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.
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.
Busted limbs, broken noses, and a little bit of blood on the face is nothing out of the ordinary for Ottawa’s party punk rockers New Swears. They’ve just released a video for the track “Dance With The Devil” off of their new record And The Magic of Horses, and they crank up the gore factor to 11. That’s why we love them, along with the fact that their music will incite a party anytime, anywhere it is played. And The Magic of Horses is the band’s third full-length album, and their first with Dine Alone Records to be released June 23rd. The 10-track album is sure to be chock-full of summer party anthems with dirty melodies that beg to be blared in backyards across the country, which should go perfectly with the smell of barbecue smoke and pissed off neighbours.
The video’s timely release today also coincides with the Ottawa Senators’ first game of the NHL Conference Semi-Finals, a game which will surely have the streets packed with booze-filled hockey lovers. While we all hope the Sens avoid the kind of injuries that the band sustains in the video, we certainly wish them the best. Get amped up for the game and watch “Dance With The Devil” below, just make sure the kids are out of the room.
Don’t miss the New Swears Weekend happening at House of TARG June 23/24, they’re going full force with two record release shows back-to-back. Tickets available here.
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.
Jade Bergeron, a.k.a. Flying Hórses, has done things that few artists in Ottawa/Montreal have done before. Her 2015 album Tölt was recorded in Iceland at Sundlaugin Studio with the help of producer Birgir (Biggi) Jón Birgisson of Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. The album is, as far as we’re concerned, a masterpiece in its own right (read our piece on it here). The emotional, cinematic soundscapes crafted by Bergeron are moving instrumental pieces, and a few of the songs –”Tölt” and “Attic” – have recently been made into music videos.
We caught up with Bergeron and spoke with about her recent endeavours, and her new videos for “Tölt” and “Attic” can be seen below. Be sure to catch Flying Hórses’ JUNOfest performance on Saturday, April 1 starting at 8pm at St. Alban’s Church along with Her Harbour, Charles Spearin (Broken Social Scene), and Pugs and Crows and Tony Wilson.
What have you been up to since returning from Iceland? Can you talk a bit about your involvement with Banff Centre?
I’ve been pretty busy. I got back from Iceland just in time to perform my first two solo-piano concerts as part of the Festival de Jazz de Montreal. I spent the summer writing new material and collaborating with videographers.
I was invited to go work over at The Banff Centre in the fall. Waking up every morning to clean, fresh air, in the middle of the mountains, and to be surrounded by talented, inspiring artists was so amazing. I had my own studio, with a grand piano, harpsichord, vibraphone and a few percussive instruments. The other musicians in my residency we’re singer/songwriters and we’re working on two or three shorter songs, but I decided when I got there that I was going to compose one, longer instrumental, movement. I had written a small part of the new track over in Iceland but the entire rest of the movement happened really organically during my first week in Banff.
Being back in nature, really brought the song to life. I had heard about the residency through Charles actually, and being a fan of his post-rock band DO MAKE SAY THINK and of his work in general, I applied. I guess both himself and Brendan Canning thought I would be a good fit for the residency. I ended up meeting a classical guitarist and experimental cellist, Alex Mah out there, who was there working with Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire) and after hearing him play, invited him to record cello on my new piece. Charles played horns and a few other musicians also contributed to the movement.
I wanted the entire recording experience to feel organic, and stress-free. The new movement was mixed by Efrim (Godspeed You! Black Emperor over at Hotel 2 Tango in Montreal and I just got the master back from Biggi (Sigur Ros) in Iceland. It’s a pretty heavy listen, but it’s colourful and it represents a really important recent time in my life. We are shooting a short film/video for the single right now in Iceland. I’m very excited about the whole thing. It’s going to feature a very well-known actor/model in the Icelandic community, so I’m really glad to be working with this team, overseas. The new movement and video should hopefully be out in the spring.
The video for Tölt is a beautifully crafted, yet tragic story of two young people alienated from the world in different ways. Why were children the subjects? Can you expand on the concept?
