New Music: Graven – Jaybird
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.
New Music: LP1 by No Fuss
Ottawa power-pop duo No Fuss have released their first full album, titled LP1. This is the band’s second release – last January they put out a three-song EP appropriately named EP1. I think I’ve spotted a trend here…
LP1 is a 9-track rocker of an album with only one song clocking in over 3 minutes. The album kicks off with an infectious and sing-a-long worthy tunes called “Up To You,” which would certainly call for you and your friends to rush to the front of the stage and yell “leave it up to!” right back at them.
Chris Cook takes care of the strumming and most of the singing, while Mark takes care of the drumming and backup vocals. Chris is the lead vocals on the majority of songs, and fans of FINDERSKEEPERS and The Sir John A. MacDonalds will recognize his unique voice and style. Mark’s vocals provide an excellent balance, and compliments Chris’ well. They do, however, feature more prominently on a few songs, such as “Rat Breath.”
My favourite song on the album is the seventh song titled “Old Truths,” which I fell in love with last summer when I saw them perform it live. It really jumps out at you off the album thanks to Mark’s rolling drums setting the stage for Chris’ opening line “We’ve both got symbols of things we lost / I’ve got my pictures and you’ve got your bloody cross / But we disagree of what’s deep inside / You think it’s spirit and I think it’s empty pride.” The song really paints a great picture of the importance of perspective when thinking of religion and how people talk about it and justify their acts with it.
Have about 35 minutes to kill? Listen to No Fuss’ debut album below and go see them play live tonight as they open for Screaming Females at House of Targ – show info here.
New Music: Jack Moves – I Been Working
Photo: Take It For Granted
Jack Moves is a solo artist from Toronto, Ontario, who has recently released his new EP I Been Working, which he has been working on for the last year.
For a good amount of time Jack took part in metal bands, and in 2014 he broke away from that genre as he found it creatively limiting. Through seeing live looping performances by Reggie Watts, he became inspired to try it out himself. He says he has yet to find his footing in this whole new genre.
His Jack Moves EP consists of four songs, all created solely with his voice, beatboxing (which is also technically considered his voice, I suppose) and a looping pedal. Not to mention, they’re all original songs. The music is somewhat electronic, however, he’s not limiting it to a specific sound.
All of the songs on the EP are high energy songs that differ from one another in rhythm and key. The first track, titled “Sleeperhold,” is one that has a faster tempo, and the second track, “W.T.P” starts very rhythmically and finishes off with a multitude of layers to it, but manages to keep it harmonious. The song “Gray Morning” takes the EP down a more sombre sounding and serious direction to counterbalance the two previous songs.
It ends with a song that, if you weren’t paying attention to the lyrics, has the hint of a rock background but has a certain vivacity to it. The song is titled “We’re Not Going Anywhere” and is probably my favourite off the EP. Knowing the title of the song and hearing the lyrics makes you realize that the song isn’t exactly as positive as it leads you to believe.
All that being said, the EP is available to listen to on Soundcloud, and comes with a free download, so be sure go check out this talented live looper.
New Music: kinda, actually, sorta (an EP) by Tossin’ Socks
Tossin’ Socks, a local banjo and guitar duo, recently released their debut five song EP, kinda, actually, sorta (an EP).
The boys, Sheehan and Marc Leguerrier, play acoustic folk music heavily rooted in punk rock ideals and love. Guitarist a singer Sheehan Jordan is the lead singer of Ottawa punk trio The Tenenbaums which certainly influences the sound.
Kinda, actually, sorta (an EP) features four originals, with some really funny titles such as “Stroman Sucks” and “Chicken Noodle,” as well as a cover of 70’s rock band Half Japanese’s song “Put Some Sugar On It.” Both Marc and Sheehan sing on songs and while both their voices are quite different they work well together.
I love the final song of the EP, “Die Die Die (666).” It is a prime example of the overlap in folk and punk. This song could be played super loud and fast with 3 power chords and have people slamming up against each other crashing the stage to sing a long. But it can equally be just as they played it, nice and slow with a banjo and an acoustic guitar.
Have a listen to kinda, actually, sorta (an EP) below and look forward to the day when Sheehan returns from his latest adventure in Vietnam.
New Music: E/SCAPE by Drae
Photo/Artwork design by Champagne Photography.
