Gatineau’s Outside I’m a Giant is set to release their much-anticipated debut album in Wakefield, QC, on Saturday night. The ambient folk trio was founded in early 2016 by Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist, Jérémi Pierre Caron, and have made their presence in the Canadian music scene known by their inclusion on bills at CityFolk Festival, Black Sheep Inn, the legendary Horseshoe Tavern, and venues scattered along the east coast while on tour.
Their debut record, Point Comfort, is the culmination of many of these early band experiences. Their hard work over the past two years has led them to the Black Sheep’s stage once again, this time celebrating the release of the spectacular 12-track effort. Its influences are likely numerous, but it is impossible to listen to Point Comfort without hearing—and feeling— the brooding, simmering echoes of Leonard Cohen embedded in their work. While Caron’s songwriting takes a more direct approach, the contemplative storytelling and enthralling musicianship ooze from this record in a similar way to Cohen’s body of work. One may simply find themselves sitting in silence in the moments after the record finishes, ruminating.
The intricacy and scrupulous instrumentation that is woven throughout Point Comfort is made immediately apparent, and the cinematic qualities that each song contains evokes moving imagery draped over emotions. Caron’s deep, rumbling vocals compliment the storytelling and instrumentation beautifully, grasping the listener in a comforting way while guiding us through the tumultuous journey. It some ways it is reminiscent of The National’s Matt Berninger, and Caron similarly utilizes his vocal prowess in ways that indulges the eardrums without overpowering the gentle instrumental moments, or distracting from the tapestry created by the strings.
If you’ve never had the chance to catch Outside I’m a Giant live, there’s no better place to see them than the Black Sheep Inn tonight in Wakefield. Ticket information can be found here, and at $10 each, it’s a steal.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—one of the most rewarding parts of this job is discovering new artists making music in town. That is certainly the case with the young and aspiring singer-songwriter named Christine Jakel, who I crossed paths with at Bar Robo last year when she played with her other project, Grace Note. Her talents are immediately impactful, and draw listeners in like a tractor beam through the headphones or on stage. As someone with a degree in classical voice from the University of Ottawa and lifelong piano training at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Christine’s kind and modest demeanour struck me as endearing given the sheer level of skill and experience contained within her. Thus, I took a mental note and made sure to keep an eye on her music-related ventures.
Fast forward a year or so, and Jakel announces that she’s releasing a solo EP called Satellite Moons, once again at Bar Robo, on September 30. It came as no surprise, and it seemed to only be a matter of time before she explored her solo songwriting in a formal studio setting. While I’ve only heard a couple songs off of the upcoming EP, my initial impression is that she has a musical “sense” about her that is well beyond her years. The songs weave between genres and influences, as certain polarizing elements of jazz and folk are somehow drawn together and melded with one another in her songs.
Her vocal prowess is put on full display, as Jakel seamlessly reaches the highs and lows of her octave—and everything in between—with laser-sharp precision. The rest of Satellite Moons is sure to contain more treats for us to hear. In the years to come, Ottawa should prepare itself for Jakel’s inclusion into a group of local women such as Kathleen Edwards, Catriona Sturton, and Lynne Hanson, just to name a few, who have consistently shown that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Ottawa valley and beyond.
I caught up with Jakel this week in advance of the Satellite Moons EP Release, which takes place at Bar Robo on Saturday, September 30th at 8 pm. She will be joined by Mike Giamberardino (drums), Szymon Szańczuk (bass), Dean Watson (electric guitar), and Charlotte Esme Frank (harmonies) on stage, along with opening acts Grace Marr and David daCosta. Tickets are $13, and include a download code for the album. Find more information here.
Interview with Christine Jakel
Can you talk a bit about how has music been a part of your life growing up?
