Most album releases happen in a bar or club, with the usual merch station and a few opening bands. Not much to be surprised about. Jumpin’ Joel Flash & The Magic Machine, on the other hand, are not your typical band. The country-folk group from Ottawa consists of frontman Joel Elliot and his motley crew of band mates, offering an unusual assortment of tricks at their shows such as “opera-rock vocals, bouncy rhythms, musical theatre harmonies, and the occasional rain stick interlude.” However, for their upcoming EP release, they’re going way out into left field. Jumpin’ Joel Flash & The Magic Machine want to take you to prom.
That’s right. Whether you had a good or bad experience at your actual high school prom, this band wants to up the ante and make a whole new prom-music experience on December 8th at Maker Space North. Also on the bill are Scary Bear Soundtrack and Death Metal Witch, not to mention Capital Tease Burlesque. With booths, decorations, and surprises galore, the event almost sounds more like a carnival than a prom. But one thing is for sure, it will be a hell of a night at Maker Space North. Don’t forget to wear your prom attire.
I chatted with Joel about the EP release prom and more, have a read below.
Date: Saturday, December 8, 2017 Location: Makerspace North – 250 City Centre Avenue – Bay 216 Important: 18+, fully accessible, no outside shoes, no alcohol Website Facebook Event
We’re always a big fan of new ideas when it comes to live music, but you’re going back in time. What made the idea of hosting a prom-themed EP release so appealing?
A big show needs a big idea! An EP release is a big deal and should be memorable for more than just the music.
I put it to the Magic Machine to come up with a theme that could be built upon. We got together for a mind-meld, and someone tossed out ‘Prom?’ From there, ideas for deco and contests and messaging and promotion and costumes JUST KEPT FLOWING! When ideas are easy, you know you snagged onto something special.
I was searching for a theme that would be immediately recognizable and nostalgic. Prom has that, but with the added bonus of allowing for a ‘do-over’… not everyone has shiny happy memories of high school after all. Many folks were ostracized for who they are. Hated for who they love. Excluded for existing.
By pure luck, I was born a straight white anglo male in one of the safest and most recession-proof cities on the planet. I learn more about how privileged I am each and every day. As such, I wanted this Prom to be for absolutely everyone. A place to come and dance and love and be yourself. Provided you score one of the very-limited tickets, of course. 😉
Starting on October 1st, you released a single every couple weeks leading up to the prom. Can you talk about the songs and what they mean to you? What drove you to write this EP?
These songs are personal without being personal.
I’ve never felt emotion from song lyrics. Whether I’m hearing them or writing them. And I used to think I was crazy and weird. But I’m not. I get emotional responses from rhythm and swells and notes and groove. I feel music the way I write it: sound first, words second.
I wrote mostly in transit. Long car trips/bus rides provided a background hum that blocked out the rest of the world. I played with rhythms, tapped my fingers, hummed to beats. Eventually I had dozens of songs in my brain. And I just assumed they’d always stay there.
I grew up in an isolating, neglectful, emotionally abusive household and spent most of my life believing I was completely worthless. This is the reason I stuck with my first career for 12 years: while I was creating and composing my own music in my head, I rarely shared it with anyone, or even wrote it down. I sincerely believed that I was nothing, and thus anything I created wasn’t anything anyone wanted to hear. So I slogged on. Played in bands on the weekends to get my performance fix, and resolved that that was all my life would ever be.
And then I met my wife, Kim Valentine. She is the sole reason any of this is happening. She showed me I have worth. She gave me the courage to share my songs with others. She gave me the strength to go for my dreams. She saved my life, and I’ll forever be grateful.
The Magic Machine and the music it pumps out is everything I’ve always wanted to be. Twang without trucks. Toe tapping excitement. Fun, bouncy, sparkling, rainbowed, and happy.
Our first EP is exactly that. The first. Much, much more is coming.
You’ve also been putting a lot of focus on your team and collaborators leading up to this event. Who are some important folks involved in this album and show?
Collaboration builds community! I saw that in action over and over again in my ‘professional’ career… the more folks you have on your team, the greater and more successful your project will be!
First, The Magic Machine: Carolina Arnoni, Jasen Colson, Brad Cutler, Robin Hodge, Ashley Newall, Zoe Towne & Kim Valentine. These talented weirdos are the only reason there’s an EP to begin with! They’re a mix of visual artists, musicians, and theatre nerds that make the band, our sound, and our show, waaayyyy more fun than it has any business being.
A special shout out goes to Prom Art Director Kim Valentine, who has spent months brainstorming and lovingly crafting original and ridiculous Prom deco that will make your heart go pit-a-pat! She’s a visual genius and you’re gonna love what she’s done.
You need a good back end for a party, and our A/V Club is up to the challenge! Our sound/lighting/visual art crew has been lovingly plucked from Ottawa Theatre and Psytrance scenes! Kendrick Abell, Craig Macleod, Justin Ouimet, and Jason Sonier are ready to make sure this Prom goes down without a hitch!
