I got the opportunity to sit down with one of my favourite Canadian bands, Elliott Brood, last weekend at Westfest. As some of you may know, I’m also the Music Editor for Herd Magazine, a position which certainly comes with its perks. One thing we’re really starting to push for at Herd is more media content online, because people like that sort of thing on the interweb. Well, and because it’s interesting (in a different way than a physical magazine can be). Let’s just say this is the first of many. Mark, Casey, and Steve were very genuine, down to earth guys that were happy to sit down and discuss their music with a lowly avid fan. The video was shot with the talented Shooter McNally and Mark Delaney. Big shout-out to Rosalyn at Westfest for making this happen! Here’s what they had to say.
Claude Munson works hard. When you meet him, there’s an instantaneous spark of life that radiates from his words and demeanour. For the last two years, he and his band The Storm Outside have been focusing their creative strengths on putting together their new self-titled full-length LP, released in December 2012 through Up & UP Music. Munson has been on the local music circuit for a while now, playing original material at open mics to start, building his name and fan base through various projects such as his former band Marabou, and playing locally as a solo artist at small venues around town. It seems like fate eventually drew the unique talents of each band member together, creating a chemistry that sees songs come together on the album so naturally. The album deals with various themes and motifs, such as fear and loneliness, and is a true journey from start to finish. Everything passed has led he and his band mates to this.
The band consists of four permanent members: Philippe Charbonneau on the (haunting) stand-up bass, Jean-François Delaquis on electric and slide guitar, brother Pascal Delaquis on drums, and of course, storyteller and vocalist Claude Munson. The album is rounded out by the inclusion of special guests Ellorie Mcknight (viola, cello) and Louis-Philippe Robillard (trumpet, harmonica) – adding an extra bit of depth to an album with an already immersive sound. At the December 20, 2012 CD Release Party at Mercury Lounge, the band blew everyone at the sold out event away with an incredible, mesmerizing set. Their next performances will be at the one and only Blacksheep Inn with Sound of Lions January 19th, and February 17th at Café Campus in Montreal.
I sat down with Munson to discuss the album, the band, and where some of the music comes from.
Tell me a bit about The Storm Outside. How has playing in a band differed from your solo endeavours?
It’s really fun to play with a band. I’ve been playing solo for a while because that’s just what I started doing. But when I met these guys, there was this cohesion and chemistry that takes place on stage or at practice. You don’t even have to say anything verbally, it just happens musically and we try to capture that. I would say it really adds to my solo music too, but there’s something to be said about playing alone, too. I think you’re much more in touch with your instrument and voice.
How did you guys meet? When did that chemistry first happen?
Well, I started playing open mics on my own all over town, places like Café Nostalgica and we just started playing and jamming songs in different circles. Not necessarily with this band, but with other singers and players – we got this band together called Marabou. It was a 7-piece French-Folk Gypsy-Reggae thing, and it was a lot of fun. We had really danceable music, and that’s when I met the drummer Pascal Delaquis and the guitarist Jean-François Delaquis who are brothers. So in rehearsals we started practicing, and there was a bit of shyness at first about what to do. And I kept doing stuff with them over the years, and as things calmed down a bit with that band, we started taking on some of my own songs. I started booking shows – I had played solo and built a bit of a base doing house shows and places like Umi Café. So we had a strong trio, and then a few months later we got the bass player Phil Charbonneau on board as well. I really wanted an upright bass player – it brings an acoustic, rustic sound that we were going for on the new album.
How did you personally get into music?
It’s sort of hard to say, these days I don’t think about it too much about why I do it, I just kind of do it. I started playing music in Grade 4 and really got into the violin. I wanted to get into the violin because I listed to a lot of Celtic music with my parents, like Ashley MacIsaac and that sort of thing. I had a teacher in school who replaced library class with a music sing-along and we would sing these French songs that were called “La chansons à répondre” and he would play the songs and we’d sing back. It was really inspiring, the group thing, and the guitar was mesmerizing. So I started playing guitar in Grade 6 and went to a really artistic high school and jammed with lots of people. That’s really when I really fell in love with music, you gain so much clarity and feeling from it. And that’s where the song Driftwood came from, it was all sort of in chunks in the early stages. It didn’t have to do with a girl or sadness or anything like that. The lyrics changed a lot, but the chords and structure were there, it all kind of happened in a night.
