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.
Kitchener’s Janice Jo Lee is bringing her tour to Ottawa this weekend, and is set to take over The Origin Arts & Community Centre. Presented in cooperation with Babely Shades, Lee is an award-winning musician, poet, and theatre performer who pushes boundaries through her art. A self-described hard femme queer radical, Lee insists on using the stage as a platform for interaction with her audiences – an interaction that is often full of witty humour, but also unhindered honesty.
Her folk-roots songs are not only eloquently crafted and beautifully executed, but they are also powerful, critical pieces. Her third album, entitled Ancestor Song, is set to be released in Spring 2017. I had the chance to speak with Janice Jo Lee recently, have a read below.
Don’t miss Lee perform with talented local artist Amanda Lowe at The Origin Arts & Community Centre on Friday night, starting at 8:30pm. More information can be found here.
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO SEE AND LEARN, PERSONALLY, AS YOU TRAVEL ACROSS CANADA ON TOUR?
When I’m on tour I am hoping to share my stories with new audiences. Particularly I’m excited to perform to folks who are marginalized by racism, patriarchy, and classism, because I think my songs can be cathartic and healing. I am hoping to meet other artists and activists who are doing the work in their communities, because it inspires me to keep going.
ON YOUR LATEST ALBUM, SING HEY, YOU EXPLORE MANY DIFFERENT GENRES TRACK TO TRACK, YET IT STILL FEELS COHESIVE. IS STRAYING FROM ONE PARTICULAR “SOUND” OR GENRE OF MUSIC IMPORTANT TO YOU? IF SO, WHY?
That’s funny you say that! Because I thought Sing Hey was more cohesive than my first album Drown the Earth when it comes to genre. I would say the sound I aim for is heartfelt, and soul-full. My base is roots, and folk music, with a generous influence from 90s pop and RnB. Placing music in genres is a capitalist tendency I think, to make it convenient to market an artist to an audience. For me I say I am a folk artist because I make music for the people, telling our contemporary stories. The instrumentation is secondary to the music’s purpose.
YOU USE VARIOUS MEDIUMS THROUGH WHICH YOU TELL YOUR STORIES, AND YOUR SONGS AND POEMS ARE POWERFUL ANTI-OPPRESSION PIECES. HOW HAS TRANSFORMING DIFFICULT PERSONAL EXPERIENCES INTO STORIES FOR OTHERS TO HEAR HAD AN IMPACT ON YOU OVER THE YEARS?
Turning my hardships into songs and poems is a really excellent exercise in healing and letting go. My poem “Grasslands” is about the biggest struggle I’ve had with my body, the policing of my body hair. By turning that experience into a piece of comedy, I laugh at it now, and every time I share that story with others, it sits lighter on my chest.
My favourite thing to do right now is to turn my frustration with oppression into anthems for survival. They remind myself and my friends of our fierceness. For example in my song “Here I Am” the chorus says “Gotta spit the truth, gotta be fearless, gotta fight to survive, find joy in my life” which are basically my life goals. In another song “Take Space,” I say “Take that little bit of space you have and let’s make it free” which is about starting where we are and building outward. I use this language of “getting free” which is 100% taken from Dead Prez and their album “Let’s Get Free.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY MEMORIES OR EXPERIENCES THAT YOU CAN RECALL WERE FORMATIVE TO YOUR ARTISTIC PURSUITS? PERHAPS SOMETHING FROM YOUR YOUTH THAT HAS TRAVELED WITH YOU?
I remember in my youth, sitting in the back of the car and hearing Alicia Key’s “Fallin” on the radio and my world stopped. I had been listening to mostly korean and american pop music my whole life, and this simple two chord blues song struck me in my soul. I remember thinking “What is this music?”
I always wanted to be a singer but it wasn’t something I ever thought would happen. My immigrant parents always pushed me to be a doctor, lawyer, professor, or politician. Somehow it happened for me anyway because the best way for my to be a politician was through art.
THE CLOSING OF SOYBOMB IN TORONTO RAISES SOME CONCERNS FOR THE FUTURE OF DIY VENUES IN THE CITY. K-W IS KNOWN TO HAVE SOME DIY SPACES OF ITS OWN. IN YOUR EYES, WHY ARE THESE SPACES IMPORTANT AND VALUABLE TO AN ARTS COMMUNITY?
