It’s not every day you get to have a phone call with a Canadian composer who has dabbled in the worlds of alt-rock, comic rap, and classical piano over two decades. I recently had the honour of engaging in a lengthy discussion with the self-proclaimed “Musical Genius” himself, Chilly Gonzales.
One may assume that an eccentric, masterful pianist such as Gonzales (or “Gonzo,” as he is known to those close to him) would have little to say about the state of modern pop music. However, it doesn’t take much digging to see that he is fascinated by pop. He seemingly has a mission to help us understand the genre better through the lens of music theory and storytelling. In fact, some of his greatest successes have been collaborations with with Feist, Drake, Daft Punk (with whom he won a Grammy award), Jarvis Cocker, and Peaches.
Gonzales recently released his third and final album of the Solo Piano trilogy, one that adds to the mountain of achievements as a prolific composer-performer. To the common ear, Solo Piano III may come off as a contemporary take on classical music, a direction that few musicians have chosen to pursue as a career in the modern industry. However, Gonzales challenges himself to “play pop songs on a classical instrument,” transposing traditional pop structures onto more complex arrangements and instrumentation. It is an album that commands attention and embraces the listener, and each song is dedicated to a specific historical figure as per 19th-century tradition. If you catch him perform these songs live on stage, you’ll almost certainly hear him elaborate on the story of these dedications.
Chilly is known for his wacky stage persona. Photo credit: AFP.
Gonzales himself has been an inspiration for other composer-performers in the genre such as Nils Frahm, Jean-Michel Blais, Flying Hórses, among others, who have come out of the woodwork to pursue their music in the public realm and tread the Gonzonian path. Further to this end, Gonzales has set up his own conservatory of music—aptly called the “Gonzervatory”—whereby young talents are hand selected to attend an all-expenses paid series of workshops with Gonzales in Paris. It is “a place for young musicians to find and strengthen their musical voice, to journey deeper into the emotions and science of their art.”
With such a bizarre career path, it isn’t surprising that he is also the subject of a new biopic called Shut Up and Play the Piano. The film, which was directed by Philipp Jedicke, looks back at his life and career from his Montreal upbringing, to rapping in dark underground Berlin clubs, and the ultimate formation of his bombastic and flamboyant stage persona, Chilly Gonzales. The film had its North American premiere at Pop Montreal in September, and recently had a run of showings at The Bytown Cinema in Ottawa.
Gonzales is set to perform at the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa on October 22, where we’ll see him play a number of pieces from Solo Piano III by himself on stage, as well as some hits and hidden surprises from the rest of his repertoire with the accompaniment of Stella Le Page on cello and Joe Flory on drums. Tickets can be purchased online here or at the NAC’s box office.
Read my interview with Chilly Gonzales below.
MM: Your new album, Solo Piano III, is the final installment of your solo piano trilogy which has spanned nearly 15 years. You’ve said that “it isn’t an antidote for our times, but it is a reﬂection of all the beauty and ugliness around us.” On this album, how do you use the piano to describe the world we live in right now?
CG: Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far. When I’m an artist, I’m alone and not thinking about the audience or any extra-musical elements. I need to shield myself from that kind of thinking when I’m composing an album. I need it to remain a mystery to myself in order to do that. I work in an abstract musical world, I don’t think of people, places, song titles, concepts, or even what musical tools I may be using. But at the moment when the artist becomes the entertainer, where water turns to gas, I change form. In that moment I become very much audience-conscious. I would very much like to offer an experience to people who don’t often listen to piano music, for example. So, in that moment I start thinking about puns I might make, and things like that. And if you don’t like the puns in my album and song titles, then you should see the ones I don’t use. There’s an iPhone file with hundreds of rejected ones, ones that I feel are meaningful beyond their bad joke.
Anyhow, I just make music as anyone does, in a blind way. But there’s a moment where I become my own A&R person, and I step back to think about stuff like who I’m going to dedicate a certain song to, or a song title that will get people interested or listening to it in a heightened state. That includes looking at what I do and say, “Oh look what weird thing I did with those scales on this album!” Maybe there’s an eighth note scale with one surprising note. Then I get a whole stage routine out of it where I talk about scales, about how scales can’t be music because they’re so predictable. But what if you add a surprise ninth note in an eighth note scale? That is literally something I thought of two years after I wrote a piece. But it serves to include people in the process, in a way that I hope brings people in who would normally not be into this kind of music.