Can you explain the concept behind Driftwood?
Well the music itself came from a mix of feelings I was experiencing, I was working at a café and I was alone a lot and friends were further away. Not necessarily a complete absence of friends, but the close ones weren’t right there. And you go through times when you’re lonely and I thought about times when I was being picked on in school and overcoming it, and I just kind of drift away from it. It’s a song that makes me realize through my emotions that I’m very unique and there’s this underlying mission and self-awareness I had to go through. So it’s a song about loneliness, and then finding a place where you are good – coming back to yourself. Making these realizations that life is challenging, but there’s ways to overcome that.
Does the rest of the album go along with the theme of loneliness and self-discovery?
Yeah, well there are a few tunes that are about sadness and fear. I talk about that a lot because myself, and most people, grow up with a lot of fear. In high school I never spoke or talked to anyone, but in my social circles I was very talkative. So there was frustration there, like why am I so shy when the finger is pointed at me? And why am I afraid to express my emotions and feeling? The song Out The Door is about my fear of performance, I was really afraid to sing in front of people. So I closed my eyes and finally the lyrics came, I had recorded the chords and came up with structure earlier on and they were just about that insecurity of performance.
What approach did you take to writing the album?
I’m the principal songwriter, but there are so many integral elements that the band contributes, and they add such important arrangements to the album. We did quite a bit of over-dubbing because we had the freedom to do that, it became kind of an add-on game in the end and I was really excited about that. It really gave me the freedom to explore the ideas in my head I had about certain songs, and really helped define the parts we play live. But there are also three songs on the album that are recorded live off the floor, which is a whole other experience. We just jammed out and it sounded really tight. Some songs I wrote in the earlier stages about three years ago, and then others I wrote in the middle stage in between. I had been working with the drummer and guitarist for over a year before we met. Once we had the group dynamic going, their suggestions were incredible and things kind of created themselves. There was something very natural going on and that’s where the name The Storm Outside came from – like, here’s Claude’s songs and the sound of the exterior added to it, these buddies of his. Kind of like a storm, and it all makes sense, it’s crazy and the rain’s falling and you’re in it. It just feels so natural, so whole.
Do you have any plans to tour in 2013?
Yeah, I’ve really wanted to kick myself in the ass and get on the road, hitchhiking and play wherever I could. I have that wandering vagabond in me like many artists do. It’s just been kind of limited because I felt like I needed a strong recording of what I’d been doing, and once that happened it became a totally different thing. Now we have an album and we can do it, our first gig outside Ottawa is in Montreal on February 17th at Café Campus, which should be really fun. We’ve started applying to festivals too, so we’re waiting to hear on that. If we can get in then we can start booking bigger events. I’m from the East Coast so I have this desire to bring my music there. With the imagery of the album and everything, I feel like we’re bound to make it there eventually.
Are there songs that you hold really close on the album?
Well Driftwood is the strongest expression of the album, and then you have recurring motifs and themes through the rest of the songs. We got a sound that we really liked and held onto that for most of the tracks. Each song has a quality that brings me back to a place where I wrote that song. So the newer ones on the album, like Tumble Over, are more representative of where I’ve been emotionally the last year and a half. Whistle Train is a really dark and fun tune to play too. The Gaslight is my favourite, it’s in the middle of the album and it’s one we don’t play live. I wrote it on ukulele and I played it at a few open mics early on. We transformed it into the experimental jam, it has the oldest vocals on the record, it’s got something weird in it. I remember listening to it and thinking I don’t like it, but I love it. It’s not how I meant it to sound, but let’s keep it because it has this thing about it. It sounds like you’re out in the middle of the ocean and there’s foghorns… maybe stoned? I don’t know.
Why did you decide to go with a full-length over a shorter EP?