DIY spaces are so important for local artists to flourish. I like to think of it as the power of the people right at the grassroots. For example I can book a show at Open Sesame in Kitchener, book an all BIPOC lineup, admission can be pay what you can, I can do a land acknowledgement and have an all-gender accessible bathroom. This doesn’t happen at Centre in the Square. Having decision-making power that is not influenced from a top-down system allows innovation and artistic freedom. In my experience, communities grow out of DIY spaces.
WHAT ADVICE OR ENCOURAGEMENT WOULD YOU GIVE INDIVIDUALS IN MARGINALIZED GROUPS WHO ARE LOOKING TO TAKE THEIR ART MORE SERIOUSLY, AND MAYBE PURSUE A CAREER AS AN ARTIST?
Canada does not have a great arts infrastructure. Culturally we do not value the arts as some other countries. It is hard to make a living as an artist. For marginalized artists I would say make the time to apply to grants. It is unpaid labour up front, but if you receive money, you can actually pay yourself to create and produce art. Especially right now with the overhauls at the Canada Council for the Arts and Ontario Arts Council, where centering marginalized artists is now a clear priority, apply for grants. Aside from grants, I would say know your own boundaries. Once you build up to a professional level as an independent artist-entrepreneur, the only person who has the decision to exploit you is yourself. There are only so many gigs I can volunteer for before I need to draw a line because I am exploiting my own labour. Your art work is real work!
When you are performing to white audiences and they respond with coldness to your work, do not let it ruin you! An artist who is ahead of the curve, and pushing the boundaries will not be warmly accepted until we educate audiences to be ready. Try to show your work to audiences who do “get” what you are doing when you can, to be encouraged. Artists who are more than entertainment and easy-listening, are dangerous. Canadians are way too comfortable. Be dangerous.
Cody Purcell, a.k.a. Cody Coyote has reached new heights in his musical evolution as an aboriginal hip hop artist in Ottawa. Coming from the depths of Ottawa’s east side, Purcell was exposed to drugs, alcohol, and crime at an early age. He’s also been vocal about his struggle with depression and attempted suicide before the age of 20. However, entering his third decade of life opened his eyes up to a new world – hip hop. Turning towards music changed Purcell’s life, and he refocused himself to inspire others and use his voice as a force for change. Since he started his journey as a hip hop artist less than five years ago, he has chosen a life of sobriety. Moreover, he has been nominated for a few 2015 Indigenous Music Awards and has been named a Top 10 finalist in a national talent search hosted by imagineNATIVE and Slaight Music.
We spoke with Purcell on the eve of the release of his new video for “Northern Lights” at Club SAW. More info here. Read our interview with him and check out the video below.
As an aboriginal artist, you’ve been vocal about using hip hop as a force for positivity and change. How did you get into hip hop and what made you realize that your skills could help others?
Originally I started writing poetry and lyrics as an outlet for many life experiences that I endured as a youth. Growing up I was always listening to various kinds of music but Hip Hop was something that really appealed to me because of the lyricism that was found within conscious Hip Hop. When I was first introduced to a studio that was built at my old high school, I found myself in a safe and creative atmosphere where I could escape to work on my art form.
My friends and I used to go into that studio to jam with live instruments which eventually lead to us experimenting with beat making programs. After making instrumentals in the studio we began recording our vocals and putting our lyrics over the instrumentals we made. This was the beginning of my journey with Hip Hop.
After being a nominee at the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards for the “Best Rap/Hip Hop CD” and “Single of the year” categories my music career really took off. I was getting booked for shows a lot more and I was invited to be a guest speaker/performer for various events in numerous communities. While guest speaking about my journey with music, my sobriety and other topics I was able to inspire my audiences to follow a positive lifestyle. I remember getting emails and messages on my social media from people telling me that I helped change their lives for the better. This is when I began to truly realize how much I wanted to continue to help others and that it was possible with the skills that I had with music, storytelling and walking in a good way.
The release party for your new video Northern Lights is coming up this Saturday at Club SAW. What can we expect from the video, and the night as a whole?
During the production of the Northern Lights music video we really wanted to capture the environment that we were in and display the beauty of the Northern Lights. The locations where the music video was filmed were in various parts of the Yukon Territory and Alaska. As far as expectations go, we really wanted to reach our audience with a positive and inspirational message. Many Indigenous people believe that the Northern Lights are the spirits of our ancestors dancing in the sky. This was something that really embodied the overall message that we wanted to reach our audience with.
We want to lift our audiences spirits, in particular youth, to overcome any doubt that they may face in their lives, to chase their dreams and aspirations, to shine like the northern lights, to shine like our ancestors.