Then we’ve got our two fabulous opening acts, Scary Bear Soundtrack and Death Metal Witch.! Scary Bear Soundtrack is all about dreamy synth-pop, and Death Metal Witch. is an acoustic force of nature!
Next, the partners! All-local orgs that help to make this city greater and more artistic! Our Promenade will feature a bevvie of artistic orgs like CKCU FM, The Ottawa Beat, Capital Rehearsal Studios, Makerspace North, The Ottawa Music Industry Coalition, and more! Each of these partners provided in-kind support for Prom, either through promotion, services, or equipment.
I’ve been focusing on the partners due to their help of course, but there is another reason. I’d like to show performance artists of all types that this is a great way to build hype for your next production. Partner with a local org or two and immediately increase your reach! From the partners’ perspective, they get a chance to meet and mix with artists and fans, possibly building new collabs or business in the future. In return, the artist gets promo to their partners’ networks, without having to shell out advertising dollars! Win win win!
Collaboration = Community.
In March 2017 you left your job with the Conference Board of Canada to focus on your music. What’s life been like since taking that leap?
Well, I was able to create my EP, for one thing. 😉 But I’ve also been using my time as efficiently as possible.
Working at an economic think tank sounds boring. And it is. But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that spending a decade figuring out how every industry in the country works wasn’t beneficial to my new funky artist life.
For most of my first career, I sold professional learning/networking events. And whether you’re holding a Risk Management Conference or an EP Release Prom, all the principles are exactly the same. I realized that quite quickly after taking the leap. The music business works just like any other. Though, I am appreciating that I’m not being booked for 8:30am meetings anymore.
I’ve lived in Ottawa my entire life, and am amazed at how much art is being created here without people knowing about it. I vowed to use my profesh(?) skills and newfound time to help make this place as vibrant and fun as it can be. I attended everything and met everyone. I made new relationships and built trust. And over time, I was able to become part of three great bastions of the local arts scene:
I’m the host of the Live! On Elgin open mic every Tuesday. As a proper arts venue smack in the core, Live! attracts performers of all types, all styles, all backgrounds, all ages! When I create art, it mostly comes out as country music. Being a part of this diverse, happy, excited, ridiculously-talented event has opened my musical horizons. I’m inspired by wild new sounds and performances each week, and I love it.
I also co-host The Monday Special Blend on CKCU FM with my good friend Trish Bolechowsky. Aside from the CBC, community cadio are the only airwaves that local artists have a chance of gracing, and I’m insanely proud to be a small part of it. Each week, we yik-yak about music, art, and characters that are working to make this place amazing. Local art does not happen without local love, and I use this platform to share as much love as possible.
Last but certainly not least, I was elected to the board of directors for The Ottawa Music Industry Coalition. It was my third attempt at election and I’m glad I kept up with it. In this role, I’m able to provide input on the future of the Ottawa music scene, as well as work directly with the high-level industry folks that are hiding all over this government town! It is very, very, satisfying to be able to share what I know for a purpose I really care about.
In 2019, I plan to engage further with artists and the community by speaking at industry events/conferences. I’d like to help lift the veil on marketing and promotion for artists, and show them how to build community from the ground up. I’d also like to make artists aware of exactly how many organizations are out there looking to profit off of their creativity, as well as call out unethical marketing firms that are pushing bots as a way to build a fanbase.
Word is that there will be some surprises at the prom. Anything you can spill the beans about?
We’ve set this up like a mini-music festival! There will be multiple stages, crazy visual art, a photo booth, and of course, The Promenade!
Were holding a Prom Royalty Contest for all attendees! Throughout the evening, members of the Prom Committee will be demanding votes from the arts-loving populace. The two winners will be those who received the most votes, and they MAY just have a special prize for winning!
We’re also offering Prom Loot Bags for every attendee! Lovingly hand-crafted by Art Director Kim Valentine, these unique ‘bags’ are gonna be filled with goodies and reminders of how much fun prom-goers had with a bunch of weirdos in a warehouse!
I can also say that there will be audience participationsegments during the show! We’ll be grabbing people to dance with us, shoving props in their hands, demanding they wear hats, all kinds of nonsense!
Burlesque! Can you tell us a bit about Capital Tease Burlesque, for those who may not know much about the troupe?
The Prom had musicians, actors, and visual artists….but where were the dancers? I saw Capital Tease doing their thing at this year’s Glowfair and I loved every second of it! It’s fun, it’s body positive, it’s silly, it’s sexy, it’s wonderful!
We’re going to be featuring performers Sassy Muffin, Koston Kreme, Bella Barecatt, & Randi Rouge! Randi has just recently opened the Rouge Studio of Dance, which offers in classes in burlesque, hip-hop, & belly dancing in a supportive and encouraging environment where you can let loose, explore your sensuality and build your confidence!
