friends or partner. In the moment when I’m drawing I get to feel that love and it is really beautiful. I haven’t really considered myself to be an artist but I have started to get a number of commissions, which I really appreciate because it has really encouraged me. And I’m starting to make merch with my art. The first ones will be at this show, I have some pins.
You mentioned you had suffered a concussion that impacted your ability to play music. What was it like coming out of that? What have you learned from the adaption process?
I got rear ended this summer and hit my head on the steering wheel. It threw me for a big loop because one of the most difficult parts of it was that I became hypersensitive to sound, to the point that it made me nauseous. I had trouble if more than one conversation was happening at a time. And bright lights were too much. Basically everything that you have at a show I couldn’t handle. It was kind of heartbreaking because I had worked really hard for 5 years and was feeling like I was starting to build some momentum with my music career and then had to face not knowing what the process of recovery would look like. I had to lie in the dark with sunglasses on and my windows covered up.
The part that turned out to be the hardest for me was that my ability to read and respond to people was really affected. So, little things like talking to someone after a show was a huge challenge, let alone trying to talk to lots of people, which is actually a really big part of playing shows. The other thing that crept in later was that being rear ended made me feel cautious about driving, which is a huge part of touring. After moving through all kinds of challenges in the past few years and working really hard to keep unafraid and a positive attitude, I got kind of swamped.
One thing I realized throughout it all was that it is very scary to be vulnerable, and I think being kind of reduced in this way made me take more risks in writing songs that were more open about challenging times. And it made me want to move away from having a wall of sound that I had aspired to with a big amplifier, harmonica tone, and one-man-band posturing I used as a bit of a defense mechanism while touring solo. I mean, I still like to play loud at times! But it made me appreciate more how brave it can be to really open yourself up. In some ways I think I have started to connect with people on a deeper level after going through a few things and kind of having no choice but to reflect them in where I was at.
While difficult to comprehend how someone’s artistic well could possibly be mined deeper, the fact that someone so accomplished as Catriona continues to take artistic risks that bring us closer to her is a rare gift afforded to an audience: a gift you can receive this Friday evening if you believe in love and magic. Tickets are available a the NAC box office, or can be found online here.
Juno-award winning band Dear Rouge are in Ottawa supporting Lights tonight at Algonquin Commons Theatre, and it’s sure to be a fun weeknight on campus. The band released their second full-length album, Phases, last month, and are touring with Lights as a supporting act for a string of shows in 2018. After winning a Juno for breakthrough group of the year in 2016, Dear Rouge have their sights set high. I chatted with power couple Drew and Danielle McTaggart in advance of tonight’s show.
Tickets for tonight’s Ottawa show can be found here. Check out our rapid fire Q&A session below:
Rapid Fire with Dear Rouge
Q: If you had to choose any dream career outside of music, what would it be?
Drew: Vacation tester. I think my mom saw that on Oprah or something.
Danielle – Cirque de Soleil gymnast. One of the ones that does the scary tight rope.
Q: Favourite movie?
Danielle: Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Drew: That’s three movies!
Matias: Technically, it’s kind of like one really long 11-hour long movie.
Danielle: Fine, I’ll say the Two Towers then!
Q: Any hobbies that most fans wouldn’t know about?
Drew: I like bridges. I don’t know how that’s a hobby, but I like them.
Danielle: Ok, I want to change my answer then. Bald eagles.
Q: Favourite pizza toppings?
Drew: Ok, wait, then if I had to just have one topping on a pizza then I’d say cheese over pepperoni.
Q: Star Wars or Star Trek?
Drew: Star Wars.
Danielle: Star Wars, as of late. But I grew up on Star Trek. It was really hard for me when it switched. It was kind of sad, so now I like Star Wars better.
Q: Best Halloween costume growing up?
Drew: Ohhhh! Robin Hood. Because in my quiver I would be able to put all my candy.
Matias: That’s really, really smart.
Danielle: I think I was a cheerleader a couple times. Made my own pom poms.
Q: Place that you want to visit most, but haven’t yet.
Drew: South America. I’ve been to every other continent except South America and I really want to go there.
Danielle: Um, yeah. I was going to say that. But I’ll say Scotland. That would be cool.
There is a new band in town, partners, and they are full of alt-country, twang, and heartache.
GINNY is the latest band formed in the nation’s capital with members of a bunch of other great bands. Fronted by vocalist Lesley Marshall (Bonnie Doon), guitarist Catriona Sturton (ex-Plumbtree), and bassist Kristy Nease (Area Resident), GINNY’s haunting country styling arrives just in time as we flirt with the return of spring but keep being reminded of the harshness of winter.
GINNY’s first single, “Choose the Wrong Man,” is a slow-building little alt-country number about having bad luck in love. Have a listen below as Marshall’s ghostly vocals of country singers past shines over the band’s blues-tinged and rock-influenced country sound.