Both my parents took it upon themselves to expose me to music growing up. My dad has been obsessed with jazz ever since I can remember and used to play jazz guitar in his spare time. There are some artists whose CD’s are deeply ingrained into my system from having listened to them so often: George Benson, Chet Baker, Diana Krall, Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, to name a few. I’ve probably heard Autumn leaves thousands of times because my dad used to practice it relentlessly. He was also the one who introduced me to Joni Mitchell, now my main source of inspiration for songwriting. Her song Big Yellow Taxi was the reason I started playing guitar. Wondering Where the Lions are by Bruce Cockburn was the next song I learned. He was another artist that I heard a lot of growing up because of my dad. My mom was the one who made sure I was taking classical piano lessons starting at a young age and shortly after we moved to Ottawa, she enrolled me in an arts high school (De La Salle) where I chose the voice program and subsequently became actively involved in its various vocal ensembles, while being trained as both chorist and a soloist.
You explore many sounds and themes in your music. What is most important aspect you focus on when composing a song?
For me songwriting always begins with lyrics and melody. The song craft and the overall message of the song are as important to me as the music itself. This is also what I listen for in other artists’ music. I find that I am most drawn to songs that are cleverly thought out but also genuine and direct. This is what I aim for when composing my songs. Overall atmosphere, chords and instrumental riffs come are there to enhance those elements.
What was the Shot in the Dark experience like for you? Can you describe it for those who may not know?
It felt great to be a part of something that I knew was contributing to the local music scene in a positive way. Not only did I get one of my own songs recorded and filmed for the first time, but I had the chance to hear and meet so many talented local artists that I never would have discovered otherwise. In a way it acted as a spring board for me as a newly emerging musician because it led to more opportunities for shows and collaborations.
The performance itself was unlike anything I have ever done before and I don’t think it’s one I’ll be forgetting anytime soon. When I came on, Dean made the call to remove all amplification and to bring the audience close in around me, so there was zero background noise and I could feel everyone watching and listening to me intently. It was terrifying in the best way (I don’t think I’ve ever felt so exposed), and I couldn’t be happier with the result! (video available below)
What reaction or emotion do you hope to evoke from those listening to the new EP, Satellite Moons, for the first time?
I hope that anyone listening finds something they can relate to in my songs and feel moved or inspired by even if it’s just in a small way. I also hope to send an empowering message to other women out there who may feel intimidated or out of place taking up space or making themselves heard in the music scene. From what I’ve seen, the industry could really use more female representation. Knowing this reality is partly what fuels my work. Furthermore, I would love for people to perceive the depth in my songs and to hear beyond something that’s “cute” or “pretty.” Those are two words that I’ve been called my whole life, that bother me when they are used in a belittling way (whether intentionally or not), and that I’d like to break free from at least in the context of my music. This is why I’ve made sure to include some angry songs on the record.
Do you have a memorable concert experience that you can recount that perhaps influenced your music?
This past March I had the opportunity of seeing The Staves play live at the Bronson Centre. I was floored by how polished their performance was and by the wide range of soundscapes they managed to create using their voices and various instrumental skills. What I particularly like about them is that they stray from the traditional lead-singer vs. band setup. Each member plays an equal part in the singing and the balance between their voices shifts from one song from the next in fascinating ways. Their sound is very much contingent upon them gelling as a team. For me, the experience of hearing them opened doors to new realms of possibility when arranging music, which made me want to go home and write songs immediately.
Is there one venue or city that is on your bucket list to play? Why?
I am open to the possibilities of where my music might take me. Playing music is what makes me happy. Whether it’s in a noisy bar or the NAC or at an intimate gathering, I am grateful for any opportunity to share my work, the more unexpected the better! Short term, however, I do currently have my sights set on Megaphono. I have so many good memories from attending the festival as an audience member and it seems like something I’d like to experience and be a part of, hopefully as a performer this year.
What’s the next step for you musically?