Local hip-hop artist Andre Thibault aka DRAE recently dropped his debut album E/SCAPE.
DRAE has been producing and mixing music for artists from the Capital region, Toronto and Montreal for years, but it was now time for him to step out and take center stage himself. The 11 track release blends hip-hop, electronic and has flares of dub steps, his calling card as a producer. The beginning of the album has you thinking this is going to be pretty dark, especially the album’s first single “Nightmare.” The tone begins to shift and isn’t all serious and dark, songs like “Drink Up” and “Wild N Young” will make you want to party all night thanks to the fun beats, party lyrics and sing-a-longs.
E/SCAPE is not short of great cameos by some of our favourite locals such as Yusso, Aron the Alien and Nicholas Poupponeau of Zoo Legacy. Poupponeau features on the second single “First Time” which is an uplifting song with lyrics praising the magic of being in love for the first over a very positive and grooving rhythm, even including finger snaps in the beat. I can picture this song perfectly fitting in on the club scene and having people grinding and swinging their hair around on the dance floor.
Many people have moved on from dubstep, and while DRAE does not focus on it, it creeps in through out the album and then he drops the bass and gives you heart palpitations in “Almost Famous.” I can only imagine how hard that drop with hit you live. BOOM.
Have a listen to E/SCAPE below and if you like what you hear go party with DRAE and his boys Yusso and Aron the Alien for his album release show at Mercury Lounge this Friday November 11. More information on the album release show here.
New Music: Self-Titled by Saint Clare
Ottawa’s Saint Clare just released their much anticipated debut self-titled EP. The album features great psychedelic and garage rock with jiving keys and absolutely exceptional performance by the horns in the band, some of the best I have heard outside of ska in some time.
The first song sets the tone for the whole album with its rocking flares and blazing beat right out of the gate. That did not slow into the next two songs, including their first single “Cheatin.” My favourite track from has to be the second song “Goodbye to the Ghost” which has everything I look for in a song. It makes me reminisce, makes me feel, it transports me into his shoes, the music makes me want to dance, the chorus makes me want to sign-a-long and the song has an “oh oh ohs” breakdown. I mean, what more can you ask for?
There is a vocal dispare to lead singer Matt Saint Clare’s voice which channels The Cure’s Robert Smith. I say this as a compliment since Matthew Saint Clare’s voice has me hooked and makes me want to adorn a little more black. But don’t be fooled – this is no copy. Saint Clare’s voice is still uniquely his own and one can certainly feel everything he is going through in every song as his voice fluctuates ever so slightly driving home real emotions. All of this is topped with perfectly executed brass which I just can’t praise enough as the perfect complement to the song writing.
For those who didn’t know, Saint Clare is Matthew Saint Clare (Guitar and Vocals), Richard Jeffrey (Guitar and Vocals), Casey Comeau (Piano, Organ, and Vocals), Morgan Grant (Saxophone), Nick Di Saverio (Trombone), Ryan Shannon (Bass), and Daniel DeVries (Drums).
All songs on the new self-titled full length were recorded and mixed at Little Bullhorn Studio in Ottawa, Canada by Jarrett Bartlett, and mastered at The House of Miracles in Cambridge, Canada by Andy Magoffin.
Check out Saint Clare’s most excellent self-titled album below and go see them live this Friday, November 4 at Bar Robo for the release party (info here) or November 5 at Bistro de Paris in Montreal.
New Music: The Guacamole Incident by Taco Bandits
One of the most appropriate album titles of all time, The Guacamole Incident by Taco Bandits, dropped about a month ago and I am sorry I am just getting to it now.
The ska reggae vibes are strong in the Taco Bandits and The Guacamole Incident will surely have people skanking away the blues of the imminent harsh Ottawa winter. The newest ska-reggae band to hit the capital is made up of members of Sidelines, Fleeba and The Sentries. Their debut six track EP is a lot of fun and everything you want in a ska album, it has some fast moments, some slower moments, great sing a long opportunities and a whole lot of obvious dance breakdowns.
