Ottawa indie-folk rockers Amos the Transparent are celebrating 10 years as a band with the release of their new album Anniversaries Saturday night at The 27 Club. And why not celebrate the occasion with some delicious craft beer? Music and beer go together like wine and cheese. The band has collaborated with Big Rig Brewery to release a special limited run of Amos Anniversaries beer—a 5.2% pilsener that will please the palate for many.
A decade and four albums later, Amos the Transparent have cemented themselves as a quintessential folk-canadiana. They have performed at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, CityFolk, SXSW, WayHome, The Strombo Show, CBC’s Q, and even the Big Sound Festival in Australia. They’ve also hosted an annual holiday show around Christmas time that always sells out. Needless to say, Ottawa loves Amos.
I caught up with lead vocalist and guitarist Jonathan Chandler to talk about the band’s longevity and the new album. Have a read below.
Amos the Transparent releases Anniversaries Saturday, May 12 at The 27 Club along with another veteran Ottawa group who have gotten back together for a few one-offs—The Love Machine—as well as Rumfit Mosey. Ticket and show information can be found here. Upcoming shows:
May 12 — The Ottawa 27 Club
June 21 — Ottawa Dragonboat Festival
July 8 — RBC Bluesfest
August 25 — Neat Café (Burnstown)
Interview with Jonathan Chandler of Amos the Transparent
This band has been together for 10 years now, which is much longer than most. What is the glue that has kept Amos around until now?
JC: Honestly, the fact that we are indeed friends has kept it fresh over the years. Because we genuinely like each other, I think that creates an open space for everyone to feel valued and feel free to discuss concerns or ideas. A band is indeed a relationship—a big complex family relationship—and just like a regular one, you need to work at it.
How have families, new business ventures (like Shoebox Recording Studio) and the passage of time affected how Amos approaches writing music?
JC: Scheduling has never really been an easy task with this band and it’s numbers but with growing families and big boy (and girl) careers, the windows become even smaller so that element of compromise and understanding has to be pretty strong. That said, we have our regular scheduled time that we meet weekly and everyone knows that that time is precious so we use it to the best of our abilities. Be that writing, rehearsing or just having everyone present to chat about concepts or ideas.
The band collaborated with Big Rig Brewery to make an Anniversaries beer. What is that about, and how did this partnership come together?
JC: Last summer Chris ended up running into Big Rig’s Brew Master Lon and Chris Phillips and they ended up, you know, sharing compliments about each others ventures. The idea of celebrating the 10-year milestone with a record came up and Lon expressed interest in helping out in any way he could, because, you know he’s a gem. Fast forward many months and we reached out to Big Rig and the plan of launching the Pilsner together was put in action. We’re really stoked about it—the beer is awesome and it’s just a cool piece of memorability to hang on to.
Is there anything you can think back and laugh about now when looking at yourself in your early 20’s being in a band?
JC: I laugh at the idea that I once thought we could take a 9 piece band on the road. Mind you when this band started, I wasn’t a newb to touring but my expertise was definitely not… seasoned. There are photos of us playing NXNE or festivals of the likely with trumpets and a line of singers… just absurd.
The new album explores many sounds and textures, keeping listeners engaged throughout. Can you talk about a common theme or meaning behind ‘Anniversaries?’
JC: From a writing perspective, these songs span a couple years. When I listen to the finalized album, I listen to the music and arrangements that we made as a collective, as opposed to the lyrics. I feel that musically speaking, the band is at its best and most comfortable right now and it shows with what we’ve made here, as a collective. I’ve always found myself struggling a bit with lyrics, trying to not sound redundant or foolish (which I know I’ve missed a couple times!). Regardless, there are many songs here about reflection and acceptance and I do feel that some of the words are among those I’m most proud of.
It seems like the band is still having fun. Does this mean we’ll get another anniversary in 10 years from now?
JC: I think we’ve explored the option of calling it quits enough times that we know where we end up at the end of that conversation—making another record! So, as long as folks might be interested in hearing new songs, I’m pretty sure we’ll supply some in one way or another.
Last year around this time, Vancity folk troubadours The Long War were crowned victors of the CBC Searchlight competition. Since going far with their track “Breath In Breath Out,” which they won the contest and made CBC Music’s Top 100 songs of 2017, the band has taken things to a new level. Not only did they write their debut full-length, Landscapes, but they’re also embarking on twenty Canadian tour dates and bringing their songs to audiences across the country.
