If you’re a fan of Canadian music and follow CBC, you’ve probably heard of the CBC Searchlight contest. It’s a competition that attracts thousands of submissions from musicians across the country, and the search for the nation’s most talented undiscovered performers occurs over the course of several months. In its fifth year, CBC has partnered up with Canada Scene and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in the annual competition.
The contest has wrapped up with Vancouver’s The Long War being crowned winners (and, coincidentally, also have an Ottawa connection). The west coast folk rockers took the prize with their song “Breathe In Breathe Out,” beating out singer-songwriter Jaryd Stanley, as well as Saskatchewan trio The Wolfe and hip hop/R&B phenom WILL, who moved to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago at the age of five.
The Long War are set to play their biggest stage yet, Ottawa’s newly-renovated National Arts Centre on July 2nd. The night will be hosted by Canadian songwriting staple Royal Wood, who worked with them during their residency at The Banff Centre, and will also feature exhilarating performances by the runners up.
I spoke with The Long War’s singer Jarrett Lee about the CBC Searchlight competition, and the road ahead. Read the interview and watch their performance of “Breathe In Breathe Out” below.
The CBC Searchlight Live! event will be held on Sunday, July 2nd at the National Arts Centre’s beautiful Babs Asper Theatre at 7 pm. Find ticket information and purchase links here.
Interview with The Long War’s Jarrett Lee
Now that the CBC Searchlight competition is over, what was your biggest takeaway from the contest? Did you learn anything from the process as a whole?
Our biggest takeaway is something that we continue to remind ourselves everyday and that is Searchlight is an opportunity. We need to work hard and take full advantage of that. There’s a lot to learn in the music industry and we need to embrace those learning experiences while continuing to grow musically as a band. We’re so excited for what’s to come, and so grateful CBC and Searchlight has helped put us in this position.
What does it mean to you to come play in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre for Canada’s 150th?
Ottawa is a special place, it’s like a home to me. The first stage I ever performed on was in Ottawa. I met my bandmate Chad in Ottawa when he was cutting his teeth in the music scene before moving to Vancouver. The NAC is an incredible venue, I saw one of my favourite bands Wilco play there. And to be playing a venue so renowned on Canada Day 150 alongside Royal Wood to my family and friends is truly surreal. It’s an important chapter in this journey and we’re so thrilled to be a part of the celebration.
Winning the competition is a huge feat, with so many other acts that entered from the start. Did you get a chance to listen and become a fan of any other artists? If so, whom?
There were a lot of talented artists in Searchlight, I’m a fan of Will, Jaryd Stanley and The Wolfe all of whom will be hitting the NAC stage July 2nd. They were our Searchlight finalist peers and we spent some serious time together going through the process. That experience was a special one that we all shared connecting us in a way. They’re also really great songwriters and awesome people worth checking out.
What was it like playing “Performance in the Park” in from of a sold out crowd in Banff?
It was like nothing I’d ever experienced! There were two thousand plus in the crowd, the weather was cold and wet but people came out and were so interested in sharing in the experience of live music and so engaged in the performance. We have a song called “Lake Louise” and everyone sang along. Magical things happen in Banff.
How much longer will it be until the Vancouver Canucks win the Stanley Cup?
Great question! Patience is a skill, not a virtue. We’ve got a hard core Montreal fan in this band who I’m sure would love to answer this if he could. Missed opportunity, sorry Chad!
Moving forward, what does the future hold in store for the band? Do you feel like there’s a lot of music in you to give?
We’re releasing an album called “Landscapes” in January that we recorded at Metalworks Studios in Mississauga with Producer Kevin Dietz. We couldn’t be more excited about it. We’re always writing and already have lots of material we can’t wait to play. There’s plenty of music flowing through us, we’ve already planned our follow up album!
The Flatliners are a band that have never shied away from trying new things. While they’ve left behind the frenetic ska punk that helped them explode onto the Canadian music landscape in the mid-2000’s, the band has stayed true to themselves through sincere songwriting and exploration of new sounds. Moving on from Fat Wreck Chords and signing to Dine Alone and Rise Records in 2017 for their new LP Inviting Light, The Flatliners have embraced change. Inviting Light istheir fifth studio album, released April 7th, and is an unhindered effort to explore new musical territory. The band explores new melodies, down tempo rhythms, cleaner guitar tones, and subdued vocals by lead singer Chris Cresswell. But don’t let this assessment deter the fans of The Flatliners of old.
There are peaks in valleys with respect to the energy in Inviting Light, and plenty of dirty growls and riffs to go around. The album itself is an embodiment of what it feels like to near your 30’s, particularly after spending half your life (15 years) in a band and touring tirelessly around the world. It’s wiser, weathered, and perhaps a little worn. But the songs on Inviting Light are closer to the heart than anything we’ve heard before. The lyricism and songwriting are arguably better than ever, and lay bare exactly who this band is at this point in their career. For many of us who grew up with this band, Inviting Light feels like home.
I had a great chat with lead singer Chris Cresswell leading up to their Ottawa tour date with The Dirty Nil and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs, which has to be one of the best lineups of the year. Have a read below.
The Flatliners play Ottawa on Wednesday, June 14th, at Babylon Nightclub with guests The Dirty Nil and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs. Presented by Spectrasonic. Tickets information and purchase link here.
Interview with Chris Cresswell of The Flatliners
What’s your favourite part about being on the road with great bands like Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs and The Dirty Nil?
Chris Cresswell: It’s pretty akin to the current state of the Canadian music scene. It’s incredible right now, and we’ve always had a strong music history spanning back decades with Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, not to mention 90’s alternative and the the birth of punk with bands like D.O.A. . I think we’re experiencing a fervour in the air right now, and something really great is happening. There are so many great bands out there, look at the Dirty Nil – they just won a well-deserved Juno! Then there’s PUP, a band which is known around the world now. There’s bands like Greys, Secret Satanists, Weaves, Dilly Dally. They’re all so talented, and all so different. I think we’re witnessing a pretty positive time in the Canadian music scene, and if we can bring bands like The Dirty Nil and Sam Coffey with us on tour, that is great because those two bands rip.
