Another year in the books for music in the nation’s capital and another year of countless great releases. This list is in no way a complete and exhaustive wrap up of all this city had to offer, but simply a listing of the 17 albums and EPs that stood out and really captured our attention over the calendar year of 2017. Check them out below, have a listen, get out and support local music. We can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store!
Top 17 Local Albums of 2017
Mushy Gushy – More Butter
Released: July 7, 2017
What is butt rock, you may ask. Well, Mushy Gushy’s sound can best be described as a good blend of experimental garage pop with the occasional hint of surf rock. It makes for good time rock that makes you smile, bob your head, and maybe even sway your hips. It’s perfect for those hot summer days on the way to the beach, but also excellent for those warm summer evenings on a patio or at a cottage. […] It is not always about complicated progressions and incredible prose—sometimes the best medicine is music you can just put on and sing along with while you relate to what the writer was feeling at the time. — Excerpt written byEric Scharf
Telecomo – For Sale
Released: June 6, 2017 (Record Centre Records)
I think the world could always use some more fun and punchy garage rock, and that is exactly what this band is offering us. The simple chord structures, unflashy vocals, and lo-fi aesthetic give Telecomo a genuine throwback feel. The Detroit garage rock gods of the 80’s would surely open their scuffed, wrought iron gates for Telecomo. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
Slack Bridges – Joy of Joys
Released: November 11, 2017
[…] everything Slack Bridges has put out since their inception has met a seemingly self-imposed benchmark of production and musicianship. Their debut full-length “Joy of Joys” is no exception. The album was self-produced by the band at Swell Studios and received some esteemed TLC from Phil Bova at Bova Lab Studio, and Jason Jaknunas at Metropolitan Studio. It features a veritable roller coaster of soul (I’m not gonna say soul-er coaster), both lyrically exploring themes of struggle and searching for hope, but also exploring different aesthetics and dynamics musically. — Excerpt written by Anthony Cardozo
Heavy Medicine Band – ERSATZ ERA
Released on: April 22, 2017 (Record Centre Records)
Of all the bands making music in Ottawa—or even Canada, for that matter—the Heavy Medicine Band is pursuing a style and sound that is wholly their own. It’s phsyc-rock dipped in folk noir, driven by the profound lyricism and vocal prowess of Keturah Johnson. On their debut full-length ERSATZ ERA, the band weaves together texturized soundscapes that could be the soundtrack of a dream…or a really good trip. They build on and expand upon the foundation laid out on 2015’s Conduit EP, paving a path for listeners to get lost deep in their world. The intricate and reverb-laden instrumentation are a foundation of the album, often droning into the fringe of our imagination on tracks like “teeth” and “breath.” Johnson’s remarkable voice cannot be understated, however, and this band’s undeniable chemistry makes them one of the most exciting in town. — Matías Muñoz
Tapas – s/t
Released on: November 17, 2017
Tapas is the name of a new hip hop trio in Ottawa, but they’re anything but rookies. The group consists of two of Ottawa’s finest MC’s—G.Grand, and Hyf—along with locally-renowned producer Jeepz behind the beats. Together they are a force to be reckoned with. Their self-titled debut may very well be one of the best hip hop records to come out of the capital in the last five years. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
Moonfruits – Ste-Quequepart
Released on: May 12, 2017
The husband and wife duo Moonfruits released their second full length album this year. Ste-Quequepart is a 10 song French-language folk concept album that plays like a short film soundtrack and really emphasizes the couple’s voices and lyrical content. Their beautiful and powerful voices which complement each other so well are on display from the get go in the title track. While the music and instrumentation of the album is rather simple, at times just a banjo or a guitar, you never feel like anything is missing. Much of the album is a little laid back, however my favourite song “Le Maire” picks up the pace and teleports you to a kitchen party or a campfire jam with charming clapping and great sing a long moments. Have a listen to the album Ste-Quequepart on a cold winter night, close your eyes and let Moonfruits take you away to a different place.
Galapagos – Potential Space EP
Released on: June 13, 2017
The final version of Potential Space was recorded on an afternoon in May, 2017, with Cameron Steacy (Organ Eyes) both playing drums and recording the EP.” You can hear some of their folk beginnings in the second song “What I Deserve,” but you can also hear Steacy’s influence throughout the EP, especially on “Again” combined with the band’s vision to really make it a fuller sound. Steacy has recorded, mixed, and mastered other Ottawa artists such as The Yips, Bonnie Doon and Fire Antlers.