Maybe younger audiences who normally listen to music with lyrics. I try to make pop music, and pop music is about being attentive to the audience. Some people think I make classical music, which isn’t true. I make pop music with a classical instrument.
MM: You have been known to break down the music of modern pop through the lens of a classically trained pianist. You always seem optimistic about the music you’re discussing in the masterclasses, and passionate about the way different aspects make the listener feel. What captivates you about today’s pop music that most people maybe overlook?
CG: The storytelling, combined with the reduction. Music has always been reduced starting from the moment that it became a commodity. I trace that back to 19th century Romanticism, artists like Chopin and Liszt, you think of the genius figure. And that’s what we’re still dealing with —there’s no Kanye West without Liszt. He was the first to make the music more powerful if your personality is there to amplify it, make people feel closer to you. The irony is you do that by being larger than life, in the way that Liszt essentially allowed the rumour to be spread that he was possessed by the devil. He knew it would increase the powers of his music, and this got coupled with the birth of the bourgeoisie and democracies, concepts that informed our modern society, culture, capitalism, the role of the artist. That all got invented in Europe somewhere between 1830-1880. We’re still sort of living in that time, and since that moment music has been reduced, there’s less and less but it’s still telling a story.
I still like to listen to music that supposedly has nothing in it, but if you take the microscope deep enough, you’ll find storytelling, you’ll find theme and variation, tension and release, question and answer, the hero’s journey. Whatever you want to call those concepts, those are storytelling concepts. Even though music seems more and more repetitive, it’s not what you think. There’s always some element of change, and of contrast, otherwise it wouldn’t work. Especially in big pop songs, because they can’t become big if there’s not some element of storytelling in it. You can’t reach millions of people without the storytelling element.
MM: Few instruments are as emotive and expressive as the piano. What would you say to young musicians thinking about taking up the piano today?
CG: I would say that it doesn’t matter what instrument you play. Piano is valid. Computer is valid. Drums are valid. Drum machine is valid. Rapping is valid. Producing beats is valid. It’s all the same, but don’t forget to do it with other people. If you only do it alone in your room and get that little rush of “wow I put a song online and so many people have listened to it,” that’s a great start. But it’s not going to get you to musical ecstasy or a career. So on a pragmatic and spiritual level, don’t forget music was performance for thousands of years. There was an abhorration called recording that we’re still living in, but in another way the music business has again been reoriented towards performance—which is the one thing that can’t truly be replaced. We just have to keep that in mind.
I started the conservatory to remind people to always think of music as something always being performed. Remove the barrier between composition and performance, and ironically that’s how the Romantics did it. Chopin, Liszt, they were all composer-performers. In the classical world, when I hear people say “it’s amazing that you bring an audience to your acoustic classical music. Classical music is dying, what can we do?” It’s having more composer-performers. That’s how this whole thing was created. Now there’s this separation where we have a lot of living performers playing dead people’s music. With the conservatory, they have to erase that line so that every composition is also a performance.
MM: Jeremy Dutcher is a young piano virtuoso, much like yourself, who just recently won the Polaris Music Prize. While classically-influenced musicians have typically flown under the mainstream industry’s radar, do you think more attention is being given to artists like Jeremy, Flying Hórses, and Jean-Michel Blais?
CG: Flying Hórses! A wonderful Ottawa reference! Yes, I think it’s the return of the composer-performer. Jeremy Dutcher sings in some of his songs, and I know he sings in an endangered indigenous language which is very important. And of course my buddy Jean-Michel Blais was also shortlisted for the prize, and those are wonderful moments.
I only had a couple of role models when I started on my first record. Yann Tiersen, the Amélie composer was maybe the closest thing to being someone in the pop world making music with acoustic instruments. I was very inspired by his existence. And now there are more of us, and that’s so inspiring. And there are some I like more than others, of course. But I’m not to everyone’s taste, either. Just the fact that we have the chance to play in venues now that may have been closed to us in the past is a good thing. I’m really happy that there are people popping up who are daring to do that difficult thing, which is to try and reach a pop audience without lyrics or electronics. Well, some use electronics, like Jean-Michel Blais or Nils Frahm, who bring people in by incorporating electronics on stage into what they do. It’s yet another strategy.
There are so many ways in, and I’m glad more people are doing that. Every time I see an instrumental performance with a VJ, I think “this isn’t what I would do, but isn’t this better than the tyranny of everyone saying ‘but there’s no lyrics’ all the time.” It’s a refrain that many musicians have heard for a really long time.