The band is poised to release their debut EP on Friday March 16th at The Concorde Motel in Ottawa, supported by The Railway Hotel and Ommie Jane (details here). We interviewed Marshall ahead of the show to get a better sense of how the band came to be and what to expect of this little known venue.
Ginny is quite a shift from your other project, Bonnie Doon. What attracted you to making country music?
I drifted towards country music in the last five years. I’ve always been a big fan of folk rock and folk music but I got really into classic country when I heard Loretta Lynn, Townes Van Zandt, and Patsy Cline. They were all singing from the heart in a way that really resonated with me.
We used a Patsy Cline song “Crazy” as a temp track in one of my first films and I began to sing it a karaoke, then I started to singing Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” and started to really see myself in that music. I had been writing a lot of sadder and melodramatic songs since high school on a tiny air organ and they didn’t fit into the party vibe of Bonnie Doon. I fell in love with some of the romanticism of country music and wanted to learn more.
Learning the history of racism and blues and the industry’s separation of the genres that exists today—interesting stuff, but yeah, it was the emotion that was coming out of my voice that led the way. I couldn’t describe it and, well, it was friends that said it was country. I was with DJ Lamb Rabbit one day too showing her my tracks and she showed me Mary Margaret O’Hara “Miss America” and was like— “did you know that this is what you’re doing?”
The band is somewhat of a local super-group, made up of Catriona Sturton and Kristy Nease (Area Resident). How did it come to be?
Oh my gosh. Yeah, well I am a lucky duck here. I had been spending time with Catriona and Kristy as they are buds and Kristy at the time was doing a lot of Gamelan Orchestra and Catriona was starting to tour on her own. I had told Catriona about some of my songs and she mentioned she wanted to tour in the southern states the following winter and visit her friends at Dollywood with another drummer friend from a Philadelphia band The Pretty Greens and asked if some of my songs would fit as an opening act. I am a person of the variety who says yes even if I am unsure—so I said yes! Being on tour is kind of my dream state, even though it is very hard.
All this to say, I had wanted to explore working on these songs and so I brought them to Kristy to help nail down the musical framework. Kristy is a a genius with the bass and percussion so she took the demos I made and we jammed them out to the songs they are today with Catriona coming on with those heavy blues guitar riffs. The first incarnation of the band was a drum machine, an air organ, Kristy on the bass and me singing through a 16mm projector. We later added a drummer to get that classic country feel. I had always intended the project to be a newer eerie kind of country, so this show at the Concorde will feature DJ Jas Nasty on the theremin.
A glimpse at the mysterious, seldom-used venue called The Concorde Motel. Photo taken from Facebook.
And how is it working with them on this project?
Working with Catriona and Kristy is a dream come true. Kristy has supreme work ethic and execution and Catriona is a wizard. She just kind of comes in and brings her ideas and flare with the her classic guitar sound. They both have such great taste and understanding of music it’s like breathing in and out. I feel like coming in with my voice, I have to bring a lot and do!
The release show is taking place at The Concorde Motel, quite an unusual and unknown venue to most. Can you tell us a little about it and why you chose it?
The Concorde Motel is just down the street from my partner’s house in Vanier so we started going for drinks there. The first time I walked in I was blown away by the absolute size and decor of the bar. It truly is a relic. Back in the 1970s and 80s it was one of the ‘go-to’ spots for country music as there were 6 active country clubs with live bands playing 7 days a week. Times sure have changed and they stayed open as a bar but stopped operating as a venue. Since the bid to change the whole block including the Motel into the controversial super shelter came around last year, we thought it would be a rare chance to have a show like this there.
What should people expect from the live performance on March 16?
March 16th is gonna be a full night of hanging out in the Concorde, people can play pool, and listen to the jukebox between bands and expect a whole night of great music from Ottawa Alt-Coutry Folk and Blues with Ommie Jane and The Railway Hotel opening up the night. GINNY has a full set and will be playing songs from our self-titled debut EP, but also songs on the air organ that couldn’t fit on the EP and guest performer and singer Matt Miwa will be adding his lounge singer-songwriter air.
Rose Cousins experiences life as a human. The east coast roots-balladeer dreams big, and writes big. Armed with a dynamic set of pipes, Cousins distils our species’ grandest themes into dreamy vignettes that seamlessly pivot from whisper-quiet confessionals, to titanic pronouncements.
Despite years of critical and industry acclaim, Cousins re-jigged her priorities at the end 2013. She spent some time travelling, songwriting in meccas like LA and Nashville, and got back into photography, spending hours printing in NSCAD’s dark rooms.
Last year she returned with “Natural Conclusion”, a candle-lit, epsom bath of emotive balladry. Lyrically impressionistic, she’s leaves the metaphorical heavy-lifting up to the listener. Minimalist song titles like “Freedom”, “Chosen”, “Grace”, harken to a simpler time in pop music, when a creep was a “Creep”, hurt was “Hurt”, and songs about spoon men were called “Spoonman”.
Rolf Klausener: Dream gig to open-up for? Rose Cousins: Sting, but only if I got to meet him. I’d like KD Lang, Bonnie Raitt and Adele’s audiences to adopt me.