Potential Space is a great starting point for a band that has already seen several members changes and has grown from two-piece to four. I really enjoy how much diversity of sound they fit into a four song release and see much potential in all the different avenues for the sound to continue to grow. — Excerpt written by Eric Scharf
Bonnie Doon – Dooner Nooner
Released on: May 21, 2017 (Record Centre Records)
Masks. Clouds of smoke. Decked-out pickup trucks. Skulls. These are all reasons to love Ottawa surf-punk queens Bonnie Doon. But there’s so much more to them than that. Their brand of fuzzed-out, bass-heavy sludge-rock is meant to captivate audiences and shock the senses. Their energy, weirdness, and overall “we do whatever the fuck we want” attitudes are what really define this group as something special.
Bonnie Doon’s latest album Dooner Nooner (released on Record Centre Records) is an acid trip through and through, and will take you from heavier face-punching tracks like the opener “Haunted Life,” to wild lo-fi experiments like the closer “B-Hole.” — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
Dead Weights – Mountain Arresting
Released on: August 1, 2017
Mountain Arresting is a big step forward for Dead Weights, and clearly the product of a lot of work. The band strikes a balance of heavier guitar and bass parts with melodic flourishes, all woven together with rough and grumbling vocals of Jonathan Becker and Steve McCrimmon. Their signature sound comes through loud and clear on this record, as they tightened up their instrumentation even more and obviously had some chemistry in the studio. It doesn’t hurt that Dead Weights have been playing together for years, with lots of shows under their belts in recent memory. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
Nightshades – s/t
Released on: November 15, 2017
Nightshades’ self-title release this year was their first full-length album. There has been some change in membership (Dean Morris joined them on bass) since their last release and also some slight change in sound. The band’s sound is a lot more mature and refined in all the best ways. They have kept true to their garage origins, but come at it a little cleaner and polished than past works. The track “Very Blue” sticks out in particular on the album as it appears to me to be the song that best encapsulates their transition from old to new Nightshades. “Very Blue” has many of the raw elements and darkness of older Nightshades while still very much being new and a step forward. Lead singer Mallory Giles’ vocals sound better than ever on this release and really shine on tracks “Wasting Time” and “Broken Bag.”
— Eric Scharf
New Swears – … and the Magic of Horses
Released on: June 23, 2017 (Dine Alone Records)
And the Magic of Horses is another fun-filled record featuring tons of sing along and clapping moments, with sprinkles of mosh-inducing build ups, group harmonies, and fun riffs to carry you through the summer. The opening track “Dance With the Devil” sets the stage for the whole album, as it has a little bit of everything mentioned above. It doesn’t take much to see how they could spice it up even more and have some fun with it live.
This album goes well beyond their usual focus on all-day partying and raucous—but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of that, it’s just not the focal point of every track. The band explores more existential subjects like life, death, friendship, screwing up, and legacy. It is great progress to witness, and what it is even better is how they have done it without losing their edge and fun which they have become synonymous with. — Excerpt written by Eric Scharf
Area Resident – Delano
Released on: October 13, 2017 (Record Centre Records)
Some may recognize Doug Hempstead’s voice as the dependable CBC radio traffic reporter here in Ottawa. But when he’s not on the airwaves talking about crashes and delays, he’s making music under the moniker Area Resident. The album is all Ottawa Valley, and a perfect mixture of the folk songwriting and crunchy alternative instrumentation that great artists from this area have pursued in the past. Hempstead himself is a talented multi-instrumentalist, and on stage he is the drummer lead vocalist. He is also supported by guitarists John Higney (The Flaps, Two Minute Miracles) and Paul Jensen, and bassist Kristy Nease (who also happens to be his CBC cohort). Delano draws on Hempstead’s experiences growing up in the valley outside of Pembroke and the things he’s encountered as a journalist. He expertly weaves together these anecdotes into poetic lyrics, imposing them into songs that aren’t tethered by a singular genre or stylistic direction. This album is full of life and demands to be listened to over and over again. — Matías Muñoz
Dark Plains – 00001
Released on: October 29, 2017
The Dark Plains is a band whose members have been making music for a long time, featuring ex-members of Okara and Shotmaker, who were relatively well-known acts in the 90s post-hardcore scene. While their experience extends beyond two decades, these guys are making fresh-sounds that contains elements of punk and hardcore, but the songs take their own trajectory all together. 00001 is an album that requires deep listening, and demands one’s total attention. — Matías Muñoz
