The mind of a creator can be complicated. The web of ideas and emotions that is spun making a record can take time to unravel, and this was the case with Steve St. Pierre‘s new album Stubborn Romance.
I’ve known Steve to be a wonderful artist, designer, musician, and person over the years. His work, no matter what form it takes, offers meaning through simplicity. He has the ability to boil down complex stories into a tangible message, a palatable serving for us to digest.
Stubborn Romance is a record that St. Pierre has been working on for seven years. A lot can happen in seven years. I’ve admired his candidness when discussing his struggles with mental health, as difficult as that can often be. The album delves into some of these struggles, but never without some of his dry humour and foul mouth poking through.
“…these songs. It needs to be said: they’re a bunch of assholes. They’re culled from over 400 voice memos I had lodged on my hard drive… That’s not meant to sound impressive. That’s mania.”
Stubborn Romance is gentle and devastating all at once. The album is an iceberg that requires a few listens to understand its true depth. There is no fancy production on this one. It’s rough, but honest. Ultimately, this album’s strength comes down to just that—truth. His unhindered exploration of his own struggles tell a story that many of us can relate with, navigating the tribulations that life inevitably hits us with.
Stubborn Romance was released back in September with an intimate performance at The Black Sheep Inn, and I chatted with St. Pierre about how it finally came to be. Have a read and stream Stubborn Romance below.
What was the impetus for Stubborn Romance? Can you take us through the back story a bit?
This record came out of both excitement and exhaustion. I was excited with how much I was writing, but I was exhausted with how much I was writing. I would record these half-baked ideas on my old iPhone and “My Recording 26” or whatever would get stashed away and I’d smoke another joint and write twelve more of those and forget about them in an hour.
I got frustrated with myself and called myself an asshole and decided to beat a record to death with a baseball bat. So I dug through the gross pile of demos and chose a bunch of guys that came and went and came and went and came and went until 13 decided to stick around and challenge me. And they did. But I came out on the other end with something I’m pretty proud of—particularly because I’ve never recorded a record on my own, but also because of the amount of honesty on there.
This album took you a long time to write. What made you take your time for this one?
I wish it felt like I took my time. There were too many periods of mania where I would sit and record 6-12 versions of each song. There was an entire record trashed because I was buried in the Barr Brothers for a minute and then realized I don’t have the talent or production skills to pull off the sounds I was hearing. Honestly, if I hadn’t booked my release show at the (Black) Sheep months ago, I’d still be working on this thing and I’d probably have my head permanently implanted in the desk in my studio.
I stopped when all the songs made sense. When I was finally able to understand the words that come out of my stream-of-consciousness/bullshit way of writing and form some lines that connected and made sense to me and what I was trying to get across. When the songs made sense, and with a few nudges and maybe even slightly terse words from my partner, I finally brought these 13 songs where they needed to be over a week and a half.
You’ve said that the songs are a product of over 400 voice memos and years of gathering your thoughts. How did you ultimately decide which songs made the cut onto Stubborn Romance?
The tracklist was the hardest part. There are so many fallen soldiers. So much so that there’s another release planned before the year is out. That’s besides the point. This album is a product of both too much time and procrastination—ultimately, the 13 are the ones that I felt best represented me and my place as a person and musician. I was able to find a whole lot of honesty in sorting out these tunes, and it feels good to stand behind each of them still, some as old as 10 years at this point, and still have context and understanding for where the root of the song came from. That sounds so convoluted. I’m so sorry.
Mental health is something you describe as a topic that circles the album like a vulture. It’s not an easy thing to talk about, let alone express through songs. How does mental health play into your songwriting process? And what do you hope others who are struggling take from Stubborn Romance?
I’ve always been a bit of a big mouth. I appreciate the art of talking shit. But after years of just glancing over my depression and issues with anxiety, I decided to finally kick the door down and try understand exactly why I feel like a bag of shit everyday. “Decided” might not be the right term. I think “it was imperative that I seek help” fits the bill a bit better. And with the help of some off-brand SNRIs, I’ve started to wade through the weeds and make sense of this sickness that has affected me in some way shape or form since I was six.
I can’t not bring that into my writing. It’s me. These songs wouldn’t be so fucking sad if I didn’t struggle with this horseshit ailment everyday, but I do, and so those lemons are gonna get squeezed. And I hope people understand that. And I hope those that suffer a) won’t get too bummed out by the record but b) that they can find a bit of themselves in there.