I wrote ‘Tölt’ during a time of reflection on my own childhood. The entire record ended up feeling/sounding like a soundtrack to the past. I used a lot of instrumentation that represented the innocence of being young and wide-eyed. When Alex approached me with the idea of making a video/short film for that particular track, he already had a lot of great conceptual ideas, and before even bringing up what the track represented to me, he was already story boarding about a childhood trauma. We connected on the video, immediately.
My contribution to the video was limited. Once Alex and I went over the storyboard together, he began casting calls for the actors, and it wasn’t long before they them. Production spent some time in the fall working on production and the post-production happened in the winter. The whole process was really amazing. Both young actors really did a great job, and I’m so grateful for the level of professionalism the entire team demonstrated throughout. It’s been an honour working with all of them.
What does the piano mean to you? How has music helped you through past struggles and traumas?
My relationship with the piano has been a roller coaster since I was a kid. I’ve tried my hand at a few different instruments over the years, but my heart has always lead me back to the piano. It feels the most organic. I enjoy having the keys right there in front of me, I’m a very visual person. I really have no idea what I was doing with my life, before writing and composing music, and I don’t know what I would do without it.
Is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming video for attic? Will it be related to the story in Tölt?
Attic was produced by Antoine S. Legault from Lonely Fire Productions. The song is one of the last tracks on the record. I never really intended for it to end up there, actually. It’s quite dark, heavy and creepy and I think is a transition between the really optimist, innocent, lullaby songs that start off the album, and the new single I’ll be releasing sometime in the spring. I wrote it while I was reflecting on memories (much like Tolt). The video opportunity came about organically, this past winter. I sat down with Antoine back in December and we talked about making this short film/video that was kind of dark, creepy and mysterious. Coming out of a bit of heaviness myself, I decided to focus the story on loss and melancholy. Antoine came up with the storyboard and we shot the video in one afternoon in an abandoned house. It was freezing cold and creepy, but it was a really awesome experience.
What does it mean to you to be part of the Juno festivities taking place in Ottawa?
I don’t perform very often. In fact I pretty much only played festivals last year. My focus has mostly been on writing new material, and catching up on the release of the record. Junofest asked me to perform as part of the only ‘instrumental/experimental’ showcase for the festival. It will be fun to share the stage with Charles Spearin again, and a good friend of mine Her Harbour is playing too. It’ll be nice to see so many great musicians roaming around Ottawa for The Juno’s.
Ottawa’s droney post-punk outfit Expanda Fuzz has released a new video for their single “Sonic Halo.” The track appears on bandcamp along with a cover of Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “September” in the wake of founding member Maurice White’s death last year.
The track is a minimalist psychedelic trip, with rolling percussion, a fuzzy lead guitar part, and mesmerizing vocals by Niki. The video’s aesthetic is dark and ominous, taking place in a remote field at dusk and featuring characters with strange masks and costumes. The video is not as dark and creepy as their video for “Flavour: Zombie” released last year, and it also contains beautiful colours of the sunset. However, the smoke-breathing Grim Reaper-type character also leaves the viewer with chills down the spine, and it’s not the kind of figure you’d want to run into on a dark, empty farm.
Although the song is just over two minutes long, it’s great to see a video being made that perfectly suits the sound of Expanda Fuzz. This song could have easily been incorporated into season one of True Detective, or even Apocalypse Now. The video accurately reflects that kind of imaginary trip into the darkness.
Expanda Fuzz is playing JUNOfest March 31st with Dilly Dally, No Fuss, and The Dirty Nil at House of TARG. Ticket and wristband information can be found here.
Caylie Runciman a.k.a Boyhood has released a new video for “Drivin’,” the first single off her upcoming album Bad Mantras.
Bad Mantras will be the first full length by Boyhood since 2012’s acclaimed album When I’m Hungry. While the details of the new album are not yet known, “Drivin'” is a good snippet for those of us frothing at the mouth for more.