That’s incredibly fair. Who’s your dream opening act? Drake
Heavy. I’d love to see that with my human eyes. What’s your favourite venue in Canada? This is where I say the NAC right?
Only if you mean it with your physical heart. Do you associate Ottawa with the National Arts Centre, or as having its own scene? When I started, my “Ottawa” experience was playing the Blacksheep Inn. It associated Ottawa with some of the best fans and listening audiences. Since the NAC’s program to develop new artists has been in play, it’s expanded my experience of growth as an artist and expanded the experience an audience can have of a variety of shows. It’s an opportunity I deeply appreciate.
With that, what significance does playing the NAC hold for you? It’s an opportunity to expand the idea of a show to reach new heights. Filling a grander space, not necessarily with more sound but with more ideas. This time, I’ll be bringing a string quartet along with my band.
Who doesn’t love strings!? Do you think performing arts centres like the NAC are the right place for contemporary popular music like trap or drone-metal? It makes perfect sense that the National Arts Centre would be a good place and presenter of our diverse Canadian talent.
It really does. How did the experience of writing-on-assignment in Nashville and LA affect your approach to the songs that followed? It has only broadened my skills. I adjust my approach based on what the song is for, especially if I’m writing to a brief; but, my experience as a human will always inform the way I write no matter what it’s for.
Humanity is vital. Since the early 2000’s, there’s been a marked shift in attitudes towards song placement in film and tv. For writers with solid publishing deals, syncs are an essential part of their financial sustainability. How has that shift in attitudes affected your process as a songwriter? Luckily, there will always be death, birth and breakups in Film and TV, so I don’t have to do much shifting as a songwriter. Songs in movies have always been my favourite. So, my existing tendencies lend to this shift in revenue streams.
Flexibility is key! So, how do you separate the “songwriting for me” Rose, from the “I’m gonna nail this sync” Rose? I don’t.
Once in a while a concept album comes along that moves us, emanating stories and experiences that we can somehow connect with. In the case of Winnipeg’s Heavy Bell, Matt Peters (member of Royal Canoe) and Tom Keenan (actor and singer-songwriter) dig deep into the past with their audacious debut, By Grand Central Station.
Both Peters and Keenan bring different artistic perspectives to the table, having each composed music in the more traditional sense, but also for stage productions of A Winter’s Tale and Richard II. The avant-chamber-pop album contains songs that were inspired by Canadian writer and poet Elizabeth Smart’s 1945 novel By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, a work that has been touted as “one of the half-dozen masterpieces of poetic prose in the world.” In doing so, the duo creates a bridge by which we can take a stroll back in time and experience the story told by Smart in a new way. By Grand Central Station is beautifully crafted, and its orchestral overtones flood the album. In some respects, Heavy Bell took a similar storytelling approach as Neutral Milk Hotel did on 1998’s In The Aeroplane Over the Sea.
Smart’s novel is considered to be a pseudo-fictional autobiography in which she recounts her turbulent love affair with writer George Barker. In their music, Peters and Keenan draw from the book’s highs and lows, the ecstasies and calamities associated with complicated love stories.
“The novel is a poem written in prose form,” Peters explains. “Rather than describing action, she describes her internal response to action; it is a journey through the emotional extremes of a love affair: anticipation, exhilaration, guilt, joy, jealousy, grief, pity, righteousness… But though she is tossed around on the sea of her emotions, her dazzling intellect remains intact: in fact she is constantly examining her emotions even as she experiences them.”
“She weighs her experience against the whole of poetic history: the book is full of reflections on the Bible, Shakespeare, Greek mythology, and more recent writers. It is a very rich read: every time I come back to it, each chapter strikes me in new ways,” said Peters.
“There is no specific structure to the songs, or the album for that matter. The passages that are included create an impressionistic composite that layers and weaves with the music, guiding the direction of By Grand Central Station as a whole. The emotion embedded in Smart’s story is what guided her book, and is the connective tissue that guides the direction of the album. In fact, Elizabeth Smart’s own voice appears in the songs “The Pain Was Unbearable” and “I Am Not The Ease,” which was retrieved from a 1982 archival recording from CBC’s Morningside,” added Peters.
“We are certainly not trying to summarize the plot, or adapt the novel to music,” Peters clarifies. “The album is a collection of responses to moments in the book. There are several themes that struck us and made it into the record. Fate is a big one: she is constantly aware that her deed is going to (and does) wreak havoc on herself and everyone around her, spilling “poisonous tides of blood,” but she is helpless to stop it.”
“It is greater than she, greater than pity, greater than remorse: her ultimate moral duty is to this Fact of love; ‘Jupiter has been with Leda… and now nothing can avert the Trojan Wars.’ This theme resounds through all the emotional extremes of the book and the album. Love is “claiming its birth at last” and changing her entire world forever.”