Now that Stubborn Romance is out into the world, what’s the next chapter in your story?
I mentioned an EP. That’ll be happening before the year is out. I don’t want to call them castaways from the record, they just didn’t fit the narrative. I think there might be some gems in there. But I’m excited to take my own pace with this. A mix of tortoise and hare. Music finally feels like its getting fun again, and I kinda want to bathe in that for a second.
Anything else you want to mention?
Supporting local isn’t a new idea, but I really want to encourage people to take in at least one live show a month. Date night with your partner. Solo night to have a beer and enjoy some good music. There is no shortage of talented, interesting artists in this city that, like you, just want to be a part of something a bit bigger than themselves. One night a month. Go.
The Weather Station is the modern folk project of Toronto’s Tamara Lindeman, whose music and voice are all at once potent, mesmerizing, and refined. Her fourth, and possibly most impactful, record to date is a self-titled release from late 2017 that explores bold narratives and untethered arrangements. The record itself is a tour de force, and was received with high critical praise almost unanimously, with Pitchfork calling it “Timeless… Measured, perceptive storytelling. A singer with an unmistakable & communicative voice, able to convey hope & hurt with equal clarity.”
The Weather Station plays the NAC’s Azreili Studio on Friday night, and more ticket information can be found here. I spoke with Tamara about the latest record, and you can read that conversation below.
Interview with Tamara Lindeman
Your latest self-titled album feels like it is a culmination of something. Can you talk a bit about how this 4th album stands out from the rest in terms of the conception and approach?
I think it stands out in a lot of ways. I think it’s the first time I really had a clear vision for the sound of the record, and the arrangements going in. It’s very sprawling compared to my other works, there’s a lot going on. I let it be that, instead of cutting things down to be more concise.
You self-produced this one. What was the reasoning behind that?
In a way it was a simple decision. There are always opportunities to work with other people, but I think it wound up being a positive decision. There are challenges too, especially towards the end when you can get really bogged down in mixing and mastering the project. It can be a bummer to not have someone else making decisions, but ultimately I think it was a really good thing.
You have mentioned you wanted the record to be a rock and roll album without the rock and roll. There are few artists who are able to root their music in traditional folk influences without getting firmly stuck in that box. How do you feel your music is evolving as you move forward in your career?
Yeah, I agree with you. It’s too bad that folk music gets stuck there and it’s something that I think about a lot. But honestly, I just pretend that I’m not making a folk record. Then it winds up seeming like a folk record because of the melodies and the way I go about music is so ingrained that it kind of evolves into that. But there are elements on this record that differ. For example, there’s a song with a rock and roll rhythm section with a folk melody on top. There’s also another that could be an Irish sea shanty.
So I was really thinking melodically folk, rhythmically something else. I think lyrically if I wrote about a train in the pouring rain then I would just die. There’s no point, there are hundreds of those already and we don’t need another one of those in our lives.
I’m always interested to hear what musicians are listening to these days. Is there an artist or band that you’ve been listening to a lot?
I always get into a lot of Toronto music to be honest. I really enjoyed the Bernice record that came out, I’ve really loved that band for a long time. I felt like that record really captures their essence and what they’re like live. There’s music from my friend Isla Craig that I really loved, too. Those are the newer records that I’ve been hanging onto. Oh yeah, and Sandro Perri has a new album out, too, which is exciting. I always like to check out the cool indie rock records coming out, but oddly enough I don’t usually like the things I would normally be expected to like. I’m drawn to music that’s not in the same genre as me.
You’ve talked about how this album came together after a period of intense worry and anxiety, which is something a lot of us go through. But out of that came your boldest and praised album to date. What allowed you to move past that difficult time and got you to start putting together the songs?
It was a long and complicated process. I kind of felt like I had to unravel my personality and belief systems. They were so interwoven with so many things I consider to be myself, it was like pulling on the poison thread, you know? It’s a very painful process to try to unbraid it, and really try and find your belief system. So it was that, and more practical things.
A big part of coming out of that was being on tour and being in a band. For a lot of people touring can be really unhealthy, but for me it’s good because it gets me out of my head. It gets me into a social space that I wouldn’t normally seek out. Anxiety is about fear, and to do something fearless like make a record, it’s like showing yourself who’s boss. If you do something courageous, that can change your fear. It was all connected for sure.