Sometimes it’s just a coincidence that so many great bands come out of one place, it’s kind of like the Philly scene right now, too. You’ve got bands of all shapes and sizes coming out of that market, bands like Menzingers, Hop Along, Modern Baseball, The Restorations, and so many more. They’re all incredible and most of them friends, I don’t know what makes that ecosystem of creativity.
I think part of it up here is being Canadian, we’re able to get a lot of funding for music. I know FACTOR has been under fire a lot, but it’s still pretty incredible that our government funds the arts the way it does. I think maybe that frees up more time for artists to focus on their craft. And I think there’s some magic happening too!
Just having so many exciting Canadian bands doing their own thing, you’ll see a few bands like the ones I mentioned before doing something different and that inspires others to create, too.
What are some of the ways you’ve learned to live with each other on the road, and still enjoy making music together over the years?
Chris Cresswell: It helps that we’ve all known each other for a long time – this year the band turns 15-years old. Scott and I have known each other since kindergarten, and Scott and I met Jon in grade two or something. Then we met Paul when we were 11 or 12-years old, and started the band a few years after we met him. So we’ve known each other most of our lives, and knowing each other so well as people definitely helps. I think you never really know someone until you travel with them, and luckily I think we’re pretty good at that.
That being said, we tour so goddamn much that the close quarters definitely has its effects and it’s important to let people have their alone time. The same thing applies to any kind of relationship, whether it’s romantic or not, people need their own time. There’s late nights on the road, there’s early mornings, there’s drinking, there’s often terrible food involved, but then there’s a really fun show at the end of the night.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, that the show itself is only such a minute part of your day that takes up almost no time compared to everything else. There are so many determining factors the can affect how you feel walking on stage. As long as you’re doing what you love, that’s the important part. Not every day on tour is going to be the best day of your life – you’re going to have rough days, bad days, and great days. But you just gotta try your best to take the good with the bad. If someone’s having a bad time, then if they want to talk about – talk. If not, then don’t. Let people go for walks, sometimes that helps so much. Going for that short walk in a city you don’t really know that well while on tour kind of lets the whole situation sink in – that you’r part of a band and that’s really important.
That’s one of the biggest touring lessons we’ve learned. You just have to roll with the punches, especially on the bad days because they’re going to happen once in a while.
The evolution in sound since the early 2000’s has been significant, and obviously music changes as people change. Is this progression in the band’s sound a conscious choice? Or is it more or a natural move that reflects where you are all at now?
Chris Cresswell: It’s been an extremely natural thing, for sure. Even if we’re not making an explicitly “conceptual” record, each one is still conceptual in its own way. It’s a snap shot of time from your life, experiences, encounters, friends’ stories, and stuff like that. I’m not really one to write songs from a fictional standpoint with characters that are made up.
That being said, my life changes all the time. The easiest way I can explain it is this: think of a friend that you’ve had for a long time but haven’t seen for a few years. When you see them again for the first time in a few years, they’re a different person. Now attach any kind of artistic outlet to someone and you realize that their art and craft changes with them, too. Just like in any job, the longer you spend at it, the hope is that you’ll become better as time goes on. For us as musicians, it’s been a natural thing because not only do we love making music together but we also tour together – a lot. So I feel like it would be strange if the new record sounded like the last one, because we played that last one 500 times and people have already heard that. Something just changes in you I think.
That being said, wanting to explore the new avenues is a conscious choice. I think you’re betraying yourself as an artist if you don’t pursue new ways to express yourself, and no one wants to hear the same thing over and over again. It already exists, so move forward.
With Inviting Light, there was an awareness that we were exploring new territory and we got curious as to how people would react. But it just felt good, and if it feels good you just keep on with it. Especially when you’ve been doing this as long as we have, you just keep going for it – especially if it feels right!
It’s not a slight on the records we’ve made in the past, of course we love those songs. But it’s incredible to see your fan base grow with you, too. There are a lot of fans who are our age, which is really cool. We made records at pretty formative years in our lives, the first one was when we were 16-years old. If we keep on making records when we’re 40, there will be a lot of 40-year olds listening to those records. It’s been cool to have so many people come on this ride with us.
And one last thing – what is really neat to think about is how awesome it will be to mix in these new songs with the old ones when on stage, because it’s all about touring and playing those songs live. That’s why we recorded our entire last album, Dead Language, live – we wanted it to sound like it does when we hit the stage, and I think we did a good job of that. If you over-do it in the writing process, then you’re thinking, “shit, I still need to play this live,” you know? It’s been so exciting to think about how all these different songs can be put together on stage as a setlist.
I saw an interview with a musician recently who said something interesting. They said instead of making your next record, make your first record. That’s kind of a cool thing, to burn the whole thing down and start over each time. It takes away some of that pressure, and then you can just enjoy the music as it comes. I really like that mentality, just make the best first impression you can make. With this new record, this is mentality we’ve taken. Once we realized the direction the record was taking, we kind of just let everything fall into place. And that being said, the record was done before Dine Alone and Rise became involved.
Inviting Light is the first record album released through Rise Records and Dine Alone. Was the transition from Fat Wreck Chords difficult? Or was it something that you were all ready for moving forward?
Chris Cresswell: We always record in secret. Nowadays, everyone loves to post their daily lives on social media and share everything instantly. But for us, that’s a distraction when it comes to making a new album. We came here to work, not post shit on the internet, you know? That’s way we did Dead Language and the same way we did Cavalcade, and that is in two chunks with a lot of time between. That’s such a great way to record because you fall in love with the material again. The reason you make the songs you do and play with your friends is because you are a fan of your own band. Of course we like our own band, we better! Because we have to play these songs so many times, you gotta like it. So we’ll go to the studio, come up with a bunch of ideas, and then just sit on them. That’s why there’s always so much time between our albums. If we like an idea when we come back to it later on, then we’ll stick with it. And in the meantime, we’ll have written more songs and work those in. Then we’ll put it all together and see what happens. That’s when Dine Alone and Rise came on board, basically. I guess they just wanted to hear it.
We had an amazing ten years with Fat Wreck Chords, and it was hard to have the conversation to try something else. But in the end, that’s all it was, just curiosity. They took such a huge chance on us as 19-year old Canadian kids. Mike took us on tour with NOFX to so many places around the world, and we’ve met so many great people and made friends with some of our fucking heroes. In the end it kind of inspired us to think about where else we want to go with it.