Their album Landscapes is true modern Canadiana, containing songs that pay tribute to the land and provide a soundtrack to the painted memories of Canadian scenery in our minds. Songwriter and lead vocalist Jarrett Lee draws upon his own experiences with the landscapes and environments that influenced him throughout his life and channel those into his music. The band transforms Lee’s powerful lyrical imagery into beautiful harmonies and a lively experience for listeners, giving us a canvas on which to paint our own memories of Canada.
Last time we spoke, you were fresh off winning the 2017 CBC Searchlight competition and about to play the NAC. How was that experience?
JL: I still can’t believe we played the NAC, it’s such a reputable venue so many talented artists have performed on that stage. It was a special night and really summarized the whole Searchlight experience. We were joined by the other finalists The Wolfe, Jaryd Stanley and Will. Royal Wood hosted the night and played a song with us. The place was full of family, friends and fans. Chad and I spent a lot of time in Ottawa so returning to a city which was home for so long in that context, you really can’t ask for more.
Did you get to spend some extra time in Ottawa and reconnect with any of your old favourite places in town?
JL: Yes, I went to some local pubs checked out some live music in the Market said hi to some musician pals. Went a to a brewery, had a burger at Chez Lucien, went back to Fresco on Elgin where I used to host an open mic. Chad used to work the bar at Café Nostalgica I think he popped his head in there. Ottawa has changed quite a bit, at least it seems that way after being away for so long. I feel at home there and always enjoy coming back.
What have you been up to since the summer of 2017?
JL: We’ve been putting all our focus on our debut album Landscapes which was officially released on April 20th. Obviously we booked a pretty large cross Canada tour, we’re heading all the way to PEI playing over twenty shows, we’re back in Vancouver at The Biltmore May 31st. We have a music video coming out for the song Landscapes so keep a look out for that. It’s been pretty full on since last summer to be honest.
How was working with Kevin Dietz at the infamous Metalworks Studio to record your debut album Landscapes?
JL: Kevin is a brilliant, talented Producer and has a way of bringing out the best in people with his positivity and creative energy. You’re in the studio for hours upon hours daily and you hope that the person at the helm is at the very least a good hang. He made the album soar and I think the end result speaks to his talent and overall sonic vision combined with our desire to push ourselves and keep the music authentic and unique to our sound. He did a fantastic job and we can’t wait to work with him again in the future.
Many people know the single “Breathe In Breathe Out,” but what can fans expect for the rest of the album?
JL: The album has a bit of everything, from soaring folk rock ballads like our title track ‘Landscapes’ to acoustic vocal driven sing along songs that pull at the heart strings like ‘Downtime’. The album closes with a rock tune called ‘Lake Louise’ that has a strong Canadian music vibe but ends in a hooky pop chant. The album is very eclectic but the songs certainly live together.
What motivated you release Landscapes independently?
JL: We would love the opportunity to work with Management and when that day comes we’ll absolutely take that opportunity. We released ‘Landscapes’ independently because we didn’t really have an option. It’s a bit of a perception dilemma, while we did win Searchlight and that certainly gave us a lot of coverage very early in the bands existence, we however look at it as an opportunity. It’s up to us to make the best of this and while we’ve gained a lot traction and gotten The Long War name out there, we need to continue pushing on. Searchlight awarded us for example two days in Metal Works to record, we put the extra money and effort in parlaying that two days into eight and what would have been a song or two EP into a full length album. We take pride in how hard we work and that work ethic is synonymous in how we define The Long War.
Your currently on a 10 stop cross Canada tour that if I understand correctly you are booking yourself. How did the process of handling all your own booking go?
JL: We’re actually on a 20 stop cross Canada self booked tour. I handled most of the bookings myself with some help here and there from bandmates. We found it was best to keep each band member on top of one job while the other handles another and keep things streamlined to avoid any confusion with promoters. Booking the tour included scheduling, routing, money, support acts so it’s certainly a handful and a huge responsibility. But I learned a lot doing it, moving forward we’d love to look at working with a booking agency. But we booked some really great venues like The Blacksheep Inn, The Empire Theatre, The Carleton. We’re really excited about it.
Can you tell me a little bit about the two shows you are playing in the area, one at Pressed and one at the Blacksheep?