Toronto’s Casper Skulls are currently wrapping up with touring their first full length album Mercy Works, released on Buzz Records November 3rd. The band is one of the newest editions to the label’s boundary-pushing roster, and their latest effort follows the dense and complex lo-fi sound played through early 90’s tape decks. Mercy Works is an ambitious attempt to explore the unknown, examine self-growth, religion, grief, and real lived experiences, and was co-produced/engineered by Josh Korody (Fucked Up, Dilly Dally). The post-punk, garage, and art-rock influences are sprinkled throughout, as the album bleeds with thick guitar riffs and intricate instrumental arrangements.
We sat down with singer and guitarist Neil Bednis before their show this Friday to discuss the band’s sound, their new album, best sounding venues and touring as a couple. Check out the interview below.
Interview with Neil Bednis
In just a couple of years as a band you have already garnered comparisons to some of my all-time favourite bands such as Television and Pavement. How did that feel after only a 7-inch and an EP? And do these comparisons come into play when you are writing new music, such as your latest release Mercy Works?
NB: It’s flattering that people would associate our music with those bands. We were really influenced by that kind of music growing up and those bands are part of the reason we wanted to start playing music in the first place. Obviously with our early releases our influences are on our sleeves but I think that was necessary for us to discover our own sound. I think Mercy Works still has elements of those early sounds but we definitely moved into a more melodic direction. “You Can Call Me Allocator” was the first song written for the record and it set the tone of the writing of the record. I think that song in particular is a perfect example of what we are as a band. The verses are talky and the chorus is more melodic and lush. On the record I think we explore the extremes of both those sounds.
Speaking of Mercy Works, how was it to work with Josh Korody and Alex Newport, who have worked on releases by Fucked Up, Dilly Dally, At The Drive-In, Death Cab For Cutie, just to name a few?
NB: We had previously worked with Josh on our Lips and Skull EP, so we already felt comfortable recording with him. After seeing our live show, Josh thought it’d be best to do a lot of the record live off the floor which had never done previously. I think recording that way created a really positive start to the record. We wanted to explore a couple different musical ideas on the record (i.e. strings, acoustic guitars, 12-string, baritone) and Josh kind of let us take the reigns on that stuff. It’s always a really fun time whenever we get to see Josh and I’m really glad he was part of the record.
We heard of Alex from his work he did on the first Weaves record and the Pissed Jeans stuff. Ian from Buzz Records had Alex’s information from working with him on the Weaves record and he was able to put us in touch. Alex lives in Los Angeles so we had to make most of the mixing notes over e-mail but we really love what Alex did to the songs.
Your sound seems like it would lend itself great both in a small club and in the big acoustics of a church. What are some of the favourite venues you have ever played and explored in live?
NB: Just off the top of my head, Lee’s Palace and the Garrison in Toronto are two of my favorite sounding venues. The vibe is always really nice at those venues and I haven’t really played a show where we’ve have had any trouble getting the sound we want. The Townehouse in Sudbury has a lot of sentimental value to us. Mel and I discovered a lot of great music going to shows there and we played our first show ever at the Townehouse as well. I also really enjoy playing this place in Washington D.C. called Comet Ping Pong. Our friend Lisa does a lot of the booking there and she creates a really homey vibe to the shows she puts on. It has more of a DIY vibe to it and you can eat pizza and play ping pong as well as watch awesome music!
For those who have never seen you play, what should they expect live compared to the recording on the album?
NB: I think the live show brings a more lively energy to the songs. I don’t mean to say the record isn’t lively but I think the show has a rawness to it that is different from the record. For songs like “Chicane, OH” and “You Can Call Me Allocator,” we’ll play the songs a little faster just to give the songs a bit more of a bounce. We tried to make the record have more lush moments with the strings and acoustic guitars which aren’t present in the live performance. Overall, I think if you like the record you’ll like the live show.
How has touring the new album been going so far?
NB: The tour has been going well! We’re happy to be playing these songs for people and seeing how they translate live. We’re really excited for the few dates we have with Land of Talk. They’re one of our favorite bands and we’ve been obsessed with their new record. We’ve been playing these songs in small clubs and have been kind of tailoring our set lists toward that. For these shows we’re hoping to play some of the more slow burners off the record that’ll translate better in bigger halls.
I have always been curious what it would be like being in a band as a couple?
NB: It’s really nice not to have to leave each other when we tour. I think sometimes we struggle separating band stuff from our personal lives. For example sometimes at dinner we just end up talking about band stuff so we need to check ourselves every now and then and just talk about other things that have nothing to do with music. Most importantly, we need to be a couple first and band mates second. It’s a really special thing to get to make art and share failures and successes with someone you’re with.
Fredericton, NB, may not be the biggest music hub in Canada, but it’s home to the noisy, mind-melting art rock group Motherhood. They’re gearing up for a string of fall shows, and the Ottawa date features a stacked lineup on November 8th at Pressed along with Winnipeg’s Tunic and locals Warp Lines (members of The Yips, Big Dick, Tropical Dripps, Million Dollar Marxists, Van Johnson).