Last week, the Sam Roberts Band returned to the capital and played a big set at an outdoor stage on the Algonquin College campus. The Canadian rock icons were joined by up-and-comers Birds of Bellwoods, from Toronto, and The Riot Police, from here in Ottawa.
Our photographer Aidan Thatcher was on-site to catch some great shots from the night. Have a look at the gallery below.
The third edition of Hopped and Confused music and beer festival at Mill St. Brewery in Ottawa was once again a great success thanks to incredible sets by Bedouin Soundclash and The Rural Alberta Advantage and the amazing sound quality.
Bedouin Soundclash—yes that band whose night felt the song years ago—are still at it and still making crowds of people dance the night away with their signature upbeat reggae-rock vibes. Their set was a great mix of tracks from more than a decade of music featuring, but much to my liking focused largely on tracks from Sounding Mosaic and Street Gospels which featured most of my favourite songs. It was a lot of fun to dance to tracks like “Shelter,” “Criminal” and their partial cover of The Clash’s “Guns of Briston” which they perfectly spliced into another track. And just when I thought I might go home without hearing my favourite track “Jeb Rand” they dropped it on us during their encore under the shiny bright moon.
Paving the way for Bedouin Soundclash was one of Canada’s best bands and possibly best kept secrets, The Rural Alberta Advantage. This three piece performs with such a full sound you would think they would have to be at least five members to do what they do. Their songs have great range from their slow opener “White Lights” off of their new album The Wild, to more rocking numbers such as “Don’t Haunt This Place.” The band provided a perfect mix of new and old to give something to fans new and old. And they certainly crammed in a lot of music given that they weren’t the headliners. The Rural Alberta Advantage also found the time to play my favourite track, “Frank, AB” which I strongly recommend you give a listen. The wonderful performance was capped off with “Terrified” off of their 2014 album Mended With Gold, which gave the drummer one last chance to show off and for the band to treat the crowd to one last set of gang vocal “wooo” and “ohhhs.”
I arrived a little late so only caught a little of Caveboy’s performance but really liked what I heard from them and unfortunately completely missed Birds of Bellwood. That being said, lucky for you our photographer Aidan Thatcher did not miss a beat and captured the great shots below of all the bands.
Ev has synesthesia, and they incorporate their sensory experiences into music reviews. Synesthesia is a condition in which the brain links a person’s senses together in a rare manner, prompting unusual sensory responses to stimuli. People with synesthesia, for example, might see a certain color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet. Those who experience synesthesia “hear colors, feel sounds, and taste shapes” in a remarkably consistent fashion.
The first band to rip open the night was Spell Runner, from Albany, New York. Their wild playing bordered power punk and garage punk, teetering from one to the other. The drumrolls, guitar riffs, and throaty screams melded together and created a chaotic unity.
The guitar playing was of higher pitch and let loose. Each stroke came quickly after the last while leaving a resonance that echoed in the background. Deconstructed and split into two parts, the guitars seemed to squabble with one-another whilst adding a spacey sci-fi-esque sound to the songs. It painted the atmosphere with several shades of electric green, and yellow. The solos were rapid and executed with ease. They provided teal splashes and they drew you in.
The vocals dominated with the throaty screams that ripped from the lead singer. They created the illusion of the instrumentals mellowing out around them. Amidst the technical issues, the stage presence and sheer power of the screams were enough to get people moving and thrashing. The wild screams blasted bursts of irritated reds through the soundscape and allowed for rusty oranges to come through in bubbles.
The bass rumbled in the background and incorporated deeper greens due to the heavy weighted tone. It wasn’t quite warm but it droned on, having kept a steady tempo while snapping in an aggressive edge. Buried in the midst of mass amount of noise, it found a way to stand out and rattle your ribcage.
The drumming remained warm and hollow. They didn’t boom and cling to the air. Instead, the sound fell short, one beat after another. The fills and rolls tied the songs together in a grimy fashion. Tainted in raw golden orange, sunset yellow, and yellow-green, the drumming provided something to thrash to while maintaining a welcoming presence.