Well I got a grant to record this album. We started doing an EP and then we decided on the LP, and sort of jumped back and forth for a while with the ideas. But after recording some of the newer songs, it was clear that we had all the songs for an LP. After two years of working on something, I think putting out the full-length is really something to be proud of. I feel like we could have done even more, maybe record a few fresh songs. But things really do take time, and this project is one that has shown me that you really do need to take your time to put something out that you’ll feel good about and that you’ll give to people, and ultimately stand behind. It was a fine balance of not giving too much, and also making sure what we put out is as tight as it can be – and we really feel that’s the case. We’ll do it even better for the next record. We even played a few new tunes at our December CD Release Party at Mercury Lounge, so there’s just so much music in the band right now. It’s all coming together slowly and I don’t want to stop, that’s for sure.
Take a listen! Buy the album if you like it…which you will 🙂
I had the chance to join Ming Wu on his CHUO radio show Photogmusic Live (89.1 FM) on New Year’s Eve. In the hour-long segment, we discussed his Top 12 picks of 2012, playing a track from each of the albums he chose as this year’s best. It was lots of fun, and we also got to talk to Alaska of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan (who will be in Ottawa Jan.11 with Boyhood) as well as Jonas Bonnetta of Evening Hymns. Take a listen to the different segments on the Photogmusic blog, hope you enjoy the show!
Here’s the full version of the exclusive interview I did with Diamond Rings for Where Ottawa as he is set to play Ritual Nightclub on December 7th. Be sure to check out the video for his newest single from Free Dimensional “Runaway Love”, I can’t stop listening to it. Yes, I’m listening to it right now… Enjoy!
Toronto’s John O’Regan, a.k.a. Diamond Rings, has garnered critical acclaim across North America and reached new heights with his most recent album Free Dimensional. His do-it-yourself background has helped him develop a work ethic that pushes him to create different music, both sonically and aesthetically. As the former lead vocalist in Guelph’s D’Urbervilles, Diamond Rings is familiar with the trials and tribulations of being a musician. He turned heads with his debut album Special Affections in 2011, but has unquestionably staked his claim as one of Toronto’s most captivating exports of the year. Although compared by some to Bowie, Depeche Mode and Ian Curtis of Joy Division, Diamond Rings brings a fresh new look and sound to Canadian music.
Diamond Rings was recently the musical guest on Late Night with David Letterman, and will be playing at Ritual Nightclub on December 7. Matías Muñoz speaks with him about his favourite Ottawa food, staying level-headed while on the road, and what it means to be seen as a countercultural figure in this day in age.
Is there anything unique about Ottawa that stands out to you, or things you enjoy doing while you’re here?
I love eating shawarma at Marroush (now called Three Brothers), which is right down the street from Ritual Nightclub where I’m going to play. You kind of get these habits and traditions when on tour, and you don’t want to change them up. That’s my Ottawa thing.
Do you have a favourite spot that you’ve played since touring as Diamond Rings?
Not really, wherever there are people that are excited to hear your music is the best for me. Obviously some places are more scenic or picturesque, or have reputations for being this or that. But I really think I have great shows everywhere.
When you’re on the road and far away from home, do you have ways to keep yourself grounded?
I think the nature of touring keeps you pretty grounded. It keeps you on your toes, in the best possible way. A lot of the work that happens on tour isn’t especially glamourous, it’s all that grunt work that goes into making the one hour I get on stage sound and look as close to perfect as possible. I think it’s that aspect of it that adds to the magic of the whole thing. A lot of people work really hard to make it all possible, the stuff that happens on stage doesn’t happen automatically.
You’ve had the opportunity to tour with your friends PS I Love You, and bands like Stars. What have your experiences connecting with other artists meant to you?
It’s really nice to be on tour with friends. I’ve had the opportunity to tour with bands that I’m now friends with, but at one point earlier in my career looked up to a lot. To share the stage and to get to know some of them personally is a real honour for me. I consider myself a contemporary rather than just a fan, it’s great. I feel lucky.
Do you embrace the idea of counterculture? Is what you are doing part of something bigger associated with your view of the music industry and gender stereotypes, or are you just in it to play good music?