While the distances between stops are long, Motherhood is no stranger to the road.
“The last 14 months have seen us across the country twice, and to Ontario and Quebec like 6 times (plus a heapload of NB shows),” explains multi-instrumentalist Penelope Stevens. “We recorded a full-length album, did a couple cool collaborations, and purchased a new tour vehicle. Needless to say, we’re pretty excited to take a couple months to relax (relax = finish our album, write a new album, and play locally…). We don’t like to risk touring in the winter months, but as soon as the snow melts we’ll be back at it.”
This is not Motherhood’s first time in Ottawa, as they’ve had the chance to play at Ottawa Explosion Weekend this past year and a handfull other venues in the past. They have warmed up to the city somewhat—minus a couple bumps along the way.
“Ottawa, interestingly enough, is the only city where we’ve ever had our van vandalized—twice actually!” Stevens admits. “But that hasn’t stopped us from really loving the Ottawa scene. One of our first shows was at Mugshots (RIP), and even though we didn’t really know anyone in town, a nice crew of people came out and supported us.”
“We’ve always found there to be a lot of sick bands to play with (Mushy Gushy, The Yips, Pippa, and more) and the venues are cool. House of Targ was always #1 on my bucket list of venues to play in Canada, and last year my dreams came true! It was as cool as I wanted it to be. The folks in Ottawa Explosion, Debaser, and booking Pressed are good folks, and we really admire the work people put into their scene. Ottawa seems a lot like Fredericton, close knit and supportive, and decidedly “other.”
2017 has shaped up to be a big year for Motherhood, with the band getting into festivals such as Sled Island, CMW, Ottawa Explosion, and Lawnya Vawnya. Even more, they’ve been exporting their irresistibly fuzzy, dissonant sound to small stages across the country. The band members are enjoying their road-heavy schedule.
“A lot of New Brunswickers move on to larger cities, so we get to catch up with some of our closest friends on the road. We bring gifts from folks at home and get to bring news about how everyone’s doing. We’re glorified carrier pigeons. Plus, we usually bring a road pal with us, and they keep things fresh. This time we have our bud Noah, who’s never been on tour before. His excitement will keep the posi vibes alive on the long drives!”
Their tracks “Guano” and “Yarn-Barred” were featured on the Greville Tapes Music Club, vol. 1, and their cover of Construction & Destruction’s song “The Oracle” appeared on volume 2 of the Pentagon Black compilation. With two LPs, an EP, and a split under their belts, Motherhood is on the verge of entering the studio once again to record another full-length for release in winter 2017-18.
“We write collaboratively in our studio, so the music comes from pretty much anywhere,” says Stevens. “Sometimes Brydon will bring in some lyrics or one of us will have a riff, but a lot of it is just hammered out through long jams, then we chop it up and forget 95% of it. The stuff that sticks is the stuff worth keeping. We’re composers, yes, but I think our talents actually lie in our editing. We don’t have any particular goals when writing, we just set a timeline—we’ll write for 3-6 months, then record when the time runs out. I guess it’s pretty weird, but it works for us!”
Be sure to catch Motherhood along with Winnipeg’s Tunic and Ottawa’s Warp Lines at Pressed on Wednesday, November 8th. $10 at the door, 8 pm. All ages, licensed 19+ show.
It’s been a little over a year since Toronto’s Weaves released their debut LP on Buzz Records, rapidly becoming a household name in the Canadian independent music landscape. They have been quick to garner international praise for their brand of unconventional guitar pop with not-so-subtle hints of improvisation. The self-titled effort was largely, considered a great success by music publications far and wide. Their album also scored them a short list nomination for the Polaris Music Prize this year, which they performed at a few weeks back after a year of relentless touring. Let’s just say that this is one band you can’t miss seeing live.
Weaves isn’t kicking back just yet. They have just released their second LP called Wide Open, and are out to prove that there is no obstacle too big for them to scale. Their answer to the challenge of following up a hugely successful debut is to keep creating, and continue to push boundaries wherever possible.Wide Open bounces from calm to chaotic, and pulls listeners in every direction. Early listens from publications like Stereogum indicate that Wide Open will surpass expectations, and even critically out-do their debut. I chatted with founding member of Weaves, Morgan Waters, about their success, their approach to following up their first album, and new steps they’ve taken as a band.
Weaves seems to tread a line between people’s comfort zones. Is keeping listeners on their toes something that comes naturally to the band?
I think with any art you don’t want to be boring. And with us it’s always a mix, we don’t really plan anything out. It’s about showing all the influences crashing up against each other. We want to surprise the listeners, and surprise ourselves. The mix of the artistic and the pop gets thrown into the blender where there’s no genres or anything like that. It’s all fodder for something new.
In what ways did the road and your experiences after the debut release influence songwriting on the new LP Wide Open?