Next up was Ottawa’s own thrash metal band World War 4. Crossing over to punk and doom metal, the band brings forth something unconventional yet they do it in such a way that it blends together near perfectly. The fusion of chaos and disorder find a mutual unity within this bands music.
The guitar progressed with violent chugs of muted chords that would unleash themselves wildly, deep navy blues and lime greens taking over progressively. The riffs had a sharp tone to them and splashes of celeste would spray across the field of vision. Meanwhile, the bass found a deep rumble in the background and served to stabilize the wild guitar riffs. It too was played without mercy and with brutal ferocity. It was the steel blue backbone to the mess.
The vocals cut in with brutality and rage. Throaty and as rough as the guitars chugging, they showed absolutely no mercy whatsoever. The vocals cut in with rusty oranges and brutal murky yellows. The sounds ripped from the very back of the throat were a deep stark burgundy, contrasting with the tones of the guitar.
The drumming was quick and each beat fell viciously after the next, having melded into a disarray. Vehement, the crash of the cymbals was brutally cold and sprayed trails of teal across the field of vision. Meanwhile, the snare and the toms found a thick, full, warm sound that couldn’t be ignored.
The last band of the night was High Command. Dissonant aggression and tight drumming, slow buildups, and wild basslines, the band did not disappoint.
The vocals came from exhaled screams, and quite literally ripped themselves free from the lead singers body. They were meant to comes out. Matched to the overall intensity, the seasick green that erupted from the vocal stylings was incredible. Backed by the enraged reds of the power chords, there was nothing held back. Every ounce of energy and soul was thrust into each song. The guitar playing was quick in tempo, and there was much tremolo, despite this, the hostility did not waver and only became more prominent.
The bass seemed to follow the guitar but would rip out its own deep solos that couldn’t help but catch my attention. Adding to the thrashing, it provides a depth to the pieces. Brutal, brisk, and murky, the swampy colours it radiated fit perfectly together and created a backbone to the guitar.
The drums were boney and full. Cold and thrashing, they held absolutely nothing back and gave everyone something to headbang to. The sheer frosty feeling they possessed took over the atmosphere and really drove the moshpit home. The brutality was remarkable and there was nothing quite like it.
A crossover show of punk and metal is something that is generally turned down or slightly frowned upon but I must say that these bands absolutely throw those notions out the window. They are must sees that will inevitably change your viewpoint on the genre.
The group consists of multi-instrumentalist Zachary Perron and songwriter/vocalist/synth player Amanda Lowe, who have come together once again to bring us a larger-than-life album that transcends sonic boundaries. On first listen, Collapse seems to inherit much from its predecessor in the Novusolis catalogue—the exceptional debut entitled Fevered Dreams.
However, when listening closer, there are some specific features about Collapse that set it apart—not only from the group’s past work, but also anything else that the nation’s capital has to offer.
Collapse is the product of some very clear growth by the band. It is an expansion of their sound, and a refinement of their approach and arrangements. Novusolis create an ethereal soundscape from which the listener can bask in, layering reverb-heavy backing synth parts with staccato guitar and restrained percussive elements. This is particularly evident in tracks such as “Closer” and “Collapse.”
Lowe’s vocals are the element that, for me, tie the whole thing together. While her voice offers a delicate cushion for the listener to fall back on, it is also a powerful and emotionally impactful aspect of the album. Lowe’s songwriting emanates her experience and growth as a musician, as she harnesses her own strengths and combines them more effectively than ever with Zachary’s instrumentation. The arrangements are complex, and truly create a dream-like atmosphere throughout. While I’m not particularly familiar with the genre of post-rock, their music certainly reflects the grandiosity of artists such as Sigur Rós and Explosions in the Sky. I’m sure that anyone who has an appreciation of those bands will fall into Novusolis with great ease.
Be sure to keep your eyes and ears out for live show announcements from Novusolis, as their live performance is something you don’t want to miss. Have a listen to their album Collapse below.
Last weekend was stacked with good shows. No matter what I chose to do there was an equally solid show happening elsewhere. One of the options was Mushy Gushy, No Aloha, and Casa Lagarto at Black Squirrel—and there are no regrets.
The night started off with friends hugging and smiles abound. It’s always nice to see a lineup where the bands know each other or have worked together in the past. The weather was warm and soggy, but the sky was clear and folks began to trickle in as local garage-psyche marvels Casa Lagarto took the stage.