Lake Urmia – Wine Time
Released on: June 16, 2017
Lake Urmia is a newer melancholic queer-pop band in town that is making serious waves, and their debut album Wine Time brings together warm tones and jangly riffs for us to grab and hold on to. The album was self-recorded by band member and vocalist Elsa Mirazei, and they also mastered it along with Chris Love of Pith and the Parenchymas. This DIY production gives the album a wonderfully imperfect quality, where the listener is given a raw and unrefined collection of beautiful (and sometimes sad) songs to ingest and mull over. The unrefined aspects of this album are what make it so easy to connect with, and Elsa’s soft vocal melodies are so naturally interwoven into the instrumental parts. Fans of Julien Baker and Frankie Cosmos will fall into the arms of Lake Urmia with ease, and we’re really excited to see what this band is going to get up to in 2018. — Matías Muñoz
Cody Coyote – Mamawi
Released on: November 1, 2017
Cody Coyote has exploded onto the hip hop scene over the last few years, and has garnered a lot of well-deserved praise for his recording and vivacious stage performances to date. The rapper is of Ojibwe/Irish decent with ancestry from Matachewan First Nation located in Northern Ontario, and has been writing music since the age of 16. Mamawi is Objiwe for “all together” in English, and the album combines extraordinary lyricism and storytelling with a range of modern hip hop and experimental beats. The album itself is centred around reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous people, togetherness, love and unity, and tackles some difficult issue involving the history of oppression and abuse of indigenous peoples that continues to this day. Not only is this album integral in today’s political conversation surrounding indigenous rights, but Cody Coyote is following the trail blazed by Ottawa’s A Tribe Called Red and his voice is one that we should all be listening to. — Matías Muñoz
Outside I’m a Giant – Point Comfort
Released on: October 7, 2017
The intricacy and scrupulous instrumentation that is woven throughout Point Comfort is made immediately apparent, and the cinematic qualities that each song contains evokes moving imagery draped over emotions. Caron’s deep, rumbling vocals compliment the storytelling and instrumentation beautifully, grasping the listener in a comforting way while guiding us through the tumultuous journey. In some ways it is reminiscent of The National’s Matt Berninger, and Caron similarly utilizes his vocal prowess in ways that indulges the eardrums without overpowering the gentle instrumental moments, or distracting from the tapestry created by the strings. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
PINE – Pillow Talk EP
Released on: June 9, 2017
PINE has released their first album 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 are raw and untethered pieces that use intricate instrumentation and emotive lyricism to create a powerful experience for listeners. — Excerpt written by Matías Muñoz
We’ve compiled a few albums that were either too short to meet our 4-track minimum, or didn’t quite fit into our top 17. Here are some honourable mentions worth listening to.
Her Harbour – Go Gently Into the Night
Gianna Lauren – Moving Parts (Forward/Record Centre Records)
Beau’s Oktoberfest kicks off this weekend, Sept. 22-23, in Vankleek Hill, just under one hour outside of Ottawa. It is an epic two day celebration of craft beer, local food and of course music.
We have been going for years now and having the best time year after year. Last year members of Showbox entered the team challenge and came out victorious. We will be defending our title this year if you happen to be around early Saturday morning.
More importantly, we figured that this year you should get to know the bands that will tickle your ear drums while we suggest beer pairings, suds, that will also tickle your taste buds. Here are some of our recommended pairings:
Flight Distance with Three Knocks
Friday – 7:00 PM on the Black Forest Stage
Flight Distance seem like the odd band out as the only hip-hop act playing the festival. This makes them a rare breed in the midst of all the rock and roll, which makes pairing the trio with Three Knocks, a special, rare version of a German-style altbier perfect. I know they won’t be intimidated at all and will carry the flag for Ottawa hip-hop with pride when they hit the stage. So while they spits slick bars you should hit the bar yourself and get wild and freaky with Three Knocks.
NOBRO with Spiced Principle
Friday – 8:20 PM on the Black Forest Stage
My favourite song by these rockers is “Call The Doctor.” Spiced Principle is a complex and lively beer which features a mortar and pestle on the label, tools traditionally used in pharmacies to crush various ingredients to fill your prescription after your visit to the doctor. So take a trip to the Black Forest Stage to come rock out to NOBRO and sip on some Spiced Principle to cure what ales you.