As someone who has long struggled with self-worth and body image, I was immediately taken in by burlesque’s focus on positivity, inclusion, and making everyone feel like a million bucks. Negativity and hate are not tolerated. Consent and positivity are paramount. The folks at Capital Tease are wonderful, and I know Prom-goers will think so too.
Anything else that concertgoers should expect?
You are going to walk in and not know what the heck is happening. Your senses are gonna be smacked in all the right ways. You’re going to forget you’re at a concert and instead believe you’ve entered a magical fairy land of artistic hippies. You’re going to be filled with positive vibes and love. You’re going to make new arts friends. You’re going to fall for every single performer. You’re going to wonder how you ended up dancing for 3 hours straight. You’re going to have your emotions tapped until you’re overflowing with heart for local art. You’re going to raise your hands in excitement and cheer your ass off. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you’re gonna see even more. And then, as quickly as it began, you’ll be on your way home, wondering what the hell you were just a part of.
People should expect to remember this night forever. Or at least until the next time we throw a party.
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 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.
Ottawa;s very own Jonathan Becker & The North Fields recently played the album release show for their new album Sober Dawn at Babylon Nightclub in Ottawa. They were supported by other local favourites Claude Munson and John Aaron Cockburn. It was a wonderful night of music and an awesome way to celebrate such an excellent album. You can read our full write up of the album and have a listen here.
Our photographer Aidan Thatcher was there to catch the action, check out his photos below.
Ottawa’s Jonathan Becker & The North Fields recently released their debut full-length album Sober Dawn. The album builds on the success of the band’s previous EPs as well as their excellent live show which has graced many bars and pubs across Canada—and a few big festivals such as Ottawa’s Bluesfest and Cityfolk.
The twelve-song release is soaked in roots and folk with country flares and a certain punk-rock ethos surely amassed by the various influences of the many members, some of which currently play or have played in several bands around town. With that in mind it isn’t hard to understand why Jonathan Becker & The North Fields are for fans of Lucero, Drive-By Truckers, Waterboys, Replacements and Leatherface.
Fans of the band will hear a familiar sounds right from the first song “Tiger Lilies” from the band’s 2015 EP Cigarettes, Strings, and Other Breakables. The track was previously my favourite song by the band and they somehow found a way to make it even better. The combination of Becker’s gritty voice perfectly meshed with Laura Sinclair’s delicate keys and Luke Pearson’s guitar had already wowed me. Then version on Sober Dawn sounds crisper and all the instruments and vocals complement each other just that much more this time around.
Another song that may be familiar to some is the lead single “New Blood,” which the band has been performing live for some time now. It is great to finally hear the song in recorded form. The very catchy chorus makes it perfect for sing-alongs, arms wrapped around your friends at the show or by yourself at home thinking of what to do next. I’m also a sucker for songs with local shoutouts, so the opening line about local tattoo artist Jesse Germs opening Otherside Tattoo parlour immediately puts a smile on my face.
Becker’s impactful songwriting and gruff vocal style is unavoidable in the best possible way. I love it when a band has a calling card or some great consistent feature that makes you go “That is 100% a Jonathan Becker & The North Field song” for all the right reasons. The songs on the album, while rocking and intricately assembled, are very accessible and ones so many of us can relate to. From love to cold sobering mornings of lost love, to the interwoven good and the bad side of alcohol consumption, you can’t help but feel like Sober Dawn is the best sounding house show you have ever attended with a friend needing to open up and share some introspection.
It is also important to highlight the musical progress of this band and not just their frontman. The instrumentation has gotten tighter and fuller over the years, while still feeling very true to their beginnings. I also love the additions of Marlena Pellegrino on violin and Pascal Desgagne on pedal steel guitar really help elevate certain songs to that next level.
Catch Jonathan Becker & The North Fields live at their “Sober Dawn” album release show July 27 at Babylon supported by Claude Munson playing with a duo, as well as Little Suns frontman John Aaron Cockburn. Details can be found here. In the meantime, listen to the album below and learn all the words so we can sing along together.
CityFolk returns to Lansdowne Park once again September 12-16, 2018, for their 25th anniversary, and they aren’t pulling any punches with this year’s lineup. The festival normally does a good job of balancing the old and the new, as well as mixing in different genres to appeal to wider audiences. The five-day festival will see many stand-out acts hit the stages—most notably of whom is David Byrne of Talking Heads fame. Byrne is bringing his American Utopia tour to the capital for the first time since he played Ottawa Jazz Festival along with St. Vincent in 2013. Known for his stage antics and stunning visual performances, the much anticipated return of Byrne to Ottawa is sure to bring out the crowds. Let’s just hope the thunder and lightning stay away for his set this year.
Other well-known acts playing this year’s CityFolk are Hozier, Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker), Belle and Sebastian, The Decemberists, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Steve Earle & the Dukes, Lindi Ortega, Tune-Yards, Whitehorse, and Andy Shauf, among many others. There could be more acts announced, too, so we’ll update this post as more information gets released.