It was difficult, but everyone at Fat is so lovely. Whenever a band leaves a legendary, staple record label, people always think there’s bad blood or something. So often that just isn’t the case. The record label is often just like, “look, you guys gotta do what you gotta do. It’s your band.” That was the case with Fat, everyone there was just super pumped for us. We will always be part of that family. It just inspired us to see what else we can do with this band, and we never dreamed we’d be where we are. Being an almost 30-year old young man (and I use that term very loosely), it kind of makes you think “shit, ok, it’s time to do something else!” And that’s really exciting.
The folks at Rise and Dine Alone have been so great, it’s exciting to have new people listening to your music and basically everything has been awesome. We’ve been able to play these new songs live now a few times and it feels really good. You know, you spend a few years of your life on these tracks and when the album finally comes out and start playing these songs, sometimes it’s like… this is better than sex! Not to get weird or anything, but it’s a very, very strong feeling.
You started the band at a very young age, and know what it’s like to be a young music fan. Do you see young folks at your shows connecting with your music?
Chris Cresswell: It’s super cool to see. That Weezer run we did was really cool, because they have such a huge and diverse fan base. I mean, playing with Weezer to begin with us crazy awesome. But in some cases it was a kid’s first show going to see Weezer, and we were the opening band. So we were the first band they ever see! That’s so cool! And then you’ll see a 60-year old woman and she’ll dig it. I mean, most of our shows are 19+ just because our fans tend to be a drinking crowd. Not that we don’t want to do all-ages shows because we know how important they are. They were important to us when we were kids, that’s how it started. Imagine if we couldn’t see NOFX, Rancid, Suicide Machines because they were playing 19+ shows, that would have sucked. When those all ages shows happen, it’s a really cool thing.
One of the Ottawa region’s pride and joy is Beau’s Brewery, the purveyors of all kinds of delicious beer. You guys have worked with them before in the past, do you have a favourite beer of theirs?
Chris Cresswell: Oh, buddy. Beau’s Beer. Those guys are all incredible. I’ve known a lot of them for over ten years, and I’ve known Steve Beauchesne since before they started Beau’s and was still in the band called Constable Brennan. Lug Tread is incredible, and one of my favourite beers in the world. It’s like that first impression we were talking about earlier, like, make the best beer you can possibly make. I’ve been drinking it for ten years and every time I have it I’m like, “damn, that’s a good beer”. They have so many good ones, another one I really love is St. Luke’s Verse, which is a lavender gruit ale. They’ve been buddies for a long time and have been so good to us. They’ve just been killing it and we couldn’t be happier. It’s cool to see hard work pay off, the reason they’re doing great things is because they respect the process and treat their employees really, really well.
Their support of bands stems from a place of their love for music. Before they were a brewery, those guys were huge fans of music. So supporting music is something that comes naturally for them, and it encompasses the lives of many people around them. It’s a really cool thing to see what they’ve done.
Any secrets that singers like you and Luke from Dirty Nil use to keep your vocal cords from exploding night to night?
Chris Cresswell: It’s insane. A few years ago I blew my vocal cords out and couldn’t talk or sing for a few months. This was before we went to Europe for the first time and I was afraid I did permanent damage. So I called up an Ear, Nose & Throat specialist, and they put a camera up my throat and I saw the damage I had done. When you sing the way I do, you can’t avoid singing like that. You can do all these things to avoid it, sooth it, maintain it, but you can’t really get around the fact that singing this way causes damage. Luke from Dirty Nil has an incredible voice, and Stephan from PUP, too. He had some pretty terrible things happen to his voice in the past few years. His damage was a lot worse than mine, but he’s a lot better now and learned a lot from that experience. It’s truly a story of human perseverance.
The biggest thing I’ve changed is that I can’t go to a loud bar after a show anymore. That used to be a huge thing, you finish your show and go to the bar for some drinks. Trying to talk to each other over loud music in a packed bar, they say that is more harmful to your voice than actually singing. It makes no sense, but it’s true. I also do more vocal warm ups, and test out how my voice is doing before shows. I try to be healthy, too. Try to avoid eating too much dairy. I avoid smoking too, I used to smoke a lot of weed on the road a lot and I don’t do that at home. I’ll do that at home. Apparently drinking is bad, too. Basically anything fun is bad for your voice.
But yeah, just little things to maintain the vocal cords, drinking more tea, getting more rest (which is hard on tour). One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t hit every note every time. Sometimes you just have to admit defeat. You gotta realize you’re just a human being, and people don’t care. They’re there to have fun, so stressing out about it will just make it worse. Just like I said before, take the bad with the good. ✺
The Flatliners – Tour Dates (North America)
JUN 14 – Ottawa, ON at Babylon
with The Dirty Nil, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs
JUN 15 – Waterloo, ON at Maxwell’s
with The Dirty Nil, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs
JUN 16 – Toronto, ON at Lee’s Palace
with The Dirty Nil, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs
JUN 17 – Toronto, ON at Lee’s Palace
with The Dirty Nil, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs
JUL 07 – Buffalo, NY at Studio at Waiting Room
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 08 – Cleveland, OH at The Grog Shop
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 09 – Pittsburgh, PA at The Funhouse
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 11 – Washington, DC at Black Cat
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 13 – Asbury Park, NJ at Wonder Bar
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 14 – Brooklyn, NY at Knitting Factory
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 15 – Pawtucket, RI at The Met
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 16 – Boston, MA at The Middle East
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 17 – Philadelphia, PA at Boot & Saddle
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 20 – Belleville, ON at Empire Rockfest
JUL 21 – Rimouski, QC at Les Grandes Fetes Telus
JUL 22 – Saguenay, QC at Festival des Bieres du Monde
JUL 23 – Quebec City, QC at Bar L’Anti
with Downstater, Mental Fix, As One Man
AUG 26 – San Bernardino, CA at It’s Not Dead Festival
The Famines are a Montreal-based noise garage music duo made up of Raymond Biesinger (who also happens to be an incredible illustrator) and Drew Demers. But they are not just a band, the duo is also a “DIY-minded experimental record label thing” called Pentagon Black.