John K Samsom and the Winter Wheat with Maple Rush Porter
Friday – 8:45PM on the Main Stage
Sure pairing the Winter Wheat with a wheat beer would make a lot of sense here, but John K Samson, formerly of The Weakerthans and Propaghandi, is Canadiana and Canadian-indie music at its core. And what is more Canadian than maple coffee beer? Nothing. So Friday night when the sun goes down and you’re ready to be swooned by the lovely musical stylings of John K, order yourself a Maple Rush Porter and toast this living legend of Canadian music.
Dead Tired with Vambrace
Friday – 9:15 PM on the Black Forest Stage
A Vambrace is a piece of armour, most specifically a piece that protects the arm. Now I don’t know how much a pilsner will protect you, but you certainly might need some armour to survive the onslaught from this hardcore band lead by former Alexisonfire frontman George Petit. I do however know that this crisp, refreshing and easy drinking beer won the 2016 Beau’s Oktoberfest homebrew contest and will make for a great late night drink while you headbang to Dead Tired.
Jon Creeden and the Flying Hellfish with Lug Tread
Saturday – 3:45 PM on the Black Forest Stage
The Lug Tread is Beau’s flagship beer, tried tested and true. This makes it the ideal pairing for Jon Creeden and the Flying Hellfish as they are an Ottawa Showbox favourite who are always refreshing, never disappoints and great at anytime of the day, just like Lug Tread. So make sure to be there early enough on Saturday to enjoy this pairing under the hot afternoon sun.
Partner with Farm Table: Hopfenlager
Saturday – 4:30 PM on the Main Stage
The Hopfenlager is taking something common, like a crisp and refreshing lager, and spicing it up with herbal flavours and aromas. Partner have taken rock and given it their own original fun take, while breaking down barriers and also spicing it up with some herbal aromas from time to time (check out their song “Everybody Knows You’re High”). So try a new beer while enjoying a new twist on an old classic.
Julie and the Wrong Guys with Jänis
Saturday – 5:30 PM on the Main Stage
First off a juniper beer named Jänis just has to be paired with Julie given that I’m a sucker for alliterations. Julie is of course Julie Doiron, an award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter from the Maritimes, who along with her band will continue to rock the main stage following Partner. The music will make you bob your head and even hop up and down, possibly like the rabbit on Jänis’s label.
The Planet Smashers with Parliament of Trees
Saturday – 6:45 PM on the Main Stage
Parliament of Trees’ label has a space ship on it and the beer has a hint of campfire in every sip. The Planet Smashers are one of Canada’s greatest and longest standing ska bands around. Their super fun approach to ska will make you want to dance and sing, the perfect activities for around a camp fire with friends.
The Creeps with Sergeant Stripes
Saturday – 7:50 PM on the Black Forest Stage
This export stout is dark as the night and deep in flavour. It promises to keep you warm while the ghastly punk rock stylings of The Creeps give you shivers under the moonlight. This beer and band pairing might just have you howling at the moon as you cap off your Oktoberfest 2017.
For more information on the beers themselves, click here.
We hope everyone attending has a wonderful, safe and responsible time at Beau’s Oktoberfest. And for anyone that doesn’t have a ticket yet, I believe some are still available here.
Saturday night at CityFolk delivered. Throughout a jam-packed lineup that featured not one but two performances by Fred Penner (the later performance was just for adults), there was no shortage of quality in spite of the quantity. Father John Misty’s thunderous closing set was backed by an opening lineup seemingly hand-picked to complement the dynamism and stage presence of Mr. Misty. This was a night of huge personalities performing captivating sets.
At first glance, the odd man on the schedule was Penner, whose musical stylings are most often associated with the children’s section of Chapters or CBC in the 90s. But there seems to be a very strong contingent of Fred Penner fans amongs those of Father John Misty, and nostalgia was strong on the air as a hanger full of nineties kids belted out “sandwiches are beautiful, sandwiches are fine” as a 70-year old man serenaded them.
Penner’s set was wholesome fun. He puts on a great show, and is still just as charismatic as he was when his catchy-as-anything kids tunes first hit the playgroups. He has the energy of a man still doing what he loves after what he admits is quite a long time. Forgetting the lyrics to the second verse of a song requested by an audience member he exclaimed that he hadn’t played the song in 30 years, something of which most of the room’s occupants had no concept.
Also on the Ravenlaw stage, Common Deer played a dream-poppy dynamic set, with long harmonies over tight beats and fantastic musicianship across the stage. With cello, guitar, keas and violins blaring, the group is a great example of what can be achieved when innovative musicians approach indie rock tropes. Also, their name is good.
