Saturday, Day 4 of CityFolk was wild and jam-packed with shows all over. Of the numerous acts playing around the area, I caught Of Monsters of Men, Evening Hymns and Will Butler at CityFolk and Lost to the River, Steamers, Jon Becker and the North Fields, and Jack Pine and the Fire thanks to Marvest.
After a very busy Friday, I was back at it Saturday and ready to go. The day started off with Will Butler, member of Arcade Fire and brother of Win Butler. His solo project is quite different from Arcade Fire, but every once in a while you can hear a little Win in his voice. The electro-pop sounds were very welcomed on a nice sunny afternoon. Opening with possibly my favourite track “You Must be Kidding,” the fun dancy electro moments with female backing vocals sometimes teleported me to watching Handsome Furs live. It was a very entertaining set by a group I hadn’t given enough time to yet. I will fix that.
I had to cut the Will Butler set short because Evening Hymns were beginning at the Raven Law stage. Riding high off the release of their brand new album Quiet Energies just one day prior, Evening Hymns played an absolutely beautiful set. Evening Hymns is the creative adventure of Jonas Bonnetta, and featured talented local musicians John Hynes and Pat Johnson.
They opened with the first song on the new album, “If I Were a Portal” which included a sweet bongo solo by Hynes. Bonnetta wanted to let Ottawa know just how special we are to him. “This is our CD release of sorts,” he said. “We came here before Toronto just so you know,” he added with smirk. The band played more songs off the new album as Bonnetta told stories about the album and specific songs throughout the set. The song that really struck a chord was “Rescue Team.” Bonnetta introduced the song saying that they were about to slow things down, and with such a beautiful and moving song he can slow it down anytime.
As the sun gave way to clouds that kept getting darker and Evening Hymns finishing up, I made my way to The Sheepdogs. Well, for a little bit. I tried to get into it and understand what the huge crowd toughing out the rain were into, but alas I could not. I decided instead to go check out locals Lost to the River instead. Sitting down with friends, sipping on local craft beers and watching the band for the first time since taking on their new sound and new name (formerly Miss Polygamy) was quite nice.
The five piece is led by a charismatic Sean Tansey on guitar and vocals. The band featured some great musicianship with excellent banjo, violin and pedal steel guitar which is always a treat. This was also an album release of sort as the band launched it self-titled six song EP. Great to hear live versions of “Bloody Mouth” and “Eternal Space Trip.”
It was now time for one of the biggest headliners of the festival, Iceland’s best known export since Bjork, Of Monsters of Men. The band was very excited to be playing Ottawa for the first time since forming in 2010. Lead singer and guitarist, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, made sure we knew. “We are so happy to be in Ottawa and we are not going to let a few drops of rain take us down.” They wasted no time playing big hits like “Mountain Sounds,” “King And Lionheart” and “Crystals” in the first half of the set much to the joy of the thousands in attendance. Don’t worry, “Little Talks” made an appearance later. The band played a great set and made everyone it ever rained.
It was now time for me to leave CityFolk and go immerse myself in Marvest. First stop – The Unrefined Olive. Yes, that’s right, an olive oil and balsamic tasting bar where one of our local favourites Steamers was playing. The band was dressed to the nines as many of the six-piece had been to Jon Creeden’s wedding earlier that day. Something about them all decked out and the fact that we were surrounded by fancy olive oils and vinaigrettes really added to the moment. Steamers were on point as always opening with “Years,” and getting the crowd really into it with “Head North” and “Stay Here to Bleed.”
Just as quickly as my time with the Steamers began, it ended as I headed over to Original Burger Joint for Jonathan Becker & The North Fields and Jack Pine & The Fire. We were packed in pretty tight for some great folk, delicious burgers, and crisp local craft beers to end the night. Jonathan Beck & the North Fields also very well dressed, and were very well received by a crowd of people mostly hearing them for the first time. You can’t talk about Becker and not comment on the awesome rasp to his singing voice. He has surrounded that voice and guitar playing with other very good musicians. It was a great set as per usual.