Jasmyn starts everything and it all seems to come from her initial spark. She doesn’t really write anything down, she kind of ruminates about things for a while without telling any of us. It seems to come out of her when she goes to the rehearsal space by herself, recording, looping, figuring things out, and from there it all comes out pretty fast. When she’s in that mode, it’s a quick and fertile ‘brain’ thing going on with her. Then we hear the demos she comes up with and we work on it from there, but within 20 minutes of writing a song the lyrics are all usually there and never change.
You and Jasmyn have an obvious chemistry together in the band. In what ways do you compliment each other as artists?
I think Jasmyn is more impulsive and emotional, and I’m more of an editor. I help present her initial ideas in a way that elevates them. That mix of impulsiveness and my revising or editorial skills kind of complete each other. She loses interest quickly and I never stop obsessing, so we temper each other in that way.
A lot of the time I’m sort of translating her ideas, where I’ll sit there and say what I think will work for whichever project we’re focusing on. I’m very happy to work that way and cycling through the ideas, I have an endless amount of patience. I’ll work hard to try to find the “thing” that clicks for both of us.
Many of us were really excited to see that a collaboration with Tanya Tagaq was included on Wide Open, and the Polaris gala performance of Scream was incredible. How did the partnership come to fruition?
We met Tanya at Iceland Airwaves, on the airplane ride over there. Spencer and Zack kind of knew a few of her band members, and we sort of hit it off the whole weekend. We went to her show, and ever since then we always sort of thought that it would be really great to work with her on something since she takes a very improvisational approach to her music as well, which we’re into. It’s all about capturing a moment, and “Scream” seemed like the perfect song to collaborate with her on.
There is a distinct visual element to Weaves, in things like music videos and album art. What role does visual art and aesthetic play for the band?
It’s a major consideration, but it’s also something that just happens. Similar to our music, we like to leave our videos kind of open so that we can improvise on the day-of. On “Scream” we had a white room studio and a good DP (Director of Photography), so Jasmyn and Tanya were able to move around the space freely. It’s personal expression first, and then concept or theoretical parts are secondary. It’s really about freedom of expression, and that factors into our videos. We shoot stuff and see what happens.
Weaves was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize this past year, and there were a lot of incredible artists in the running. What do you think Lido Pimienta’s recent win means for Canadian music?
The best part was that we were given the opportunity to perform live, since playing on stage is where I think we can really stand out. So performing on stage with people like Feist and Lido was a way for us to really show what we’re all about. To us, that was much more important that any sort of competition or win in our books. The concept of “winning” in art is weird. So just the fact that we got to play, and play a new song “Scream” with Tanya was the biggest part for us, really exciting.
I think with Lido’s win, I don’t know if it shows what direction Canadian music is going… I’m not really sure how the voting works and all that. It’s so great that a DIY artist like her can win something like that, and I think that will become the norm as labels keep shutting down and people keep doing things themselves. There are no major label budgets and funding isn’t always there, so artists need to be able to do it themselves. Lido winning shows that you don’t need all that other crap, it’s about the music. It’s about what you have to say. You don’t really need teams if you have the work ethic.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—one of the most rewarding parts of this job is discovering new artists making music in town. That is certainly the case with the young and aspiring singer-songwriter named Christine Jakel, who I crossed paths with at Bar Robo last year when she played with her other project, Grace Note. Her talents are immediately impactful, and draw listeners in like a tractor beam through the headphones or on stage. As someone with a degree in classical voice from the University of Ottawa and lifelong piano training at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Christine’s kind and modest demeanour struck me as endearing given the sheer level of skill and experience contained within her. Thus, I took a mental note and made sure to keep an eye on her music-related ventures.
Fast forward a year or so, and Jakel announces that she’s releasing a solo EP called Satellite Moons, once again at Bar Robo, on September 30. It came as no surprise, and it seemed to only be a matter of time before she explored her solo songwriting in a formal studio setting. While I’ve only heard a couple songs off of the upcoming EP, my initial impression is that she has a musical “sense” about her that is well beyond her years. The songs weave between genres and influences, as certain polarizing elements of jazz and folk are somehow drawn together and melded with one another in her songs.
Her vocal prowess is put on full display, as Jakel seamlessly reaches the highs and lows of her octave—and everything in between—with laser-sharp precision. The rest of Satellite Moons is sure to contain more treats for us to hear. In the years to come, Ottawa should prepare itself for Jakel’s inclusion into a group of local women such as Kathleen Edwards, Catriona Sturton, and Lynne Hanson, just to name a few, who have consistently shown that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Ottawa valley and beyond.
I caught up with Jakel this week in advance of the Satellite Moons EP Release, which takes place at Bar Robo on Saturday, September 30th at 8 pm. She will be joined by Mike Giamberardino (drums), Szymon Szańczuk (bass), Dean Watson (electric guitar), and Charlotte Esme Frank (harmonies) on stage, along with opening acts Grace Marr and David daCosta. Tickets are $13, and include a download code for the album. Find more information here.
Interview with Christine Jakel
Can you talk a bit about how has music been a part of your life growing up?