On the City Stage, The Philosopher Kings capitalized on a bit of the nostalgia thrown into the air by Penner. The Canadian band, best known for their cover of the Godley and Creme song “Cry” in 1998, is staging a comeback with the release of their first album in eleven years and a stylish new music video for the song “Still The One” (no, not the 1998 Shania Twain song).
The Kings put on a great show, and frontman Gerald Eaton proved that the 90s are most certainly not dead with his Timberlake-esque dance moves and microphone technique. To their set, there could be no greater contrast than that of Corb Lund and Ian Tyson which followed. The two legends sat throughout a beautiful set of country and blues tunes, harmonies echoing across the Lansdowne lawn. The audience followed suit, sitting in rapt silence as two of the greats did their thing. But soon the stage cleared for the main event.
Father John Misty is a thing to behold. So much could be said of his look alone. The bearded, longhaired man in tight pants and a sport jacket look has taken off in large part due to this man, and I can confirm that many people at the concert on saturday were sporting said look. It’s a good look, don’t get me wrong. But no one wears it like Father John, whose real name is Joshua Tillman.
Interesting side note about Josh Tillman: he has played in many of your favourite bands, including Fleet Foxes, Pearly Gate Music, Demon Hunter and many more. To me, Father John Misty seems like a persona of his, to which I attribute much of the over-the-top theatrics associated with the act.
That look of his features heavily in the show he is putting on. We know this because at every opportunity the lighting director (excellent job, by the way) found a way to backlight Father John so as to emphasize his form as he danced wildly, throwing his arms up like Michael Jackson used to do.
Misty himself takes on a role similar to that of a cult leader, asking his followers to eschew the foibles of modernity (cell phones, texting, etc.) and play acoustic guitar in heels. It’s a little funny to be lectured about modern life by a walking brand, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe the hipsters are onto something after all.
Unfortunately for Yours Truly, Matt Mays was so crowded no one was able to get in. I’m sure he was very good.
A few weeks ago, my friends and I went to the Horticultural Building at Lansdowne in Ottawa for the Ukrainian edition of Ottawa Welcomes the World. We were treated to two great sets of live music by some of Ukraine’s finest, ONUKA and Mad Heads… for free.
Ottawa Welcomes the World invited embassies and high commissions to mark their country’s national celebration in Ottawa with free events which highlight their nation through food,art, music and more. I had no idea about these events and I have clearly missed out on a lot of really fun days and nights, but lucky for me my buddy invited me to go check out Ukraine.
The evening started with a sand art performance where the artists moved sand around on a back-lit platform creating beautiful images to tell the story of Ukraine and Canada’s connection. All of this accompanied by a violinist. It was very impressive and visually stunning.
Mad Heads, from Ukraine, performing at the Horticultural Building in Ottawa.
After a few speeches from very distinguished guests, including the ambassador to Canada, it was time for the music. Up first was Mad Heads—a ska band and the reason we were there. Little did I know they had been performing and releasing music for over 25 years and 8 studio albums. They were high energy and a lot of fun. I didn’t understand a word, other than their cover of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” but their music was infectious and had us dancing.
ONUKA, from Ukraine, performing at the Horticultural Building in Ottawa and putting their big “horn” on display.
Headlining the night was ONUKA. ONUKA, which means granddaughter, are an electro-folk act and were introduced as a band with chart-topping hits all over Europe. The band has four main members, a singer/wind instrumentalist, keyboardist, percussionist and a banduryst (which is one of the coolest looking instruments ever with so many strings). For their live performance they also had a three piece brass ensemble with a french horn and two trombones. During some songs one trombonist switches to this massive 10 or 12 foot horn. All of this was performed in front of an ever changing video screen ranging from the abstract to animals. All that to say that it was quite a sight to see and even better to hear. One of the most touching and heavy moments was when they performed a song “Vidlik.” Lead singer Nata Zhyzhchenko simply introduced the song saying “let’s all pray for the victims of 1986,” which was a reference to the Chernobyl disaster, the biggest disaster in the country’s history.
All the great music was complimented by traditional Ukrainian food, including perogies and cabbage rolls, as well as Lvivske—a Ukrainian beer which traces its roots to a monastic beer of 1715. It was an amazing night and of this is a sign of what to expect from other Ottawa Welcomes the World events, I strongly encourage you to check them out.
It was a soaking wet night Friday night at RBC Bluesfest which saw sets cut short due to lightning crashes and torrential down pours.
