If you were to delve into Graven’s most recent record Jaybird, you might find yourself feeling a sense of nostalgia. Graven is the ongoing alt-country/folk project of Matt McKechnie, a long-time musician, journalist, videographer… and whatever else it is he is really good at. He is supported by his band, The Dirty Hustle, who added some gritty layers and rounded out a lot of the songs on Jaybird. We walk the finely woven web of McKechnie’s memories and musings, reflections that translated into a concept for an album. Jaybird is the culmination of those efforts, and it’s a finely composed collection of folk songs that range from the delicate and solitary to the hopeful and anthemic. There is a search for meaning that lingers throughout, which is hinged to the impetus of this album – the transient nature of moments, the inescapable reality that all things in life are impermanent. The bird flies through one’s field of view long enough to create a snapshot in time, if only in the mind, and then it’s gone.
McKechnie’s stories are true Canadiana – those of longing, connection to the wild, solitude, and the ties that bind. The first track, “All Roads,” is a shackle-breaking start to the record which would be most suitable on a cross-country drive soundtrack. This energy and spirit continues through tracks such as “Edmonton Eyes”, “Big Lake, Sky Summer,” and “In The Woods of Me” which offer irresistible guitar twangs and steady, driving percussion as the heartbeat of the album.
The last half of the album’s energy takes a turn, toning things down and bringing the listener in close. “O Little Plum” is a brief yet heart-warming ode to a newborn child, taking pause to appreciate the beauty of bringing a life into the world in spite of all its cruelties and hardships. As McKechnie takes us to the end with “Lone,” we’re left to reflect on his words and compositions. That’s how this album hooks you – it is pensive and raw, untethered from the harnesses emotional apprehension. That is the power of a good song, or in this case, a good album. It draws the listener in and takes them on a journey through it all.
I spoke with McKechnie around the time of Jaybird’s release in April. Be sure listen to the album stream below and catch Graven at The Black Sheep Inn on June 15 supporting Slow Leaves and Colleen Brown. Tickets and information here.
Interview with Matt McKechnie of Graven
How did you get into music? What drove you to start making your own music and performing?
I started making music in my teens and played in various basement grunge and alt-rock bands with a rotating chorus of friends like Jeff Dixon, Brian Macdonald, Mark Richardson, and many more. But I was always a background player and never wrote much original stuff – and I wasn’t really that good at bass or guitar in my teens. I could slide my fingers around and hit good notes (most of the time).
I stuck with guitar, though, and eventually, after playing somewhat seriously with a band in the Kitchener/Waterloo area (after going to school at Guelph), I was getting into my early twenties and coming up with song ideas of my own. I was always fascinated with words and poetry at a young age, and I went to university for English, so I kept using words like weapons. They could help me describe what I was feeling or thinking at the time, but mostly, I wanted to be Billy Corgan. He was one of my songwriting/musical idols for many years.
Tell me a bit about your life growing up
My background is pretty normal, really. Born in Nepean. I grew up in a white, Christian family in Trend Arlington. I spent a lot of time playing Atari, and biking around my neighbourhood with baseball cards in my spokes while taking trips to Macs Milk on Greenbank, and to the Leslie Park pavilion for lik-a-maid and big league chew. My next door neighbour and best friend Bri had a swimming pool. I pretty much had it made.
How has your music and approach to making music changed over the years?
I think my approach to music has basically stayed the same. I really just like working on the songs and getting better and almost having no agenda. I have a lot of music that I like and love and there are many songs that have wowed or moved me. At some point, in my late teens or twenties, I remember thinking that I wanted to get songs out into the world, too – just to see what would happen if people beyond my family and friends could hear them. But I’ve never been on any carved or shaped road, in terms of a success plan with music. I just really want to keep getting better at writing songs. How did you get together with your band The Dirty Hustle? The Dirty Hustle were all mutual friends from the Kemptville area who played in another friend’s band called Brad Sucks. Brad is mostly a successful solo artist with a huge online following, but when he plays live, they are the backbone of the sound. Ben Mullin (the guitarist) and I became friends, and he started playing guitar with me in a duo setting at some fun shows. Eventually we started jamming with Steve Gaw (bass) and Justin Purvis (drums) in Steve’s rock n’roll lair of a basement, and it all seemed to work.
Have you toured extensively?
I have toured across Canada on a few occasions. I toured once as a solo songwriter with two old camp friends (JD Edwards and Trish Jamieson), and two other times as Ali McCormick’s side-guitarist and vocalist. The road is the real-life epic journey of being a songwriter and a performer. If there’s any way to push you out of you comfort zone, touring is the real test of your mettle. You meet some weird and amazing and beautiful people on the road, and you learn to appreciate your home a lot more. You also learn to enjoy playing to a room of three people who are really listening to your songs, or a room of 200 loud, brawling drinking Calgarians. It’s all part of the story.
I don’t plan on touring anywhere until my three and a bit month old daughter is a wee bit more grown up. I’m currently looking more into building into my Ottawa community, and supporting other songwriters and creators in the area.
What’s the story behind Jaybird?
The album that loomed weightily in my mind, consciousness, soul and in the dusty sound-hole of my Sigma for almost two and a half years is finally ready for public consumption. These songs are about a very specific period in my life, and for nearly a year, I struggled with my desire to even make this album happen. Many of the songs were based on a concept that was linked to real life.
In the spring of 2013, I traveled alongside Matt Mays and his band for a few shows to film some social media videos. After 3 shows in southern Ontario, I headed back to work for my dad’s accounting company in Ottawa, and the band headed west to Alberta. 4 days after I left the band, Jay Smith (a guitarist and epicentre of the group) was found dead in his hotel room in Edmonton, Alberta. It was hard to know what to think or feel, and many of musical friends from Halifax and the greater music community were shredded. But I sort of went through that process as an outsider – as I only knew Jay for a couple of days, and we only had one real conversation about a mutual east coast friend.
In that short time, though, I saw that he affected many people in a heavy sense. It was shortly after this happened that I also separated from my ex-wife, and knew that my life needed some massive changes. And so, in the upheaval of such a mass-traumatic event, I was enduring personal traumas of my own. People seemed to be dying all around me. A great friend of my brother’s passed away that summer from cancer, along with my friend Dan’s father, and a kind man and accountant from my dad’s company. The songs of Jaybird aren’t really about Jay or any specific person – although that event is a flashpoint for the theme of the album.