In the next year I am hoping to gain regular instruction at guitar and to lock in a few more hours of practice per week than I usually do. Everything I know so far, I taught myself, besides the odd trick I picked up from my dad and my uncle, and there is so much I have yet to learn about the instrument. This would give me a whole lot more to work with when writing songs, which I intend to continue doing as much as possible. My goal is to have enough songs written by next summer to be able to start on an album. I already have a few on the go.
Gee, the Ottawa Folk Festival sure has changed. Since 2011 when the Bluesfest producers took over, CityFolk as it’s been so recently dubbed, has become an extension of Ottawa Bluesfest. In all but name, size and location, CityFolk is indistinguishable from its older festival brother. That old “where is the blues in Bluesfest?” criticism can and has been applied.
But for the second night of 2017’s CityFolk, the festival seemed to harken back to its roots, presenting a lineup of artists who likely wouldn’t be offended at the use of the term folk to describe them. Jack Johnson headlined the night, and his acoustic sensibilities informed his openers, from Nathaniel Rateliff to local favourite Honey and Rust.
However, because there is so much overlap between these artists, many fans may have found themselves double booked, which is the other major criticism levelled at festivals like Bluesfest: you can’t see everything you want to. So it was Thursday night as Jenn Grant took to the indoor stage as Nathaniel Rateliff took the outdoor. Though the word was that both shows were great, Nathaniel Rateliff’s set was the highlight of the night for many.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have recently exploded out of Denver with their song “S.O.B.” reaching number one on the American Adult Alternative Charts in 2015. It’s a catchy song with a swear in the hook, so its popularity is to be expected. What was unexpected, at least to the casual listener, is the degree to which Nathaniel Rateliff backed up that hit with a solid set, characterized by country-folk-esqueness.
Rateliff is a born performer, and he certainly looks the part. With his ten-gallon hat and wide gait, his appearance lent authenticity to a new band playing a very old style of music. I don’t want to say he’s making the organ cool again, but he’s certainly trying. With horn-blaring crescendos aplenty, Rateliff’s band had the crowd stamping their feet to his well-written music.
Fitttingly opening for Rateliff was The Family Crest, a recording collective whose music is a loving homage to the folk music structure. Overtop of excellent melodic work, the group’s talented musicians create a beautifully textured sound, replete with horn, keys and multiple guitars. Because they’ve refined this sound to such an extent, their sound is pretty consistent. There are negatives and positives to this, but one clear negative is that no one song stood out to one unfamiliar to their music. However, the band performed exceptionally, and while they may lack a certain memorableness, they make up for it by putting on a great show.
Inside at the RavenLaw stage, Ottawa’s Honey and Rust performed an intimate set of music from their self-titled album released last year. Despite some shakiness, most likely due to the inclusion of two temporary (?) new members to their duo, the band’s sound was clear and refined, with the instant hook of Jo Beattie’s voice. Her singing brings out the sadness that is so often a feature of the band’s music, and Cristy Williams’ drumming compliments it perfectly.
From the emotional intensity of Honey and Rust, we turn to the closer of the night, Jack Johnson, whose emotional intensity was that of a bag of cotton balls. Judging from the crowd at his show, it’s unclear if he’s a musician or a party entertainer. Chalk it up to “shitty Ottawa crowds” if you like, but most people at J. J.’s concert seemed more interested in their conversational partner than the stage. Whether he was making banana pancakes or being all positive, Johnson wasn’t able to hold their attention.
And yet the park was packed. Clearly Johnson has a following in this city. It seems that Johnson just isn’t great live, and despite their love for him, his fans are more used to having him on in the background of a party.
The show was pretty lackluster. Johnson swayed his way through his repertoire, pausing every so often to make low-energy comments to the crowd about the weather. I do understand that low energy is Jack Johnson’s style, but for an outdoor festival with a huge stage, it felt incongruous, even boring.
At one point, his keyboard player crowd surfed for about one minute. Crowd surfing to Jack Johnson is a very odd thing to do, and even Johnson seemed confused, demanding the crowd return his keyboard player for the next song. And it is that image of the gangly keyboardist riding a wave of people as Jack strummed his acoustic guitar, swaying ever so gently, that most encapsulates the mixed tone of this show.