The lightning had seemingly finally taken a break as headliner Live took the stage in the rain. They kicked things off with “All Over You” from their seminal sophomore album Throwing Copper with the opening line “Our love is like water,” which was very appropriate seeing as how the rain came down harder and harder. Hundreds of us decided to head to the beer tent for cover in hopes the rain would subside, but unfortunately it didn’t slow and the thunder returned. Three songs the band was pulled off stage and all the screens at the festival read “CAUTION” and asked us to exit the grounds. I was pretty disappointed, but completely understood. They had great energy and most likely would have put on a great show, but Mother Nature had other plans for that night. The following day organizers announced that anyone with a day pass for the Friday show could get free entry to either Saturday or Sunday which is quite a nice gesture given that the weather is completely out of their control.
Anderson .Paak was really into it at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa. Photo: Els Durnford
Before Live and the terrible weather arrived, we grooved to Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals on the Claridge Stage. Paak is a little bit of everything—he is a singer, songwriter, rapper, record producer, ,very talented drummer, and an entertainer. Standing on an riser at the front of the stage, .Paak danced and smiled ear to ear the entire time. When he wasn’t dancing at the front of the stage he was behind the drum set for a couple songs showing that he is far from a one-trick pony. The crowd was feeling it and we were dancing up a storm to tracks from his hit album Malibu including the extremely popular “Come Down.” Unfortunately we must have been dancing too hard as the storm began to loom. .Paak was asked to leave the stage as a storm was coming, which he did hesitantly. I don’t remember that ever happening at a festival. Usually it a set is stopped due to inclement weather, not imminent weather. The lighting did eventually show itself and rain began to fall but not for another 10 minutes, which could have allowed 2 or 3 more songs. I know safety is very important but it didn’t seem consistent with other stages and acts.
During the pause the crowd broke out into a couple of sing alongs including “Twist and Shout.” Paak did return to the stage after about 20 minutes and clearly didn’t cool off. He jumped right back behind the drums and they launched into the super dancy and fun “Put Me Thru.” He then said “We don’t have much time so we are just going to skip right to the party” and played “Am I Wrong” as he stepped out from behind the drums and really got us all moving. It has been a while since I have danced this much at a festival show. Even with delays, .Paak and The Free Nationals were certainly my highlight of this year’s Bluesfest. This is the hip-hop I am looking for and the kind that is pushing the limits and creativity. I can only hope that it continues to grow and take space from trap, turning trap into a phase we will look back on like rap-metal.
Hugh Dillon of The Headstones rocking out at the RBC Bkluesfest in Ottawa. Photo: Els Durnford
Getting things started for me on this night was Kingston’s very own band The Headstones. Formed the year I was born (1987), the band is celebrating 30 years as one of Canada’s most influential alt-rock bands and provider of Can-con on radio stations across the country. Going into the show, I pretty sure I knew a few songs I could sing to, but once they started playing it was like riding a bike and I knew the words to almost every track. Lead-singer Hugh Dillon makes use of all the space at his disposition going all over on stage and off, heading into the camera pit by the second song to high-five fans and get closer to them. They threw in some excellent transitions to other great songs. For example, while playing “Settle” they flowed right into The Tragically Hip’s “Blow At High Dough” and later on they played a punk rock cover of Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler.” My highlight of the set was when Dillon went over to one of the camera men on stage and said “your shoulder must be tired let me take that for you,” taking the big camera onto his shoulder and pointing it at the crowd before the band played “Smile and Wave.” The band still rocks, still puts on a great show and I am very glad I caught them on this tour.
During Ottawa Explosion’s fourth day, the outdoor stage at Club SAW was rocked by the Mint Records Showcase featuring The Smugglers, NEEDLES//PINS, Tough Age and Expanda Fuzz.
The iconic Canadian garage rock band The Smugglers headlined the wonderful evening. The band from Vancouver, BC existed from 1988 – 2004, and just recently reunited for select shows in 2017. Lead singer Grant Lawrence, who many know as a host on CBC Radio 3, is wildly energetic and engaging as a frontman. He kicked off the show by saying: “Ottawa, it is so good to be back in the city that birthed The White Wires, Stand GT, Resin Scrapers, The Creeps, Million Dollar Marxists, Tokyo Sex Whale and so many more!” That was quite the tribute to the locals here, and many of the aforementioned bands had members in the audience. He continued “Since the last time you saw us in Ottawa we have had nine children and one heart attack.