In early 2016 Pentagon Black released it’s first compilation containing 23 unreleased songs from bands from across the country as a 20×30″ double-sided newsprint art poster with download code. They had 17 compilation release shows including 30 bands at various locations across the country for it. In April 2017, they did it again with compilation number 2, once again on 20×30″ double-sided newsprint art poster with a download code.
Pentagon Black are back with another compilation, and while they stayed true to their other compilations, they changed it up a little. Pentagon Black Compilation No. 3 is a “phone comp.” It is named as such as 16 diverse bands between Edmonton and Saint John recorded original unreleased tracks live via phone (no multi tracking allowed). This time they went with a smaller format of a 6X6″ postcard with download code.
Eric took some time to discuss with drummer Drew Demers about being a band and being a record label, as well as the story behind the compilation and the inclusion of bands from Ottawa.
What inspired/motivated the two of you to not only be a band but be a label?
Drew Demers: After releasing music on vinyl for the better part of a decade, we realized that it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage/produce. Turn-around times don’t work in anyone’s favor. We were sitting on a recorded full length and didn’t want to have to wait an additional 4 or 5 months just to get a test pressing back. On top of that, the cost was just too great for us to be enthused about it anymore, so we decided that we would just produce things as cheaply and quickly as we could on our own.
Subsequently what pushed you to put out these trans-Canadian compilations?
Drew Demers: We had already released a single and a record on the newsprint poster format, the latter as Pentagon Black and the former in partnership with Psychic Handshake in Montreal. We were discussing what to do next, and the idea started as a split record with The Famines on one side, and then another band on the other. The problem was, we were at odds over whether it was going to be Century Palm or Kappa Chow. We played a show with a ton of pals at this crazy fest called Strangewaves outside of Hamilton.
The lineup included a ton of bands that ended up on the first compilation, and it was beautiful because there was hardly anybody at the show outside of band members. We all just got up and played for each other and there was this sense of communal spirit behind everything. It took us maybe one day to realize that we needed to make something bigger and connect more scenes together, and the first compilation was born out of that notion. BTW, the lineup for that show: Strange Attractor, The Famines, TV Freaks, Mick Futures, Century Palm, Kappa Chow, Lizzie Boredom, and Flesh Rag.
How did you select the bands and decide how you wanted the first two to sound?
Drew Demers: The first compilation was an amalgamation of friends we’d made on tour. There really weren’t that many artists we didn’t personally know on the thing. The second time around, we wanted to focus on hitting specific zones we hadn’t traveled to in a while, and so we enlisted some close friends to give us suggestions on who we should talk to that might be interested in a project such as ours. There are a small handful of people involved in the second compilation we’ve actually never met.
In terms of the sound that we were going for, we weren’t really trying to establish anything specific. We are a punk band, and so we typically play with like-sounding artists. There is an obvious tonal undercurrent that runs through all three of the compilations, but there are significant departures happening on each of them as well.
What makes this third compilation special?
Drew Demers: This third compilation is all about spirit. The songs are rough, in many cases unfinished, and in all cases under-produced. It’s exciting to think that sonically it’s an even playing-ground for each of the tracks. For the most part, it sounds like all the bands recorded in basically the same room with the same gear. It’s also special because it’s the first time we’ve outsourced the art side of things. Historically Raymond has taken care of the art side of Pentagon Black/The Famines, but this time we placed the project in the esteemed hands of Lisa Czech. We explained the project to her and she absolutely nailed the chaos with her cover art.
This has been our most inexpensive and rapid turnover for a compilation. The postcards cost basically nothing to print, and all of the bands recorded their tracks in a three week time frame. Also of note – this one was released not too long after our second compilation, and it came out as a surprise. We were originally planning on dropping it the day of our showcase at Ottawa Explosion, but instead we just decided to jump the gun because we felt like it this week, and a project like this allows us the freedom to do that.
I am excited to see Ottawa bands on all three comps, what drew you to the Ottawa bands you selected ?
Drew Demers: We have a ton of respect and admiration for The Yips, and knew that we couldn’t release our first comp without them involved. Bonnie Doon are officially Pentagon Black royalty. They were on the first two comps, and played both the compilation releases with us in Montreal. Deathsticks are actually fairly new acquaintances of ours, but we feel connected by the sisterhood of two piece bands. They were suggested to us via our pal Karol aka garbageface in Peterborough. We can’t wait to play with them and hang out with them in Ottawa next weekend!
If you track Raymond or myself down in person, we can become pen pals and send you a postcard.
If you’re a little more adventurous, you can head to a show in your town featuring any of the 48 bands we’ve worked with and ask them very kindly to dig one out for you.
What do The Famines and Pentagon Black have planned next?
Drew Demers: Famines have a couple things up our sleeves, including but not limited to writing material for a full length album to come out under Pentagon Black sometime in the next decade. Ottawa Explosion is actually the only show we have booked right now, and it’s exciting facing a blank canvas. As for Pentagon Black, we intend to keep things fast and easy. After releasing the PRIORS record, we realized that we’re open to the idea of putting out music for other bands and want to move forward with that in the future, however that will work.
For an Ottawa band that has only been around for the better part of two years, PINE has already experienced some major success. Not only has the band toured extensively in the US and Canada, in March of this year the band also announced that they were being signed to No Sleep Records. No Sleep is an independent label based out of Huntington Beach, California, known for having harboured such acts as Balance and Composure, La Dispute, The Wonder Years, Touché Amoré, and many more. Needless to say, being signed to a label such as No Sleep Records is a tremendous feat for a young band from the humble capital of Canada.
PINE is on the verge of releasing their first EP through No Sleep Records, an emotional five-track effort that spans genres and bring the listener into a world free of sonic boundaries. Their songs “Viable” and “(Un)rest,” which can be steamed below, are raw and untethered pieces that use intricate instrumentation and emotive lyricism to create a powerful experience for listeners. I caught up with guitarist Holden Egan to talk about PINE’s new direction and their new album Pillow Talk.