The majority of the video is set – you guessed it – in a car. Runciman cruises through icy streets of Hull on a cold Canadian winter’s night. The dreary, black and white shots are telling of the solitude that many of us feel during the long winters in the Great White North. Alone in her car, she sings and she cruises. The destination is unknown.
“Drivin'” was filmed by Ottawa videographer Travis Boisvenue, who has worked with Boyhood in the past, and has also shot music videos for The Yips, Bondar, The Acorn, Pregnancy Scares, Alaskan, and Steve Adamyk Band.
“The video is something Travis and I threw together pretty quickly, as is usually the case when we work together. I drove in to grab him and we headed to Hull in the cold,” explains Runciman.
The track has a classic feel to it, and her effortless vocals flutter melodically throughout the whole song. The distinctive heavy bass that we have come to love in Boyhood songs is the backbone, a gritty pillar for us to groove with. As it carries on, the track grows in intensity with more guitars and keys offering a heavy foot to put that pedal to the floor. Clocking in at just over 3 minutes, the song fades out just as a car would fade into the distance as it drives away.
“The song is fun and pretty positive in comparison to the rest of the album, which focuses mostly on the dark place I was in this past year,” says Runciman. “Drivin’ was written about a month ago and is more a testament to where I’m at now. The second single will be out soon! Just getting to work on the video. I can’t wait to release the album.”
With much anticipation, we wait for more material from Bad Mantras to be released over the coming months. Watch the video for “Drivin'” below.
The Steve Adamyk Band recently release a dark video for their ripping track “Swallow You Whole.”
The video kicks off with a girl waking up and making herself a hotdog for breakfast, topped with sauerkraut – like a champ! The video then follows the story of this girl who seems pretty low on life and goes around holding up corner stores and liquor stores, only to then end up in a cemetery gazing up at the sky singing “swallow you whole.”
I really like the work they put into the ending with the changing colours and the utter despair on the face. And this pull it all off in just over two minutes. Oh the beauty of punk rock and Steve Adamyk Band. Overall it is a pretty cool shot video for a great track.
While not video related, I do have to say that I love Mike Krol‘s voice! I have been saying how perfectly it fits on this track since the first time I heard it.
Check out the video below and then go see Steve Adamyk Band headline a MEGAPHONO show Thursday February 2nd at the Dominion Tavern, which feels very appropriate. Information here for the show.
Malak Ghanem – as a musician, simply known as Malak – has one of the most powerful and impressive voices I have heard in all my years of going to concerts in Ottawa. And now with the new video for her song “Mannequin,” she has some dazzling visuals to accompany it.
Much of the video is shot in the picturesque fall setting of Gatineau Park, specifically at the beautiful Carbide Willson Ruins. If you have never hiked there, I strongly recommend making the trip any time of year. It is one of the many hidden treasures of the Ottawa-Gatineau region.
As the song progresses, the video jumps from dance-inspired chase scenes as a man chases Malak throughout the ruins, to shots of Malak standing in front of ruins and waterfall belting out the song like only she can. “Mannequin” is the first song on Malak’s debut EP Circus which was released last year. Watch the video below watch to find out if Malak is caught by the person chasing her.
Be sure to go see Malak live during MEGAPHONO on Wednesday, February 1st at Le Petit Chicago (info here) and fall in love with her voice in person.
Ottawa’s very own Harea Band just released a new video for their soulful slow burn of a track “Please Hold.”
Sometimes a music video doesn’t have to be complicated. Have the band set up in a simple room and watch them jam out to a track they wrote and love and let the song do the talking. That is exactly what the band did for “Please Hold” with some help from local mister do-it-all Jeff Watkins.
There are a few creative elements beyond just shooting the band playing, such as a phone on fire, but the beauty of this video is the KISS strategy. Keep it simple stupid. Just wonderfully shot video of the band playing and singing along. I must admit though, my favourite part is the look on the guitarist’s face during his solo… priceless. Well don’t just take my word for, check it out below and groove out with Harea Band.