Finishing off the night was Jack Pine & the Fire. The band was playing as a three-piece on this night, featuring acoustic guitar, electric guitar and a double base. They kicked things off with one of my favourite tracks of their’s “Lost in New Orleans.” A great track to set the tone for their performance. The folk and alt-country band were all smiles and thanked the crowd. “This is great, one of the best crowds in a long time.” They also had great news that a new album, the first since 2011, is being released September 25th at St. Albans Church.
St. Alban’s Church hosted the first performances of the inaugural MEGAPHONO Festival last night and what a way to start! Getting things going was Hull’s experimental psych-rock group Scattered Clouds. On this night they were a duo (usually a three-piece) with one on synth, knobs and various other technologies out of my scope, the other on a guitar going through many different effect pedals and both contributing vocals it was quite a musical experience. On a night where Last Ex was playing, which features two members of Timber Timbre, it was very fitting to hear Philippe Charbonneau‘s deep voice on songs like “People Walk,” as it kind of reminded me of Timber Timbre’s lead vocals. It really worked well in the dimly-lit church.
Evening Hymns playing St. Alban’s Church during MEGAPHONO in Ottawa, ON. Photo: Eric Scharf
“Welcome churchgoers,” said Jonas Bonnetta, lead singer, guitarist and mastermind of Evening Hymns from Mountain Grove, Ontario. “Get a little closer now, we are going to play some new songs.” And so they did. The folk-rock four-piece played several songs off their upcoming album Quiet Energy, due out “this summer-ish.” New tracks that really stuck out were “Evil Forces” and “House of Mirrors.” Bonnetta claims not to be a joker, but he certainly doesn’t struggle with banter between songs. His skills were called upon on this night as early during the set there were technical difficulties with the bass and patch chords. He entertained with a story about a dirty joke he heard from a drunk uncle of the bride at a wedding, but didn’t tell the joke as that would be too rude. He also mentioned that “not that you’ll have much sympathy for me but I threw my back out snowboarding behind a Ski-Doo and, well, I am quite sore.” When they got back to music, Evening Hymns later played the very moving and emotional song “You and Jake” which Bonnetta introduced by saying “This song is about my brother… it is always nice to play it in a place like this, and I want to dedicate it to Jon Bartlett.” The set was capped off with Bonnetta alone on stage performing a solo rendition of the title track off Evening Hymns incredible album Spectral Dusk.
Last Ex getting all experimental during MEGAPHONO at St. Alban’s Church in Ottawa, ON. Photo: Eric Scharf
After a short turnover, Last Ex took to the stage and simply put, melted my brain. They play a really cool and out there instrumental music that blew me away. This was the coolest and most captivating instrumental performance I have seen since Explosions in the Sky. They were a three-piece, guitar, drums and keys, for most of the set but a violinist joined them on some songs and took it up another notch. The entire set had me in a trance of delight and constantly wondering where they would go next. Wonderful job, gang. With no microphones to speak into, drummer Olivier Fairfield addressed the crowd by speaking into the microphone of his left-hand tom. As they were about to launch into their final track, Fairfield said “Thank you, this is our last song and let’s all go to TARG after.” For a better understanding of Last Ex check out their video for “Girl Seizure.”
With all the music done it was time to hit the Rideau Canal, don our skates and head to House of TARG for more music. We started as a small group of three, but caught up with some other MEGAPHONIANS on their way and grouped up. It was a lovely intermission before The Yips and Fet.Nat tore it up at TARG.
Several brave music junkies making their way to House of TARG via the Rideau Canal during MEGAPHONE Festival in Ottawa, ON. Photo: Eric Scharf
Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars capped off an awe-inspiring lineup at St. Albans Church last night, which also featured wonderful sets from Evening Hymns and Bosveld.
Arboretum had the pleasure of presenting Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars perform the album they released 15 years ago. The album, which you can stream here, is full of emotional ups and downs which resonated powerfully in the great acoustics of St. Albans Church. They did not perform the album from start to finish, but I am pretty sure they played every song and it was great. The soothing and honest voice of Doiron was complemented excellently by the musical stylings of Michael Feuerstack, Josh Latour, Andrew McCormack, & Julien Beillard.