In 2015, my friend Paul Myers (a longtime journalist and musician) posted a photo that he took with an iPhone app in Singapore. The photo is of a bird flying away from him, as he views it from behind – and I realized that Jaybird was about that very momentary idea. People can bring such colour and beauty and brilliance and power and creativity and inspiration and laughter and love to our lives – and in another instant, they can be gone. I started to see this truth also become evident in the seasonal nature of friendships, and how the good ones will last through storms – but the ones that weren’t very rooted or worth much weight can dissipate in the smallest spring shower. But despite the deluge, Jaybird is ready to be let out of doors from its dark, cabin basement dwelling to see the unrelenting and hopeful light of day.
15 songs were first tracked by Tom Brown and Steve Gaw in August on 2015 in Steve Gaw’s basement. Tom captured a great overall sound for the beginning of the record, and Steve recorded one of the most sonorous tracks of the record with two microphones on one take. And after this pivotal point of making the first dent, I began to see another bird – one that was flying to me. After many years of searching and waiting, I found Jillian in the fall of 2015 (October), and we clicked instantaneously and started a beautiful love relationship. And in the spring of 2016 (May), our daughter Sloan started winging her way into the world and joined us on December 24, 2016.
The song “O Little Plum” is the spark of new things amidst the sorrow, and a breaking point in a long night. My super-talented band (The Dirty Hustle) definitely added master strokes to this record. Steve Gaw (bass, keys) and Justin Purvis (drums) played on nearly half the tunes, and Ben Mullin (guitar) was able to get on one, but in the end, I ended up rounding out the majority of this work on my own. My old camp friend Jason Germain (of Jason Germain Mastering in Nashville, TN) added some incredibly skillful fine-tune brush strokes to the main meat and edges of the sound, and he really put forth a powerhouse effort to get these songs finished. I hope you find some solace in Jaybird, or at least a tiny awakening. It did that for me. May it find you well – wherever you are.
Here at Ottawa Showbox we don’t tend to cover a lot of theatre. Actually this may be the first time. But after speaking with Megan Carty of the local theatre company Cart Before the Horse we felt we needed to start.
Cart Before the Horse was formed in 2014 by Megan Carty and Paul Griffin. They strive to use theatre as a powerful outlet to explore topics we as society are otherwise afraid to talk about. Cart Before the Horse primarily focuses on plays that explore how the world of young women has been expressed by playwrights in contemporary Canadian theatre. In doing so they have been nominated for several awards and won the Prix Rideau Award for Outstanding Direction for their 2016 adaptation of Judith Thompson’s Perfect Pie
Their latest production continues where they left off. girls!girls!girls!, written by Greg Macarthur, is a gritty drama written in response to the events surrounding the brutal death of – in Victoria, BC and the Columbine massacre in Colorado, USA. It is a fictionalized story where four young teenagers seek brutal revenge on the winner of a gymnastics competition and go on a hunt to obtain her red ribbon.
We had a quick chat with Megan Carty, co-founder and artistic director of Cart Before the Horse and producer of this show, while deep in a technical rehearsal before opening night.
How did your production of girls!girls!girls! come to be?
Being an Ottawa-based artist I find myself very hungry for gritty theatre that pushes boundaries and makes me think/feel. I came across this script about a year ago when a fellow actor of mine lent it to me and I was immediately hooked. It explored the same murder trial as a show I did a few years earlier called The Shape of a Girl, only it was a much edgier, more stylized, and a cartoon version.
I applied to the TACTICS festival for the second year in a row, assembled my dream team of local emerging artists who were drawn to the same kind of theatre and style of work as me, and then we all a boarded the roller coaster and never turned back. This process has been especially unique because although certain people wore certain hats in the rehearsal room (ie the actor hat, the director hat, the sound designer hat, etc) we all created this show together as a collective. Everyone had an equal voice in the room and each artist/idea influenced the other artists and ideas. It was extremely rewarding and the result is something I could have never imagined, behind my wildest expectations.
Given that Showbox focuses mostly on music, can you please tell me about the play’s music?
My partner, Martin Dawagne, is a professional and highly skilled composer and sound designer from Belgium. We met two and a half years ago in Toronto and instantly connected because of our passion for creation and relentless pursuits of our perspective arts – his music and my acting. Since our first encounter we have collaborated on a multitude of projects that fuse his composing with my theatre, including four productions with my company.
The sound in this piece really is a complete character of its own. It drives the entire show and has a massive presence, not just in the transitions but in the undertones of every scene. Since the play deals with themes of teenage pop culture, we chose a bunch of popular pop songs to drive our story forward, recorded original covers of our cast singing them, and then he went crazy with effects, layers, samples, and looping medals to make them as distorted as the story itself. The music of this show is not just a soundtrack, it is a full on score that elevates the production value in every way. A lot of Martin’s choices as a designer really influenced the direction we took with all the other elements – lighting, set, costume, acting choices, etc.
How important is it that we incorporate original scores in our plays?
It is written right in our mandate that EVERY production has an original score so I would say it is of extreme importance. We are a very dynamic company and I love to choose scripts that call for a lot of movement and physical theatre onstage. Of course the best thing to pair with so much action and choreography is music. And if course the music is better if it is crafted to specifically fit the needs of this specific script and production. I really believe that something magic can be created when interdisciplinary arts work together in unlikely ways. Martin and I have found that fusing our respective arts and passions really lifts the quality of both our work as artists.
If you are looking for something a little different, go see girls!girls!girls! with its wild music and which is sure to spark a dialogue with a story that will follow everyone in the audience home. girls!girls!girls! begins April 27th, with shows from April 27-30 and May 3-6 at 8pm, as well as May 6 at 2pm. Tickets available here.
Whether it’s the white-knuckled knee-stompers, the whiskey-soaked ballads, or anything else in between, Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers make music that raises eyebrows. They are road dwellers, travelling around the world and picking up adoring fans along the way. His hard-hitting and sometimes poignant lyricism has become nationally renowned, and his melodies draw from traditional Eastern European and Jewish traditions. As Ben and his band get set to play at Shenkman Arts Centre this weekend, we are trying something a little bit different. We got the opening artist, Gareth Auden-Hole a.k.a. Jack Pine, to interview the scruffy songwriter.