I think at the end of the day I want to connect with people, that’s why I write music and do what I do. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care what people thought about my work, or if I said I didn’t care if people didn’t like what I do. That being said, what I do and what I project sonically and aesthetically has to feel, to me, real and different in order to present something to the world that is otherwise lacking. Certainly, in some respect, there is a willingness to transform or push peoples expectations of what is possible in a live or recording context, or a visual context, in relationship to the way they view me and my gender, those sorts of things. When I’m playing a show and fans are in the building, the reception to what I do has been great.
There are obviously those who don’t appreciate what I’m doing as much, but that’s something that comes with the territory of doing what I do. Especially when it becomes something that is more out there in the world, with people hearing my music and hearing about me. Along with more people being into it, there’s going to be more people that don’t like it as well. But that’s totally fine, if I were making everyone happy that would be weird. To really make a statement you have to be alienating some people, and what I’m saying and doing feels right and is special to me. But I don’t really worry about what everyone else says.
Evening Hymns playing in Paris (Photo: Julien Mignot)
Here is the full, unabridged version of the interview with Jonas I did for Where Ottawa. Enjoy!
To say that Evening Hymns is a two-piece folk-rock band doesn’t quite capture the sheer magnitude of their music. Spectral Dusk, their sophomore album released in August, is more art piece than album. Lead singer and songwriter Jonas Bonnetta penned the record after the passing of his father in 2009. The life-altering loss resulted in a deep reflection of life’s brevity, and ultimately a collection of songs that combine raw honesty and emotion with Bonnetta’s immaculate musicianship. WHERE Ottawa’s Matias Muñoz speaks with him before their show at Mavericks on November 15 about recording Spectral Dusk in Perth, Ontario (about an hour southeast of Ottawa) with bandmate Sylvie Smith and friends, the difficulty of bringing these personal works to life every night on the road, and his relationship with Ottawa.
You recorded Spectral Dusk in a cabin near Perth, Ontario. What drew you to the Ottawa area for this process?
Well Silvie’s parents just bought a place near Perth, it’s about 20 minutes north-west of the town. They bought the house and nine days after they got possession of it we approached them about working there, and as artists and musicians themselves, they were super thrilled that were going to christen it. We were looking for a place to record and I was getting close to renting a cabin a few hours north of Toronto and then this kind of fell into our lap, so when they bought it we asked if we could make a record there and they were totally on board. So that was our first introduction to that area.
So you wanted a quieter space? The city didn’t interest you?
Yeah, for the most part I really have no interest in recording in studios, so we wanted to do it in a place that sounds good and that helps us be in touch with our surroundings. And being deep in the woods really put us at ease as musicians, with no landline and no distractions from the outside. As a really personal record, it really helped us to focus on what we were doing and getting the sound that we wanted. For the type of music we’re making I like to think we don’t need studio production, and I think it has made our record sound great. With the basic recording equipment we had, a good mic and recording space is really all you need. Micro managing everything isn’t what I was looking for, just a few good pieces of equipment and some nice rooms.
Spectral Dusk is deeply personal for you, as it reflects on your father’s passing in different ways. While the album has been greeted with such warm reception, have you found it difficult to share with the world?
I find it pretty difficult live. I mean, the record as a whole was hard to make and that’s why it took such a long time to be released. It got too dark and we had to back off for a while, then we regained some energy and approached it again. Once we finished it, we were like “great, we’re done…” forgetting that we then had to go travel the world playing all those songs. So it’s been really exhausting, every show is like conjuring up those feelings about dad and revisiting that. It’s been a bit of a challenge, but then after a show you have someone come up to you and tell you about how they just lost their mom or dad, saying they cried tonight listening to your set because the songs said everything I wish I could have said. That makes it all worthwhile, and it makes it that much heavier because it kind of destroys you a bit hearing those things. But it’s real, and that’s what we like about it. What I’m saying on the record is true from the heart, so playing those songs comes naturally too.
You have spent a lot of time living life off the beaten path over the last few years. Does living unconventionally help you learn and grow as a musician? Or do you just get sick of living in the same place for too long?