Part of that mixed tone is due to CityFolk’s own identity crisis as it seeks to draw more crowds, growing a festival that is trying to stay dedicated to its folk roots while putting on shows for thousands of people. Maybe folk and stadium crowds don’t go together? Tell that to Bob Dylan and Neil Young, I guess.
The cool air has arrived in Ottawa, and brings with it the whispers of autumn. What better way to celebrate the harvest and changing of the leaves than a new album from Ottawa heavy-hitting folk rockers Jack Pine & The Fire? The group’s new record Left To Our Own Devices will be released this weekend, and I got a sneak peek into the nine-track effort.
Ottawa native Jack Pine (a.k.a. singer/songwriter/producer Gareth Auden-Hole) grew up in the city, but admits that his heart belongs to the northern wild. It’s appropriate that the band’s name comes from the recognizable ragged tree that was made famous by Canadian artist Tom Thompson. The band’s music continually maintains a strong connection with the wilderness, with subjects such as rushing rivers, sleeping under the stars, solitude, and the metaphorical lone wolf scattered throughout. The new album genuinely feels like it could have been conjured up and recorded in a cabin 500 kilometers away somewhere in northern Ontario.
Left To Our Own Devices incorporates the band’s trademark americana-folk inspired sound dipped in Ottawa valley twang. More than any of their previous records (which I also enjoyed thoroughly), Devices offers a more complete picture of who this band is and what they have to offer. There’s a tug-of-war between the past and present on this record, as it recalls the great folk songwriters of days gone by while offering a modern take to listeners—one that could draw them in and keep them close while Jack Pine’s story is told (probably around a campfire).
The warm sounds of Martin Newman’s upright bass provide a tender, yet sturdy backbone for the album’s more restrained tracks such as “The Run Down” and “Lone Wolf,” but his fancy finger-work is also unleashed in tracks like “Seven Generations.” Mike Essoudry’s percussion brings forth the foot-stomping element that we all know and love, and is sure to have fans clapping along to fun songs like “Credit River” during live performances. Stuart Rutherford’s twangy resonator is truly enveloping, and recalls the distant bluegrass influences that surely helped inform their music, blending seamlessly with the fiddles and guitars.
All in all, Left To Our Own Devices is a great accomplishment. It contains inspired musicianship and instrumentation, captivating themes and songwriting, and has mountains and valleys of energy that elucidate how dynamic this band really is. Jack Pine and The Fire have shown, once again, that they are masters of their domain and that they’re more than just a gritty folk-rock band with strings.
Be sure to catch Jack Pine & the Fire at Irene’s Pub this Friday, as they get set to release ‘Left To Our Own Devices’ to the world in full. Tickets are $15 adv/door and can be purchased at Irene’s Pub, Compact Music, The Record Centre, and their PledgeMusic Store here.
For a few years now, CityFolk has included an offshoot “mini festival” of sorts called Marvest. We’ve been lucky enough to help get the initiative off the ground and collaborate with the festival, as well as some kick ass local bands, in presenting Marvest shows over the past few years. This year, festival organizers have done a great job at stacking Marvest lineups to the brim with talent, and the Glebe is going to be overrun with the sounds of some of Ottawa’s finest musicians (whether they like it or not).
We’ve compiled some samples of all the local artists on board for Marvest this year, and included their venues and scheduled set times. We strongly encourage you to go explore the local component of CityFolk this year!
A few weeks ago, my friends and I went to the Horticultural Building at Lansdowne in Ottawa for the Ukrainian edition of Ottawa Welcomes the World. We were treated to two great sets of live music by some of Ukraine’s finest, ONUKA and Mad Heads… for free.