Be sure to catch Jack Pine share the stage with Ben Caplan and the Casual Smokers this Friday, April 7th at Shenkman Arts Centre. Ticket information can be found here.
Artist on Artist: Jack Pine interviews Ben Caplan
Jack: How’s it goin’?
Ben: It’s goin’ well. Yeah we’re just sittin’ in the van cruising on the way to Sudbury. Should be there in about an hour and change. Today is day 3, we played Kingston last night, Montreal the night before that, and we had one solo gig… sort of a leaving home gig… in New Brunswick last week.
J: Cool, sounds like fun!
B: Totally, it’s been a nice run so far.
J: And you were’t home all that long, were you? You had a really long tour ending in the fall?
B: I did, yeah, I had maybe two and a half months off or something like that… then back out into the world.
J: And you were overseas for much of that last tour. Do you have a favourite place to play in the world?
B: Ooh, tough one… I mean, there’s so many different kinds of gigs, and places. It’s hard to pick. But I really loved the last show we played in Utrecht, a city in the Netherlands. Some really, really cool shows there, and that last one was just amazing.
J: Yeah, I hear that touring Europe is a lot of fun and provides like a different audience experience…
B: Absolutely. It’s like a completely different valuation of the role of art in culture and in society. It’s a great place to hang out and a great place to play shows!
J: And what about Ottawa? I mean, other than amazing opening acts, what’s your favourite thing about touring through Ottawa?
B: I dunno, I like Ottawa. It’s a city I’ve had the privilege of spending a bunch of time in, I did a lot of the post-production on my album in Ottawa. And it’s got a cool arts scene and it’s got a lot of cool people… my drummer Jamie Kronick lives in Ottawa, so that’s a nice connection. I’m looking forward to it!
J: For your post production, you’re talking about Phil Bova’s studio?
B: Yeah, totally! Great guy.
J: You seem to put a lot of effort into creating really unique arrangements in your recordings, and you also have a reputation for truly unique and distinct performances from show to show. How should a live performance relate to the recorded version?
B: Well I don’t think it matters at all… the song is what matters, right? I think that the live performance and studio performance are two completely different mediums. You have different tools that are available to you, and also the way that people are going to interact with your art is totally different in the two different mediums. So with this last album I tried to really experiment with everything that the studio format offered offered that the live format was incapable of doing. So for example, there’s no way I’ll ever have a harp player on tour with me. It’s not in the budget, it’s not the first of 10 instruments or instrumentalists that I would hire. But in the studio you need to pay somebody for like a day, so what sounds could you experiment with and how would that impact an arrangement? Those are the kinds of questions I was asking when making my record, and then live it’s about how do you use your own energy and the energy of the people on stage with you to create an emotional experience that will be impactful and beautiful for the people standing in front of you
J: I totally agree! I record bands myself and when we’re in studio I often say “when you’re in studio you’re trying to make the best album you can and on stage you’re trying to make the best show you can,” and they aren’t always the same thing.
That said, for this show I’m planning the opposite approach in that I’m basically trying to recreate my Lone Wolf EP on stage for the first time.
B: Amazing, I’m looking forward to hearing that!
J: Yeah me too… I mean… I’m looking forward to doing it!
Now Birds with Broken Wings was your second album and I’ve heard you talk before about the “Second album syndrome” during production… can you comment on that experience?
B: Sure, I guess my first album gave me a platform and the resources to make another record, but suddenly there was this demand – you know, nobody gave a shit if I made my first album at all, I did it for myself. And then suddenly there was this feeling of weight and responsibility and obligation to people other than myself – the people who would be working with me, business partners, and primarily to my audience. And then to myself with sort of this pressure to keep rolling this stone up the hill and an illusion of being further along on some path… I felt the pressure to perform. You know you have your whole life to write the first album and then writing a follow up record, you have to do relatively quickly, so I felt all of these interesting pressures. But it was great because it pushed me to think big, to think in grandiose terms, and to try to surround myself with people who I could trust and who I enjoyed collaborating with. So it was an interesting sort of pressure cooker, crock pot situation that I found myself in, but I think it was a good thing for me. A good learning experience. And now reflecting on that, I feel this third album pressure and I’m more able to remind myself that it’s all kind of illusory and that my responsibility is to the art, and to myself and to the songs
J: So what will be different about the 3rd album syndrome?
Ben: Well, you know, with the thirst album I don’t think think I have anything to prove. I think I’m just going to make something that I like and hope that other people like it. Hopefully that works out for me.
J: So as a singer-songwriter-producer who’s finally putting the final polish on my own 2nd album, do you have any advice for battling the second album syndrome?
B: No. I don’t haha! You just have to work through it. As I was saying, just being rigorous and serving the song, that’s all you can ever do.
J: Your influences seem to be extremely broad and I can definitely respect that a lot. Who’s on your must-see-before-you-die list for live performances?
B: Hmm… geez… well you know when you’re on tour as much as I am, in a funny way the last thing I can picture wanting to do is going to a show when I don’t have to. But… uh… can I take a pass?
J: Well, mine would be Tom Waits… a rare live performance to see. I feel like you could relate to that.
B: Well, I got to see him a couple of years ago. I saw him perform at the Bridge School Benefit concert, a yearly concert that Neil Young puts on. So I went to Mountain View, California, to go see that show and it was pretty cool.
J: Specifically for that show?
B: Totally! Yeah, it’s like ‘well I’m not going to get many opportunities to see Tom Waits, I’m sure. So now that there is one, I’d better fly to California.’
J: Exactly… it’ll happen for me eventually, too.
B: Here’s hoping. My fingers are crossed. You just have to be willing to fly to California, that’s all.
J: Totally possible.
I saw that Uptown Funk video that you did with Old Man Luedecke. Is that something that you do with the band often? Or just a one off?
B: It was a one off. The CBC asked us throw together some sort of Top 40 hit to perform as a collaboration between Old Man Luedecke and I, and we were totally gob-smacked as to what to do because neither one of us listens to a ton of Top 40. So trying to figure out what we could collaborate on was tricky, but I wound up suggesting that one. And it was a fun exercise to like try to figure out how to arrange that with those musicians and throw it all together. I practiced it a few times with the members of my own band and then with Old Man Luedecke. We had maybe an hour in the studio to try to mash it together and make it happen. I’m pretty pleased with how it came together.
J: Yeah it was pretty tight!