MM: A new biopic about you called Shut Up and Play the Piano opened October 5th in Canada, and it seems to accurately portray how wacky your career has been so far. Can you talk a bit about the film and where this idea came from?
CG: Well, the director came to me with a pitch and wanted to tell my story. He said that when he saw me in Berlin I seemed so crazy, and yet I went through all of these evolutions while still remaining myself. And now I live in Cologne, leading a pretty mellow life in a mid-sized city. It’s probably not dissimilar in vibe from Ottawa in size and feel, actually. I choose my moments when I have to be in larger metropolis cities. And so I told him that I have this giant archive and would like to have my story told, and was into it as long as the archive had a role in the movie. So things rolled along slowly, as projects of mine usually do. I like to build trust, having been the subject of two documentary films before with results I was not happy with.
I was able to design the process with him in a way that I made sure I wouldn’t be disappointed, and we just took our time with it. Then we pulled the trigger, and I wasn’t really involved after the planning stage. I let the game play itself according to the rules we set up, and I’m so happy with the results. It has far exceeded my expectations of what a documentary about my work and life could be. I’m thrilled about it. I’ve only seen it twice, and I gave notes on a rough cut early on to help make it a better film. There are some moments that aren’t particularly flattering for me, they’re not all to my glory. It’s not a hagiography (or whatever the hell that word is), and by most accounts of people who’ve seen it, it’s similar to what it’s like to see me in concert. It goes by quickly, it is varied.
There are many emotions, some of which are touching and some of which are ridiculous. There are some moments that are even perhaps provocative, and slightly offensive or subversive. If I can combine all those things in a concert, then why shouldn’t that be able to come across in film? In that way, I think it succeeded.
John K. Samson—known best as the lead-singer and guitarist of The Weakerthans, and also considered by many as an unofficial Canadian poet laureate—played a very small and intimate show in Ottawa at Maker Space North.
The BYOC (bring your own cushion) show was held in one of the buildings’ hallways and sold out with less than 50 lucky attendees mostly seated on the floor. Samson didn’t even need to use his microphone as the small crowd sat in silent awe as he made us all melt in one of the most special shows I have ever attended.
One thing that makes Samson so special is how real, honest, and down to earth he is. He thanked us all for being there, thanked his partner for watching their dog and yellow bird Pickle as he toured across the country. He thanked Side Door for helping organize and manage his cross Canada house show tour, while ensuring most of the revenue found its way to him, the musician. “I’ll be making about $1100 tonight,” he said. “So thank you all so much for helping with my mortgage payment this month.” He thanked Shawn Scallen from Spectrasonic who has been involved in essentially every show he has ever played in town and then thanked the real heroes. “I’d also like to thank the two anti-depressants I’m currently taking who are the real reason I’m able to be here with you today.”
Equipped with his guitar and some notes on a stand, Samson played about 40 minutes of songs he had planned out, which started with “One Great City” and included many new tracks off of his latest album Winter Wheat. The set also featured the Virtute the Cat trilogy of songs back-to-back-to-back making the whole room quite emotional. Afterwards he took a short break to chat with us and take requests to build his next set.
Samson returned from the break telling us “Thank you for writing my set list… just so you know, some of them I won’t play very well but I’ll endeavour to do my best.” And his best is what he gave us, playing 11 more songs, some of which were smoother than others, but I’m 100% confident not a single person there was bothered by this. On top of taking requests from us in person, he had also invited people to send him postcards with request, which delivered one of the cutest moments of the night on a night filled with them. The parents’ of someone in attendance sent in a postcard, requesting “The Reasons” for their son who missed Samson in Winnipeg as he is now in Ottawa studying.
The crowd did pipe up breaking its silence during “Sun in an Empty Room” singing the chorus and backing vocals, which made Samson’s face light up in glee. He closed his set with my little brother’s request “My Favourite Chords” which beautifully capped off the wonderful night. Do yourself a favour and follow Samson’s web site closely as he doesn’t really have social media presence and I would hate for you to miss out on such an experience again. I feel so very lucky to have witnessed this performance.
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.
Hurry, a band from Philadelphia, kicked off the night with their alt-rock chord progressions, sweet banter, and self-deprecating humour. Nu-Metal effects applied to the guitar added a tunnelled sound. The drumming came out light and upbeat despite that songs may have taken a more sombre pop-punk vibe. Those vibes in combination with the bass, came out sounding like nostalgic summertime soundtracks.