Casa Lagarto is a mashup of well-seasoned artists in the community, including Jonny Yuma (formerly of The Yips), Arturo Portocarrero (Lost To The River), Grant McNeil (Tropical Country), Jason Barkhouse (Black Lab Studios), and Jonathan Pearce (Winchester Warm/Mushy Gushy) filling in for Travis Kinnear who just recently celebrated the birth of his first daughter. Their set was tight and their arrangements came through crisply into our ears.
Casa Lagarto at Black Squirrel. Photo by Matías Muñoz.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—Casa Lagarto’s music could be the soundtrack to a Hunter S. Thompson novel. I mean that in the best way possible. I feel like their music would fit perfectly into an acid trip on a desert highway in Nevada somewhere. Casa’s sound is clearly influenced by psych and rockabilly, taking elements from various styles and making them their own. Johnny Yuma’s low, brooding vocals enthralled the audience and his exquisite clean guitar tone could give you goosebumps. Jon Pearce filled in perfectly, and somehow knew the songs like the back of his hand. Some key tracks they played were “Lights Out” and “Scarecrow,” and I highly recommend you go dive deep into Casa’s albums on Bandcamp. The group layered their sound well in the live setting, using the intimacy of the bookstore to enhance their individual instruments to create a warm and rich atmosphere for us all to enjoy the show.
Next on deck was No Aloha, a summer-friendly garage rock group from Montreal that has some loving fans here in Ottawa. As an aside, we presented No Aloha at Mugshots back in 2015 along with Bonnie Doon and Nightshades and it still remains one of the funnest shows we’ve ever done to date. They are fresh off the release of their new EP Cigarettes for Optimists and rocked the house at Black Squirrel.
No Aloha at Black Squirrel. Photo by Matías Muñoz.
This group may seem like a bunch of slacker rock dudes, with their long hair and rarely-groomed faces. However, they’re anything but. This band is well-rehearsed and have a chemistry that is instantly noticeable when they hit the stage and start playing together. With flying guitar riffs, impactful percussion, and Ben Griffiths’ smooth vocals, this group injected some energy into the room. They dug into their impressive catalogue from the past few years throughout the set and pleased the audience and got some bodies moving. Black Squirrel is a versatile venue for all kinds of shows, and the place was perfect for the diverse sounds of this lineup. Lets hope these dudes come back to Ottawa soon, because they’re a party.
Last up was Mushy Gushy, an Ottawa “butt-rock” band that takes a fun spin on rock and roll. While it’s hard to imagine these guys ever not having fun, this night was bittersweet. Kyle Woods, the original drummer and founding member of the band has recently moved to Toronto and got a job there (congrats to him!). But the show must go on. Thus, this show was to be his last as he moves on to new journeys. While this kind of mutual parting is difficult for friends and band mates, it was clear that the sweet outweighed the bitter. Kyle was radiating smiles and hugs, and obviously this was to be a memorable night for him and the band as they decidedly wanted to end his tenure with a bang.
Mushy Gushy consists of more music scene veterans here in Ottawa—bassist Jon Pearce (Winchester Warm), drummer Kyle Woods (fmr. Kalle Mattson), guitarist Cory Lefebvre (fmr. Baberaham Lincoln), and vocalist Dave Gervais (fmr. The Gallop). But more than anything, this group of buds just wants to have fun, and that is evident in their compositions. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and that’s refreshing.
Mushy Gushy at Black Squirrel. Photo by Matías Muñoz.
The ‘Gush have released two excellent EPs so far since coming together in 2016—Tight Snake and More Butter. I just can’t wait to hear what their third release will be called with titles like that. We presented their tape release party at Bar Robo a few years back, and let me tell you—it was a time. Kyle carried the whole set through, and he played the drums more fervent than ever. His rhythm was flawless and his beard was flying to-and-fro to the uptempo rock and roll his group performs. Cory’s fluttering guitar riffs flew over Jon’s steady bass lines as the tracks kept the crowd energized and engaged. They had the crowd singing the irresistible catchy “Oh Oh Ohs” in “Heartbreak Motel” and had booties shaking during “Summer Lusting.” Closer to the end of their set they played their most well-known jam, “Schemestress,” at which point the night hit its climax. The song is a feel-good summer tune, and the hook will grab you and hold on tight. David Gervais’ songwriting is on point, and his vocals add the finishing touch to their part pop, part-garage rock sound with just enough catchiness and grit to go around. All in all, it was a night of good vibes and good memories were made.