B: I credit everyone else around me.
J: You say you don’t listen to a lot of Top 40 hits, but do you have any guilty pleasures? I won’t tell anyone, I swear…
Ben: Please, you can report on it all you like. Yeah, I dunno, I definitely have enjoyed stuff from Britney, to Adele, to Katy Perry… I have no intrinsic beef with those genres.. Justin Bieber… you know these production teams, the songwriting, it’s all undeniable in my opinion. It’s really, really excellent music and it’s going for a particular thing that’s really different from the thing that I’m going for but even tho it’s rarely the thing that I would think to put on, when it does come on I have a deep appreciation for it. Playing with Jamie Kronick definitely lends to that sensibility on my behalf because he’s a shameless pop fanatic, so I wind up being exposed to a lot more Top 40 than I would normally, through Jamie.
J: Last question. If Shenkman goes well on Apr 7th, do you wanna take me on tour with you?
Ben: Sure… haha we have one more show after that!
Jack: Yeah, fair enough. Well maybe not this tour then, but I’ve got you on the record for that!
Ben: Right on, well I look forward to hearing it, man
Jack: Sweet, and I look forward to seeing you too. It’s going to be a great show, I think!
Jade Bergeron, a.k.a. Flying Hórses, has done things that few artists in Ottawa/Montreal have done before. Her 2015 album Tölt was recorded in Iceland at Sundlaugin Studio with the help of producer Birgir (Biggi) Jón Birgisson of Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. The album is, as far as we’re concerned, a masterpiece in its own right (read our piece on it here). The emotional, cinematic soundscapes crafted by Bergeron are moving instrumental pieces, and a few of the songs –”Tölt” and “Attic” – have recently been made into music videos.
We caught up with Bergeron and spoke with about her recent endeavours, and her new videos for “Tölt” and “Attic” can be seen below. Be sure to catch Flying Hórses’ JUNOfest performance on Saturday, April 1 starting at 8pm at St. Alban’s Church along with Her Harbour, Charles Spearin (Broken Social Scene), and Pugs and Crows and Tony Wilson.
What have you been up to since returning from Iceland? Can you talk a bit about your involvement with Banff Centre?
I’ve been pretty busy. I got back from Iceland just in time to perform my first two solo-piano concerts as part of the Festival de Jazz de Montreal. I spent the summer writing new material and collaborating with videographers.
I was invited to go work over at The Banff Centre in the fall. Waking up every morning to clean, fresh air, in the middle of the mountains, and to be surrounded by talented, inspiring artists was so amazing. I had my own studio, with a grand piano, harpsichord, vibraphone and a few percussive instruments. The other musicians in my residency we’re singer/songwriters and we’re working on two or three shorter songs, but I decided when I got there that I was going to compose one, longer instrumental, movement. I had written a small part of the new track over in Iceland but the entire rest of the movement happened really organically during my first week in Banff.
Being back in nature, really brought the song to life. I had heard about the residency through Charles actually, and being a fan of his post-rock band DO MAKE SAY THINK and of his work in general, I applied. I guess both himself and Brendan Canning thought I would be a good fit for the residency. I ended up meeting a classical guitarist and experimental cellist, Alex Mah out there, who was there working with Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire) and after hearing him play, invited him to record cello on my new piece. Charles played horns and a few other musicians also contributed to the movement.
I wanted the entire recording experience to feel organic, and stress-free. The new movement was mixed by Efrim (Godspeed You! Black Emperor over at Hotel 2 Tango in Montreal and I just got the master back from Biggi (Sigur Ros) in Iceland. It’s a pretty heavy listen, but it’s colourful and it represents a really important recent time in my life. We are shooting a short film/video for the single right now in Iceland. I’m very excited about the whole thing. It’s going to feature a very well-known actor/model in the Icelandic community, so I’m really glad to be working with this team, overseas. The new movement and video should hopefully be out in the spring.
The video for Tölt is a beautifully crafted, yet tragic story of two young people alienated from the world in different ways. Why were children the subjects? Can you expand on the concept?
I wrote ‘Tölt’ during a time of reflection on my own childhood. The entire record ended up feeling/sounding like a soundtrack to the past. I used a lot of instrumentation that represented the innocence of being young and wide-eyed. When Alex approached me with the idea of making a video/short film for that particular track, he already had a lot of great conceptual ideas, and before even bringing up what the track represented to me, he was already story boarding about a childhood trauma. We connected on the video, immediately.
My contribution to the video was limited. Once Alex and I went over the storyboard together, he began casting calls for the actors, and it wasn’t long before they them. Production spent some time in the fall working on production and the post-production happened in the winter. The whole process was really amazing. Both young actors really did a great job, and I’m so grateful for the level of professionalism the entire team demonstrated throughout. It’s been an honour working with all of them.
What does the piano mean to you? How has music helped you through past struggles and traumas?
My relationship with the piano has been a roller coaster since I was a kid. I’ve tried my hand at a few different instruments over the years, but my heart has always lead me back to the piano. It feels the most organic. I enjoy having the keys right there in front of me, I’m a very visual person. I really have no idea what I was doing with my life, before writing and composing music, and I don’t know what I would do without it.
Is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming video for attic? Will it be related to the story in Tölt?
Attic was produced by Antoine S. Legault from Lonely Fire Productions. The song is one of the last tracks on the record. I never really intended for it to end up there, actually. It’s quite dark, heavy and creepy and I think is a transition between the really optimist, innocent, lullaby songs that start off the album, and the new single I’ll be releasing sometime in the spring. I wrote it while I was reflecting on memories (much like Tolt). The video opportunity came about organically, this past winter. I sat down with Antoine back in December and we talked about making this short film/video that was kind of dark, creepy and mysterious. Coming out of a bit of heaviness myself, I decided to focus the story on loss and melancholy. Antoine came up with the storyboard and we shot the video in one afternoon in an abandoned house. It was freezing cold and creepy, but it was a really awesome experience.
What does it mean to you to be part of the Juno festivities taking place in Ottawa?
I don’t perform very often. In fact I pretty much only played festivals last year. My focus has mostly been on writing new material, and catching up on the release of the record. Junofest asked me to perform as part of the only ‘instrumental/experimental’ showcase for the festival. It will be fun to share the stage with Charles Spearin again, and a good friend of mine Her Harbour is playing too. It’ll be nice to see so many great musicians roaming around Ottawa for The Juno’s.