PINE will be releasing their EP Pillow Talk at House of TARG on Saturday, June 10 along with guests Safe To Say, Heavy Hearts, and Kamen. The physical album will be available in limited edition pink vinyl. Advanced tickets are $10 and can be purchased at Vertigo Records. Doors at 9pm. Presented by Spectrasonic.
Interview with Holden Egan of PINE
The band announced the signing to No Sleep Records a few months back. How does it feel to be part of that family?
It feels awesome. Ever since I knew of No Sleep Records, Topshelf Records, and Run For Cover Records, and the bands associated with them, I’ve always wanted to be on one of those labels. It feels really good to be at this stage.
The single “Viable” is an emotionally jolting song that grabs listeners right away. Can you talk about how that track came to be?
It’s a funny story with that song! Our drummer Joey had written a song a few years before he was in the band, and when him and I moved in together we started pre-production on a few songs and he pulled that one out. I thought, “Woah, that actually works pretty well with some riffs I have.” So I worked on it, dissected it, and spun it backwards, added some riffs and jammed on it a few times. We recorded it in my bedroom and ultimately we had to leave that place because our roommate at the time didn’t want us to do music anymore. We toured with that song when we did our split with Dead Leaves, and we had a different lineup then so the song sounded a lot different, too.
So when we went to record it for this EP, Cory Bergeron (who mixed and mastered it) had a few great ideas on how to spice it up and bring it to the next level for this album. He made it a drum and bass intro and it kicked in with everything.
Having heard that song, what can listeners expect when diving into Pillow Talk as a whole? Are there some themes that resonate throughout?
The theme revolves around the struggles being in relationships when you’re younger. Cory and Darlene are both in touring bands, and the song “(Un)rest” is a song about dealing with being in a relationship and alone, away from your loved ones. It’s hard, especially when touring in the US where texting is expensive.
Your sound obviously has some roots in emo and post-rock of the 2000’s. In your mind, what attracts you to making music like this?
I think it has to do with our appreciation for soundscapes and production. When we’re touring, we’re always sitting and dissecting songs together and talk about why they’re good. We try and write music that takes little aspects like that and translate it in our own way the way we like. For example, I like a lot of post-rock and shoegaze. But our guitar player listens to a lot of singer-songwriter and progressive stuff. Our drummer listens to Mac DeMarco and the Chili Peppers, and Darlene listens to bands like Lydia and Sufjan Stevens. There’s a lot of diversity in the EP’s tracks. We’re not confined to just one sound, we incorporate different things into each song. We even have an acoustic song at the end, because we all like acoustic tracks with piano, cello and additional instrumentation. We all get off on that stuff.
If there were one band you could share the stage with, who would it be?
Slowdive, hands down. I would love to play with them. I’d probably cry if I found out that was a possibility.
PINE has toured quite a bit over the last few years. Is there some place that is on your dream list to visit?
This has always been a dream for me since I was like 15. Brixton Academy in London, England, is a venue I would love to play. I mean it’s kind of unrealistic at this point because it’s like a 5000 cap venue, but it’s a dream. But I’d love to play there. A place that’s a little more realistic to play is probably Manhattan. I’ve visited there a few times and I love New York City. I’d love to bring our music there and be able to say we played there, it’s on the bucket list for sure.
What can new listeners who attend the EP release at House of Targ on June 10 expect from PINE’s live performance?
I hope that they get the feel of the soundscapes we’re aiming for live. When we go to shows, we’re always paying attention to the tones. We’re all gear nerds and own lots of pedals. We’re really going for a wall of sound, and we’re not trying to make you happy but we’re also not trying to bum you out either. It’s moody, we want people to stand there and get lost in the music. It’s sort of like cinematic experiences. Slowdive uses their music to capture a cinematic moment or mood, and I guess it’s kind of emo in that way since we’re trying make you feel stuff. I’ve been in a hardcore band before and there’s a lot of aggression at shows. But I feel like our music is a bit different. We’re trying to make people feel something, and feeling soothing in some way.
Less than a minute into Tunic‘s song “Disappointment” is all it took to get excited about this Winnipeg-born-and-bred noisy punk trio. This June, the band will be leaving beautiful Manitoba for a 2-week tour that will take them to the United States and across central Canada, including their first Ottawa show on June 6 at Pressed.
Their Ottawa date will also feature two of Ottawa’s most stoke-worthy bands: post-hardcore veterans The Dark Plains with Matt Deline (aka Ottawa’s Ian MacKaye) on vocals and bass, Andy Cant (from Okara!!!) on drums, and Chuck Saso (who must eat Shreddies for breakfast because.. well.. he absolutely shreds) on guitar, as well as Ultra Love who have just recently sprung out of the incubator, or maybe a time machine, bringing back a post-hardcore sound with a healthy (and unapologetic) dose of 90’s screamo influences. Needless to say, you will not want to miss this show, and in the meantime, you can get to know Tunic a bit better as guitarist/vocalist David Schellenberg answers a few questions for us. Have a read below.
Interview with David Schellenberg of Tunic
Ok, so first things first – who is Tunic and can you give me a short history of how the band came to be?
DS: Tunic is David Schellenberg, Rory Ellis, and Sam Neal. Tunic was started by Sam and I as a way for us to hang out, experiment and for me to try my hand at playing guitar in a band. Rory was my roommate at the time so he started playing bass after a couple jams. This was around 2012, I’m pretty sure.
How would you describe your sound?
DS: Abrasive, angular, noisy punk music.
Are you all originally from Winnipeg and what is the scene like in Winnipeg these days?
DS: We are. Winnipeg is a unique city with a lot of cool bands and artists. Since we’re extremely isolated by our geographical location we all have to put in a lot of work to get shows to happen and for there to be things to do, so Winnipeg is pretty cool, a lot of people work hard to make sure it doesn’t suck.
What are some of the pros/cons of being a band in Winnipeg?
DS: The only con is our location. Pros a lot of great local bands to do shows with.
Will this be your first time playing Ottawa? If so, what have you heard about the Ottawa scene?
DS: This will be our first time playing in Ottawa. I’ve heard some nice things from our pals who’ve played there before, they say it’s a lot of fun, so that’s exciting.