Also returning this year is the free local music programming, called Marvest. While that lineup has yet to be announced, we can certainly expect a lot of great Ottawa acts to be playing this September.
Pre-sale tickets go on sale May 24 at 10 a.m. and regular passes for the general public go on sale on Friday, May 25. More ticket and festival info can be found on the CityFolk website.
As a bit of an overzealous freak when it comes to good folk music in Ottawa, it’s been a few years now since I first developed a weak spot for decorated bilingual duo, Moonfruits. With the release of their sophomore album Ste-Quequepart in 2017, my generally cynical outlook on concept albums started bruised and further softened. The album was crafted to play like the soundtrack of an old film, one I’ve now listened to in its entirety on at least a dozen separate occasions. On the train, on the bus, in the shower, walking home from Vanier at 4AM. I’m often in search of escape and, if you are too, may I just say that the friendly, quirky romanticism of Saint-Somewhere is just the place to go to forget about where you may be.
As an anglophone and someone with an ego as fragile as tissue paper, I wanted to write about the album for some time but wasn’t sure I could do it justice, given how I am generally quite focused on lyrical content. I do believe, however, that their ability to convey authentic emotion through carefully constructed melodies and complimentary harmonic arrangements transcends any form of linguistic barrier, and that as someone who cannot actually understand 80% of what is being sung, I feel a genuine connection. That being said, I did take the time to translate most of the lyrics, though undoubtedly crudely, and found that I was not entirely off-base in terms of assuming the lyrical content based on the tone. I did read all of the English prose that accompanied the release of the album, many of which have a distinct Brother’s Grimm sort of flair which primed me for the blending of the wholesome and the foreboding.
There is a sort of unsettling undercurrent alive throughout the record with the ambling twang of the banjo conjuring images of a dusty, rusty old town in which all its strange but friendly inhabitants talk a bit too slow, stare a little too long, and love a little too hard (I’m particularly thinking of songs “Roustabout” and “Big Bureau Blues” here). The album has the drama of a cinematic experience, something I wholeheartedly attribute to the chemistry between its sole members Kaitlin Milroy and Alex Millaire. Their uncanny ability to banter back and forth with a sort of playful, dramatic edge before seamlessly marrying their voices with such captivating tenderness and sincerity speaks to their success as partners, in and out of the industry. As a married couple making music together, there is a sort of intimacy necessarily afforded to the listener that sometimes clouds our perception of how much hard work goes into appearing effortlessly in sync.
I reached out to chat with Moonfruits a few weeks back, knowing they were back in town after an extensive BC tour and they were kind enough to answer a slew of my questions, most of which were specifically about how their working relationship has evolved over the years, as well as how the relationship between their music and their audience has changed. Below you can read our correspondence in its entirety.
How has your dynamic as a duo changed over the years? Your sound? Your songwriting? How has it evolved?
We started off as a very bare bones street duo with just one beat up guitar, our two voices and a mittful of shakers. In order to make ourselves heard over traffic, footfalls, and sometimes other performers who played amplified in the street, a lot of our first tunes were pretty loud and percussive. As we started building a following, gigging indoors (!) and, especially, playing to more listening audiences, we sought more subtlety and intimacy in both our sound and message.
With our second record, Ste-Quequepart—an entirely French-language album—and over a hundred shows across Canada to all kinds of folks, bilingual storytelling is another dimension that has opened really itself up to us. More on that later! As well, we both learned new instruments for this album, banjo for Alex, and glockenspiel, tambourine and kalimba for Kait. Now that we’re back home, we’re turning our attention to writing and recording again, (and spending time with Sully the cat). We’re excited to see where the music and live show go!
Are solo projects out of the question? Are you working on a new album?
We’re really hitting our stride as Moonfruits and have so much we’d like to say and do through our music and performances that neither of us have really considered any solo projects per se. One thing that’s for sure is that we have a wealth of material we’re planning to record with more tunes, stories, and ideas always coming out.
How was your BC tour? What are the challenges of touring? Where would you like to tour next?
Though we had performed a couple isolated shows in BC last year, this first proper tour of Vancouver and Vancouver Island with Sarah Osborne was downright magical. Coming from Ontario, it’s sometimes hard to believe how majestic and imposing the Rockies are. We’d be walking down a little Victorian street in Nanaimo or Courtenay and have our breath taken away by the sight of them, while the folks from there would just kind of walk on and give us a funny look. They’re obviously quite used to them.
The people we met were all extremely welcoming and eager to share all that BC has to offer, which in our case meant amazing veggie-burgers, badass coffee, purple gin, seaweed–no coincidence that the highlights are largely food-dominated … we love food! And music and artists (of which there is a seemingly infinite amount in BC) that we absolutely need to check out.