A portion of the proceeds from the release party will be going to Shawenjeagamik Aboriginal Drop In Centre operated by The Odawa Native Friendship Centre. Can you talk about the importance of their work?
I really wanted to ensure that a portion of the proceeds and that all donations would go to the Shawenjeagamik Aboriginal Drop In Centre because I strongly feel the work that they do is crucial for the homeless population of Indigenous people here in Ottawa. After volunteering for the Bannoc Bus program that was operated by the Shawenjeagamik Aboriginal Drop In Centre I saw first hand how important their work was for my community.
We drove around the streets of downtown Ottawa on multiple occasions handing out soup, Bannoc and warm clothing to those who needed it. I feel that the Shawenjeagamik Aboriginal Drop In Centre needs to stay open because they offer a safe space for homeless Indigenous people to learn about their traditions, food to eat, access to various kinds of programs, warm clothing and much more. With the centre running solely off of donations now, I hope to raise enough money and donations to help those in need.
You have overcome many obstacles growing up, many of which – like racism, drugs, and alcohol – are difficult to speak about. If you could send a message to young people struggling with similar issues today, what would it be?
If I could send a message to young people struggling with similar issues today it would be to move through life like a river. Overcoming those obstacles that are in their way, helping everything around them grow. My message to the youth of today is to never doubt yourselves, to focus on your dreams, aspirations, a positive lifestyle and walking in a good way. Focus on self love, love for others, love for the land and helping each other grow in a positive way.
Walk through life with an open mind and an open heart. Don’t ever stop learning and thriving to understand. You are the future generations of this world, remember to ask yourselves how do you want the future to be?
If you could collaborate with any artist or group alive today, who would it be?
Litefoot, The Roots, or Common.
You’ve been selected to play at Megaphono this year, an up and coming industry-focused festival that brings in representatives from across the continent. What is the next step for you in the evolution of your music career?
The next step for me in the evolution of my music career is to rock the stage at Megaphono this year and put on an amazing show for my audience! Then it’s back to the studio to work on my new EP entitled “Máámawi” (All Together) and have it ready for release in March, 2017!
I had the chance to speak with Mo Kenney about her upcoming show at the Gladstone Theatre on January 9. Sharing common ground with the Nova Scotian musician, we were able to talk about favorite aspects of Downtown Dartmouth and what it was like growing up in the Nova Scotian music industry.
Kenney’s most recent album In My Dreams has a different feel then her previous album. Her first album was more acoustic, and Mo did most of her touring solo. With this second album, she began touring with the full band, giving the whole album a full sound when performing live. Meeting local musician and producer, Joel Plaskett in her late teens has allowed her to produce her music and new album locally within Downtown Dartmouth. Writing everything in Dartmouth along with living up the street from the recording studio made it easy to keep her sound locally inspired. “I live like right up the street and Joel lives like a couple blocks away, and it makes it super convenient…” It also gave her the chance to support her favorite local shops while recording, like The Canteen on Ochterloney Street.
East Coast music is often assumed to have a Celtic feel, often supported with Scottish undertones. Mo Kenney does not hold a traditional east coast sound. Though she maintains her east coast roots in her music, Kenney’s latest sound has a much bigger rock-inspired sound. Her last pass through Ottawa was supporting Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, and Northcote who played the Bronson Centre last spring.
Currently, Mo Kenney is working on her third album with the local label, New Scotland Yard. Her show on January 9th put on by Ottawa Music Bus is being held at Gladstone Theatre. Mo Kenney will be playing with her full band so we can expect a night of full sound alongside special guest Shadowhand. Tickets are $25 and doors will open at 7pm. You can find additional information about the show here.
Bonus: When asked what song she didn’t write but wish she had, Mo said Five Years by David Bowie, which she has covered at shows in the past.
The Wooden Sky have consistently shown why they’re a staple in Canadian music, having come a long way since their debut in 2007. They’ve tirelessly demonstrated their dynamic songwriting abilities and formidable live performance here in Ottawa on a number of occasions, the first of which for me was at the First Baptist Church in 2012 as they toured their powerful, resonant album Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun. I’ll never forget that intimate and ethereal experience.