When you put on the first song on Jenn Grant’s latest album, Paradise, you immediately know it’s different from her past work. The listener is greeted by trance-inducing percussion that stimulates sensory inputs – a feeling that continues the whole way through the album.
Jenn Grant was born in Charlottetown, P.E.I., but currently resides in Lake Echo, NS. She has become renowned internationally as a successful folk-singer. Recognized for her highly acclaimed album, Compostela, she has created a name for herself as a Juno-nominated Canadian artist, and this album follows suit.*
The unique sound of Paradise started with the chosen core instrument. This is the first album on which Jenn chose to play the piano. With the help of her husband, she then paired that base with synths, bits of soul, and electronics to build the majority of the sounds. This combination was also paired with a heavier percussion than in previous albums, which, with her vocals, created a powerful fusion of sound that fully immerses the listener. When asked about these fundamental differences between her albums, she put it very simply:
“The colours of this album are different.”
The majority of inspiration didn’t come from something, but rather the lack of something – the empty spaces found in music over the last year or so. Major loses include the likes of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen, just to name a few. They were all powerful forces in their own right within the industry, and have all had an impact on Jenn and her music over the years. Coming through lucid dreams, Jenn looked through her connections in the music community to form the vivid new colours that can be found on the album.
Curious about her ability to have full memories of these dreams, I inquired about how this was possible. She explained the dream she had inspiring the song Rocket, sharing that the night after David Bowie died she found herself flying through space with him.
Straighten your tie at the end of a golden road, thank you for coming by. Looking sharp, I saw your face and thought, my god, is this good bye?
…let us not pretend now, that we’ve got all the answers.
It was on this journey that he told her she should embrace her gifts. Though she only recently started to keep a notebook by her bed again, Jenn explained that vivid dreams like this one leave a lasting impact. They are hard to forget, although she decided to start documenting the special ones from here on.
Growing up on the East Coast impacted Jenn as a person, which subsequently impacted her music. Finding a tight-knit group of local artists created a “special bond” for all of them. All having a unique perspective on music and touring, they support each other through the process. To her, it’s a group of likeminded artists sharing a life.
As for Jenn’s plans for Ottawa, she says the show will be more fun, highlighting her new material. She has always liked playing in the city, which became evident last week when she surprised Black Squirrel Books with a pop-in show alongside CBC’s All in a Day host Alan Neal. Each show Jenn plays is different.
Her show on March 25th at the NAC will be different for a lot of reasons, including performing in a larger room and having a bigger sound than previous shows. She promises that it will be dynamic. There will be new stuff, bits of old stuff, and of course lots of love. Pricing and ticket information for the NAC show can be found here.
Jenn’s Song I Wish I Wrote But Didn’t – I Think We’re Alone Now by Tiffany.
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, is made up of about 2,200 permanent residents, while Dartmouth has about 67,500. The City of Ottawa has more permanent residents than the entire province. It’s easy to be recognized, its easy to know of a lot of people, and if you are a public figure like Joel Plaskett, it’s no shock that pretty much everyone can find a connection to you.
Joel Plaskett is known around town not only for his music, but his work in the community. Advocating for the arts in Nova Scotia through organizations like the Khyber, growth of Dartmouth’s downtown core, and producing up and coming local artists. Encouraging growth in the arts is something that is found within many members of the Plaskett family. While living in Lunenburg, Bill Plaskett was one of the founding members of the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival. This festival has continued to be one of the towns flourishing events, highlighting local artists on its many stages, including Joel. The most recent project undertaken by the Plaskett duo has been the appropriately named Solidarity album released in February.
When I was told that I had a chance to speak with Joel, I knew that I wanted to highlight the importance of community, family, and to showcase the importance of that word solidarity. I chose to reach out to my community to find which questions they would want to ask. I was not disappointed. I learned more in that part of this interview process than I expected to in the whole thing. Many were interested in family, wanting to know what it was like to produce an album with his Dad, and how much of an influence his dad was on his career. Some were interested in his work in Dartmouth, some of his past experiences, and others interested in where he saw things going in the future.
When creating Solidarity, partnering with his dad changed the album’s sound from his usual influences, and it brought him a sense of grounding. The process led to the exploration of parts of the self, bringing back the sounds of traditional folk. Discussions of the album began about a year before they decided to go ahead with it, booking the tour before solidifying the albums production. The deadline was tight. They started the recording process in October of last year with a deadline in the first part of November, which gave them about 30 days to record and produce it in it’s entirety. Having shared a stage in the past with his father, Joel wanted to take that further and give his dad more of the stage. Bill takes lead on five songs on the album, which are rooted deeply in tradition. A sound that was also inherited by Joel, bringing him “full circle” in his dad’s influence on his music. This was an influence that started by digging through old record collections, finding interest in certain musicians that have impacted the sound Joel carried into his career. The guitar style he was interested in was very much his dad’s, an influence that he noticed come through more on this album than on other albums. This album mixes Bill’s ‘social’ musical style with Joel’s more professional approach to music production, bringing the “living room to the stage.”
Growing up, Joel was influenced by music from a variety of sources. His love of rock music began from a lesser-known source, which was his time spent at Camp Wapemeo. Located in Yarmouth, Joel attended this camp with Ian McGettigan and Rob Benvie, who would later join him to form Thrush Hermit. It was at this camp where Chef Bobby got up in front of the whole camp and air guitared Stairway to Heaven at campfire. For Joel, that moment wasn’t about the air guitaring, but about having his first taste of Led Zeppelin. He talked about his “a-ha” moment, sitting at the fire thinking, “WHAT IS THAT SONG?!” He was 12 or 13 years old, and he admits that those camp moments changed his life.
Camp, like most kids, left a lasting impact for Joel. Memories for him also included a song well known which was sung by all the kids at Camp Wapemeo. That song was Leaving on a Jet Plane. Years later, well into his career, Joel was asked to play at a camp located in Ontario. He ended up finding out that his song, True Patriot Love, became the “Leaving on a Jet Plane” song for that camp, and thinking, “Yes. I made it!”