Ottawa Welcomes the World invited embassies and high commissions to mark their country’s national celebration in Ottawa with free events which highlight their nation through food,art, music and more. I had no idea about these events and I have clearly missed out on a lot of really fun days and nights, but lucky for me my buddy invited me to go check out Ukraine.
The evening started with a sand art performance where the artists moved sand around on a back-lit platform creating beautiful images to tell the story of Ukraine and Canada’s connection. All of this accompanied by a violinist. It was very impressive and visually stunning.
Mad Heads, from Ukraine, performing at the Horticultural Building in Ottawa.
After a few speeches from very distinguished guests, including the ambassador to Canada, it was time for the music. Up first was Mad Heads—a ska band and the reason we were there. Little did I know they had been performing and releasing music for over 25 years and 8 studio albums. They were high energy and a lot of fun. I didn’t understand a word, other than their cover of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” but their music was infectious and had us dancing.
ONUKA, from Ukraine, performing at the Horticultural Building in Ottawa and putting their big “horn” on display.
Headlining the night was ONUKA. ONUKA, which means granddaughter, are an electro-folk act and were introduced as a band with chart-topping hits all over Europe. The band has four main members, a singer/wind instrumentalist, keyboardist, percussionist and a banduryst (which is one of the coolest looking instruments ever with so many strings). For their live performance they also had a three piece brass ensemble with a french horn and two trombones. During some songs one trombonist switches to this massive 10 or 12 foot horn. All of this was performed in front of an ever changing video screen ranging from the abstract to animals. All that to say that it was quite a sight to see and even better to hear. One of the most touching and heavy moments was when they performed a song “Vidlik.” Lead singer Nata Zhyzhchenko simply introduced the song saying “let’s all pray for the victims of 1986,” which was a reference to the Chernobyl disaster, the biggest disaster in the country’s history.
All the great music was complimented by traditional Ukrainian food, including perogies and cabbage rolls, as well as Lvivske—a Ukrainian beer which traces its roots to a monastic beer of 1715. It was an amazing night and of this is a sign of what to expect from other Ottawa Welcomes the World events, I strongly encourage you to check them out.
Tribe Royal is a four-piece band from Ottawa formed in 2014 who cannot be placed in a box. The band explores all sorts of nooks and crannies within the rock genre with zero reservation. Another thing that really helps the band stand out is it features three vocalist who all bring very different singing styles and influences to the table. This has lead to the band generating quite a bit of buzz while touring and releasing a couple of records along the way.
We caught up with songwriter, singer, guitarist, and pianist for the group Terry O’Brien to chat about the band and their upcoming performance on the main stage at Bluesfest. Check out the interview below and have a listen to the band before you catch them rocking Bluesfest at 6:00 PM on Thursday July 6th.
1.You have been playing Ottawa now for more than three years, but for those who don’t know you guys, can you please describe your sound?
We’re a mix of modern and vintage inspired rock. A little throwback, rootsy and even edgy at times. There’s elements of folk as well as americana with a focus on melodic songwriting and vocal harmonies. The spectrum of genres we touch on is pretty wide and we definitely love to explore.
2.What drives that interest in the sounds and influence from decades past?
The physical connection to the instruments and music that allows us to express ourselves is really what drives it. There’s no feeling quite like performing music with a group of your closest friends, there really is a magical aspect to it. Part of the influence comes from our parents and what we were exposed to at a young age. There’s an unmatched warmth to the way things were done back in the day. That’s not to say that we don’t enjoy new music, things are just done a little differently.
3.What have been some of your highlights a long the way over the last couple of years?
Creating, recording and performing music with our best pals. Travelling has definitely been a highlight. We’ve been out to the east coast a few times now as a band and there’s just something about the ocean and the overall vibe out there that keeps calling us back. You really learn a lot about each other and about life in general when you’re travelling the country living out of a trailer with six people. Meeting and hanging out with interesting people has always been a highlight for us. It’s so cool to hear someone’s story and trade experiences. It really makes everything worthwhile when we see people connecting with our music and it keeps the love of creating and performing burning strong.