JL: We’re playing Pressed April 25th. It’s a newer venue at least since Chad and I lived in Ottawa but I’ve heard nothing but good things. Mountain Eyes and Rory Taillon are joining the bill for that one and I expect an intimate setting which is always nice. The Blacksheep is a legendary venue, I remember seeing Joel Plaskett play there and it was so engaging, the crowd was mesmerized. Again we’re being joined by Rory Taillon and Old Man Grant is on the bill. It’s a Saturday and we have a lot of friends and family taking part in that show, April 28th come say hi!
And for tradition sake, last time we asked you about the when the Vancouver Canucks will win the cup, this time I ask what would you call a tribute song written about the Sedin twins who recently announced their retirement?
Ottawa’s Fools of Love have been hard at work on their first full-length album scheduled for release this summer.
The rocking three-piece have changed their names, changed their line-up, powered through having their lead-singer and guitarist living in Toronto while the other two members live in Ottawa and followed up one of my favourite releases from 2015 with a solid new track “Heavy Head.”
We spoke with lead-singer and guitarist Adam Feibel about all that and are premiering “Heavy Head” below. So sink your teeth into their rocking new song in anticipation of the upcoming full-length album while you read our discussion with Adam.
Let us start with the new name, what drove the switch to Fools of Love?
Trademark law, really. There’s another currently active band that has the rights to our former name, so it was safer to change it to avoid running into problems.
You moved to Toronto but the band is still Ottawa-based. How do you manage this? And are there any advantages you see to having the band in two cities?
It’s not easy. I’ve spent a lot of time on the train and the 401. We get together as much as possible and make the most of that time. But we each have a lot going on in our lives individually, so we try not to put too much pressure on ourselves. Now that we’ve finished this record, the hardest part is out of the way–now it’s really just about playing wherever and whenever we have the opportunity. And it’s a nice perk that whenever we play a show in the GTA, we have a place to stay.
Tell me about the switch from a four-piece to a three-piece.
We actually started as a trio. Only three of us recorded the EP. We’ve gone through a few member changes, so we were four for a while, but by the time we headed into the studio again we were back to three. But we’re planning to play live as a foursome.
What do you think is the biggest musical difference between that first release and your upcoming album The Howl and the Whisper?
I think it has a wider range of influences, but also a wider range of feeling. That first one big, loud, and fairly dark. We let a lot of light in for this one. It’s got a lot of heart. There’s more instrumentation–we added piano, organ, harmonica, cello, along with the usual stuff–and I wanted every song to have a big, memorable hook. You should definitely still play it loud.
What led you to this new sound?
That’s hard to say. When I start coming up with new material, it just comes out–any change is usually subconscious, or at least starts out that way. Personally, one thing I knew that I wanted was for it to have more depth. We left some stuff on the cutting-room floor that just didn’t have a place, usually because it was too one-dimensional or it didn’t match the feel. I looked at songs and artists that have stood the test of time and thought about why. What makes them timeless? I think a lot of it comes down to whether your song sounds good regardless of the arrangement–if you strip it to the bone, does it still sound great? That’s what I had in mind. We’d start with something simple and build it into something intricate and huge.
How was it to once again work with Cory Bergeron at Pebble Studios?
I can’t say enough about how much I’ve loved working with him. We would be doing marathon sessions and it didn’t seem to phase him. He’d just keep working his magic, suggesting great ideas, coaching us into our best performances. Working with a person for the second time, you’ve built a rapport and a chemistry. I felt understood. And he’s hungry to learn and try new things, which is crucial if you’re hoping to make something layered and unique. It was long, hard work but it was a lot of fun.
What’s the story behind your first single “Heavy Head” and why did you choose it?
This song started out of protest, since I’ve been pretty angry and despondent about a lot of things that have been going on around the world in the last few years and all the terrible people with black hearts that you have to hear about every day. But I learned pretty quickly that I’m not hardwired to write out of purely anger, so it turned into something else. I ended up writing it about good people who don’t know their own strength because they feel beaten down, or like they barely have a voice. It’s about showing that you believe in them. We need good people to lead the way. And so the song has some bite to it, some apprehension, but ultimately it’s got this big, uplifting chorus that really anchors the whole thing.
Do you have any shows or tours planned to celebrate the release?
We’re working on all that at the moment. We’ll have a couple album-release shows, for sure. And hopefully we’ll get out a lot more. I’m really excited for the record to come out, and to play these songs for as many people as we can.
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.