They call themselves a rock n’ roll band, which they most certainly are, with hints of surf and very danceable garage (maybe those terms weren’t cool back when they were). Their sound is amazing and infectious and had people dancing and singing along non-stop. I try to make a point to not comment on a band’s attire, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the full suit and rubber boots look sported by many of the members.
The band played a high energy 12-song set featuring “Vancouver BC,” which Lawrence mentioned “was almost a hit on Much Music,” the International Smuggler Dance Competition judged by the drummer of NEEDLES//PINS and “Booze” which was dedicated to the drummer of The Gruesomes, a band from Montreal that changed Lawrence’s life, who happened to be from Ottawa. They closed with “Rock n’ Roll Was Never This Fun” and thanked us all for attending what could be one of the last Smugglers shows ever. It is bittersweet that my first Smugglers show may be my last, but I’m ecstatic that I got to see them play my favourite festival.
NEEDLES//PINS took to the stage before The Smugglers and were full of apologies from the get go. After playing their opening song “Drop It” they said “Feels so good to be back, I can’t believe we missed an Explosion I’m sorry. We will never miss another.” I sure hope the Explosion team holds them to that as I love knowing I will see this band every year. Before launching into “Best Friend” they urged us all to high-five our best friend which was a really fun moment to watch happen all around them in the packed Club SAW courtyard.
They also played a bunch of music off their new record, Good Night, Tomorrow, which hadn’t been released yet but is now available. The new tracks sounded great and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the album. Their set featured one of the cutest and most heart-warming moments of the festival. Not everyone knows that even though the band is from BC, one of their members is from the Ottawa Valley. Emmanuel Sayer (OXW organizer) noticed some of the family members, mostly older, sitting by the stage during the set and ran them over some earplugs. What a gentleman. It is always awesome to see NEEDLES//PINS perform, they are incredibly talented but also just such nice and positive people.
Tough Age, formally from Vancouver and now based in Toronto, played Ottawa Explosion again and are becoming a festival mainstay. The new-ish, stripped down three-piece (formally a bigger band) have really embraced some post-punk influences and sound with their new music, such as the song “Not That Bad.” I, and a couple of people I was chatting with, really dig it. One of the things that blows me away about this band is how the guitarist and bass player just switch instruments back and forth throughout the set. I have massive respect and am in awe of bands that can do that, it’s just wild. Member Jarrett Samson said in closing, “I’m excited to see NEEDLES//PINS and if they don’t play “Drop It” I’m going to burn this tent to the ground.” Lucky for him and all of us, NEEDLES//PINS opened with “Drop It” as mentioned and we all avoided a catastrophe.
Opening the Mint Records Showcase was local duo Expanda Fuzz. I was unfortunately running late and missed some of their set, but as always what I did hear was most excellent. Their fuzzy and drone garage style sound has this perfect slow crawling build that leaves me wanting more. In a short time as a band, they have already released a bunch of great music, but I am constantly going back to the first song I heard them play “Flavour: Zombie.” Every time I see them perform that song I get a big smile on my face and have to bob my head. I’m glad that even arriving late, I managed to catch it.
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
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.
JUNOfest kicked off Thursday with a few shows around town, and I decided to make my way to Zaphod’s to check out Operators along with supporting acts Charly Bliss and Potential Red.
Juno fever was in the air, and you could feel the excitement building in the city. The first act to hit the stage was a newer post-punk group in Ottawa called Potential Red. I’d heard about these guys through the grapevine but hadn’t seen them before, and they impressed everyone in attendance with a strong set. There aren’t a lot of Ottawa groups writing songs in the footsteps of late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s post-punk and new wave bands, and these guys do it right.
Right away Potential Red captured the audience’s attention and held on tight as they blasted out heavy bass-driven grooves layered with reverb-laden guitars and flutters of synth throughout their songs. Dare I say that lead singer David Sklubal’s moves on stage were reminiscent of Ian Curtis’, frantically exuding his energy into the crowd and getting the front riled up. I heard some of A Place to Bury Strangers in some of their songs, which I certainly connected with. Sklubal nearly broke the neck of his guitar as he jumped around on stage, just before launching himself into the crowd with reckless abandon. This is definitely a local band to keep an eye on, their live performance is not to be missed.