Tonight The Wooden Sky are doing something a bit different. They’re bringing an annual Holiday Revue to Ottawa in support of local refugee organizations, and the performance will take place in none other than the beautiful St. Alban’s Church. For seven years, the band has been putting on a DIY Holiday Revue in Toronto in support of the Romero House, an organization that provides transitional housing and settlement services for refugee claimants through a model of accompaniment. They’ve expanded this series to Ottawa for the second year in a row, supporting a similar organization in the capital called Carty House. Carty House is a communal residence that provides transitional housing for female refugees as they move through the refugee system and integrate into our society.
I caught up with songwriter and lead vocalist Gavin Gardiner last week to talk about the Revue, have a read below.
The Wooden Sky play St. Alban’s Church tonight (Monday, December 12th) and tickets can be purchased for $25. They can be purchased at Vertigo Records, both Compact Music Inc. stores and online. Check out the Facebook Event here.
The Holiday Revue has become a bit of a tradition for the band. How did the idea start?
G.G.:We had been touring a bunch years back, and it was our first time breaking outside of Ontario and into other provinces, the States, and Europe. Somewhere along the way we thought “Hey, we should have some bands come to Toronto and do something special.” It’s such a great musical community that exists at the genesis of any band getting started, and we were finding that to be true in Toronto. We thought we could do it in a special place, and we had some music that we really wanted to get out there.
Some people we knew were a part of the Friends of Bellwoods compilation in support of the Daily Bread Food Bank. We thought it would be a good idea to partner up with them, and do a show that wasn’t just about us. We didn’t even realize it was going to be an annual thing at the get-go. It’s pretty cool, and it really makes you understand the value of promoters and venues, and what it really takes to put on a show.
Support for refugees is more crucial now than ever, given the crisis in Syria. What do you think the average Canadian can do to help out?
G.G.: My girlfriend and I have been getting more involved, and it can be small-scale things. People need help getting around sometimes, and I’d give some Syrian kids in the community a ride to school. Simple things like that. It’s interesting, when you meet people that have been involved in this conflict, they aren’t helpless by any means. They aren’t coming here looking for handouts, they are resilient people that are full of hope and life and love. The do need some help to get back up on their feet.
Sometimes they need things like clothes, and some help with the bureaucratic process. I was talking with someone recently about a Roma refugee who had been living in sanctuary for two years with his wife and daughter, and whose claim had been denied by the government when Harper was still in power. His claim had been denied because his lawyer hadn’t translated the documents correctly, and they couldn’t go home because of the fear of persecution. They gave up after two years and ended up in Germany for a while until the Trudeau administration came into power and someone went there to get them and process their refugee claim. It’s a lot of work.
Just meeting refugees in the community, getting involved, that is an important thing. Sometimes they need things like bedding, or maybe supervision during trick or treating. When you get involved, people will open up to you about what they need.
For example, I lent a sound system to a group that needed one a while back. That was easy for me, but they might not have known how to get the system another way. Small things like that make a difference, and it can be a lot of fun to create that bond. It changes your relationship with the community, and brings you closer to it.
How are the Holiday Revue shows any different from your regular live performances? Any tricks up your sleeve?
G.G.: Yeah, we mix it up for sure. We play a lot of stuff that we normally wouldn’t get to play at one of our shows. There are tons of older songs that we kind of forget about that we can play, plus it’s a chance to break down that barrier between us and the audience. Over the last couple years we’ve really tried to do this with our live shows, and I think it leaves people in a better place afterwards.
What is your favourite Christmas song?
G.G.: Oh, that’s a good question. The Boney M Christmas album is a big one for me. It’s funny because growing up I didn’t realize it, but it’s just so good. Every year I think about making my own Christmas Carols album that I could stand to listen to and that I could share with family, but I have yet to do that and this year is no exception. I’ve embarked on another quest though, to record Aerosmith Lullabies for my young niece. They aren’t really Christmas songs, but still easy listening with guitar and vocals. They’re great songs! Well, some of them are.
2016 sucked. Is there anything that The Wooden Sky is doing in 2017 for fans to look forward to?
G.G.: We have a new record coming out in 2017, so I hope that will help. I mean, I don’t know if it will solve all the world’s problems, but we’re going to put it out and hope that people enjoy it. It will be called Swimming in Strange Waters and is about the endurance of the human spirit, which can be exhausting but it is always there. That’s life.
It’s a paraphrase from a Frank Herbert novel called “Dune” – “Survival is the ability to swim in strange water”. And I think that sums up where I’m at right now. Life’s not supposed to be easy, and sometimes it sucks. But if it were easy then we wouldn’t take any joy from it.