We felt an instant connection with Sarah Osborne–we had only shared the stage once with her in Ottawa this past December–and the tour quickly became a healing and cathartic time on the road despite a pretty hectic schedule.
The challenges of touring are also the best parts–it’s a question of learning to manage your energy, stay healthy and rested and on top of emails and promo, but also stay in the moment, stay inspired, connect with new audiences, meet other artists and have fun!
Touring plans are currently taking shape in the form of a bike-music tour of Ontario, an Artists On Board trip through VIA Rail’s awesome program, *fingers crossed* a first tour of Europe, and then an eventual release tour for the next album. Pretty exciting.
St. Quequepart, to me, is the perfect roadtrip album for the folk lover. What albums do you listen to on tour? Who are you current favourite Canadian folk musicians? Francophone folk musicians?
If we’re completely honest, we’re pretty boring people and get a lot of our mojo and new musical ideas from silence. The road is also when and where we get a lot of our thinking, imagining, and planning for the future done, and, for us, that often needs large tracts of silence as fertile ground.
That being said, when we need some tunes, we often turn to one of our absolute favourite bands on the planet, Du Bartàs, from France. The five members play cuatro, accordion, asian violin and a tickle trunk’s worth of percussion instruments, and sing in Occitan (a branch of Latin that’s a close cousin to Catalan) and Arabic.
We saw them perform by chance on our first busking trip in Europe as a band–incidentally it was also shortly after we got engaged–and were immediately hooked as much by their political messages, as their crunchy harmonies as use of rhythm.
From participating in a few years of Folk Music Ontario conferences, we literally have a box of new Canadian music–tant en français qu’en anglais–we chip away at listening to while we’re on the road, but a few faves are our dear friends, Georgian Bay, Leif Vollebekk, Kyra Shaughnessy and The Ramblin’ Valley Band. Spoon, Fleet Foxes, Kaia Kater, Earth, Wind & Fire, Radiohead, and Sigur Rós are also never too far behind.
What kind of response do you get from your bilingual fans? Your francophone fans? Your anglophone fans? How does the response change from across Canada?
We’ve found that the response between francophones, anglophones, franco-curieux and plain old music lovers is pretty well the same the country over. We feel that the music behind the tunes translates their meaning well enough that even if a language isn’t spoken, it’s felt. Bringing in storytelling from the imaginary village of Ste-Quequepart has infused the performances with a lot of humour and, we find, gives an emotional arc to the set that really allows us and the public to create this imaginary world together–one that we’re always adapting and improvising around depending on where we are.
The choice to be visible, as well as audible, is always a little political, which has always been a sort of pillar of folk music. Do you feel the pressure from anglophone institutions to be ‘more accessible’ to anglophones? What do you think can be done by the anglo music community to be more inclusive of francophone musicians and francophone listeners?
To be fair, because French is a minority language in Canada–though it is extremely well supported compared to other languages spoken across the country–we’ve more so had the experience of institutions having those kinds of demands on the French side of things. If we’re performing for an institution whose mandate is to defend la cause francophone, often times our contract will be so explicit as to specify a percentage of the number of songs that must be in French and will occasionally specify that we need to address our public in French between songs. Arts granting bodies often have similar formulaic approaches to cultural support and development.
We love French, we love performing in French and we’re quite happy to do as we’re asked, but while this kind of approach jives with organizational mandates, it fails to jive with our artistic expression as a bilingual band. We want to play for music lovers of all sorts and to do that we want to create a space for audiences to discover something new, musically and linguistically. Linguistic plurality suits us better. On the flip side, because English so dominates the industry in Canada as a whole, in order to reach the broadest audience, your show and your music needs to be accessible to them. There are no formal requests because English is the default.
As a side note, our dear friends in Georgian Bay regularly write tunes that seamlessly incorporate French and English in the same song. That’s something that peeks our interest, and we’d love to attempt it. It flies in the face of this notion of language purity and it makes for beautiful poetry.
If we have a comment for our hometown, Ottawa, it’s that it would be wonderful to see a bar or venue openly welcome francophone, bilingual and franco-curieux performers and audiences alike. At present, there isn’t a spot that comes to mind–that isn’t North of the Outaouais river–that offers that kind of an atmosphere.
Where can we see Moonfruits next? Any new, exciting projects coming up?
There are a few very exciting things on the horizon for us!
On May 14th we launched a music video for our song “Le Maire,” pulled from Ste-Quequepart. It was shot at one of our favourite bars, Belmont, in our very own neighbourhood of Old Ottawa South with 30 of our fans, friends, and neighbours who kindly stood in as villagers from Ste-Quequepart (Alex’s dad even dressed up like the priest!). Andrew Robillard was our videographer, Don Charette of Naskigo Productions produced the video (he also produced our album Ste-Quequepart), local players of renown Don Cummings, Michel Delage, and Toby Meis played the house band, and it also incorporates drawings by France’s O’lee Graphiste. All in all, we’re pretty stoked to share it with folks!