Next up was Brooklyn, NY grunge-pop band Charly Bliss. The four-piece churned out the kind of power-pop that we all know and love, channeling a sound that many of grew up with in the 90’s. Front-woman Eva Hendricks stole the show with her stage antics, having fun with the set and luring the crowd in with her energy. In all honesty, this is the kind of band I’m skeptical of going in. Having not heard their music before, I felt like they might toy with my emotions and try to pull some nostalgic strings without executing it properly. This happens sometimes. I was admittedly looking for something not to like about Charly Bliss, but one can’t help but fall in love with those catchy hooks, overzealous performance style, and honest songwriting delivered with a bow on top into our eardrums.
The band’s stage chemistry was obvious, and it wasn’t difficult to tell how close they are. They have opened for Veruca Salt, Sleater-Kinney, Tokyo Police Club, PUP, and are currently touring with Operators. Needless to say, catch Charly Bliss at small venues while you can because I have a feeling they’ll be playing bigger clubs any day now.
The headlining act Operators hit the stage as the crowd packed in tight. I would be remiss to leave out that I am a huge fan of Dan Boeckner – he has the Midas touch and all of his projects rule. I’m one of those old Wolf Parade fans that fell in love with Handsome Furs, and then Divine Fits, and then Operators. I’m sure there are a few curmudgeony Wolf Parade die-hards that don’t like the direction he’s gone in, but I for one am excited to see him playing with new toys and collaborating with great musicians such as Devojka and Sam Brown. I had the chance to chat with Boeckner last year, an interesting piece which you can read here.
Analogue synths abound, Operators’ modern take on post-punk has really taken shape over the last few years. This was the best set I have seen them play yet, and the road has surely tightened up their live performance. Boeckner’s comfort in this role is evident, and the smile on his face suggests that he’s loving every second of it. The songs off of Operators’ debut LP Blue Wave translate extremely well live – it’s part 80’s new wave, part dream pop, part dark post-punk – but whatever you call it, it works.
A couple highlights of the set were their performances of “Cold Light” and “True,” each of which electrified the room and got the crowd into a frenzy. Some of their songs had the audience a little unsure of themselves with respect to their dance moves, but the bodies kept flailing nonetheless. Sam Brown’s dialed-in drum beats were mesmerizing – even I got lost in his incessant, fixated rhythms. Devojka’s electronic wizardry provided the high-voltage energy of the set, complimenting both Boeckner and Brown perfectly.
My favourite part of the night was when Operators were cheered back onto the stage for an encore, during which they played a Handsome Furs track “Damage” from 2011’s Polaris-nominated Sound Kapital. I left with a smile, as night one of JUNOfest set a pretty damn good tone for the rest of the festival.
2017 is a big year for Canada as we celebrate our 150th anniversary as a nation. The epicentre of the nationwide party will be Ottawa, and Bluesfest falls smack-dab in the middle of the summer to help with the festivities July 6–16.
This year’s lineup contains a broad spectrum of artists, including some big time headliners that range from the roaring tunes of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to the searing sounds of Grammy award-winning Flume. Petty hasn’t played Ottawa since 1981, and it sure as hell feels great to have him back. Not to mention that many folks thought they’d never get to see indie/electronic group LCD Soundsystem play again live, but they will be keeping the beat going this summer at Lebreton Flats.
It’s exciting to see such talented local groups such as Malak, Slack Bridges, Telecomo, Mushy Gushy, and more get a chance to play the big stage as well. Audiences are in for treat with the local lineup this year.
Listen to Mark Monahan discuss this year’s Bluesfest lineup on CBC here. This schedule is updated as of April 13, 2017. Lineup is subject to change at any time by the festival.
Acclaimed RnB sensation Anderson .Paak added to the lineup. He will take the stage with his band the Free Nationals on July 14.
BAND DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979
BLAST FROM THE SUN
TOO SLIM & THE TAILDRAGGERS
TEGAN AND SARA
TOO SLIM & THE TAILDRAGGERS
BREA LAWRENSON BAND
LYNNE HANSON AND THE GOOD INTENTIONS
THE ANGELINA HUNTER TRIO
RIISHI VON REX
GARY CLARK JR.
THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS
ALAN DOYLE AND THE BEAUTIFUL GYPSIES
THE CAMPBELL BROTHERS
OLD MAN GRANT
THE GLORIOUS SONS
A TRIBE CALLED RED
JESSICA PEARSON & THE EAST WIND
WIDE MOUTH MASON
THE CAMPBELL BROTHERS
BUSTY & THE BASS
HOW FAR TO MEXICO
TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS
THE RIOT POLICE
THE SOULJAZZ ORCHESTRA
BLUES & COMPANY