The band’s movement coincided with the emotion that emanated from each song. Hurry held a solid energy and got into every single song they played. They played a fun style that got you moving your feet to the beat. Boyish vocals added to the effect of the carefree aura.
The guitar blended with the bass in a mash of bright oranges and magentas, swirling together. They intertwined into the blues produced by the cymbals, meanwhile, the light green-yellows radiated from the snare and toms.
All in all, Hurry held a repetitive feeling to their songs. Almost generic but also rather emotionally charged while maintaining a certain lightness to their music.
Next up were Joan of Arc, from Chicago, Illinois. They put on a set that I won’t be able to forget. The very stereotypical “dad” dancing, the off-key and off time singing, and overpowering synths, were just a few things that held their set together. Imagine dry tumblr humour and blend it together with noise and screaming, it’s what you get with this band.
The crowd unfortunately seemed to talk over the performance throughout the set. Credit where credit is due, however, the band put everything they’ve got into their set. The energy is exactly what you wanted to see—not unmatched by any means—however, they were driven by passion.
The drumming was warm, and nearly drowned out the ear-splitting blare of the synth. It solidified the songs and served to hold them in place. Midway through the set, the members of Joan of Arc all gathered around the drum kit and began playing different rhythms on snares and toms. It all synced up and came out as probably the best sounding part of their show. The same could not be said about the vocal stylings, which is unfortunate because Tim has been in bands where his vocals have blown others out of the water in comparison. The very off-key screams about pizza and “fuck” were unsettling. As quickly as they smoothed, they went back into the ragged and near unpleasant off-key notes that made the set hard to enjoy.
Joan of Arc goes places that bands don’t dare, tarnishing any form of reputation and keeping expectations low. They push buttons and certainly make sure you either love or hate them.
Headlining the night were mewithoutyou, a band from Philly. Not having played Ottawa since 2005, they drew in a crowd that belted the lyrics back at them with a vigorous passion.
The raw energy that projected into the performance was remarkable, and they kicked off the night with their song “Torches Together” off of Catch for Us theFoxes which set the crowd into cheers. They powered through older songs before kicking out the new ones which tainted the scenery all sorts of yellows, greens, oranges, and whites.
The poeticism behind the lyrics is prophetic and genius. The ruggedness of the vocals emphasized and strained the importance of the message. Compassion and extravagance found their way into the performance when Aaron Weiss picked up a little kid (I believe his own child) and sang to them onstage. The shouts were painted as greens and the exaggerated hand gestures only added to the artistic quality of the set.
The guitars came from all directions, combining the mellow and warm sound of acoustic and the hard and cold edge of electric overdriven guitars. Much of the sound came through as orange with drawn outlines of whites and light blues flecked the scene. The newer tracks came together throught the oranges, while their older songs were charged with deep blues and purples.
The band brought out an accordion near the end of the set, which added a haunting undertone to their music. It served to transform the soundscape by adding something unique to the electric sounds they played.
The energy was enticing and captivating, incredibly raw and sincere. mewithoutyou find a way to embrace oddities and religious themes whilst spewing them through their alternative sound. Breathtaking and riveting, they tore Ottawa apart after 13 years.
On a humid and muggy day like this one, arriving early to a show at Black Squirrel Books and Espresso Bar in the heart of Old Ottawa South was nothing short of a blessing to me. Two reassuring words: air conditioning.
The venue was filled with an overwhelming sense of warmth and togetherness—welcoming faces, friendly reunions and collective enthusiasm for the closely approaching show. Three terrific bands, all of them seemingly close friends of one another, about to rock the fuck out of this cozy cafe.
Nashville, Tennessee’s Sad Baxter blasted out their first number under the dim lighting of Edison bulbs. Nirvana was the first thought that popped into my head—the 90’s grunge influence was clear as day. Their light-hearted banter contrasted with the gritty and sludgy tone of their music. The guitar was distorted and heavy, the bass controlling, and the drums (played by Alex Mojaverian) calculated and simultaneously chaotic. Deezy Violet’s vocals meshed with the instrumentals, her voice raspy and filled with longing and understanding. Her goosebump-inducing growls through “Sick-Outt” carried so much sincerity, and during “Baby” were supported by harmonizing from the bassist. Sad Baxter kicked off the show strong and confident, and were a good start to a night of great music and genial people.