I recently spoke with a staple in the Toronto music scene, Joel Gibb of The Hidden Cameras, about their new album Home on Native Land and what he’s been up to since releasing Age in 2014. The new record features names such as Feist, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Ron Sexsmith, Bahamas, Rufus Wainwright and Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, and is one that took nearly a decade to piece together. The Hidden Cameras have proven to be a staple in Canadian music since forming in 2001, and Gibb’s drive to constantly push the envelope seems to shows no signs of letting up.
Have a listen to the track “The Day I Left Home” below, and read the rapid-fire interview below.
Your new album Home on Native Land has been in the works for some time. Can you talk about how you pieced it together over the years?
I began recording the album while I was making Awoo in 2006 on the Toronto Island with Don Kerr. Over the years I worked on other records and wrote other songs but never forgot about the idea to put out a country album or rather my interpretation of rootsy music in general. It’s also a straight-up Cameras record and my voice and songwriting is still there but it’s perhaps though my romanticized idea of country.
The album features appearances by RufusWainwright, Feist, Ron Sexsmith and Mary Margaret O’Hara. Was going heavy on the collaborations your original intention? How did some of these come about?
The guests just came about in their own way. Don drums for Ron so he just came around one day. I sought Mary Margaret out by phone for a spot on 2014’s Age on the song “Gay Goth Scene” and she also recorded some sweet choir-boy vocals for “Log Driver’s Waltz” at the same morning session. I was drinking with Rufus one night in Toronto and asked him to come round to sing the next morning.
For those who are fans of Hidden Cameras, what is special or different about this album that past material?
Pedal Steel, Banjo. We do three covers which is a first.
Can you talk a bit about your recent partnership with the McMichael Gallery?
They approached us upon hearing about the new album and I thought what a perfect place to unleash this new music. It’s my idea of what Canadiana might sound like in my imagination. What better place then the home of the Group of Seven.
When in Europe, what did you miss most about Canada?
The friendliness, the healthcare, the friends and the music scene….and the dispensaries.
For those new to Hidden Cameras, what do you hope they take from the new record?
I hope they get into the songwriting and the interpretations of standards and the sweet idyllic world I was trying to create.
In the year since their latest album Goodnight Mara was released, Ottawa’s High Waters have enjoyed the success that a well-oiled independent band in Canada should – charting well nationally, hitting the road and growing their fan base outside the local market, becoming a marquee name for their label So Sorry Records. Ultimately, they’ve made a name for themselves as a group that writes emotionally-charged music and connects with audiences and listeners on a deeper level than most.
I got to chat with High Waters’ lead vocalist and principal songwriter Derek Connely about the last few years, and what might be up ahead on the horizon for the band. Read the interview below, and be sure to check them out live as they play Mavericks on November 4th with Trees, Listen Up Kid, and Mark Fossen.
OSBX: Now that Goodnight Mara has been out for over a year, can you talk a bit about its reception and how things have changed for the band since its release?
Derek: Upon release, Goodnight Mara was very well received. Our album got a handful of positive reviews and quickly reached new audiences from coast to coast. It was strangely uplifting to watch it attain some sort of measurable success as it hit several local Top 30 charts at community and campus radio stations across the country. The record continued to do well at those stations until it eventually hit a couple national Top 50 charts. But at the end of the day, stats are just stats. The biggest reward is positive reinforcement at our shows. Hearing and seeing people’s reactions is what we live for, that moment of connection. I, for one, don’t like drawing too much attention, but when it comes to music we try to reach people far and wide. Prior to the release we were in full creative mode, and because we’re entirely self-managed it’s been a lot of admin work since the release. We’re itching to hit the road again this month for a series of shows in Quebec and Ontario.
OSBX: The band is on Ottawa-based label So Sorry Records. Why is being part of that family important to you?
Derek: Teaming with So Sorry Records for the release of Goodnight Mara made sense to us. We’ve known the guys running the label for about a decade now and established a strong mutual trust over the years. They’re inspiring individuals with a highly creative and innovative approach to business. Albeit a small boutique label, So Sorry boasts a roster of like-minded emerging artists that think large and continuously share resources with one another. It really is a family that we’re a part of, and we’re happy to watch it grow.
OSBX: 2009 is when High Waters formed, and that kind of feels like an eternity now. In what ways have you grown as artists since then? Is the creative approach to music the same?