Friday of this week, on May 18th, we’re excited to be performing with Montreal-based folk-rock collective Cheshire Carr at the Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield.
On June 8th, we’re playing an afternoon show for the Festival Folk et guitares d’Aylmer and, on June 23rd, we have the amazing opportunity of playing a joint concert at the Francofest de Hamilton with the Ottawa-based hip-hop artist and L’Armure du Son owner-operator Le R Premier, Hamilton-based DJ Unpier, Toronto beatmaker Kenan Belzner and members of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.
Ommie Jane is an Ottawa-based musician and writer for publications such as Ottawa Showbox and Ottawa Beat. She also runs the Ottawa Alt-Country Folk & Blues Facebook page, and occasionally promotes concerts through that name.
Ottawa indie-folk rockers Amos the Transparent are celebrating 10 years as a band with the release of their new album Anniversaries Saturday night at The 27 Club. And why not celebrate the occasion with some delicious craft beer? Music and beer go together like wine and cheese. The band has collaborated with Big Rig Brewery to release a special limited run of Amos Anniversaries beer—a 5.2% pilsener that will please the palate for many.
A decade and four albums later, Amos the Transparent have cemented themselves as a quintessential folk-canadiana. They have performed at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, CityFolk, SXSW, WayHome, The Strombo Show, CBC’s Q, and even the Big Sound Festival in Australia. They’ve also hosted an annual holiday show around Christmas time that always sells out. Needless to say, Ottawa loves Amos.
I caught up with lead vocalist and guitarist Jonathan Chandler to talk about the band’s longevity and the new album. Have a read below.
Amos the Transparent releases Anniversaries Saturday, May 12 at The 27 Club along with another veteran Ottawa group who have gotten back together for a few one-offs—The Love Machine—as well as Rumfit Mosey. Ticket and show information can be found here. Upcoming shows:
May 12 — The Ottawa 27 Club
June 21 — Ottawa Dragonboat Festival
July 8 — RBC Bluesfest
August 25 — Neat Café (Burnstown)
Interview with Jonathan Chandler of Amos the Transparent
This band has been together for 10 years now, which is much longer than most. What is the glue that has kept Amos around until now?
JC: Honestly, the fact that we are indeed friends has kept it fresh over the years. Because we genuinely like each other, I think that creates an open space for everyone to feel valued and feel free to discuss concerns or ideas. A band is indeed a relationship—a big complex family relationship—and just like a regular one, you need to work at it.
How have families, new business ventures (like Shoebox Recording Studio) and the passage of time affected how Amos approaches writing music?
JC: Scheduling has never really been an easy task with this band and it’s numbers but with growing families and big boy (and girl) careers, the windows become even smaller so that element of compromise and understanding has to be pretty strong. That said, we have our regular scheduled time that we meet weekly and everyone knows that that time is precious so we use it to the best of our abilities. Be that writing, rehearsing or just having everyone present to chat about concepts or ideas.
The band collaborated with Big Rig Brewery to make an Anniversaries beer. What is that about, and how did this partnership come together?
JC: Last summer Chris ended up running into Big Rig’s Brew Master Lon and Chris Phillips and they ended up, you know, sharing compliments about each others ventures. The idea of celebrating the 10-year milestone with a record came up and Lon expressed interest in helping out in any way he could, because, you know he’s a gem. Fast forward many months and we reached out to Big Rig and the plan of launching the Pilsner together was put in action. We’re really stoked about it—the beer is awesome and it’s just a cool piece of memorability to hang on to.
Is there anything you can think back and laugh about now when looking at yourself in your early 20’s being in a band?
JC: I laugh at the idea that I once thought we could take a 9 piece band on the road. Mind you when this band started, I wasn’t a newb to touring but my expertise was definitely not… seasoned. There are photos of us playing NXNE or festivals of the likely with trumpets and a line of singers… just absurd.
The new album explores many sounds and textures, keeping listeners engaged throughout. Can you talk about a common theme or meaning behind ‘Anniversaries?’
JC: From a writing perspective, these songs span a couple years. When I listen to the finalized album, I listen to the music and arrangements that we made as a collective, as opposed to the lyrics. I feel that musically speaking, the band is at its best and most comfortable right now and it shows with what we’ve made here, as a collective. I’ve always found myself struggling a bit with lyrics, trying to not sound redundant or foolish (which I know I’ve missed a couple times!). Regardless, there are many songs here about reflection and acceptance and I do feel that some of the words are among those I’m most proud of.
It seems like the band is still having fun. Does this mean we’ll get another anniversary in 10 years from now?
JC: I think we’ve explored the option of calling it quits enough times that we know where we end up at the end of that conversation—making another record! So, as long as folks might be interested in hearing new songs, I’m pretty sure we’ll supply some in one way or another.