Sometimes it does feel like Ottawa and Winnipeg are worlds apart even though we’re provincial neighbours. Not to mention that there are probably a lot of great local bands from our respective cities that neither of us will ever hear. Have you all played in other bands in the past?
DS: We’ve all played in a lot of bands, too many bands really. Rory and I played in a bunch of indie bands we don’t need to talk about, and Sam played in a bunch of cool black metal and d-beat bands like Willing Feet and Noose that were super sick.
Help us get to know you a little better: outside of music, what other interests, hobbies or projects are taking up your time?
DS: We mostly work our jobs so we can do this band and other music related things. Sam does graphic design, Rory works in a school and I work at a bar.
Finally, what are you listening to these days?
DS: I can’t speak for Rory or Sam, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Spray Paint, The Coneheads, Wings, and Cocteau Twins.
Don’t miss tunic at Pressed on June 6 alongside The Dark Plains and Ultra Love, event here. For out-of-towners and roadtrippers, here are Tunic’s tour dates:
Tunic Tour Dates
May 31 – Reverie, Minneapolis MN
June 1 – The Burlington, Chicago IL
June 3 – Foam Doam, London ON
June 4 – This Ain’t Hollywood, Hamilton ON
June 6 – Pressed, Ottawa ON
June 7 – Smiling Buddha, Toronto ON
June 8 – Turbo Haus, Montreal QC
June 9 – Poisson Noir, Montreal QC
T. Thomason is zipping through Ottawa tonight, and we thought we’d kick off a new interview series called Quick Fix. Yes, it is exactly as it sounds. We shoot a few quick questions at an artist touring through Ottawa and get a sense of what they’re up to. No strings attached. Get your quick fix with T. Thomason below.
Be sure to catch T. Thomason at House of TARG tonight along with Cameron, Alanna Sterling, and Mosely. Doors are at 8 pm and cover is $10. More information here.
Quick Fix with T. Thomason
Lyrically, what does your music speak about? What drives the themes of your songs?
My music is greatly inspired by the personal relationships in my life. Issues of human connection and trying to understand/empathize with others drives a lot of my writing. More and more these days I’ve found bits of the state of the world and political issues creeping into my every day thoughts (as I’m sure a lot of people are finding) and that has rubbed off on my writing. I’m also inspired by the artists I listen to regularly: Lana Del Rey, the Killers, Bob Dylan, Cherry Glazerr, Drake.
All those folks have inspired my lyrically or sonically and I’m always looking for new bands to obsess over.
What is one (or a few) live performance that stick out in your mind? Do you have specific memories that made you want to hit the stage yourself?
I remember knowing I wanted to do music forever when I was about 13. My dad was running a theatre company and put on a fundraiser that was a Bob Dylan tribute. I remember going on for the encore with everyone who had played, seeing the audience standing and clapping, everyone singing along to “You Ain’t Goin Nowhere”. It was awe inspiring and I remember going home and writing in my live journal (lol – remember that?) that I knew what I wanted to do.
What’s next for you in your musical endeavours?
I currently working on 2 follow up EPs with Dave Henriques who produced sweet baby, to complete the trio. I have some big dreams for the live show to tour those projects which I’m really excited about. Thankful for my theatre kid upbringing and planning to bring some of that to the stage soon 😉
When Heather Gibson took the reins as Executive Producer of NAC Presents & Variety Programming last year, it was clear that she was determined to spice things up and make the most of her role. Her resume is as extensive as it is impressive – she was the award-winning Executive Director of the Halifax Jazz Festival, she’s opened her own club, owned an artistic management company, not to mention serving as the Chair of the East Coast Music Association and being a board member for CAPACOA (The Canadian Arts Presenting Association), The Khyber Centre for the Arts, and The Western Roots Artistic Directors. Oh yeah, and she was the Founder and Artistic Producer of the In the Dead of Winter Music Festival. Try fitting that on one page.
The recent announcement of the NAC Presents’ Fall 2017 season is proof that she’s not only the right person for the job – she also recognizes the NAC’s importance in developing emerging artists across Canada and supporting the Ottawa/Gatineau region’s local arts scenes. The extensive lineup announcement includes a diverse group of Canadian artists from various backgrounds, highlighting her desire to broaden the scope of what NAC Presents can do. The Fall 2017 portion of the series contains more shows than ever before, and combines a number of emerging artists with mainstay household names. I caught up with Heather earlier this week to discuss the announcement, have a read below.
For a look at the NAC Presents Fall 2017 lineup, check out the calendar here.
Interview with Heather Gibson, Executive Producer at NAC Presents
2017 is a big year for the NAC. How have you personally approached the role of Executive Producer?
I think that to do my job properly, I need to program a wide variety of Canadian music. That includes taking things like genre, location, gender, and more into consideration. This particular program isn’t so much about the 2017 celebrations, in fact we looked at what the city was doing and tried to make sure we weren’t going to be duplicating too much. One conflict with the celebrations might be, for example, the show we have booked the same night as the Grey Cup celebrations. But there’s just so many events happening in Ottawa this year that we just have to navigate through, other than that it’s pretty much business as usual.
What are some of the most important goals or factors to consider when programming the NAC Presents series?
There’s a few factors to consider, the first of which is that it has to be Canadian. You might hear of a few events that involve non-Canadian artists, but that’s going to be in the “variety” portfolio. NAC Presents is strictly all Canadian music and the focus is on songwriting. It used to be that the focus was on singer-songwriters, but I feel that the focus should be on all kinds of songwriting and broaden the depth in genres.
From artists like Blakdenim, Shakura S’Aida, or Samantha Martin, there’s some excellent hip hop, blues, funk, and soul, through to the singer-songwriters like David Francey and Catherine MacClellan that people are more used to. There’s also an element of emerging talent in Canada that we’re focusing on, as well. There’s only eight or nine shows at Southam Hall and the rest are in the Studio. I tried to bring a wide variety of emerging talent from across the country.
The series also includes emerging artists. In your mind, why is it important to include emerging artists in the programming?
In many ways, I think it’s more important for NAC Presents to support emerging artists more than any other. As a national institution we are mandated to develop artists from across the country, and we can’t just do that with Jann Arden and Diana Krall. We also can’t wait for the music environment to develop these artists, because once they hit that level in their career then we’re not contributing to the music industry, we’re only taking from it.