There is something kind of cool knowing all the songs that will be played but just not the order, as Doiron put it “you don’t want to be too rehearsed.” The song that really impressed was “The Best Thing for Me” which has great lyrics and has even better unorthodox messy guitar solos which were so fun live. Another great track was “Au Contraire” — c’est toujours bien d’entendre une chanson avec des paroles francophones.
After playing “The Second Time,” Doiron took off her guitar to prepare herself for the final song, one where she simply sings. People misinterpreted this jest and began to leave. “Look at that, I took off my guitar and everyone was like bye,” said Doiron with a smile. They sure missed out, as the band played the final song off the album, “Sweeter” which features great back and forth vocals between Doiron and the guitarist. Doiron and the band tried to leave the stage afterwards as it was getting rather late, but they just could not resist the standing ovation by the sellout crowd. They played a Wooden Stars’ original “Outlaws,” followed by Doiron’s “Will You Still Love Me in December.” A perfectly chilling end to an amazingly hot night at Arboretum.
Evening Hymns at St. Albans Church in Ottawa during Arboretum Festival 2014.
Before the reunion could take place, Evening Hymns took the stage. There was something so fitting about a band so named to play in a church. The set was full of new songs, they actually opened with three of them in a row. Lead singer and guitarist, Jonas Bonnetta, cracked jokes between most songs and seemed to be having a great time. Commenting on the sweat-inducing heat in the church, “everyone who complained about the cold weather, you are eating your words now. Or am I the only one feeling the heat right now, is it a religious thing? Because I see a lot of you in sweaters.” This was their first show with their new drummer, Ottawa boy Pat Johnson. There is a very noticeable dichotomy between their new music and older pieces. New songs like “Hiss at Mirrors” are upbeat, feature three vocals and are more rocking, whereas the older music is much heavier emotionally and a little slower paced. It all makes for a beautiful mix.
Bonnetta provided one of the most memorable live music experiences as he shed tears while the band performed “You and Jake.” The song is off of the bands powerful and moving album Spectral Dusk, which is an album about Bonnetta losing his father to a very rare blood disease. It was one of the most emotional and human moments in music I have ever witnessed.
Bosveld at St. Albans Church in Ottawa during Arboretum Festival 2014.
Opening the festivities was Ottawa’s very own Bosveld. The band looked in great shape, playing their homecoming show and last stop on their bike tour which took them as far as Hamilton, ON. They toured as a duo, and have often played as such in Ottawa, but on this night they were a quartet and it was magical. The four-piece gives the dreamy trance even more depth. Seeing them perform in the house of the Lord only adds to the reverie. Bosveld are the most whimsical band in Ottawa and they are only getting better. They played some songs off of their Catalysts Mixtape and some off their upcoming LP Veldbrand, set to released by the end of this year or the start of the next.
It makes all the sense in the world for an Ottawa concert to begin at the pulpit of a late 19th century Anglican church and culminate with a fight in the depths of the Dominion Tavern.
Ottawa-based independent record label KELP celebrated its 20th anniversary on May 31st with a brimming sold out concert at St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Sandy Hill. Eleven bands and individual artists from across the label’s roster performed, including the Hilotrons, Jim Bryson, Andy Swan, and The Acorn.
As a newcomer to the live music scene in Ottawa, I was mostly excited to see so many local performers in one night. By the time things got nasty at the Dom however, the collaborative spirit of KELP 20 had proved to be much more than just another show to see on a Saturday night.
Miche Jetté of moody Flecton Big Sky kicked off the evening, building the intimacy with an initially meek audience. Dropping an obligatory mention of beards and razors, Jetté’s confessional lyrics set the tone by announcing, “I’m in the house of the Lord but I’m dripping with sin.” Stray murmurs on the sacrilege of rock concerts in churches from the guy with his dirty feet splayed on the pew beside me made for a timely segue into Jetté’s “The Devil Is On My Trail.”