Ottawa’s Rich Chris recently released his first full length solo album, Tales of Nostalgia.
The 14 acoustic tracks were recorded over the last four years while Rich Chris has been busy playing with countless other bands, most recently rocking out in Positive Charge.
From the 14-second intro track all the way through to the final song, which clocks in at over five minutes, Rich Chris has his heart on his sleeve, remnants of parties in his beard and stories to share. His punk rock roots certainly shine through in some of his strumming patterns, faster songs and vocals, but you can certainly can’t deny the folk influences and the ever present troubadour mentality emphasized with the harmonica. It is rather fascinating that an album which spans so many years—and consequently several important life changing moments and being mixed/mastered by different people in different places—can still feel as cohesive as it does.
My favourite thing about Tales of Nostalgia, and Rich Chris in general, is just how real and down to earth every song feels. He is not trying to paint the magnum opus. This is an album you can throw on and close your eyes and feel like Rich Chris is in your living room or around a fire performing for you and a bunch of your best friends about things you can all really relates with. As a life long resident of Ottawa, I’m also a sucker for songs that mention local landmarks and trigger fond memories from my past. Songs like “228” which chalked up full of trips down memory lane for me, that even if I didn’t know Rich Chris back then I feel like we had several similar experiences at parties and local watering holes like 1848 and Nostalgica during our university years.
Have a listen to Tales of Nostalgia below and kickback with the friend you never knew you had, or for those who know Rich Chris listen to your good buddy’s great work.
Catriona Sturton is a household name in Canadian music and beyond—her masterful blues guitar and harmonica stylings combined with her angelic sweetness are the trappings of a true musical powerhouse, a fact undeniably demonstrative in her live performances. Her songwriting, in juxtaposition to her inundated playing, is deliberate and subdued, yet both offer a sort of honest intimacy that rattles and soothes, an experience similar to getting socked in the gut while someone tenderly strokes your hair. It’s often too much for audiences’ hearts to handle and I’ve had the pleasure of bearing witness to that collective heartbreak on two separate occasions, with a third opportunity coming this Friday, April 13th at NAC Fourth Stage on a double bill with Alberta singer/songwriter, Liz Stevens.
This show will be markedly different than any previous iteration of her solo work in two signifanct ways; for the first time she will be backed by a band and, perhaps more startling, Sturton will be playing violin publicly, something she hasn’t done since she was a child. I spoke with her about what inspired these changes as well as what else she has planned for Friday evening.
Interview with Catriona Sturton
Can you tell me a little bit about your history with the violin and how you came to pick it up?
I played the violin for years as a kid. My grandfather was the local fiddler in the Irish village that my mum was from (he was also the seventh son of a seventh son!). I liked the idea of learning fiddle music as a kid but ended up taking classical violin lessons. I wasn’t a great student (ok, I was kind of terrible; I once showed up to a lesson with an empty violin case) but am now thankful that it gave me a good musical base. I used to think that I never fell in love with playing music ’til I discovered the harmonica, but I’m realizing now that I have really deep feelings for the violin.
What sparked the resurrgence?
I went on tour with The Noisy Locomotive and played with Trevor Pool and Ben Nesrallah, who accompanied me on violin on several songs. Since then, I knew there was something magical about the combination of violin and harmonica. I kept thinking I should find a violin player to tour with in the future, then one day I decided that I should try to play it myself.
What was the most challenging part?
My experience was that it wasn’t like riding a bike at all…. it felt like a very new instrument even though I had played it for a long time when I was younger it felt very new to pick it up again. Part of that was I had to hold it in a different way to be able to play harmonica at the same time. The fun part was that I kind of used the harmonica as a teacher to show me what I wanted to do on the violin. I do like a challenge though, so there is something grounding in being humbled.
Did you experience an awakening of sorts?
Last year I went to learn Irish music from my uncle and it made me really wonder why I hadn’t tried to learn some sooner. At that time I was playing songs on the diatonic harmonica and he also gave me an accordion. But starting violin made me feel really strongly and deeply that I should be connecting more with this side of my family’s musical heritage.
Do you feel vulnerable without your guitar?
Very much so!!!!
You’re working with drummer Ben Deinstadt and bassist Kristy Nease now, a departure from your usual solo performances. What brought you all together and how did you manage to find cohesion as artists?
I have been working as a one person band for 5 years. While working on arranging my songs, it became apparent that some of them have pretty idiosyncratic structures, which kind of explains why it was sometimes hard for me to explain what I wanted from other musicians in the past. I met Ben Deinstadt through GINNY’s Lesley Marshall and had heard he was interested in touring. When we started to get together to play music it was just for fun and we became good friends in the process. I was really impressed with how much attention he would put into learning little details and arrangements for the songs and I also loved how some of the parts he came up with weren’t what you’d expect at first but fit the songs in a way that it now feels weird for me to not hear them. And he helped me fix a bunch of my gear! He’s great! I think he’s a bit of a secret weapon, he said some people he knows don’t even know he plays the drums, but I can’t imagine that will be for long.
