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.
Whether it’s the white-knuckled knee-stompers, the whiskey-soaked ballads, or anything else in between, Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers make music that raises eyebrows. They are road dwellers, travelling around the world and picking up adoring fans along the way. His hard-hitting and sometimes poignant lyricism has become nationally renowned, and his melodies draw from traditional Eastern European and Jewish traditions. As Ben and his band get set to play at Shenkman Arts Centre this weekend, we are trying something a little bit different. We got the opening artist, Gareth Auden-Hole a.k.a. Jack Pine, to interview the scruffy songwriter.
Be sure to catch Jack Pine share the stage with Ben Caplan and the Casual Smokers this Friday, April 7th at Shenkman Arts Centre. Ticket information can be found here.
Artist on Artist: Jack Pine interviews Ben Caplan
Jack: How’s it goin’?
Ben: It’s goin’ well. Yeah we’re just sittin’ in the van cruising on the way to Sudbury. Should be there in about an hour and change. Today is day 3, we played Kingston last night, Montreal the night before that, and we had one solo gig… sort of a leaving home gig… in New Brunswick last week.
J: Cool, sounds like fun!
B: Totally, it’s been a nice run so far.
J: And you were’t home all that long, were you? You had a really long tour ending in the fall?
B: I did, yeah, I had maybe two and a half months off or something like that… then back out into the world.
J: And you were overseas for much of that last tour. Do you have a favourite place to play in the world?
B: Ooh, tough one… I mean, there’s so many different kinds of gigs, and places. It’s hard to pick. But I really loved the last show we played in Utrecht, a city in the Netherlands. Some really, really cool shows there, and that last one was just amazing.
J: Yeah, I hear that touring Europe is a lot of fun and provides like a different audience experience…
B: Absolutely. It’s like a completely different valuation of the role of art in culture and in society. It’s a great place to hang out and a great place to play shows!
J: And what about Ottawa? I mean, other than amazing opening acts, what’s your favourite thing about touring through Ottawa?
B: I dunno, I like Ottawa. It’s a city I’ve had the privilege of spending a bunch of time in, I did a lot of the post-production on my album in Ottawa. And it’s got a cool arts scene and it’s got a lot of cool people… my drummer Jamie Kronick lives in Ottawa, so that’s a nice connection. I’m looking forward to it!
J: For your post production, you’re talking about Phil Bova’s studio?
B: Yeah, totally! Great guy.
J: You seem to put a lot of effort into creating really unique arrangements in your recordings, and you also have a reputation for truly unique and distinct performances from show to show. How should a live performance relate to the recorded version?
B: Well I don’t think it matters at all… the song is what matters, right? I think that the live performance and studio performance are two completely different mediums. You have different tools that are available to you, and also the way that people are going to interact with your art is totally different in the two different mediums. So with this last album I tried to really experiment with everything that the studio format offered offered that the live format was incapable of doing. So for example, there’s no way I’ll ever have a harp player on tour with me. It’s not in the budget, it’s not the first of 10 instruments or instrumentalists that I would hire. But in the studio you need to pay somebody for like a day, so what sounds could you experiment with and how would that impact an arrangement? Those are the kinds of questions I was asking when making my record, and then live it’s about how do you use your own energy and the energy of the people on stage with you to create an emotional experience that will be impactful and beautiful for the people standing in front of you
J: I totally agree! I record bands myself and when we’re in studio I often say “when you’re in studio you’re trying to make the best album you can and on stage you’re trying to make the best show you can,” and they aren’t always the same thing.
That said, for this show I’m planning the opposite approach in that I’m basically trying to recreate my Lone Wolf EP on stage for the first time.
B: Amazing, I’m looking forward to hearing that!
J: Yeah me too… I mean… I’m looking forward to doing it!
Now Birds with Broken Wings was your second album and I’ve heard you talk before about the “Second album syndrome” during production… can you comment on that experience?
B: Sure, I guess my first album gave me a platform and the resources to make another record, but suddenly there was this demand – you know, nobody gave a shit if I made my first album at all, I did it for myself. And then suddenly there was this feeling of weight and responsibility and obligation to people other than myself – the people who would be working with me, business partners, and primarily to my audience. And then to myself with sort of this pressure to keep rolling this stone up the hill and an illusion of being further along on some path… I felt the pressure to perform. You know you have your whole life to write the first album and then writing a follow up record, you have to do relatively quickly, so I felt all of these interesting pressures. But it was great because it pushed me to think big, to think in grandiose terms, and to try to surround myself with people who I could trust and who I enjoyed collaborating with. So it was an interesting sort of pressure cooker, crock pot situation that I found myself in, but I think it was a good thing for me. A good learning experience. And now reflecting on that, I feel this third album pressure and I’m more able to remind myself that it’s all kind of illusory and that my responsibility is to the art, and to myself and to the songs
J: So what will be different about the 3rd album syndrome?