Local singer-songwriter Andy Swan ushered in a growing audience with odes to Jesus and starfucking. Banditas followed, rumbling in with a raunchy set of punk, and an assailing cry of “fuck all you warlords” on their crowd-favourite single “Tubular Balls.” By the time Chris Page performed a punchy set of alt-folk, the halls of St. Alban’s were resonating with a solid roster that spoke to both KELP’s small-town Maritime-influenced character, and the filthy DIY attitude that roots the label firmly in Ottawa.
Jonas Bonnetta of Toronto’s Evening Hymns made impressive use of improvised beatboxing by a young man known only as Ian. Looping samples captured right there during his performance, Bonnetta gracefully improvised against technical difficulties and retained the emotional delicacy of his album Spectral Dusk.
Jim Bryson playing at St. Alban’s Church in Ottawa. Photo: Ming Wu
More dancing and imbibing was wrought upon the church by Andrew Vincent, while Jim Bryson successfully hypnotized a particularly gleeful dancer in a red shirt into childlike abandon. Bryson’s country roots were referenced with an homage to Stittsville and a political retaliation against old people (within the same breath), but the energy was quickly recaptured by Ottawa favourites The Acorn, who kicked off their set with a new song.
In the most stunning moment of the KELP 20 concert, The Acorn’s “Darcy” hovered over a hushed audience with angelic harmonics in a poetic reflection of the concert’s venue. Building to climax in the characteristic slow rise similarly heard in related Ottawa outfit Silkken Laumann, The Acorn transitioned into a feisty set by the Recoilers. With the interruption of a midnight curfew, the KELP congregation proceeded to march to the Dominion Tavern.
The Acorn playing at St. Alban’s Church in Ottawa. Photo: Ming Wu
At Ottawa’s mangiest watering hole, the psychosynth garage-funk of the Hilotrons couldn’t be more fitting. “Too many people being nothing,” moaned Mike Dubue over the slur of booze, startled regulars and sullen bartenders.
With enough sobriety to reflect on the transition from St. Alban’s to the Dom, I saw how KELP embodies the kind of DIY ideology that Ottawa has built from bare bones, and that certainly deserves celebration. It was inspiring to see the openhearted intersection of venues, people, and genre influences from garage pandemonium to rhythms of funk, and a heroic dose of synth. KELP’s 20th anniversary demands an immense appreciation for the individuals who have dedicated their lives to building the musical community and identity of our city, despite the ready-made indulgence of nearby Montréal and Toronto.
By the time Rhume took the stage, whiskey had become the main act, the night blurred into anchors under strangers’ eyes, the dance floor was possessed, and whoever that guy with the mic was had doused himself with whatever booze was at hand. Overall a great night for KELP Records, with many more to come!
Ottawa Showbox and Dan Rascal went to visit the very talented Jim Bryson in his home studio to chat with him about Kelp and film him playing. Watch Bryson play “Firewatch” off Where the Bungalows Roam, the first album he released with Kelp.
The Arboretum Festival, Ottawa’s new music and cultural showcase has done it again. They assembled another great line-up full of some of my favourite local bands (Steve Adamyk, The Yips, New Swears, Pony Girl…) and great out of town talent. What is most exciting, is that this is only the first round of announcements.
The festival takes place outdoors August 18 to 23 on the historic grounds of downtown Ottawa’s Arts Court. But the ever growing festival is also expanding region-wide to include programming in over a dozen venues, clubs and restaurants around Ottawa-Gatineau.
Take a look below and have a listen to all the wonderful talent coming to the Arboretum Festival this year.
The Manx recently announced that they’ll be featuring some DJs and artists Sunday and Monday nights to put that new sound system to use. Check out the upcoming lineup and dates, should be a great month with such great minds spinning. Each month’s artwork is done by a different local artist too, February’s poster is done by Eric Schallenberg, who has adorned our city with some great posters in the past.