(Shot in the Dark is a live on the floor video session hosted by Gallery Recording and JustPixl which brings together the Ottawa music community)
It was a lot of fun, very liberating. We had been looking to film a high quality live video for quite some time so it was perfect for us. There was definitely some sort of pressure to get a good take but we were really happy with how we played. We recorded our latest record at Gallery Studio with Dean Watson so it was cool to be back and recording a live version of one of our singles in the same space. I would definitely recommend it to any artist considering Shot In The Dark.
5.What was your reaction when you found out you would not only be playing Bluesfest, but be opening for Sam Roberts?
When we got the email it was pretty overwhelming. It’s quite an honour to be sharing the stage with one of our idols and we’re really excited about it. It has been quite the journey to get to this point and it’s a huge step forward for us.
6.Have you been planning anything special or doing any game planning for being on the big stage?
We’ve practiced a few times. We’ll tune our guitars, do some hip rotations, and hit the stage ready as ever. But in all seriousness we’ve got a few things prepared for the big show..
7.What else does the band have in store for this summer and the rest of 2017?
After Bluesfest we’re hitting the road for our third east coast summer tour. We’ll be gone for almost a month and it’s always something we look forward to. After that we’re lining up some shows for the fall and talking about going out west with maybe some recording in there as well. We’ll see what happens but it’s looking like it’s going to be busy for us!
Some of you may recognize Chris Landry from his other project the much heavier The Glorious Moonrockets or as that super friendly long-haired guy in a leather jacket at seemingly every punk and metal show in the region. But with One fifty five, Landry and his Seasick Mommas showoff that he is no one trick pony as they explore a range of country and folk sounds.
The first full track, “Writing to explain,” opens with slow guitar picking and the crisp sound of cracking open a beer. This sets the stage for a sad and lonely album tinged with country and folk songwriting of old. This is not your modern day upbeat pop-country or folk that currently floods (or should I say, clogs) radio airwaves and arena shows. This is music made from a darker and lonely place with pure honest emotion and sentiment oozing out of every verse. The steel string guitar really adds beauty to this melancholy, especially paired with Landry’s hurting yet comforting voice.
“Yukon nights” is a temporary shift away from sadness and towards the old folk tradition of telling a tale in song. The duets with Kerri Carisse (of The Yips) during the chorus really elevates the track, adding that extra dimension to the tale. Almost sounds two parents giving advice to their children of a younger generation.
If you are looking for something a little more, dare I say “pop-like,” you need to sink your teeth into the song “2 bedroom apartment” which reminds me of Wilco’s lighter side. Upbeat music with sad lyrics, nice harmonies, and great guitar work. This is especially true near the end of the song when Landry sings “I want to hear you coming in at night / I want to yell at you to turn off the lights / And I even miss those fights and I can tell you now that you were right / In that 2 bedroom apartment / You’re gone and it’s getting late / I sit and I stare and I’m starting to fade.”
After getting this close to Landry through his songs, it is only fitting that the album like a relationship ends with a break-up song. I don’t know you Laura, and I am in no way picking sides. But your leaving certainly left quite the hole in Mr. Landry’s heart.
Have a listen to One fifty five below and go hear it live this Friday, May 12th at Irene’s Pub. More information here.
If you were to delve into Graven’s most recent record Jaybird, you might find yourself feeling a sense of nostalgia. Graven is the ongoing alt-country/folk project of Matt McKechnie, a long-time musician, journalist, videographer… and whatever else it is he is really good at. He is supported by his band, The Dirty Hustle, who added some gritty layers and rounded out a lot of the songs on Jaybird. We walk the finely woven web of McKechnie’s memories and musings, reflections that translated into a concept for an album. Jaybird is the culmination of those efforts, and it’s a finely composed collection of folk songs that range from the delicate and solitary to the hopeful and anthemic. There is a search for meaning that lingers throughout, which is hinged to the impetus of this album – the transient nature of moments, the inescapable reality that all things in life are impermanent. The bird flies through one’s field of view long enough to create a snapshot in time, if only in the mind, and then it’s gone.