Ben: Well, you know, with the thirst album I don’t think think I have anything to prove. I think I’m just going to make something that I like and hope that other people like it. Hopefully that works out for me.
J: So as a singer-songwriter-producer who’s finally putting the final polish on my own 2nd album, do you have any advice for battling the second album syndrome?
B: No. I don’t haha! You just have to work through it. As I was saying, just being rigorous and serving the song, that’s all you can ever do.
J: Your influences seem to be extremely broad and I can definitely respect that a lot. Who’s on your must-see-before-you-die list for live performances?
B: Hmm… geez… well you know when you’re on tour as much as I am, in a funny way the last thing I can picture wanting to do is going to a show when I don’t have to. But… uh… can I take a pass?
J: Well, mine would be Tom Waits… a rare live performance to see. I feel like you could relate to that.
B: Well, I got to see him a couple of years ago. I saw him perform at the Bridge School Benefit concert, a yearly concert that Neil Young puts on. So I went to Mountain View, California, to go see that show and it was pretty cool.
J: Specifically for that show?
B: Totally! Yeah, it’s like ‘well I’m not going to get many opportunities to see Tom Waits, I’m sure. So now that there is one, I’d better fly to California.’
J: Exactly… it’ll happen for me eventually, too.
B: Here’s hoping. My fingers are crossed. You just have to be willing to fly to California, that’s all.
J: Totally possible.
I saw that Uptown Funk video that you did with Old Man Luedecke. Is that something that you do with the band often? Or just a one off?
B: It was a one off. The CBC asked us throw together some sort of Top 40 hit to perform as a collaboration between Old Man Luedecke and I, and we were totally gob-smacked as to what to do because neither one of us listens to a ton of Top 40. So trying to figure out what we could collaborate on was tricky, but I wound up suggesting that one. And it was a fun exercise to like try to figure out how to arrange that with those musicians and throw it all together. I practiced it a few times with the members of my own band and then with Old Man Luedecke. We had maybe an hour in the studio to try to mash it together and make it happen. I’m pretty pleased with how it came together.
J: Yeah it was pretty tight!
B: I credit everyone else around me.
J: You say you don’t listen to a lot of Top 40 hits, but do you have any guilty pleasures? I won’t tell anyone, I swear…
Ben: Please, you can report on it all you like. Yeah, I dunno, I definitely have enjoyed stuff from Britney, to Adele, to Katy Perry… I have no intrinsic beef with those genres.. Justin Bieber… you know these production teams, the songwriting, it’s all undeniable in my opinion. It’s really, really excellent music and it’s going for a particular thing that’s really different from the thing that I’m going for but even tho it’s rarely the thing that I would think to put on, when it does come on I have a deep appreciation for it. Playing with Jamie Kronick definitely lends to that sensibility on my behalf because he’s a shameless pop fanatic, so I wind up being exposed to a lot more Top 40 than I would normally, through Jamie.
J: Last question. If Shenkman goes well on Apr 7th, do you wanna take me on tour with you?
Ben: Sure… haha we have one more show after that!
Jack: Yeah, fair enough. Well maybe not this tour then, but I’ve got you on the record for that!
Ben: Right on, well I look forward to hearing it, man
Jack: Sweet, and I look forward to seeing you too. It’s going to be a great show, I think!
With Bluesfest kicking off tonight I thought I would share the one or two acts a day I consider must-see performers. I avoided naming headliners and went with lesser known acts, hidden gems and good alternatives to hopefully introduce our readers to some new talents. Agree/Disagree? Who do I need to see that I did not list?
Supporting local acts is always great and these three all offer something a little different. Adamyk with their rock, Fevers with their electro-synth-pop and Her Harbour with her dark and soulful songs. Adamyk, 1 PM Bell Stage, Fevers, 2 PM Claridge Stage, Her Harbour 4:30 PM Barney Danson Theatre.
Just one of, if not the, most influential Ska bands of all time! This is not only my must-see of the day, but my must-see of the entire festival! I am so excited to dance like no one is watching. 7:15 PM, Claridge Stage
More locals being plugged. Roberta Bondar have a dark space rock sound to them, while Mehdi Cayenne Club can only be defined as a lot of energy and a lot of fun, no genre can handle them. Roberta Bondar, 1 PM Bell Stage, Medhi 2:45 PM River Stage.
Alejandro is an excellent guitarist and writer who has been doing it for quite some time. Perfect for fans of Bruce Springsteen, The Hold Steady and Bob Mould. Dog Blood on the other hand is something completely different. It is the combination of two of the biggest names in dubstep, Skrillex and Boys Noize. Things will get loud and your heart will pound. Escovedo, 5:45 PM River Stage. Dog Blood, 9:15 Bell Stage.
Bluesfest has announced its 2013 lineup today, and included in that is a bunch of some of Ottawa’s local talent. It’s great to see some returning to the stage, as well as some new additions this year. More announcements for local acts should be made in the coming weeks, so keep your ears open for more additions to this list. Congrats to all those who made the cut!