Two tracks that really stuck out are “Smile Politely” and “I’ll Repute.” “Smile Politely” has the perfect 90s ska and pop punk up stroke feel and flow to it. The band also samples “Believe, believe in me, believe…” from the Smashing Pumpkins’ hit “Tonight” which is pretty sweet. Where “Smile Politely” is 90s, “Seeing Red” has a more 80s rude dude vibe which transported me to dingy clubs in England when bands like The Specials and the English Beat where just kicking things off over there.
A really cool element of the album is the the radio distortion and clips musical clips throughout the EP. It starts in the intro and is weaved throughout with some great modern and older ska vibes. Feels like a very fitting tribute to the bands that influenced Taco Bandits to make the music they do.
Grab some chips and salsa or toss on your best dancing shoes and sink your teeth into The Guacamole Incident below.
New Music: Sleepy and the Noise – Altitudes
There’s some new music coming our way at the end of the month. Ottawa power-pop trio Sleepy and the Noise is fresh out of the womb and ready to rumble, as they get set to drop their debut 4-track EP called Altitudes later this month at Bar Robo.
Originally, Sleepy and the Noise began as a small solo project by Christian Pasiak. While enjoying making his own music as a singer/songwriter, Pasiak got the ambition to grow his performance and add some accompaniment. It wasn’t long until Kira Montfort (Lora Bidner, Kaleigh Watts, Alexy and The Otherside) and Sarah Fitzpatrick (from one of our favourite local folk-rock groups, Steamers) joined the ranks and the complete trio was formed.
“Since we were adapting Christian’s solo songs to a band context and adding our own individual flare, it was more a case of tuning up and perfecting songs, rather than writing,” Fitzpatrick recounts. “But we also had a clear idea of what we wanted from the get go.”
“Recording was a really great experience, since we were working with David Gervais at Swell Studios and he really quickly got a clear idea of the sound we were going for and had lots of suggestions. Since we’re a trio, working in a recording environment lets us try out a bunch of ideas that are harder to try live, like layering different instruments and vocals to fill out the sound.”
Their sound is full and raw, but not overdone or aggressive. Those partial to Pavement or Dinosaur Jr. will be able to sink into Sleepy and the Noise’s sound right away, as they take us on a fun ride that is not only short and punchy, but also contains several moments of cunning lyricism and undaunted instrumentals.
“Lyrically, I take as much from social theory and post structuralist philosophy as from other musicians,” Pasiak clarifies. “But I really appreciate John K Samson, Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird – and some leftover angst from the 90s like Propagandhi. As for the sound of this EP, we were trying to get a little taste of our musical variety: the ‘sleepy and the noisy’. Since this is the debut, tried to keep it lighter, even though lyrically these songs document struggles with anxiety, especially My Medusa.”
My favourite track, if I had to choose, would be the song “Mountains & Valleys,” one that elucidates Pasiak’s word-smithing abilities and strong use of metaphors and imagery in his songwriting. Moreover, some irresistible guitar tones and backup vocals by Fitzpatrick makes it one that you won’t be able to resist having on repeat.
Be sure to head to Bar Robo on Sept. 30 for Sleepy & The Noise’s EP Release Party, along with new sensations Mushy Gushy and DJs from Bonnie Doon providing the soundtrack to the night. Doors at 8pm, $10.
New Music: The Way You’ve Aged by Jonathan Becker
Photo credit: Blair Smith
Jonathan Becker (Dead Weights/The North Fields) just released a new solo EP The Way You’ve Aged.
The EP is more North Fields and less Dead Weights – but 100% Jon Becker. Four songs straight from the heart by a man with a raspy voice and his acoustic guitar recording in a back room with a Crown Royal bag as a microphone shield. If you are sick of the heat and want the return of sounds of fall and winter than you are in luck with this one. If that fall and winter aren’t what you are looking for, The Way You’ve Aged also transports you to a dimly lit bar where smoking is still allowed and Becker is sitting on a chair on a small riser playing to the regulars.
The title track sets the tone for the EP with lines like these: The difference is where we become untied and the things we use to help us stand upright / We’ll still smoke cigarettes in the park on Dundas West / We’ll lay in the dead grass and I’ll close my eyes, picture you painting looking your best, as November purrs in the soft light / I love the way you’ve aged.”
The next three songs follow the themes of relationships, bad habits and growing older, which makes them very relatable.
The album was engineered by Dead Weights bandmate Steve Robillard at Capital Rehearsal Studios and mastered by Dean Watson at Gallery Recording Studio, both in Ottawa.