It was hard for me to not smile like an complete and utter idiot when Montreal’s BBQT got onto the floor for their set. The power pop posse, ecstatic to be playing back in Ottawa since performing at Ottawa Explosion Weekend (R.I.P.) back in June, also came on with smiles on their faces. BBQT’s charismatic personality seems to possess the power to lift your mood no matter what and make any group of people feel like a family.
The band started off with “PEPSI”, a short n’ sweet upbeat song like many of their tracks. The sound from bassist Mikey Melikey was a thunderous quake that acted as a foundation for the fun, tweety instrumentals accompanying it. It blanketed the strong, catchy melodies and riffs. The sweet twangy-ness and slightly distorted guitar surfed around the bass, baiting it back and forth and up and down.
Bopping to the beat and sporting a string of fairy lights around her guitar was Amery Sandford, who absolutely killed the solos habitually played by guitarist Jack Bielli. Sandford giggled off the occasional slip-ups (which somehow added to their style) and jammed on. Solos mimicked her honest and carefree vocals, which she performed with the occasional wink to friends and family in the audience. Allison Graves passionately drummed a delicate surf beat as the whole venue belted out the lyrics to “HIGH WASTED”. Fun and punky and almost “post-ironic”, BBQT’s vibe made me forget just how damn quickly summer was coming to an end.
Last but undisputedly not least was Lonely Parade, who tonight celebrated the release of their newest LP “The Pits” with Buzz Records. Also based in Montreal, Quebec, Lonely Parade is a post-punk trio composed of long-time friends Augusta Veno, Charlotte Dempsey and Anwyn Climenhage. Going into this set, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To say the least, I was blown away. Their sound was weighty and almost unsettling, but in the best way imaginable. Droning, layered vocals gave me hints of That Dog—though tame, one could catch undertones of angst, determination and yearning. They begged to not be underestimated. Lyrics touched on the struggles and thrills of everyday life, and invoked a strange feeling of nostalgia.
Occasionally we’d get a fun sort of prologue to a song, a story or experience that inspired the music. For example, “I’m So Tired” was introduced with an anecdote about falling asleep in the car. You could envision yourself there: the stern and fluid bass steering you down a dark road, the guitar intertwining itself with it, often drifting away but always in sight. The guitar riffs kept you on edge, abruptly turning corners but always ending up back where they started. Moods would change as well as tone.
They’d go from a sort of calculated math rock to utter noise and spacey hysteria resonating Pavement instrumentals. It was fucking hypnotic. The drums kept everything moving. They were crisp and frigid and intimidating, sending shocks of icy blue through your veins. The temper the band created was so intriguing that the crowd refused to let go of it. After some eager persuasion to perform an encore, Lonely Parade closed effectively with “Grilled Cheese”, and it was time to return to the oh-so-fun humidity of the outdoors.
A truly stellar night it was. I urge you to catch at least one of these bands live when they return to Ottawa. Each band, though showcasing different styles, tied together seamlessly and turned the night into a fluent story. Each band was a new chapter and resonated a different mood, but all with the same underlying likeness. An experience like this is totally worth subjecting yourself to the ringing in your ears you’ll hear the next morning. No doubt.
It was only appropriate that they’re touring their new album called Be More Kind, as the British singer-songwriter spent much of the night emphasizing the importance of looking out for one and other and the greatness of community. He kicked off the set with the title track of the new album, followed by another new song “1933.” If fans were nervous that the show would only be new material, they quickly had that fear quashed as the band launched into “Get Better” and “Recovery.” While they did play several more songs off of Be More Kind, they also explored the rest of his catalogue playing “The Way I Tend to Be,” “Vital Signs,” “Wessex Boy,” and the awesome “The Ballad of Me and My Friends.”
Turner knows how to put on a show and truly deliver for the crowd. I mean, he should by now given that this was his 2242nd show. He did his usual speech about how punk shows have no rules except two, don’t be an asshole and if you know the words you have to sing a long.
He also specifically took the time to dedicate “The Next Storm” to the victims of the recent tornadoes, which has the perfect inspirational lines for the situation: “Rejoice, rebuild, the storm has passed… I don’t want spend the whole of my life indoors, laying low, waiting on the next storm.”