McKechnie’s stories are true Canadiana – those of longing, connection to the wild, solitude, and the ties that bind. The first track, “All Roads,” is a shackle-breaking start to the record which would be most suitable on a cross-country drive soundtrack. This energy and spirit continues through tracks such as “Edmonton Eyes”, “Big Lake, Sky Summer,” and “In The Woods of Me” which offer irresistible guitar twangs and steady, driving percussion as the heartbeat of the album.
The last half of the album’s energy takes a turn, toning things down and bringing the listener in close. “O Little Plum” is a brief yet heart-warming ode to a newborn child, taking pause to appreciate the beauty of bringing a life into the world in spite of all its cruelties and hardships. As McKechnie takes us to the end with “Lone,” we’re left to reflect on his words and compositions. That’s how this album hooks you – it is pensive and raw, untethered from the harnesses emotional apprehension. That is the power of a good song, or in this case, a good album. It draws the listener in and takes them on a journey through it all.
I spoke with McKechnie around the time of Jaybird’s release in April. Be sure listen to the album stream below and catch Graven at The Black Sheep Inn on June 15 supporting Slow Leaves and Colleen Brown. Tickets and information here.
Interview with Matt McKechnie of Graven
How did you get into music? What drove you to start making your own music and performing?
I started making music in my teens and played in various basement grunge and alt-rock bands with a rotating chorus of friends like Jeff Dixon, Brian Macdonald, Mark Richardson, and many more. But I was always a background player and never wrote much original stuff – and I wasn’t really that good at bass or guitar in my teens. I could slide my fingers around and hit good notes (most of the time).
I stuck with guitar, though, and eventually, after playing somewhat seriously with a band in the Kitchener/Waterloo area (after going to school at Guelph), I was getting into my early twenties and coming up with song ideas of my own. I was always fascinated with words and poetry at a young age, and I went to university for English, so I kept using words like weapons. They could help me describe what I was feeling or thinking at the time, but mostly, I wanted to be Billy Corgan. He was one of my songwriting/musical idols for many years.
Tell me a bit about your life growing up
My background is pretty normal, really. Born in Nepean. I grew up in a white, Christian family in Trend Arlington. I spent a lot of time playing Atari, and biking around my neighbourhood with baseball cards in my spokes while taking trips to Macs Milk on Greenbank, and to the Leslie Park pavilion for lik-a-maid and big league chew. My next door neighbour and best friend Bri had a swimming pool. I pretty much had it made.
How has your music and approach to making music changed over the years?
I think my approach to music has basically stayed the same. I really just like working on the songs and getting better and almost having no agenda. I have a lot of music that I like and love and there are many songs that have wowed or moved me. At some point, in my late teens or twenties, I remember thinking that I wanted to get songs out into the world, too – just to see what would happen if people beyond my family and friends could hear them. But I’ve never been on any carved or shaped road, in terms of a success plan with music. I just really want to keep getting better at writing songs. How did you get together with your band The Dirty Hustle? The Dirty Hustle were all mutual friends from the Kemptville area who played in another friend’s band called Brad Sucks. Brad is mostly a successful solo artist with a huge online following, but when he plays live, they are the backbone of the sound. Ben Mullin (the guitarist) and I became friends, and he started playing guitar with me in a duo setting at some fun shows. Eventually we started jamming with Steve Gaw (bass) and Justin Purvis (drums) in Steve’s rock n’roll lair of a basement, and it all seemed to work.
Have you toured extensively?