Derek: It definitely feels like ages ago. Actually, I’ve known some of my bandmates for a third of my life now. We have a rich history and hope to continue working together well into the future. Having lived under the same roof for several years in the past, we were forced to wear multiple hats, learning to respect each others’ boundaries and needs. Each member thrives in his own way, and we’ve all come to understand that. The creative approach to music is never the same for us. It really is a case-by-case scenario. Sometimes the song dictates the method, and sometimes it’s the other way around.
OSBX: High Waters is about to embark on a 2016 tour. Do you have any stories or memories about the road?
Derek: In 2013 we toured The Maritimes. My family has a cottage in New-Brunswick where we set up our gear for a few days and made music. Although playing in different cities to new crowds is always a huge rush, I think my favourite part was laying low at the cottage with the band and a few friends. For my bandmates, it was refreshing to let loose and be creative in an unfamiliar space, whereas it allowed me to creatively tap into the intimacy of a place I consider my home. Along the way, the four of us were guests in other people’s homes where we strengthened relationships and shared in the beauty of making new ones. On our upcoming tour, we anticipate reconnecting with friends that we met during our previous time on the road and look forward to making new allies.
OSBX: Your music has been described as cinematic, emotional, and dark yet beautiful. At its core, what are you trying to get at in your music?
Derek: Everybody has a skeleton in their closet. Some of us stashed it there ourselves, and others merely found it there. Each one has a story worth telling. Often for me, the most difficult things to express are more easily articulated through a marriage of words and music. In conversation, I tend to over-explain an idea or feeling that I’m passionate about. While examining a topic from multiple viewpoints can reveal a deeper meaning, it can also contaminate what is otherwise pure. I think that’s just it—get close but not too close. Observe the beast but don’t domesticate it. Music allows me to do that, like manipulating a subject from behind a glass. I like to leave room to fill the blanks and as a band, we create the musical context.
OSBX: How did the Indica Records video/session come about? (See video below)
Derek: We had plans to shoot live performance videos in a studio for some time, but the timing was never right. Sometime in late spring, our friend Pat Steele who currently works as an engineer at Indica Records (he also runs his own distribution company called Chit-Chat Distro) offered to free up the studio for us. I took that as an opportunity to finally carry out our video plans. Our session at Indica Records in April with Pat and Jesse Daniel Smith (our videographer) went incredibly well so we booked a second session in July. We plan to release a video from our second session very soon.
OSBX: What’s next on the docket for High Waters in 2017?
Derek: There’s been talk about some interesting projects, and we’re currently weighing the feasibility of the ones that attract us the most. We also have an archive of unfinished material from which some pieces are beginning to take shape. I can’t yet predict the outcome, but I feel good about the direction so far. For the time being, our primary focus is performing and planning our 2017 touring schedule.
“By girls, with girls, for girls.” This was the theme of Saturday night’s show at Pressed, as well as for the Ottawa Rock Camp for Girls. ORC4G was founded on the vision of providing a space where self-identified girls and women can “enjoy a sense of empowerment, confidence, and stability” while exploring and discovering themselves within the Ottawa music scene.
Highlighted by past participants and current volunteers for opening up the accessibility for women and girls in the music industry. Creating a space where girls can be themselves, sharing a common interest of rock music. “It also opens them up to this whole network of women who are able to help and support their endeavours, which in turn helps to build and strengthen the community and the music community as a whole,” said Mandie Norton, an active volunteer and board member of the camp. Mandie plays an important role within the organization assisting with the implementation of the camp, as well as supporting and mentoring up and coming musicians in Ottawa.
Willa MacLean was a past camper, and now active volunteer, who took on the task of organizing the benefit show that happened last Saturday. Having an understanding of what it’s like entering the music scene, Willa carefully chose the venue to ensure that the show would be as inclusive as possible, including being open to all ages. Wanting campers past, present, and future to come out and have a fun night, all while raising proceeds going to a great cause.
The show featured GOAT (Ottawa punk/rock),Sleepy and the Noise (Ottawa indie/alternative/grunge rock), and Radiogenic (Ottawa rock/alternative/singer-songwriter).
The camp itself runs over the course of a weekend in November. It is open for any and all self-identifying girls between the ages 13-17. Campers gather at Capital Rehearsal Studios on the Friday night to meet each other, socialize, watch a documentary, as well as find out what instruments everyone will be learning over the next two days. Bright and early on Saturday the real fun begins, and the camp takes over CRS, occupying the rehearsal rooms in instrument groups, and learning the ins and outs of the instruments.