He isn’t just about words kind words though, he is also about putting on a damn good show with his actions. Not only was he sweating through his shirt almost instantly due to all his running and jumping around, most of which with a guitar strapped to his chest, he also took the time to go down to the crowd for some sing a longs and encouraged fans to start a circle pit at one point. All of this culminated in the encore when the band played “Four Simple Words” and Turner left his guitar behind to go stand on the crowd and then crowd surf his way to the “best dancer in Ottawa.” Once there he slow danced with, then moshed with fans while singing only to once again be crowd surfed back to the stage when the music picked back up.
Whether you love Be More Kind and Frank Turner’s current musical direction or not, it is impossible not to be blown away and have a blast at the live performance.
Sam Coffey and his band of merry men known as the Iron Lungs have come a long way from when I saw them a few years back at House of TARG, where Sam puked off the front of the stage after rolling around in the crowd too much. They are a pretty professional looking band now, still all rocking their matching jean jackets, although this time around the front man opted out of the uniform and sported something that can only be described as a cross between a luchador outfit and Liberace. They also deliver so many cliche rock n’ roll moves, but they come off more as satirical and lighthearted, which makes them a lot of fun.
Since signing on with Dine Alone Records their tunes can be heard all over the radio, much to my delight and obviously much of the crowd. It is not every show where you see so many people signing along and bopping up and down to the opener. To top everything off, they treated us to their now signature dueling guitar solos on a double neck guitar. Even after seeing it done several times, and not really being a fan of guitar solos, I still find it super cool.
Check out the great photos below of all three bands, thanks to the great work of our photographer Aidan Thatcher.
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.
Beau’s 10th annual Oktoberfestin Vankleek Hill, Ontario, got off to a rocky start as a pair of tornadoes ripped through the Ottawa and Gatineau region, bringing torrential down pours with them. While many were turned away and many of us on a buses were sent home before ever getting off, those who were already on site or got there on their own were treated to some great tunes and delicious suds.
Music was cancelled on the main stage but the show did go on at the Black Forest Stage where the punks were a rocking once the whether cleared up. Our photographer Aidan Thatcher was there for Cancer Bats, The Flatliners, K-Man and the 45s, and it was all hosted by the lovable Remi Royale.
Big shoutout to Beau’s staff and volunteers for all their hard work Friday in such a chaotic situation.
Doug Hempstead’s project Area Resident is back with another full-length release called Echolette, slated for release through Record Centre Records in late October of this year. Echolette is the third LP for Area Resident in three years, preceded by a self-titled release and Delano.
Hempstead is a CBC Radio journalist and traffic reporter, his compositions primarily draw from his local upbringing and work as a journalist in the Ottawa region. For years he has made a habit of writing and recording songs and arrangements at his home. However, the live performances of Area Resident feature Hempstead on drums/vocals, John Higney (The Flaps) on guitars/keys, Paul Jensen on guitar, and Kristy Nease on bass.
Their live performances include regular shows in the Ottawa region, as well as appearances at Megaphono, Barnstorm, Marvest (CityFolk), among others.
Although we still need to wait a month for the full LP’s release, we’re excited to premiere the opening track and debut single from Echolette on Ottawa Showbox.
“The album is called Echolette, named after a vintage German tape echo unit on a shelf in John Higney’s basement rehearsal space,” explains Hempstead. “I spotted it and decided the album would be called that, before I’d even recorded a single bit of it.”
The album’s first track “It’s the Way I Am” —which can be streamed below—is an upbeat, crunch-lathered track that bursts to life right away. Hempstead’s calming and contemplative vocals balance out the track and compliment the soaring guitars, punching bass, and crashing percussion. If the rest of the album contains the prowess of this opening track, we’re in for a treat come its October release.
On a related note, Area Resident and The Bushpilots played a show at The Rainbow on Saturday night where all funds raised went to Red Cross relief efforts, aiding those affected by the recent tornadothat ripped through the region.
Listen to the debut single “It’s the Way I Am” off Echolette below.
The Pack AD don’t mess around. They have been one of the hardest working, hardest touring bands on the cross-Canada circuit for over a decade, and the grimy garage-rock duo is at it again.
The band is currently in the midst of their “Catch Them While You Can Tour”, which has them traversing across Canada and the US, possibly for the last time on such a large stretch. Their pulverizing and explosive sound has been a constant, both on their albums and live on stage.
They’re supporting their most recent release DollHouse (Cadence Recordings) which was released late last year, along with the re-release of their acclaimed debut album TinType on vinyl, which comes out September 28th via Mint Records. Since its early 2008 original release, the band has played close to a thousand shows and released seven albums.