Understanding the ins and outs of music industry is important when working the way Joel does. Running an all-in-one record store/barber shop/coffee shop/recording studio in Dartmouth keeps him in the loop about what the local industry looks like, while also giving him the ability to produce records for musicians on-site. The New Scotland Yard Emporium has provided the space for many locals like Mo Kenney to build their foundation in the music industry. Other renowned artists have gone through NSYE, such as Cancer Bats and, of course, Frank Turner who recently played a pop-up acoustic show while on tour last month.**
Growing this hub in Dartmouth has made the profession accessible for him, and other musicians in the area. Sharing worries about the financial sustainability of the industry, he says there is little money in recording and that artists can only find security through money earned while on tour. Streaming has impacted the ability to earn money off records, but has had an impact on developing a fan base for shows while away. Joel has been fortunate enough to develop an audience that has grown and gotten older with him throughout the years, many of whom are dedicated to coming to shows. Anyone who has been in that audience knows Joel takes pride in his shows, keeping it professional and casual. You’d find yourself excited to be there, and comfortable enough to go have a conversation with him after the show. Connecting with the audience and encouraging that his shows, and music in general, “is something everyone can be a part of.”
This mindset has kept him able to continue to work within the community. Avoiding the fan fair often associated with being a well-known performer, and wanting to maintain his ability to walk down the streets of Dartmouth. Relax and enjoy the simplicities in life, like disconnecting from the world of technology and telephones and going for walks around Lake Banook (one of Dartmouth’s many lakes, it is the City of Lakes after all). Keeping this small-town mentality allows for the ability to slow down, which, in true Nova Scotian fashion, also includes the boycotting of Sunday shopping – the belief that everyone needs a day of rest and relaxation.
Being on tour provides a different kind of relaxation for Joel. It provides the relaxing “feeling of being useful.” Knowing that in the moments while away, he is doing exactly what he needs to be doing. When getting on stage he is comfortable. He knows the tuning, he knows what to prepare, and knows that that first song should sound and feel like. Joel and Bill Plaskett will be playing the National Arts Centre on March 18th. He tells us to expect a shared stage. Opening for them is a “fuzzy-folk” duo, Mayhemingways, who have also been recruited to do some backing up for the Plaskett’s set. In addition to these openers, the tour will have Shannon Quinn joining for the first few shows, including the NAC. She is a talented fiddler who will be playing with them for the set, making it into a five-piece group in the end. This show will be different from what people are used to, and will showcase the fusion of Bill’s traditional folk with Joel’s upbeat rock. He also promised to bring in a few of his old songs as well.
Joel’s Song I wish I Wrote but Didn’t
Nina Simone – The Twelfth of Never (original lyrics by Johnny Mathis)_________________________________________________________
**Frank Turner and Joel Plaskett have a long-standing friendship after Turner went on tour with Emergency five years ago. Joel highlighted Turner’s stage energy, general positivity, and overall genuine kindness. Plaskett also highlighted how every so often Turner will be listening to Joel’s music and it will pop up on his twitter, and people from anywhere and everywhere will comment about checking it out. For that he gave a chuckle and thanks.
Century Palm will take you on a time warp and are happen to be swinging into town this week.
Century Palm was initially formed by vocalist/guitarist Andrew Payne in 2014 following the dissolution of garage-rock cult favourites, Ketamines. Ketamines featured 3/4ths of the eventual members of Century Palm (Paul Lawton, Penny Clark, Jesse Locke and Payne). Members also play(ed) in Tough Age, Zebrassieres and Dirty Beaches. Needless to say this talented group has a pretty impressive resume.
The band has certainly moved well beyond the garage sound of their past bands. Century Palm will take you back 20 or 30 years with new wave and post-punk musical styling that many like me have missed dearly.
Ahead of their show at House of Targ Saturday night, we chatted with the band about their evolution from Ketamines to Century Palm and their retro sound. Have a read below and travel back in time Saturday night (info here).
Beyond the different sound, what is the major difference between Ketamines and Century Palm?
Paul Lawton: Ketamines was a studio project with a rotating cast of players, Century Palm has always felt more like a hard-slogging band. Ketamines as a collab between myself and James Leroy, who I had been making music with since the 90s. Century Palm is (more or less) more of a collaboration between an entire band, it is a great deal more collaborative than Ketamines ever was.
Andrew Payne: Although I played in Ketamines for a year I didn’t write any music for the band. For me, Century Palm is a continuation of my last songwriting project, Zebrassieres, which was based in Ottawa when I lived there from 2009 to 2012. The main goal of Zebrassieres was to make people question the need to be serious, logical and mature. With Century Palm, I’m taking a stab at being serious, logical and mature. Both paths are valid ways to approach life.
Often when bands breakup, they get back together for high paying reunion gigs, not form another band with many of the same members. What brought you together to make music again?
Paul: I think that Ketamines might come back around at some point. It’s confusing – the version of Ketamines with myself, Andrew, Jesse and Alex dissolved after a stupid and highly charged cross Canada tour where we were doing Ketamines AND Zebrassieres with the same lineup. Andrew basically quit on a 30 hour drive home from Chicago to Toronto, I think that tour kind of broke us. Ketamines went on with Jesse on drums, and then Andrew formed Century Palm, and we basically all got back together again, without me as the ruthless uncaring leader, and it was instantly kind of better.
Andrew: The people are all great, I just wanted to make my own music and do something different than before.
Getting back to the sound, Century Palm sounds like something from the last century, more of a late 70s and 80s vibe to it. How did that come to be?
Andrew: I like the sweet spot in there when punk-influenced-bands were getting more creative, and right before a lot of those same bands started losing their edge. It was a time when everything was more bold, dark and stylish than the present. The fashion was distinctive and daring. The movies were full of slime, and actors would say, “Shut up, pukoid.”
Paul: I think we are victims of “overdocumentation” as Simon Reynolds says in Retromania. When I started playing in hardcore bands, we were basically influenced by whichever 7”s we could get in distros, or from the back of MRR or whatever HeartattaCk was into, but then filesharing just made musical eras and genre distinctions obsolete. In our van we are as likely to listen to WIRE as we are anything modern.
I heard recording this album was a lengthy process? Can you speak about the road from your last EP to your debut LP Meet You?
Paul: We recorded our first two EPs at Royal Mountain Studios with Nyles Miszczyk, roughly about a year apart – 2014 and then 2015. I was personally super happy with how it turned out. Then we moved into a real studio on the East End that we were sharing with U.S. Girls and Slim Twig, and I still had all my recording gear from when I ran Mammoth Cave Recording Co., so we just decided to take our time. Mixing was making me crazy, so we offloaded our mixing to Mint Records superstar Jay Arner, and so that allowed me to focus on crafting vibes.