Time in between rehearsal sessions is broken up with mini-workshops on anything from band management to booking shows. Sunday is spent rehearsing with the bands, leading up to the end of camp showcase that happens on the Sunday night. “Sunday evening we all head to the showcase together and the girls perform with their bands from the weekend.” The weekend is filled with learning and support, while being very emotional as everyone takes a new step in their personal music journeys. “I have yet to make it through a showcase without bawling like a baby,” Mandie professed.
ORC4G empowers young women to learn and play music in the community. (Photo from Facebook)
Saturday’s fundraiser was an excellent example of what this camp gives back to the music industry within the city. The bands featured were made up of past and present volunteers from the camp, and the main organizer, Willa, went through the camp herself. “It had been a dream of mine for so long, and music is something I’ve always been very passionate about…Thanks to the program it became a reality, and I’m so grateful for that.” She has grown immensely within the scene since her first experiences at ORC4G three years ago, and is now finding herself doing shows at local festivals like Ottawa Explosion, and of course, giving back through volunteering and planning fundraisers such as this one.
The ORC4G runs on the community support of volunteers, fundraisers, and donations. Events like this are critical to keeping the camp as accessible as possible for participants, helping with expenses, and allowing the camp to take place. This event was an excellent opportunity to get involved and support a wonderful cause and help jumpstart the next generation of musicians, so keep your eyes peeled for events to come, or reach out to the organizers!
Sleepy and the Noise played at the ORC4G Benefit Show last Saturday at Pressed. Photo by Elizabeth Durnford/Ottawa Showbox.
*Both Mandie and Willa wanted to highlight the volunteers and mentors within the Ottawa community that are a part of making ORC4G happen, particularly Luke Martin and Capital Rehearsal Studios/Gabba Hey! for letting the camp take over the space each year, the very active board members who work all year round, and Willa wanted to give a giant thank you to Mandie for the support she received in planning this event! *
Interview with Alex Moxon of Chocolate Hot Pockets
What exactly is a chocolate hot pocket?
A Chocolate Hot Pocket is whatever you want it to be. It could be… Music…. Food…. Pants? Since we’re an instrumental band, the audience has to come to its own conclusions about what our music means to them, so I feel that it’s fitting that the band’s name reflects that. For me I think it sums up what the music sounds like pretty accurately though: it’s sweet, it’s hot, and it’s got a tight pocket.
CHP is a supergroup of sorts. Can you talk about how the band came to be?
I guess it’s the supergroup that precedes all our other groups. We all play music for a living (i.e., no side gigs) so we have to keep ourselves as busy as possible. Ed has a record label called LGR Records, he’s with Atlantis Jazz Ensemble and BlakDenim (pretty in-demand dude, he also recently played with Sloan
at Arboretum), Jamie plays with Thrust and was with JW Jones for years, JP plays with the Billy Love Band, I’m with HILOTRONS and Treasure Dub, and we all are guesting with friends’ bands and creating our own side projects that live and die at a constant rate.
If you play original music in a local scene, I guess the issue you run into is that people get tired of hearing the same group all the time, so in order to stay booked and keep the lights on you naturally have to diversify. The one constant for all of us though is The Chocolate Hot Pockets, which was our first band making all original music and has been going strong for over 5 years now.
We met when Jamie, JP, and I were all attending the Carleton University music program. We were playing a regular gig at the Avant Garde Bar at that time. Ed is actually originally from London England.
He was working in the show band on a cruise ship where he met his girlfriend (now his wife). She’s from Ottawa, so he stopped by to visit with her. In scoping out the scene he sat in at our gig one day and we all felt like we had a pretty sweet match, so when he did eventually move to Ottawa we started writing,
rehearsing, recording, etc.
For those who may not be familiar with your music but are music fans, how would you describe CHP’s live performance?
We’re an instrumental funk band. We all have jazz degrees though, so the music tends to have cool modern chords and throws fun curve balls at the listener. We all take solos too and stretch out over
slamming funk beats. Face melting for sure.
Going into studio recordings, was The Feast fully composed? Or were there improvisational elements that were incorporated during those sessions?
It depends on the tune really, but on average it’s about 60% written out and 40% improvised. From playing the music live a ton we had the arrangements down really solidly and knew what direction we wanted them to take, but many intros, outros, solos, and the accompaniment for them were spontaneous and happened in the studio.
The Feast is CHP’s third album, but you’ve chosen to release it in a series of videos on YouTube. What was the reasoning for this unconventional approach?