Both my parents took it upon themselves to expose me to music growing up. My dad has been obsessed with jazz ever since I can remember and used to play jazz guitar in his spare time. There are some artists whose CD’s are deeply ingrained into my system from having listened to them so often: George Benson, Chet Baker, Diana Krall, Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, to name a few. I’ve probably heard Autumn leaves thousands of times because my dad used to practice it relentlessly. He was also the one who introduced me to Joni Mitchell, now my main source of inspiration for songwriting. Her song Big Yellow Taxi was the reason I started playing guitar. Wondering Where the Lions are by Bruce Cockburn was the next song I learned. He was another artist that I heard a lot of growing up because of my dad. My mom was the one who made sure I was taking classical piano lessons starting at a young age and shortly after we moved to Ottawa, she enrolled me in an arts high school (De La Salle) where I chose the voice program and subsequently became actively involved in its various vocal ensembles, while being trained as both chorist and a soloist.
You explore many sounds and themes in your music. What is most important aspect you focus on when composing a song?
For me songwriting always begins with lyrics and melody. The song craft and the overall message of the song are as important to me as the music itself. This is also what I listen for in other artists’ music. I find that I am most drawn to songs that are cleverly thought out but also genuine and direct. This is what I aim for when composing my songs. Overall atmosphere, chords and instrumental riffs come are there to enhance those elements.
What was the Shot in the Dark experience like for you? Can you describe it for those who may not know?
It felt great to be a part of something that I knew was contributing to the local music scene in a positive way. Not only did I get one of my own songs recorded and filmed for the first time, but I had the chance to hear and meet so many talented local artists that I never would have discovered otherwise. In a way it acted as a spring board for me as a newly emerging musician because it led to more opportunities for shows and collaborations.
The performance itself was unlike anything I have ever done before and I don’t think it’s one I’ll be forgetting anytime soon. When I came on, Dean made the call to remove all amplification and to bring the audience close in around me, so there was zero background noise and I could feel everyone watching and listening to me intently. It was terrifying in the best way (I don’t think I’ve ever felt so exposed), and I couldn’t be happier with the result! (video available below)
What reaction or emotion do you hope to evoke from those listening to the new EP, Satellite Moons, for the first time?
I hope that anyone listening finds something they can relate to in my songs and feel moved or inspired by even if it’s just in a small way. I also hope to send an empowering message to other women out there who may feel intimidated or out of place taking up space or making themselves heard in the music scene. From what I’ve seen, the industry could really use more female representation. Knowing this reality is partly what fuels my work. Furthermore, I would love for people to perceive the depth in my songs and to hear beyond something that’s “cute” or “pretty.” Those are two words that I’ve been called my whole life, that bother me when they are used in a belittling way (whether intentionally or not), and that I’d like to break free from at least in the context of my music. This is why I’ve made sure to include some angry songs on the record.
Do you have a memorable concert experience that you can recount that perhaps influenced your music?
This past March I had the opportunity of seeing The Staves play live at the Bronson Centre. I was floored by how polished their performance was and by the wide range of soundscapes they managed to create using their voices and various instrumental skills. What I particularly like about them is that they stray from the traditional lead-singer vs. band setup. Each member plays an equal part in the singing and the balance between their voices shifts from one song from the next in fascinating ways. Their sound is very much contingent upon them gelling as a team. For me, the experience of hearing them opened doors to new realms of possibility when arranging music, which made me want to go home and write songs immediately.
Is there one venue or city that is on your bucket list to play? Why?
I am open to the possibilities of where my music might take me. Playing music is what makes me happy. Whether it’s in a noisy bar or the NAC or at an intimate gathering, I am grateful for any opportunity to share my work, the more unexpected the better! Short term, however, I do currently have my sights set on Megaphono. I have so many good memories from attending the festival as an audience member and it seems like something I’d like to experience and be a part of, hopefully as a performer this year.
What’s the next step for you musically?
In the next year I am hoping to gain regular instruction at guitar and to lock in a few more hours of practice per week than I usually do. Everything I know so far, I taught myself, besides the odd trick I picked up from my dad and my uncle, and there is so much I have yet to learn about the instrument. This would give me a whole lot more to work with when writing songs, which I intend to continue doing as much as possible. My goal is to have enough songs written by next summer to be able to start on an album. I already have a few on the go.
Over the past few years, Partner has taken the Canadian music scene by storm. Their sound is bold and unwavering, meeting at the unsuspecting intersection of classic rock riffs and 90’s grunge. Consisting of BFF’s Lucy Niles and Josée Caron, Partner is breaking down barriers and paving their own path. One show after the other, they satisfy exuberant and voracious crowds with power moves, electrifying riffs, and unimaginably catchy hooks that reel you in forever. Coming off the release of their brand new record In Search of Lost Time (You’ve Changed Records), I had a great chat with Lucy and Josée which you can read below.
Partner is playing Beau’s Oktoberfest in Van Kleek Hill this Saturday, be sure to catch their high-energy set at 4:30 pm on the Main Stage. More info here.