Hip hop is like any other genre in the music industry. There are some real artists that work hard and pay their dues to bring listeners and fans material that is impactful in one way or another. But there are a lot of people out there that find shortcuts, step on others in their community, and rip off material to get ahead, too. That’s the music industry, in any genre—it can be a dark, dark place.
Buck n’ Nice is a group that consists of two entities. On one side there is producer, beatmaker, Cypher radio host, and DJ—DJ So Nice, who has been cutting his teeth in the art of hip hop beats since he was 13 years old. He’s a huge grassroots community supporter who throws some of the best parties in town, not least of which is the monthly Hip Hop Karaoke at Elmdale Tavern. On the other side, there is Sawbuck—a proven MC who came from difficult circumstances and worked his way to where he is now. His honesty and untethered lyricism fist in seamlessly with his masterful delivery, digging deep into his hip hop influences such as Mobb Deep, EPMD, Wu Tang, and Gang Starr.
That’s the subject of Ottawa hip hop duo Buck n’ Nice’s new album EMAG. Good hip hop is clever with words (obviously), and it took me a second to realize what “EMAG” actually meant.
“After getting our feet wet with our debut album, we learned from the inside out how backwards the industry is,” they say. “It’s a machine filled with appropriation, shortcuts to success and all-around deception. This is the theme of EMAG, an album titled so because the GAME is backwards.”
With the duo’s sophomore release, they aren’t mincing words or beating around the bush. Having gained momentum in Canada’s hip hop landscape with multiple releases since 2014, Buck n’ Nice have taken from their real life experiences in the music industry and applied them to their new record. It doesn’t take long for them to sink their teeth into the subject, as they dive right into it on the second track, also called “EMAG.”
It’s important to mention that although this concept may sound jaded or negative, I don’t get that sense when listening to the album all the way through. They’re not saying “fuck the music industry” per se—they’re pointing out the problematic parts of it, the deception and fakers, the toxic people and money that drives a lot of the music made in it. To me, what goes part-in-parcel with these criticisms are the things that do matter in music—things like community, real life experiences, people’s everyday struggles, and most of all, valuing more than just money when making art. One of my favourite rhymes from the album is from the track “Leader”, which goes “What’s the difference between me and you? I see the bigger picture, you crop the image just to see the view.”
On EMAG, the duo collaborate with talented artists such as Prufrock Shadowrunner, REKS, Freddy Printz, Whitney Delion, Cheko Salaam (a.k.a. Hyf), as well as Patience and Bender of Flight Distance (RIP Bender), among others. These guys are part of a hip hop community that is stronger and more cohesive as ever. On tracks like “Le Coeur” with Cheko Salaam, both he and Sawbuck bounce words off each other, with rhymes that weave seamlessly and that effectively builds the climactic pillars on the album. In “Ocean or Shallow End” with the guys from Flight Distance, So Nice slows things down and the sample includes strings. Their metaphor of “Ocean or Shallow End” comes across effectively, and hits the listener right in the face. The brilliance with tracks like this is that although the beat is more restrained, the rhymes and lyrics are highlighted to an even greater degree. The same can be said for “Three Sides” close to the end of the album—there’s no letting up here.
After giving EMAG a few listens, any hip hop fan should know that these guys are for real. There’s no filler. There’s no bullshit. Buck n’ Nice had something to say and they did that by packing all of their ideas into an album with a tonne of dynamite and then lighting the fuse. The result is an intelligent, groove-laden record that pays homage to hip hop of old, while keeping true to their own style and modern interpretations of rap. This album will stand the test of time, and will surely make waves across communities in Ottawa and the country as a whole.
Buck n’ Nice are officially releasing EMAG at a party called ANIMAL HOUSE this Saturday, July 28th at The 27 Club (27 York St.), where a triple album release will be taking place. Other releases at the party will be the Feel EP by Freddy Printz, and SpaXe Camels by Missing LinX. Needless to say, if there’s one party you don’t want to miss this weekend, this is it.
Stream EMAG below or click here for full list of streaming links. Check out their full album video on YouTube here.