I had the chance to join Ming Wu on his CHUO radio show Photogmusic Live (89.1 FM) on New Year’s Eve. In the hour-long segment, we discussed his Top 12 picks of 2012, playing a track from each of the albums he chose as this year’s best. It was lots of fun, and we also got to talk to Alaska of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan (who will be in Ottawa Jan.11 with Boyhood) as well as Jonas Bonnetta of Evening Hymns. Take a listen to the different segments on the Photogmusic blog, hope you enjoy the show!
‘Tis the season to look back on the year and recall some of the best music. Before we enter 2o13 (provided the world doesn’t end in a few weeks, which is so very likely) and wait in anticipation for new releases to come, we should reflect on the hard work, time and craftsmanship that went into so many of this past year’s albums. I often find lists arbitrary, because they are completely subjective and don’t always represent the best all-round music. In any case, these are my picks for 2012 — the albums that had the biggest impact on me throughout the year. There are so many other albums that came out this year that are worthy of mention, and I’m sure many different blogs throughout Canada will give them some well-deserved attention. I don’t expect everyone to agree, but enjoy anyways!
Evening Hymns playing in Paris (Photo: Julien Mignot)
Here is the full, unabridged version of the interview with Jonas I did for Where Ottawa. Enjoy!
To say that Evening Hymns is a two-piece folk-rock band doesn’t quite capture the sheer magnitude of their music. Spectral Dusk, their sophomore album released in August, is more art piece than album. Lead singer and songwriter Jonas Bonnetta penned the record after the passing of his father in 2009. The life-altering loss resulted in a deep reflection of life’s brevity, and ultimately a collection of songs that combine raw honesty and emotion with Bonnetta’s immaculate musicianship. WHERE Ottawa’s Matias Muñoz speaks with him before their show at Mavericks on November 15 about recording Spectral Dusk in Perth, Ontario (about an hour southeast of Ottawa) with bandmate Sylvie Smith and friends, the difficulty of bringing these personal works to life every night on the road, and his relationship with Ottawa.
You recorded Spectral Dusk in a cabin near Perth, Ontario. What drew you to the Ottawa area for this process?
Well Silvie’s parents just bought a place near Perth, it’s about 20 minutes north-west of the town. They bought the house and nine days after they got possession of it we approached them about working there, and as artists and musicians themselves, they were super thrilled that were going to christen it. We were looking for a place to record and I was getting close to renting a cabin a few hours north of Toronto and then this kind of fell into our lap, so when they bought it we asked if we could make a record there and they were totally on board. So that was our first introduction to that area.
So you wanted a quieter space? The city didn’t interest you?
Yeah, for the most part I really have no interest in recording in studios, so we wanted to do it in a place that sounds good and that helps us be in touch with our surroundings. And being deep in the woods really put us at ease as musicians, with no landline and no distractions from the outside. As a really personal record, it really helped us to focus on what we were doing and getting the sound that we wanted. For the type of music we’re making I like to think we don’t need studio production, and I think it has made our record sound great. With the basic recording equipment we had, a good mic and recording space is really all you need. Micro managing everything isn’t what I was looking for, just a few good pieces of equipment and some nice rooms.
Spectral Dusk is deeply personal for you, as it reflects on your father’s passing in different ways. While the album has been greeted with such warm reception, have you found it difficult to share with the world?
I find it pretty difficult live. I mean, the record as a whole was hard to make and that’s why it took such a long time to be released. It got too dark and we had to back off for a while, then we regained some energy and approached it again. Once we finished it, we were like “great, we’re done…” forgetting that we then had to go travel the world playing all those songs. So it’s been really exhausting, every show is like conjuring up those feelings about dad and revisiting that. It’s been a bit of a challenge, but then after a show you have someone come up to you and tell you about how they just lost their mom or dad, saying they cried tonight listening to your set because the songs said everything I wish I could have said. That makes it all worthwhile, and it makes it that much heavier because it kind of destroys you a bit hearing those things. But it’s real, and that’s what we like about it. What I’m saying on the record is true from the heart, so playing those songs comes naturally too.