We want to break into other markets and find new fans. We’re a live band and that’s how we reach our audience the best, and so we’ve toured a lot. We always have a good time in certain towns and venues (The Rex in Toronto and the Upstairs in Montreal come to mind, also the Guelph Jazz Festival), but in2016 the cost of touring extensively in unfamiliar towns to convert new fans as an indie band is prohibitive. None of us have trust funds!
In many ways YouTube is like the radio now, at least in terms of reach and mass appeal, and that’s how most people find new music these days anyway. In light of those facts we’re just putting it out Beyonce-style and hoping to generate as much hype as possible. Bottom line is we want you to hear our shit and come party with us when we visit your town.
Will there be any physical copies? Vinyl? Please?
I know! Vinyl! Please! One day. For this record we’re doing download cards. Sorry (I’m saying that more to myself). All art, artifacts, and music will be on the cards, which people will be able to pick up at shows. It’ll also be available on iTunes after the release at Mercury Lounge on the 15th.
It seems like CHP has no plans on slowing down anytime soon. Are you guys continuing to write new music and make your plans for 2017 come true?
Well we have enough music written for another album right now, and I have a few secret tunes on my computer that I’m looking forward to showing the guys once the rehearsal process for the release is done. So yeah definitely we’ll keep recording. We’ll be touring big style in the summer next year, Canada
and the States.
The seminal Canadian pop-punk band Chixdiggit are coming to Ottawa on their 25-year anniversary tour.
I listened to Chixdiggit a lot growing up and still smile every time I listen to them. The band from Calgary was and certainly still is one of the best Canadian pop-punk bands out there. Ottawa Showbox is thrilled to have had a chance to interview lead singer KJ Jansen ahead of their September 22nd show at House of TARG with BOIDS and Pistols at Dawn (more information about the show here) Check out the interview below and I hope to see many of you there with me Thursday night.
What is the secret to staying together as a band for a quarter century?
Jeez, when you say “quarter century” it sounds like a long time. I think it helps that it’s not our full-time gig. I love to do it, but I know that I’d hate it if we did it all the time. It’s just not the way I’m built.
What would present KJ tell 1991 KJ? (Band or life related)
Nothing? I think we have more to learn from who we were then who we’ve become.
Can you tell me a little about the story behind the new EP 2012 and why you decided to do what you did?
It’s a 24-minute double album with 23 songs. It’s a tour diary of the entire year of Chixdiggit shows in the year 2012. I starting writing it when our guitar player Mark O’Flaherty was leaving the band. It’s a tribute to him.
What was one of the wildest moments of that tour?
Just a whole bunch of stuff that I’m not allowed to talk about. I really wish I could, but I can’t!
Do you have any special memories of Ottawa from your 25 years of touring?
One night we were playing the Dominion Tavern and they basically gave us the key to the beer fridge. We took advantage of that. Everyone drank a lot. At the end, a member of the Groovie Ghoulies and I found a power screwdriver and took apart the mens’ washroom. All the stalls and everything. At about seven in the morning the owner came down to tell us we had to leave and noticed that we had piled all the stuff from the stalls neatly in a pile. Of course he made us put it back together. It took us a while but we managed to get out of there by noon.
Your name and band comes from days of making T-shirts for the then fictitious band, were there any other names considered? And what was the motivation behind being in a fake band?
There were a few. One was The Riff Randells, which is funny because it’s the band that my wife is in. We also considered Bum Sweat and Tears and The Missed-Erections. It says a lot about where we were at the time.
I had the pleasure of seeing the Tragically Hip play Ottawa during their final tour, do you have any connection to The Hip?
We opened for them, four bands before them or something, and all the bands were given trailers backstage to hang out in. There were lots of bands hanging out and they were all right there hanging out with us. I remember one performer was a guy who had a couple hits, someone who clearly wasn’t as big as the Hip. He had them put extra security around his trailer and he sat there and moped. Wouldn’t hang out. If he had he would’ve learned a few things from those guys. Later when they played, Gord [Downie] said our name a bunch of times. I think he thought it was a funny name. I remember being happy he did that.
What would you do if you ever came face to a chupacabra?
I’d give it the biggest hug and a can of Chixdiggit beer.
How did the partnership with Big Rig come to be? What is your favourite beer of theirs not Chixdiggit related?
Our manager Melanie Kaye was working with them and figured that we’d be great friends. Just a friend introducing you to her other friends. We’re really excited to be friends with them. As for the beer, I like the Big Boot one. I’m a fan of wheat beer, which explains why my abs lack the shred that they should have.