Yeah, lived in a tent all summer. Silvie and I actually lived up near Perth all winter and will be spending all of this winter there as well. Just having the wood burning smell, cross-country skiing, and quiet reading spaces. It’s pretty much my dream life, you know? And living in a tent this past summer just east of Peterborough working on an art project was great. Part of our job as musicians is not staying in one place, it’s kind of a double-edged sword but it’s all part of it. And I like moving, I don’t get a whole lot of inspiration from just sitting around. I do get the inspiration by being out in the woods, so it’s a no-brainer for us when we get an opportunity to get out into the wilderness. I’m at the point in my life where I’m spending five or six months a year on the road and going to all these amazing cities all over the world. So the last thing I want to do in my free time is be in the city, I’m always on a quest to find interesting new places.
The Wooden Sky played in Ottawa a few weeks ago, and you’ve developed a pretty strong bond with them while touring and recording. How did some of the collaborations on Spectral Dusk come to be?
Well I asked those guys because I love the way they sound. They all met my dad, were with me at the funeral and were crucial through that whole thing. We had a strong connection so it was a no-brainer to collaborate with them. I helped out with a few of their songs and they helped out with Evening Hymns. It was such an organic process, throwing ideas off one another and getting it just right. We just did 6 weeks in Europe and they backed us up on that tour, so we were basically one big 7-piece band a lot of the time.
Since you last visited Ottawa for the album release in August (Raw Sugar Café), Evening Hymns toured Europe. In what ways is touring in Europe different than Canada?
We haven’t even done that much touring in Canada to be honest. We’ve done a few legs, but we’ve been in Europe four times in the last two years. I think you’re more akin to having a listening audience when you’re over there, you know? When people come to see you play, they come to listen to you and appreciate what you are saying. In North America, it’s sometimes harder to get that intense quiet that is ideal for our kind of music. So it makes for some really great shows over there, when the band and the audience work off each other. We’ve been really lucky there, and touring there is always joy. We’re in a new, beautiful city every night. And you have that here in Canada too, each place has it’s own character. Going over the Rockies, visiting small towns. We’re trying to put more time into Canada so that we can build our audience here too. It more difficult here sometimes, sometimes it’s great and others it’s tougher.
Do you have a favourite spot in Europe?
Yeah, Switzerland was really cool. The end our last tour we went to the Alps and stayed at a cottage in the alpine meadow. You could only get there by gondola, and we made it right before a snowstorm blew in and they had to shut it down. That place has a spot in my heart for sure. Paris has always been really amazing to us, and Berlin is one of my favourite cities in the world. Plus, our management and booking agent is based out of Berlin so we’ve had a lot of opportunities to get to know that place.
When people come to see you play in Ottawa on November 15th, what is one thing you hope they take away from the show?
I just hope they can connect, but then sometimes I think, “man, I hope no one feels as bad as I do”. It’s kind of weird, but a lot of times the show feels really good when the audience is really good. So it goes hand-in-hand, and it’s really special in an intimate way. Things are quiet this tour but we’re loving it.
What’s your favourite thing to do when you visit Ottawa? Are there any activities, places or meals you look forward to?
Now that we’re near there, spending more time nearby we really enjoy skiing in that area and doing outdoor activities. I also really enjoy going to The Manx for breakfast, I love that place. We played Raw Sugar Café last time we were in town, and the atmosphere in that place is really neat. There’s also the Neat Coffeshopin Burnstown, which I think has some of the best coffee in my opinion. I don’t know, I used to not care for Ottawa that much because I never felt that it had a soul. But as I spend more time there I am really starting to fall in love with the city. We will definitely be coming up there a lot since we’re going to be living so close by. Plus, Canada’s next Prime Minister Rolf Klausener (frontman of Ottawa band The Acorn) lives there, so it has that going for it too.
In this second installment of our two-part interview with Polaris Prize shortlist nominee Cadence Weapon, he discusses his philosophy towards songwriting, how community has impacted and influenced his music, and some of the unique characteristics of his album Hope in Dirt City.