You have spent a lot of time living life off the beaten path over the last few years. Does living unconventionally help you learn and grow as a musician? Or do you just get sick of living in the same place for too long?
Yeah, lived in a tent all summer. Silvie and I actually lived up near Perth all winter and will be spending all of this winter there as well. Just having the wood burning smell, cross-country skiing, and quiet reading spaces. It’s pretty much my dream life, you know? And living in a tent this past summer just east of Peterborough working on an art project was great. Part of our job as musicians is not staying in one place, it’s kind of a double-edged sword but it’s all part of it. And I like moving, I don’t get a whole lot of inspiration from just sitting around. I do get the inspiration by being out in the woods, so it’s a no-brainer for us when we get an opportunity to get out into the wilderness. I’m at the point in my life where I’m spending five or six months a year on the road and going to all these amazing cities all over the world. So the last thing I want to do in my free time is be in the city, I’m always on a quest to find interesting new places.
The Wooden Sky played in Ottawa a few weeks ago, and you’ve developed a pretty strong bond with them while touring and recording. How did some of the collaborations on Spectral Dusk come to be?
Well I asked those guys because I love the way they sound. They all met my dad, were with me at the funeral and were crucial through that whole thing. We had a strong connection so it was a no-brainer to collaborate with them. I helped out with a few of their songs and they helped out with Evening Hymns. It was such an organic process, throwing ideas off one another and getting it just right. We just did 6 weeks in Europe and they backed us up on that tour, so we were basically one big 7-piece band a lot of the time.
Since you last visited Ottawa for the album release in August (Raw Sugar Café), Evening Hymns toured Europe. In what ways is touring in Europe different than Canada?
We haven’t even done that much touring in Canada to be honest. We’ve done a few legs, but we’ve been in Europe four times in the last two years. I think you’re more akin to having a listening audience when you’re over there, you know? When people come to see you play, they come to listen to you and appreciate what you are saying. In North America, it’s sometimes harder to get that intense quiet that is ideal for our kind of music. So it makes for some really great shows over there, when the band and the audience work off each other. We’ve been really lucky there, and touring there is always joy. We’re in a new, beautiful city every night. And you have that here in Canada too, each place has it’s own character. Going over the Rockies, visiting small towns. We’re trying to put more time into Canada so that we can build our audience here too. It more difficult here sometimes, sometimes it’s great and others it’s tougher.
Do you have a favourite spot in Europe?
Yeah, Switzerland was really cool. The end our last tour we went to the Alps and stayed at a cottage in the alpine meadow. You could only get there by gondola, and we made it right before a snowstorm blew in and they had to shut it down. That place has a spot in my heart for sure. Paris has always been really amazing to us, and Berlin is one of my favourite cities in the world. Plus, our management and booking agent is based out of Berlin so we’ve had a lot of opportunities to get to know that place.
When people come to see you play in Ottawa on November 15th, what is one thing you hope they take away from the show?
I just hope they can connect, but then sometimes I think, “man, I hope no one feels as bad as I do”. It’s kind of weird, but a lot of times the show feels really good when the audience is really good. So it goes hand-in-hand, and it’s really special in an intimate way. Things are quiet this tour but we’re loving it.
What’s your favourite thing to do when you visit Ottawa? Are there any activities, places or meals you look forward to?
Now that we’re near there, spending more time nearby we really enjoy skiing in that area and doing outdoor activities. I also really enjoy going to The Manx for breakfast, I love that place. We played Raw Sugar Café last time we were in town, and the atmosphere in that place is really neat. There’s also the Neat Coffeshopin Burnstown, which I think has some of the best coffee in my opinion. I don’t know, I used to not care for Ottawa that much because I never felt that it had a soul. But as I spend more time there I am really starting to fall in love with the city. We will definitely be coming up there a lot since we’re going to be living so close by. Plus, Canada’s next Prime Minister Rolf Klausener (frontman of Ottawa band The Acorn) lives there, so it has that going for it too.