Turn the lights down low, crack a beer and a smoke (if you’re into that kind of thing) and sink your teeth into The Way You’ve Aged (streaming at Exclaim) on a late night where you feel like deeply connecting with a total stranger. You can also catch him playing Thursday Sept. 22 with Fire Next Time and Jordan & Watts at Bar Robo, info here.
New Music: Slack Bridges EP1
If you were to explore the depths of Ottawa’s music scene, it wouldn’t take long to run into your fair share of folk rockers, singer-songwriters, or punk and garage bands. However, when it comes to bands that make soulful, funk-driven tunes meant for getting a little sweaty while tearing up the dance floor, only a few bands in the area come to mind. Perhaps the irresistible R&B hip-hop fusion of Blakdenim might get you going. Maybe the sexy throwback soul sounds of The Split are the kind of thing that make you want to bust a move. But one thing’s for sure – of the relatively few active soul/funk/jazz bands in Ottawa right now, no one sounds quite like Slack Bridges.
Slack Bridges is a newer band in town, having formed in the latter part 2015 and just released their debut, EP1, this past May. It is comprised of six musicians whose musical resumes are long and varied. Lead singer Matt Gilmour, for example, grew up as a dedicated member of the Ottawa punk and hardcore scenes, cutting his teeth as a youngster performing at all ages shows and learning what it meant to be part of a community. For over a decade, Gilmour has been musically active in various capacities, playing in bands such as HAMILTON, I Refuse, We The Accused, and currently Heavy Bedroom and Slack Bridges.
Although participating in punk bands growing up, Gilmour admits that he’s always had a voracious appetite for funky soul music. “I’ve become aware of my blind spots and have begun to revisit the merits in popular soul and contemporary R&B that I loved, which includes influences like James Blake, Eric Roberson, Kwabs, and James Fauntleroy.”
Bassist Garett Barr grew up also listening to punk rock, but it didn’t take long before he explored some new horizons, including funk, soul, calypso, afrobeat, and hip-hop. He managed to sharpen his skills over the years playing bass in the now defunct reggae band Tea for the Voyage, and as a founding member of the popular local group Mackenzie Rhythm Section.
Saxophonist Julian Selody graduated from the esteemed Humber College and even played a gig with world-renowned group BadBadNotGood on a European tour stop. Guitarist Chris Elms has been making hip hop beats his entire life. Drummer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Ross is a seasoned musician and has lent his diverse abilities to artists spanning multiple genres. Keyboardist Marcus Ward has honed his jazz piano skills while playing in a yacht-rock cover band Pleasurecraft. Needless to say, there is no shortage of experience and skill in this group.
Slack Bridges is all about combining different visions, influences, and styles and turning them into a unique cohesive sound. EP1 is the product of countless meetings and band practices hashing out exactly what that sound would be. Barr describes the approach as “destroy to create” – someone brings a small song idea to the table, and the band jams and builds on that idea as a group. It normally gets taken in five or six directions before they settle on a final idea.
“For a bunch of music nerds, it’s definitely a really fun way to compose, even if it means sometimes going crazy together,” laughs Barr.
EP1 is a groove-laden, intricately layered onslaught of soulful jams that are clearly the product of time, effort, and a lot of chemistry. Each track off the 4-song EP offers a display of each member’s strengths, at times allowing Barr’s bass lines and Selody’s ardent sax to take the lead it tracks like “Lion City” or Ward’s irresistible keys to reel us in on “All For You.” Gilmour’s deep and dynamic vocals tie it all together, offering daring melodies and smooth, seamless transitions between notes in the same vein as Leon Bridges.
After playing a handful of shows and releasing their debut, Slack Bridges is on the brink of finishing up the writing of EP2, another 4-track effort due out this fall. “We know that what we’re doing is unique to Ottawa and we wanted to get some recordings out ASAP,” explains Barr. “We figured that we didn’t need to wait until there was enough material ready for a full length.”
The band has stated that they’ll be refraining from releasing physical copies of their EPs, but you can hear everything digitally at http://slackbridges.bandcamp.com/.
This article is cross-published between Ottawa Showbox and Ottawa Beat, the city’s new music newspaper. Find it in issue 3 of the paper at various locations around town August 10th.