Interview with Partner
You’re playing Beau’s Oktoberfest this weekend? Have you ever been to an Oktoberfest before?
Lucy: We’ve never been to one before, but apparently it’s a really fun time with lots of schnitzel. Yeah, I mean hopefully we’re around there long enough to check some cool stuff out. I’d love to catch the Planet Smashers for nostalgia purposes. Also, our friends Julie and the Wrong Guys. Them for sure, and we’ll get stoked the day-of and hopefully catch more.
Your new album In Search of Lost Time was recently featured on Pitchfork. Do you take album reviews to heart?
Lucy: We usually only take them seriously if they’re favourable. Because if they’re not, then we’re like “Welp, some people have a bad sense of humour.” Sometimes we’re sad when people don’t get it, but then we get over it.
Josée: Most people have been super, super nice.
Lucy: Some people say the skits aren’t funny, but that’s the most negative thing they say. They just don’t get it!
You’re live show is full of energy, and people seem to go nuts when they see you play. How much do you feed off of that?
Lucy: It feels great. We love attention. It’s feels so good when that many people are paying attention. We feel very powerful. It’s just so fun, everyone’s partying together. We get into crowd and intermingle with everyone.
Do you have any go-to moves on stage?
Lucy: Josée has a little step that she gets on. Sometimes I’ll do the splits by accident. I have a new one where I just spin around in circles a bunch. They usually come naturally and then we just keep using them, and keep them in our toolbox.
I saw you had some family come to the SappyFest show. Do your folks like coming to see you play?
Lucy: I think Josée’s parents have seen us like six times this year. My parents live in Labrador so they don’t see us as much, but they all go to every show whenever they can. They’re pretty much super-stoked, always.
You’re based in Windsor at the moment. How much time have you spent there?
Lucy: We’ve been here for about a year. There’s a few cool things here, like the guy that rides backwards on his bike. There are a lot of sights to see for sure. There’s a gay bar that I recently went to with a secret patio.
Josée: Detroit. It’s right there.
Lucy: Oh yeah, that too. And there’s a billion antique stores. There are a lot of Neverending Story-type antique stores that probably have some magic talismans inside them, you know?
Josée: When we’re rich we’re going to move to the bigger city.
Lucy: Yeah, like even a closet costs $800 in Toronto, it’s crazy! I mean, we probably would live in a closet if we had that much money, but you know.
You have a connection to Sackville, NB, and SappyFest. Do you have any specific memories of the festival?
Lucy: There’s always like 100 things going on at once. You’re never going to get to experience everything, you just have to go with the flow. Multiple cool shows, and multiple cool groups of people doing different things. Just go where the wind takes you, that’s the best advice. As for specific memories, I don’t know, we have so many.
Josée: There was that year you broke your glasses…
Lucy: Oh yeah, that was a horrible memory of Sappy. I went crowdsurfing and broke my glasses. I couldn’t see, but it was a miracle because people helped me out and guided me around because I couldn’t see. We’ve been to every Sappy since Sappy 5, and it’s just consistently awesome. But yeah, it’s a such a neat vibe being there and that’s why people keep coming back. Those who have been there know what I’m talking about.
What does it feel like to get the new songs out into the world? They must have been brewing for a long time.
Josée: It’s great to have them all out now, and it’s kind of a weight off and on our shoulders. Now we can move on, a lot of these songs are so old.
Lucy: For us, it feels like we’ve beaten these songs to death in our minds!
Josée: It really does kind of feel like we’re presenting something that was written three years in the past, so it’s exciting to move forward. We didn’t want to sit on the songs that long, but it really was just how long it took to make the thing. Once The Ellen Page and Hot Knives came out as singles, we had those for a while but they weren’t exactly what we wanted for the whole album so we had to gather our resources, apply for grants, figure out a label, recording, all that. And since we didn’t have a whole lot of time for pre-production, lots of work happened after the studio, which when mixed with touring, was a lot of logistical stuff to consider.
What’s your next step as a band?
Josée: Just keep writing!
Lucy: Yeah, just gotta keep writing. We have a couple new tunes for our next album already. Lot’s of touring too, we have some good shit lined up for the fall and new year. We’ve playing quite a few shows in the States, too, because the mid-west is pretty close to where we are. And New England, too.
Do you find touring in the US different? Particularly given the political climate?
Lucy: I mean, it does feel different, but people are always super cool punks just trying to have a good time. They just have a shittier go because they don’t have stuff like health care available, and it’s a more precarious existence. But yeah, everywhere you go it’s the same thing, people helping other people put on shows and have fun with it. We’ve stayed with awesome people everywhere we’ve been, so I guess we’re not so different after all.
I think I saw Lucy walk by and cheer at Sappy Karaoke while my girlfriend was belting out Shania Twain. Are you big fans?
Lucy: I don’t remember the karaoke that well, but we love Shania. I think she was the first non-gay person that we were obsessed with, as children and then also later as adults together. She’s #1.