I have toured across Canada on a few occasions. I toured once as a solo songwriter with two old camp friends (JD Edwards and Trish Jamieson), and two other times as Ali McCormick’s side-guitarist and vocalist. The road is the real-life epic journey of being a songwriter and a performer. If there’s any way to push you out of you comfort zone, touring is the real test of your mettle. You meet some weird and amazing and beautiful people on the road, and you learn to appreciate your home a lot more. You also learn to enjoy playing to a room of three people who are really listening to your songs, or a room of 200 loud, brawling drinking Calgarians. It’s all part of the story.
I don’t plan on touring anywhere until my three and a bit month old daughter is a wee bit more grown up. I’m currently looking more into building into my Ottawa community, and supporting other songwriters and creators in the area.
What’s the story behind Jaybird?
The album that loomed weightily in my mind, consciousness, soul and in the dusty sound-hole of my Sigma for almost two and a half years is finally ready for public consumption. These songs are about a very specific period in my life, and for nearly a year, I struggled with my desire to even make this album happen. Many of the songs were based on a concept that was linked to real life.
In the spring of 2013, I traveled alongside Matt Mays and his band for a few shows to film some social media videos. After 3 shows in southern Ontario, I headed back to work for my dad’s accounting company in Ottawa, and the band headed west to Alberta. 4 days after I left the band, Jay Smith (a guitarist and epicentre of the group) was found dead in his hotel room in Edmonton, Alberta. It was hard to know what to think or feel, and many of musical friends from Halifax and the greater music community were shredded. But I sort of went through that process as an outsider – as I only knew Jay for a couple of days, and we only had one real conversation about a mutual east coast friend.
In that short time, though, I saw that he affected many people in a heavy sense. It was shortly after this happened that I also separated from my ex-wife, and knew that my life needed some massive changes. And so, in the upheaval of such a mass-traumatic event, I was enduring personal traumas of my own. People seemed to be dying all around me. A great friend of my brother’s passed away that summer from cancer, along with my friend Dan’s father, and a kind man and accountant from my dad’s company. The songs of Jaybird aren’t really about Jay or any specific person – although that event is a flashpoint for the theme of the album.
In 2015, my friend Paul Myers (a longtime journalist and musician) posted a photo that he took with an iPhone app in Singapore. The photo is of a bird flying away from him, as he views it from behind – and I realized that Jaybird was about that very momentary idea. People can bring such colour and beauty and brilliance and power and creativity and inspiration and laughter and love to our lives – and in another instant, they can be gone. I started to see this truth also become evident in the seasonal nature of friendships, and how the good ones will last through storms – but the ones that weren’t very rooted or worth much weight can dissipate in the smallest spring shower. But despite the deluge, Jaybird is ready to be let out of doors from its dark, cabin basement dwelling to see the unrelenting and hopeful light of day.
15 songs were first tracked by Tom Brown and Steve Gaw in August on 2015 in Steve Gaw’s basement. Tom captured a great overall sound for the beginning of the record, and Steve recorded one of the most sonorous tracks of the record with two microphones on one take. And after this pivotal point of making the first dent, I began to see another bird – one that was flying to me. After many years of searching and waiting, I found Jillian in the fall of 2015 (October), and we clicked instantaneously and started a beautiful love relationship. And in the spring of 2016 (May), our daughter Sloan started winging her way into the world and joined us on December 24, 2016.
The song “O Little Plum” is the spark of new things amidst the sorrow, and a breaking point in a long night. My super-talented band (The Dirty Hustle) definitely added master strokes to this record. Steve Gaw (bass, keys) and Justin Purvis (drums) played on nearly half the tunes, and Ben Mullin (guitar) was able to get on one, but in the end, I ended up rounding out the majority of this work on my own. My old camp friend Jason Germain (of Jason Germain Mastering in Nashville, TN) added some incredibly skillful fine-tune brush strokes to the main meat and edges of the sound, and he really put forth a powerhouse effort to get these songs finished. I hope you find some solace in Jaybird, or at least a tiny awakening. It did that for me. May it find you well – wherever you are.