We re-recorded most of the songs a few times until we were happy with it. I probably spent 1000 hours in there making sonic layers with everyone. It was fun, but we already have a second LP worth of songs and we moved out of that studio, so that will force us to go back to a real studio. I personally loved working with Nyles so we might try and make that happen again.
I like both singles, “King of John St” and “Then You’re Gone” for very different reasons, but “Then You’re Gone” really jumps out at me and shines on the album. Could you tell me a little bit about the song please?
Andrew: Then You’re Gone is about that moment you find out a friend, or anyone close, has passed away. It captures that helpless, spacey feeling where all you can do is question life while the reality of the news sinks in. When Penny’s synth solo kicks in, it takes me away to another dimension, which is a perfect response to the song.
You have played Ottawa a few times before, what is one or some of your favourite memories of playing the nation’s capital?
Penny Clark: My favourite time was at Ottawa Explosion where we got to play that super hot cave bar and it ruled.
Paul: We just like playing to a city of people that actually care about supporting bands and dancing and going off.
For people who have never seen you live before, what should they expect at House of TARG?
Andrew: They can expect to see new songs newer than our new album.
Jesse Locke: TARG has an amazing collection of pinball machines and my personal favourite game, Ice Cold Beer. Try the dessert pierogies too!
We caught up with Jordan Craig, the lead singer and guitarist ONFIILM ahead of their show this week. We had a great chat about the band, their sound, their live show and much more. Check it out:
I know you don’t like using a genre to describe ONFILM’s sound, I also hate genres but sort of get stuck with them as a writer. Can you please describe your band’s sound without defaulting to genres?
J: The band’s sound to me is a mix of all the madness, sadness, vulnerability and other exotic feelings that I feel when I’ m at home. All of our music is written and recorded right here. My best friends, and the most talented people I know are in the band, and we share a common love for sound and light. We are all in love with beautiful delicate tones, juxtaposed against pulverizing beats and mad, mad guitars. Colin Wolfson’s lead guitar is genius level, really bringing the sparkling intergalactic feel. Ryan Farrell holds down the bass without over complicating, and is always mesmerizing. I like to give the rhythm and chords (The fewer the better!) a chance to breathe, and enchant the listener just before we close the hatch and blast off. We take them to space, then bring them back home again.
How would you best describe how that sound translates live?
J: Every piece of the live show is designed to take the audience into our world. Maybe more specifically my world. It ’s pretty much a recreation of my life and what’s going on in my head. An expression of personal freedom. I want to show everyone through our video, music and dancing that whatever or whoever they are can be pushed to the limit. Our dancers interpret the music, while our glitch videos play over us and our instruments. The superimposed glitches break us apart, scramble us. It’s crazy.
Love the sound of the video/visual addition. Where did the idea come from?
J: It was a pretty natural thing for me to add visuals to our stage show. I’ve been a pro photographer for 15 years, and I’m from a family of visual artists. I first became enamoured with glitch video when I saw a movie called “Until the end of the world” by Wim Wenders. In this movie they record peoples dreams, and the result was beautiful. Wim Wenders is also an accomplished photographer, and I’ve always been interested in his methods. The other inspiration was the cover art for Renegade Soundwave’s album “Sound Clash.” A sexy figure with a whip, probably shot on a tv screen. That image is never far from my mind.
Who are the dancers? Are they at every show? What do you think they add?
J: The dancers are currently Tess Giberson and Zoë Menne. We are super lucky to have them at pretty much every show, although sometimes we have other dancers when we are on the road, or if one of them can’t make it. For instance, Tess was arrested for working at a marijuana dispensary and pointlessly thrown in jail on the night of our gig a few months ago. They are a wonderful and kind person, and it was shocking and horrible that they were treated this way. Zoë is an unbelievably talented visual artist in their own right, and I’m actually a big fan. Back when the band first started, I didn’t even have a drummer or bass player, so I felt that I needed more movement onstage. They worked out so well that I’ve kept that aspect of the show going even now that ONFIILM is a full band.
In your band’s bio you are listed as “a doctor of divinity,” care to explain?
J: Yes, I have an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Universal Life Church in Medesto, California. I am an Atheist, and I believe that everyone’s beliefs are just as valid as anyone else’s, as long as they don’t impose on others. I use this bit of paper to illustrate the absurdity of the whole idea of organized religion. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson had a Doctorate from the same place, so I’m in good company. ONFIILM and our fans are the Congregation, and our live show is the service. We are also federal tax exempt in the United States.
Very interesting. I also see you list two drummers, do you ever have two live?
J: Yes, ONFIILM is fortunate to have two ridiculously talented drummers, but not both on stage at the same time. Wes Leigh is our main drummer, but when he is not available Matt Sobb kindly fills in for him. They both have very different playing styles and bring more to the table than I could have imagined. Matt also plays in the Juno award winning band MonkeyJunk. I’m very proud to be working with both of these drummers, as they are both very accomplished dedicated musicians.
If so, how does that play out and what do the sound techs think? If not, why not?
J: It has certainly crossed my mind. I’m a big fan of the Allman Brothers, so two drummers is something that is not out of the question for me in the future. RIP Butch Trucks. Actually, the live sound engineer from the Allman Brothers Band came to the studio for a visit a few months ago. Got some really good live sound tips!
What do you know about the venue you are playing, The Dominion Tavern?
J: When you first walk into the Dominion Tavern, look up towards the ceiling, you’ll notice the bashed up mangled side of an old stock car. I was actually at the speedway that day long ago, and watched the damn thing race. A guy named Stu, who used to work there was driving. It was like a rolling version of the Dominion Tavern. A bit louder, and bit rougher than the other cars. Didn’t win the race, but had the best crowd.
Anything else you would like to add?
J: We are super excited that ONFIILM’s music is being used in an upcoming documentary series by VICE called “FUNNY: HOW?” . It’s a series about different comedy scenes around the world. Not much more I can say about it yet, as I don’t want to give anything else away. VICE has been great to work with, and they really understand ONFIILM’s feel, and leave us to our own devices to come up with music. We will make the songs for this series available for fans to download after it has aired.