Along with exclusive live footage from his performance at the Arboretum Music+Arts Festival, Rollie opens up about why keeping himself free from genre confines has opened up infinite possibilities for him to continue his reign as a ‘sonic pioneer’ and also to attract new audiences to his brand of hip hop.
Anyone who has seen him perform quickly realizes that he seems to light up the stage. His performance at Arboretum was electrifying and completely in line with the spirit of the festival. Bringing enthusiasm and lyrical mazes to an already amped up audience made for a climactic set, as everyone countered the cold air of the night with beat-driven movements inspired by Cadence Weapon himself. I think that if it were possible, he would have had us all up there for an all-out stage party.
Here is Part 2 of our interview with Rollie:
SAW Video is an artist-run centre committed to supporting the ground-breaking artistic production, presentation and programming of independent video and media art. SAW Video provides many services to its members including affordable technical facilities and a wide range of programs. Its services and programs are designed to create an atmosphere that inspires production through the exchange of ideas around form, content and style.
ARBORETUM is Ottawa’s newest boutique music and arts festival. Inspired by progressive arts festivals around the world, we’re a carefully curated, intimate, community-driven festival highlighting the best in local music, food and arts.
Cadence Weapon performs at the inaugural Arboretum Music+Arts Festival 2012 in Ottawa.
These last few weeks have been very exciting. I’ve been doing this whole music writing thing since May, and that seems like a lifetime ago. The Arboretum Music+Arts Festival, which was held on September 15th at the Jail Hostel, marked a point for me when I realized that so many things were coming together in Ottawa, musically. It really hit me that there is a kickass music community here in this city, one that is humble but not afraid to break out of its shell and come together in glorious fashion (as they did at Arboretum). But enough fuzzy wuzzies.
The festival also marked the first video interview by Ottawa Showbox and Partus Films – a collaborative venture between myself and Craig Conoley that blossomed from the same passion we have for Ottawa’s music scene and a desire to find the most effective way to reach a wider audience in the city. We will be continuing the web series on a regular basis in the future – featuring artists of all kinds from Ottawa and across Canada, speaking with them candidly and honestly, or perhaps having them play an exclusive session for us. The possibilities are endless, and with the motivation shared between Craig and I, we believe that this new web series can be a platform for Ottawa’s artists to show what they are made of to the entire country.
The interview with Cadence Weapon filmed at SAW Gallery is the first step. We’re excited to be teaming up to bring these videos to you, and hope that you enjoy them as much as we enjoy making them. Well, here it is… Part 1 with Rollie Pemberton AKA Cadence Weapon.
With the recent release of their brand new EP Inferior Ghost, Toronto’s Papermapshave proven themselves as one of the city’s premier up and coming acts. Personally, the 6-track album left me wanting more and should prove to be a taste of things to come when a sophomore full-length release comes to fruition. We were treated to a couple of sample tracks on their Bandcamp leading up to the August 28th release date (which were fitting precursors to what the rest of the songs offered), but for me the EP really stood out because of the final track called ‘Reaction Formation’. Marino’s vocals bust into the chorus beautifully as the band takes us on a ride that includes intervals of soft and thunderous percussion and great instrumentation. It’s a perfect ending to a successful EP, and a song that I’ve blared many times for my wonderful neighbours to enjoy (no complaints yet). I always try and gauge how I feel after listening to an album, and with Inferior Ghost the first thing that came to mind was that this band really has an identity, a true sound. Not that they didn’t before, but this album really solidified it.
Leading up to the CD release party that happened at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on August 28th, the band embarked on a 3,000 + kilometre Canadian mini-tour that was filled with excitement and some overnight stretches of highway that probably seemed never-ending. They were also one man down, as synth/guitarist Todd Harrison stayed back (partially because of personal commitments and partially because the van rental company screwed up and gave them one that was a little bit too small). However, when Papermaps hit Zaphod’s on August 17th the rest of the band filled in nicely as they played a stellar set in front of a smaller than expected crowd. This only made things more intimate, however embarrassing it may be that Ottawa folk in the Byward Market are hard-come by to walk in off the street to see a good show.