The smaller venues around this country are doing most of the heavy lifting and we need to be a part of that, and find a balance between playing that role and also encouraging those small venues in and around Ottawa as opposed competing with them. I’m hopeful that we’re doing that, and that it leads to more opportunities for more artists to develop beyond the emerging level. It’s so important that we program emerging artists, it’s inherent in my job. If we don’t then we’re going to find that we will have fewer Canadian headliners, and we’re already struggling to get people out to the small and mid-sized venues in the region. If we can play a greater role nationally then I think we’ve done a part of the job.
What are some new challenges you face with NAC Presents? How do you approach and overcome them?
I don’t think that there have been a lot of challenges, per se. If anything it’s starting this job in year six and making some changes, people have expectations of the series and I hope we can both meet and broaden those expectations. For those who are used to seeing singer-songwriters, we still want them to feel like there’s something for them. There are more shows from September to December this year than there were all of last year, so hopefully people still feel like there’s lots of room for them at the NAC. There are some opportunities to explore more partnerships in the region as this program grows, too.
One of the main challenges for the NAC as a whole is simply having space. Between the orchestra, two theatre departments, Scene, and Dance, there are lots of space needs. I’ve had to turn down a show because there is an NAC Dance production happening in the Hall, but we all have to get along in the space we have. There’s so much to choose from out there. We’re pushing the boundaries for people who are local and considered to be quite emerging. We hope that through Fridays at the Fourth, people will hear new music that they have never heard anywhere before. A lot of the challenge is just weathering through the change, in a way.
Can you talk about the new Fridays at the Fourth initiative?
Every Friday, without exception, is Fridays at the Fourth. There are a couple of aspects of it, one of which is that it will always be $15 or $10 for students – the price will always stay the same. The other piece is that it will be genre-wide. Sometimes there will be folk, other times there will be pop. We’re kicking things off pretty folky folk with Tomato/Tomato and Old Man Grant, so there’s a lot of local involvement. There will be some francophone artists as well, for instance we have Caracol playing one of the Fridays.
Some of the emerging artists we’ve programmed have already taken off since we got them on board, too. Ahi was very emerging when I booked him, and has since gotten over 800,000 YouTube or Spotify hits. Because it’s at the beginning of their careers, they can take off very quickly. It will be nice for people to see them in a small venue at the new Fourth Stage. The idea is to really try and play a role in local development, and with some of the marketing that the NAC undertakes we could potentially give them a different audience than they are used to playing in front of. By the time December rolls around, the emerging artists could be a name that everyone knows. A lot of the programming is at the discovery stage, getting people to try something new. We’ll see how it goes for the first three months.
What are some of the highlights of the announcement for you personally?
Coming from the east, I have a few preferences that I’m pleased about. I’m happy that Erin Costelo is finally playing at the NAC, that’s long overdue. I’m also very happy about Catherine MacLellan’s show, which is a show with her dad which includes a lot of multimedia and old footage of Gene MacClellan and some of his songs. Because I’m from the east I love Gadelle, which is essentially an Acadian Kitchen Party. I’m also excited about people like Shakura S’Aida and Samantha Martin, I love the blues.
As far as bigger Hall shows go, William Prince has also taken off the last few months, so I’m looking forward to seeing him. I mean, I’m kind of excited about all of it so we could go through it all! I think it’s a good first shake at it. It’s great that we can do some CD releases with some of those more mainstream artists like Diana Krall and Jesse Cook, it’s nice to be their choice of place to perform.
NAC Presents: Tickets & Information
• In person at the Welcome Centre/Satellite Box Office;
• At all Ticketmaster outlets;
• By telephone from Ticketmaster, 1-888-991-2787 (ARTS); and
• Online through the Ticketmaster link on the NAC’s website (www.nac-cna.ca).
*A service charge applies on all purchases made through Ticketmaster.
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been five years since the first Arboretum Festival went down at Arts Court. The first edition that took place back in the summer of 2012 amazed us all, and featured artists such as Cadence Weapon, Jokers of the Scene, Ohbijou, and local powerhouses Steve Adamyk Band, Crusades, Boyhood, Bondar, and more. Since then, Arboretum has grown and featured artists such as Sloan, Constantines, Austra, Mykki Blanco, U.S. Girls, Tim Hecker, just to name a few. However, the festival is scaling back the lineup this year and focusing on the experience as a whole.
Creative Director Rolf Klausener and Managing Director Stefanie Power have always envisioned Arboretum Festival actually keeping true to its name – having it take place in the wilderness. The original conception will become reality August 18-20, 2017, as this marks “year six in the sticks” and will be the first time the festival moves outside city limits and into the countryside. It will happen at Rideau Pines Farms in North Gower about 25 minutes from downtown Ottawa. While on-site accommodations won’t be an option for attendees this time around, the organizers have made it clear that shuttle transportation will be made available for attendees living in Ottawa.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled about Rideau Pines Farms” says Power. “Hosting the festival on a rural site, close to downtown, has always been our dream. We love the idea of escaping your own city, but being surrounded by familiar faces. This smaller, more intimate setting is likely be the closer to our original vision for the festival when we started in 2012.”
“Our first meeting with Rideau Pines was one of mutual admiration and excitement. We’ve known their head farmer Matt ‘Spicoli’ Vandenberg since he headed our corn roast at our 2013 edition behind Arts Court. He’s ebullient, charming, and deeply passionate about his work, as are all the Vandenbergs. The farm is a family run business as is ARB, really.”
The 2017 lineup includes Deerhoof, Le1f, TOPS, DIANA, Cadence Weapon, Un Blonde, L.A. Foster, as well as local powerhouses Claude Munson, Future States, Isaac Vallentin, Boyhood, Gianna Lauren, and FEELS DJs. More will be announced in the coming months, but this is a strong start.
“We made a conscious decision to create a really tight line-up of friends and dream shows,” says Klausener. “LE1F (NYC queer rap trailblazer) has been a dream booking for a while, and we’re expecting his headlining show to be a ridiculous party. We’ve been mega-fans of Deerhoof (Oakland art-punk legends) since their 2003 album ‘Apple O’, and are basically an incendiary case study on lifelong, uncompromising artistic expression. TO/Edmonton hip hop icon Cadence Weapon and electro-pop friends DIANA come back, and represent past artists we really admire as both creators and leaders in their own communities.”