We also working on our full length LP coming out later this year. I’d like to thank everyone involved in ONFIILM, and it’s a thrill to experiment every day.
Catch ONFIILM this Wednesday night at the Dominion Tavern as they open for the most excellent Heat from Montreal, info here.
The 2017 Megaphono Festival has begun, and has already rung in a number of successful music panels, events, and shows, bringing in a collection of talent from across Canada, the US, and beyond. On Thursday, February 2 at Barrymore’s, Partner joins I.D.A.L.G. and New Swears for what is expected to be nothing less than the punk rock party dreams are made of.
Hailing from New Brunswick, Partner’s Josée Caron and Lucy Niles are a musical match made in heaven. Their songs, which mix the uplifting sound of indie pop with the rough energy of post-punk, perfectly encapsulate the feelings of young adulthood.
Previously bandmates in Killer Haze, Caron and Niles decided to create new music based on the fleeting events and ideas of everyday life. Their Bandcamp lists intimacy, friendship, sexuality, and drugs as some of the elements behind their song writing – in what they call “part-musical act, part-teenage diary, and 100% queer”.
A large part of the artists’ musical inspiration comes from their sexuality: both open lesbians, being gay is a central part of the band’s identity.“It’s not that we thought it was a radical thing to talk about,” says Niles. “We’re not the first gay people to make music. We just decided that we were tired of not talking about it, to not be known as a gay band. It’s way harder to not talk about your sexuality than it is to talk about it,” she says.
The pair’s honest and accepting attitude towards sexuality allows it to be an important but relaxed element of their sound – it’s there, they’re not hiding it, but they’re not pushing it either. “It permeates your life in funny and mundane ways,” says Caron. This lighthearted style resonates in the band’s humorous and authentic songs and music videos. One of their most popular singles is entitled “We’re Gay but Not for Each Other.” Other singles include “The Ellen Page” and “Hot Knives,” both punchy songs that use playful lyrics to depict controversial subjects with a modern and nonchalant attitude.
As a young band, Partner has established a steadily rising career. They’ve already had a successful start to 2017, touring throughout Canada and the United States. It’s the band’s first time at Megaphono, returning to Ottawa after playing at the Arboretum Festival last year.
“It’s been great to play all across Canada,” says Caron. “We’re really lucky to be welcomed by various fests.” Niles agrees, saying “it’s been really cool to see people who are into the same stuff all over the place, but don’t know each other necessarily… there’s a common kind of bond.”
For the future, expect an announcement from the pair in the next month with “an exciting development” on their upcoming record. “We’re always kind of working on songs,” says Niles. “We have a lot of ideas we’ve been working on over the course of years.”
Partner’s easygoing attitude, loveable sound, and honest lyrical talent ensures a solid future for the band – their music is high-energy and high quality, appearing impressively professional while maintaining youth and authenticity. While you eagerly wait for their studio record, you can catch Partner at Barrymore’s tonight, February 2, at 10:30 pm. Ticketing and Megaphono wristband information can be found here.
Megaphono: verb. To amplify that which is heard locally, so it may reach a broader audience.
February 1-3, 2017 // Ottawa & Gatineau.
Jon Bartlett is the music industry veteran that started the Ottawa’s newest music festival, which is going into its third year. It’s a little bit weird, a little bit quirky, and very Ottawa. It’s still flying under the radar of many in the city. Yet Megaphono offers something totally different – it’s not just about bringing people to the show, it’s about who they are bringing to the city.
Megaphono is a showcase festival, which means they’re hosting music industry representatives to demonstrate regional talent. “There’s an appetite for Canadian music, and our city has way better than average music.” says Jon. Yet, we haven’t built a reputation much beyond our boundaries. That’s one of the goals of the festival, and one of the reasons why hosting industry scouts is a great investment for the city. Beyond showcasing the talent of local artists, it is part of building Ottawa’s creative brand. In this capacity, music, film, theatre and other creative industries are doing a lot of heavy lifting. “That’s what makes a good city,” says Bartlett, “I’m more optimistic than I was 5 years ago. There’s so much happening that I had no idea about. It’s made me want to dig a little bit, explore.”
Musicians from this region, Ottawa and Gatineau, can certainly represent. We have some success stories, but Bartlett admits “we don’t have a great reputation for being the mavens of championing our own artists before other people do.” Megaphono acts like an ear to the ground for hard-working artists, picking up sound bites and making sure they’re heard by the right people. It’s a well-curated festival, which is helpful to music industry reps, but equally so to normal people that don’t necessarily have time to follow the local scene.
The Ottawa Scene
Speaking about Ottawa’s music scene, Bartlett revealed some of the challenges of making it as a musician in Ottawa. It seems as though one of the biggest barriers for a musician committing to it. “People have cushy jobs. It’s harder to walk the plank and take that risk… Maybe that’s why those people move away. You need the friction of [pressure] to motivate yourself.” Geographically, we’re also quite spread out, so staying local can limit a musician’s growth.
Her Harbour performs at Megaphono’s 2016 secret warehouse tour. The festival uses unconventional venues to be more memorable.
Another challenge is Ottawa’s federal side. As Bartlett says, “We are bureaucratic Jedis. Everything is steeped in taking way too long and making decisions because two people wrote letters of complaint… You live downtown in a city.” Noise brings vibrancy, and we’ll have to embrace that as a city in order to grow.
There are opportunities of being based here – and one of the big ones is that we’re right between Montreal and Toronto, which are “the two main Canadian places you should be playing anyway”. There might be fewer resources, but part of the appeal of Megaphono is that it holds panels to share knowledge, and enables networking.
Building Cultural Capital
It’s not every day you speak to someone who is so upfront about the music industry being, well, a business. Those connections are happening more and more, and people are starting to buy into the economics of it. Jon spoke about one of the festivals sponsors this year, Lixar. “They really get it. Businesses are starting to understand that if you want to attract workers and you’re doing things that involve creativity – and a lot of those high tech industries do – people aren’t going to want to move here if there isn’t a vibrant music scene. That might actually be the most important thing to get people to move to a city.”
Megaphono, the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, and many other players are working hard to bring the city “to a place where the economic value of a good music scene is recognized, beyond filling hotel rooms during festivals, beyond being a handout to the arts – because investments in trying to build this industry are, dollar for dollar, a way better investment than most industries.”
Is Ottawa cooler than we think? We’re getting there. Let’s keep investing.