The set included some staples from their debut album, the most recognizable being ‘Reunion’ which sounded even more catchy live as well as most of the new tracks from Inferior Ghost. Despite the smaller turnout and road weariness, the band still put on an energetic show that could have easily gotten a full house riled up. They were supposed to play with Amos the Transparent the night before but had to change plans due to scheduling conflicts, which I also attended.
At the end of the night, I stuck around with the band for drinks at Zaphod’s and got to know them. All I can say is that I made some new friends that night, a great group of people were a pleasure to see perform and get to know. I actually felt really bad that the turnout hadn’t been what was expected, and almost (inexplicably) at fault. I assured them that Ottawa has a unique music culture that, if you’re a smaller band from out of town, needs to be cultivated. Although Ottawans may not walk off the street into Zaphod’s, Papermaps is a band that so many people would love seeing live. They said they’d come back, which put my worries to rest.
After a fun-filled night that ended up being a riot, we parted ways and promised to keep in touch. I had the chance to interview lead singer Dean Marino after the fact about where the band is at right now and what the new EP means to them. Here it is:
I’m currently sitting on a Greyhound on my way back from a great weekend in Toronto, awkwardly typing away and trying really hard to drown out the snores from some guy in front of me. One of last week’s highlights for me was having the opportunity to sit down and meet Devin Atherton, an Ottawa MC who’s been making a name for himself and his music in the last several years. I met him originally a few weeks back at the ‘4in1’ Acoustic Park Session at which he performed some really impressive acoustic versions of his songs. He was kind enough to invite me over for a few beers, and we sat around listening to tracks and talking about music for a few hours. I don’t claim to be huge into the hip hop scene here, but I’ve always taken an interest in MCs who have something substantive to say. Following the footsteps of other Canadian rappers like Shad, Cadence Weapon and Classified, Atherton not only brings lyrical skills, but also intelligent and relatable themes that make his songs very accessible to listeners. Not to mention that he is his own boss, producing the majority of beats on his new album No Threat himself and guiding almost all aspects, from the artwork to which artists are featured. He’s also the founder of Ottawa’s Hip Hop Karaoke at Mugshots Jailhouse Hostel & Bar, and is a major personality in support of Ottawa’s hip hop scene and music community as a whole. It was exciting for me to be able to chill with him and discuss music, our respective projects, and life in general. To top everything off, we went out to a new establishment on Somerset called Union, which I have to say might become one of my new favourite spots. There we ran into some of his friends, including Jordan from The Love Machine and DJ Calkuta from Flight Distance, two groups which I hope to feature on Showbox in the near future. I have included a link to Atherton’s Bandcamp page where you can check out No Threat in its entirety, as well as the interview we had.
Interview: Atherton Tell me a bit about Vinyl Tap and how it came to be, and how you hooked up with some of the artists.
Vinyl Tap in the beginning was a label, and the idea was to kind of go at it with a strength in numbers philosophy. Got all my friends on, we’re making music, doing things, to get behind one name and one symbol and just push the Ottawa music scene through that. It still is a label, in the loosest sense of the word, you know? It’s currently whatever I want it to be… an online magazine, it’s a promotions company, a fashion company – when I’m doing business, those are the two words that I hide behind.
With you new album No Threat, why is it special to you and how has it deviated from your previous work?
This album is extremely special to me because it’s more of me than I’ve ever put out. It’s my work essentially, you know? I did most of the music on it, wrote all the lyrics to it, had the concept of the title for it, I knew exactly what I wanted for the album art, the features on it I knew what I wanted, I really got to dictate everything from start to finish whereas before I had at least one other person working with me. So this was my most ‘selfish’ album, where I had the most control. I think a lot of artists have that, it’s my most egotistical album but also my most honest album.
How did you bring in some of the artists you wanted on the album?
Well they’re all just friends, everyone I approached to be on the album is someone I already had a loving relationship with already and are people that I respected musically. Patience from Flight Distance used to be my roommate, I’ve been playing shows with Whitney (Sound of Lions) and watching her blossom for years, Dave Wickland used to play in a band with me, Kilgore who recorded the whole thing and engineered it, produced my last record and produced the first beat on the album. So, you know, they’re all my friends, everyone on that album is someone I’ve made music with but that I also hang out with.