I caught up with guitarist and vocalist Becky Black in advance of their Ottawa show, which takes place tonight (September 21) at The 27 Club along with support from Basement Revolver and Land Line. More info on the show can be found here. Read the interview and check out the new video for “Woke Up Weird” below.
Interview with Becky Black of The Pack a.d.
The world seems a little darker these days, particularly given the state of things south of the border. At this stage in your career, how do you approach making music in this unstable climate? What is your mentality putting the pen to paper?
That’s a great question! I think there’s a lot of inspiration to be drawn from it, as an artist. You have to find the silver lining, it seems to inspire creativity. Things are pretty terrible, but it’s easy to get down about it. We’re in America right now actually at a travel centre and getting set to come back and play in Canada. Definitely looking to getting back there!
Do you notice more tension when playing shows south of the border these days?
Yeah, normally the people we’re hanging with have similar opinions and are just weathering the horrible situation they’re in. People in music communities are usually on the opposite side of spectrum as those currently in power, so yeah, I don’t know. It is definitely different here, though. It’s strange.
What do you hope people take away from listening to DollHouse?
I think the whole album itself is pretty short, it’s definitely worth a listen. We’re releasing a new video for “Woke Up Weird,” which is about climate change and being a human on this planet. There’s a lot to take away from it.
Is there a sense of hope on the record? Or is it more of a “let’s all get pissed” kind of listen?
It’s sort of in between, I think. Our lyrics always tend to lean towards being dystopian, I guess, to put it mildly. It’s more of a conversation, an acknowledgement. We think that’s a start.
The Pack AD are a band known for being extremely hard working musicians. What do you do to unwind? Any hobbies that not many people know about?
Yeah, we both read a lot. It’s a great way to stay sane on the road. Whether you’re at a hotel, on the bus, or whatever, there’s always a lot of time to read. I’m always trying to learn more about the world around me. But when I’m not reading, I’d say video games and Netflix, too. You know, the usual.
Are there any readings that you’d recommend?
I just read a magazine—Scientific American—that just revealed some groundbreaking new discoveries that could change the course of science. I found that fascinating, it was like the ten greatest discoveries this year.
You two have been playing music with each other for a really long time. If you had one piece of advice to younger bands about how to keep friendships together over the years, what would it be?
Well, you just have to find the right group of people. Sometimes with band personalities it’s like oil and water, and that can be difficult. But we’ve always been able to get along, and I think you always have to maintain respect for each other no matter what. We have different opinions and disagreements all the time, it’s not always happy and fun times but we always figure it out. That’s why we’ve been able to last so long I think.
Do you ever resolve disagreements with rock-paper-scissors?
Ahh, yeah. We have done that. Maya always does rock so she’s easy to beat.
Last but not least—Do you have a go-to place in Ottawa you visit every time you’re here? Burgers? Beer? Beavertails?
I really love the Byward Market, and the last time we played Ottawa we played House of TARG and that was awesome. So those are always great spots to hang for us.
Sept 21- 27 Club – Ottawa, ON Sept 22 Turbo Haus – Montreal, QC Sept 30 Neptoon Records – Vancouver, B.C. – Instore playing of songs from Tintype Oct 11 9th Ward – Buffalo, NY
Oct 12 Pauly’s Hotel – Albany, NY
Oct 13 ONCE Somerville – Boston, MA
Oct 14 Portland House of Music – Portland, ME
Oct 15 Mercury Lounge – New York, NY
Oct 17 Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA
Oct 18 Smiling Moose – Pittsburgh, PA Oct 20 The Pinch – Washington, DC
Oct 21 Pour House – Raleigh, NC
Oct 22 Smiths Olde Town – Atlanta, GA Oct 24 Gasa Gasa – New Orleans, LA
Oct 26 The Sundown – Dallas, TX Oct 27 Maxine’s – Hot Springs, AK
Oct 29 Magnolia Bar – Louisville, KY
Oct 30 Ready Room – St. Louis, MO Oct 31 Vaudeville Mews – Des Moines, IA
This year’s CityFolk festival was full of stellar performances by both veteran and emerging acts. Whether it was the delicate songs of Andy Shauf and Ani DiFranco, or the boistrous and memorable sets by David Byrne and Hozier, the artists this year did not disappoint. Our photographer Els Durnford was on-site all festival to capture the action. Have a look below.