Even more, the organizers have announced that there will be a hand-built stage, swimming pond, forest dance parties, intimate barn shows, all-night cinema, vast fields of pick-your-own fruit and vegetables, concerts in the fields, local cooks, farm-to-table food, communal meals, and plenty of room for the kids to run around.
“The main stage area is an intimate clearing, stockaded by tall evergreen, featuring a sweet hand-built wooden stage,” explains Power. “Beyond the main site are vast fields of fruit and vegetables, with 200+ varieties. Festival-goers will be able to buy pick-your-own baskets from the farm store, and pick their own fresh food all weekend long. It’ll also supply the hot meals prepared by our restaurant partners. Beyond the fields is a small red-clay pond, beside which smaller solo-ish acts and late-night DJ’s will play. And then there’s a gorgeous barn with a back slatted wall that let’s the light – perfect for late afternoon sets.”
Arboretum Festival has always been more than just a music festival. The organizers have made a point to incorporate many names in Ottawa’s food and cooking community, affording attendees the opportunity to try out food from spots in town they might not otherwise visit. Being on a farm, the festival is truly embracing a farm-to-table approach this time around.
“The fact that Rideau Pines supplies so many of the great cooks and restaurants we’ve worked with in the past isn’t lost on us,” Klausener explains. “I don’t think I know of any music festival where you can literally pull meals out of the ground. I remember when I was five, eating my first carrot pulled fresh from a neighbour’s farm in the Laurentiens, and my taste buds exploding. It’s a chance for us to really give the city a fun way to connect with the wild abundance that surrounds Ottawa.”
While Arboretum takes steps towards a new experience for festival-goers, it stays true to its core values – staying a strong supporter of Ottawa’s music scene and local businesses, as well as working hard to represent marginalized communities through diverse and boundary-less programming.
Full weekend passes are available online now for $75, and includes “Pizza Bus” transportation to-and-from the festival or a parking pass. Day passes are not yet on sale, but keep your ears open for more announcements soon.
Ottawa, meet River Jacks. They’re a hard-hitting, fist-pumping five-piece punk rock band from Calgary, and they’ve just released their new record Strange Adventures. If you think that Strange Adventures is the kind of album you’d put on while doing yoga or getting some spa treatment, you’d be dead wrong. I mean, you could. But you might end up busting open a few tall boys of Pilsener and start moshing boisterously, something which your yoga instructor probably wouldn’t appreciate while trying to hold their downward dog pose steady.
Their music contains the soul and power of punk in its veins, but is also infused with an aspect of folk storytelling that defines their songwriting. Not to mention the accordion, played by Andy “Mandrill” Shannon who shreds just about as hard and fast as any accordion player possibly could. With a few Calgary music scene veterans on board and plenty of experience to draw from, River Jacks are no stranger to the stage and the road. Their Strange Adventures tour kicked off in Lethbridge, AB, on May 3rd and they’re on a 12-date rip across Canada to promote the album. I chatted with guitarist Jordan Barrett about the new album, the road, and plans River Jacks have for the future.
The band started around five years ago as Spencer Jo & the River Jacks. Spencer Burgess (guitar/vocals) and Andy Shannon (accordion) had been playing as a duo for a while. When they wanted to go full band they enlisted Mikey Blotto (drums), and Kurtis Jensen (bass). I joined up about a year later. Spenny and I had done some acoustic shows together. I was bussing tables at the Ship and Anchor in Calgary when Spenny approached me to be in the band. We had a bit of a revolving door of bass players until we ran into the uber-talented Tyler Burton. We’ve been firing on all cylinders ever since.
Can you talk about musical inspirations growing up, previous bands, and what were your music scenes like growing up?
I grew up in rural New Brunswick. Not a lot to do in those small towns so punk rock found me and my friends at a young age. We were able to get some touring bands into our town and go from there. Speaking for the other dudes who grew up primarily in Calgary, I hear lots of stories about the Multi (Multicultural Centre), and Carpenters Union Hall. I’ve only been a Calgarian for five years, so I’ve missed lots. However, I understand there was a strong all-ages scene back in the day. Spenny was in Rum Runner during their hay day. Mikey Blotto has played in almost every rad punk band in the YYC. I was lucky to be able to stumble into a who’s who of Calgary dudes.
Your music is punk rock with a bit of a folk touch to it. How important is storytelling to the band?
Storytelling is crucial. Whether it’s a conscious writing decision or not. It can find its way into anything. For instance, our new release Strange Adventures got its name from an old comic shop in Halifax that I use to frequent. It was a cool little hole in the ground that had a magical feel to it. I went there for years. When River Jacks were throwing around album title ideas, and we knew we were going for a comic book theme for the cover, I threw the name in the ring. It kinda works both as a reference to a great part of my younger years, as well as a funny description of what we get up to as a band.
Do you have a favourite tour memory? And a worst one?
A big one that sticks out would be taking these Calgary boys back to Hartland, NB., the land of my people. After hearing me babble on about this place, I’m sure those guys were interested to see it. I’m proud to say that my home town delivered. Packed venue, people singing along, broken noses, bare feet on broken glass, and fists in the air. Wouldn’t have had it any other way.
As far as bad stories go, Mikey Blotto fell down a hill in Tadoussac, QC. He was a little banged up and had dirty feet for a while.
For those who have never heard your music, what can new listeners expect when putting on Strange Adventures?
This being our sophomore release, we’re feeling more comfortable in our roles in the band. It’s harder, faster, grittier. If you’re into the folk/punk thing, I think we make it an easy listen for you.
Anything exciting coming up for the band following the album release and tour?
We’ve been working hard this year, so far. Put a lot of time into album prep, took a trip up to Yellowknife for Snowking Winter Festival– got to play in a fucking snow castle! Unreal. We also had a quick tour out to Vancouver. As I’m answering these questions, I’m sitting in a van traveling east. So, there’s been no shortage of bouncing around. Once this tour is done, I think we’ll be taking it easy in the Calgary area for the summer.
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.