I have played with Kristy since I first started to seriously consider playing guitar and harmonica at the same time. She’s a real inspiration to me as a musician. One of the very first tours I did was with her, years ago, in Nova Scotia. She’s solid as a person and a bass player, and I feel very lucky that she can join us for this show. I think she’s in 5 bands at the moment, I’m not sure if this makes 6! I was standing next to her at a show and saw how intently she was watching the bands play and I didn’t even know if she played music, I just had a feeling based on how tuned in she was that she’d be great to play with. Years later she’s a great friend and I feel so comfortable playing with her.
I’ll also have Birdie Whyte and Sal Valley as special guests. They are two gems of songwriting in Ottawa and we’ve just started to play together, the three of us.
That sounds so incredibly special! I mean, though you live in Ottawa, we are rarely gifted with a chance to see you perform and it sounds like this Friday is going to be particularly incredible!
I try not to play in Ottawa too often, so that I have time to prepare and pull out all the stops when I do! This time I’ll have a Wheel of Fortune, made by Montreal artist Emily Comeau and props made of my art by Ottawa’s Kate Greenland (who performs as Mabel Beggs, solo and in Aiken and Beggs).
Not to mention the addition of Liz Stevens on the bill!
I can’t wait to hear Liz live. Her voice blows me away but I’ve only gotten to experience it on video and recorded. She has such a great ability to capture nuance and feeling. There is a video of her singing Wicked Game by Chris Isaak that is devestatingly moving.
You are also a visual artist, creating the most sunshiney of illustrations. Your smiling heart is almost a signature of sorts. You create artwork for others upon request seemingly just to brighten others days. What drives you to spread such positivity? Is it something you consciously curate or is it something you feel comes to you naturally?
It’s funny, when I first made a website my friend, Jason Cobill, who designed it, suggested I have my drawings on it. At the time I wasn’t sure how they fit with the music I was making. I write a lot of quiet and very moody songs. But the drawings I make definitely have a light and funny quality to them. I started making drawings online for people when I got a scholarship to an online group where my role was to be a cheerleader in exchange for doing the course for free. I really enjoyed tuning in to where someone was at and trying to see if I could draw something that would encourage them in that moment. I discovered an app I could colour in the drawings with and it all clicked for me. I started drawing more this year because after I got a concussion sound really bothered me and after months of laying pretty low I think I needed a creative outlet.
My favourite drawings to do by far have been for people by request, or when they ask for one for someone they care about so I’ve kept making more and more. It makes me happy to be able to do them and I feel lucky when I get to tune into people caring about each other. For example, parents might ask for one for their kids, or people will ask for their friends or partner. In the moment when I’m drawing I get to feel that love and it is really beautiful. I haven’t really considered myself to be an artist but I have started to get a number of commissions, which I really appreciate because it has really encouraged me. And I’m starting to make merch with my art. The first ones will be at this show, I have some pins.
You mentioned you had suffered a concussion that impacted your ability to play music. What was it like coming out of that? What have you learned from the adaption process?
I got rear ended this summer and hit my head on the steering wheel. It threw me for a big loop because one of the most difficult parts of it was that I became hypersensitive to sound, to the point that it made me nauseous. I had trouble if more than one conversation was happening at a time. And bright lights were too much. Basically everything that you have at a show I couldn’t handle. It was kind of heartbreaking because I had worked really hard for 5 years and was feeling like I was starting to build some momentum with my music career and then had to face not knowing what the process of recovery would look like. I had to lie in the dark with sunglasses on and my windows covered up.
The part that turned out to be the hardest for me was that my ability to read and respond to people was really affected. So, little things like talking to someone after a show was a huge challenge, let alone trying to talk to lots of people, which is actually a really big part of playing shows. The other thing that crept in later was that being rear ended made me feel cautious about driving, which is a huge part of touring. After moving through all kinds of challenges in the past few years and working really hard to keep unafraid and a positive attitude, I got kind of swamped.
One thing I realized throughout it all was that it is very scary to be vulnerable, and I think being kind of reduced in this way made me take more risks in writing songs that were more open about challenging times. And it made me want to move away from having a wall of sound that I had aspired to with a big amplifier, harmonica tone, and one-man-band posturing I used as a bit of a defense mechanism while touring solo. I mean, I still like to play loud at times! But it made me appreciate more how brave it can be to really open yourself up. In some ways I think I have started to connect with people on a deeper level after going through a few things and kind of having no choice but to reflect them in where I was at.
While difficult to comprehend how someone’s artistic well could possibly be mined deeper, the fact that someone so accomplished as Catriona continues to take artistic risks that bring us closer to her is a rare gift afforded to an audience: a gift you can receive this Friday evening if you believe in love and magic. Tickets are available a the NAC box office, or can be found online here.