What were your experiences like at Canadian Music Week and NXNE?
I think the first festival I played was Canadian Music Week and that was in 2006, so six years ago, and then it seemed so overwhelming… it was the be all-end all. We were going to break through because of this festival. Being on the other side of it now, playing both festivals a number of times, I just look at it as a really good weekend to see great music and be a part of something greater than what I do. There’s lots of potential to meet other musicians. I’ve never gone extremely hard networking with people there, and I think there is more that I could get out of those festivals and people do get more out of those festivals, but I just like seeing some great shows and hopefully perform the best that I can. The last two years at NXNE I was given showcases, small club called the Painted Lady, and that was great because I could bring in friends. A few years ago I brought in The Love Machine, last year I brought Flight Distance, so it was just cool to bring friends on to a well-respected festival.
All-time, who is your favourite MC and why?
All time? Paul Simon. Paul Simon was the best rapper to ever exist. I love Paul Simon. Rhymin’ Simon, that’s who he is man. But the first rapper to ever blow my mind was KRS-One, and a song from his self-titled album called “The Truth”. It’s a song about Christianity, and about the obvious flaws in taking the Bible literally… he picks it apart. Some lines on it “What if Jesus Christ was shot in the head with no respect, we’d all have little gold guns around out neck.” It just made me think in a new way that I’d never thought before, made me realize the power of hip hop at that point – the power of words in a song. People are attracted by the beat or the rhythm, but the true hip hop fan stay for the lyrics and that’s when I was like ‘shit’ there’s something happening here… Not to say that image doesn’t hold weight anymore, because those are the initial things that attract you, you know? It’s like a girl, if she’s beautiful then you want to get to know her better and maybe find some depth to it. I don’t front, if a rapper wants to uphold a certain image then that’s great. If that attracts you to that rapper and gets you to listen to his or her music, then you find out whether or not it’s something you want to get into.
Do you find it tough to come up with good samples?
Well, other than the first beat which was made by Fresh Kils, Track one on the album, the rest of the album, tracks two through ten were completely sample free. That was a very enjoyable aspect, fiddling around in my room coming up with melodies. I mean when you put your mind to it, it’s so easy to make music. Especially if you’re by yourself, to be a one-man band. The possibilities with electronic music are ridiculous, which is why I think a lot of people can get into right away, and why there are so many rappers and beatmakers out there. You really just need a laptop and the ability to download and crack a program, you’re just a Youtube video away from learning how to do that (laughs). So for me, it’s harder to write the lyrics, because the lyrical aspect is a lot more personal and a lot more direct and I feel like at the end of the day that’s what I’ll ne judged upon. That’s what will attract someone to the music, that’s what will keep someone there you know?
What do you want people to take away from your music after listening?
My biggest hope is, at the end of the day, I hope they relate to it. I hope they’re like ‘shit, this is good’, I hope they can dance to it, but more importantly I want people to be like ‘hey, I could be friends with that guy’, you know? For me it’s just about relating, and understanding each other.
Last night marked the beginning of this year’s increasingly popular Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival 2012, and I popped by Mooney’s Bay to soak in the evening sun and catch some of this year’s bands. What’s even better is that these events are free all weekend, which means people of all walks of life can witness some great Canadian bands in action – from families to die-hard fans.
I was most excited to see Prince Edward Islanders Paper Lions, as their ever-growing catalogue of great music captures the spirit of what Canadian indie is all about. After releasing their acclaimed full-length debut Trophies in 2012, their recent EP release At Long Creekhas been turning heads and was the #1 most listened to stream on Exlaim.ca. Bringing enthusiasm and on-stage character, these guys rocked the diverse crowd into the night as the warm sun set over the festivities. Plus, seeing kids dancing like no one’s business up front is an excellent indicator of a great sounding band… it brought a little warmth to my heart knowing they may be the inheritors of this great Canadian sound in the future. After a fun set in which the crowd was involved with singing a few refrain melodies, I was able to meet Colin, David, Rob and John of Paper Lions backstage and get a few words from a couple of the guys: