JUNOfest kicked off Thursday with a few shows around town, and I decided to make my way to Zaphod’s to check out Operators along with supporting acts Charly Bliss and Potential Red.
Juno fever was in the air, and you could feel the excitement building in the city. The first act to hit the stage was a newer post-punk group in Ottawa called Potential Red. I’d heard about these guys through the grapevine but hadn’t seen them before, and they impressed everyone in attendance with a strong set. There aren’t a lot of Ottawa groups writing songs in the footsteps of late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s post-punk and new wave bands, and these guys do it right.
Right away Potential Red captured the audience’s attention and held on tight as they blasted out heavy bass-driven grooves layered with reverb-laden guitars and flutters of synth throughout their songs. Dare I say that lead singer David Sklubal’s moves on stage were reminiscent of Ian Curtis’, frantically exuding his energy into the crowd and getting the front riled up. I heard some of A Place to Bury Strangers in some of their songs, which I certainly connected with. Sklubal nearly broke the neck of his guitar as he jumped around on stage, just before launching himself into the crowd with reckless abandon. This is definitely a local band to keep an eye on, their live performance is not to be missed.
Next up was Brooklyn, NY grunge-pop band Charly Bliss. The four-piece churned out the kind of power-pop that we all know and love, channeling a sound that many of grew up with in the 90’s. Front-woman Eva Hendricks stole the show with her stage antics, having fun with the set and luring the crowd in with her energy. In all honesty, this is the kind of band I’m skeptical of going in. Having not heard their music before, I felt like they might toy with my emotions and try to pull some nostalgic strings without executing it properly. This happens sometimes. I was admittedly looking for something not to like about Charly Bliss, but one can’t help but fall in love with those catchy hooks, overzealous performance style, and honest songwriting delivered with a bow on top into our eardrums.
The band’s stage chemistry was obvious, and it wasn’t difficult to tell how close they are. They have opened for Veruca Salt, Sleater-Kinney, Tokyo Police Club, PUP, and are currently touring with Operators. Needless to say, catch Charly Bliss at small venues while you can because I have a feeling they’ll be playing bigger clubs any day now.
The headlining act Operators hit the stage as the crowd packed in tight. I would be remiss to leave out that I am a huge fan of Dan Boeckner – he has the Midas touch and all of his projects rule. I’m one of those old Wolf Parade fans that fell in love with Handsome Furs, and then Divine Fits, and then Operators. I’m sure there are a few curmudgeony Wolf Parade die-hards that don’t like the direction he’s gone in, but I for one am excited to see him playing with new toys and collaborating with great musicians such as Devojka and Sam Brown. I had the chance to chat with Boeckner last year, an interesting piece which you can read here.
Analogue synths abound, Operators’ modern take on post-punk has really taken shape over the last few years. This was the best set I have seen them play yet, and the road has surely tightened up their live performance. Boeckner’s comfort in this role is evident, and the smile on his face suggests that he’s loving every second of it. The songs off of Operators’ debut LP Blue Wave translate extremely well live – it’s part 80’s new wave, part dream pop, part dark post-punk – but whatever you call it, it works.
A couple highlights of the set were their performances of “Cold Light” and “True,” each of which electrified the room and got the crowd into a frenzy. Some of their songs had the audience a little unsure of themselves with respect to their dance moves, but the bodies kept flailing nonetheless. Sam Brown’s dialed-in drum beats were mesmerizing – even I got lost in his incessant, fixated rhythms. Devojka’s electronic wizardry provided the high-voltage energy of the set, complimenting both Boeckner and Brown perfectly.
My favourite part of the night was when Operators were cheered back onto the stage for an encore, during which they played a Handsome Furs track “Damage” from 2011’s Polaris-nominated Sound Kapital. I left with a smile, as night one of JUNOfest set a pretty damn good tone for the rest of the festival.
Jade Bergeron, a.k.a. Flying Hórses, has done things that few artists in Ottawa/Montreal have done before. Her 2015 album Tölt was recorded in Iceland at Sundlaugin Studio with the help of producer Birgir (Biggi) Jón Birgisson of Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. The album is, as far as we’re concerned, a masterpiece in its own right (read our piece on it here). The emotional, cinematic soundscapes crafted by Bergeron are moving instrumental pieces, and a few of the songs –”Tölt” and “Attic” – have recently been made into music videos.
We caught up with Bergeron and spoke with about her recent endeavours, and her new videos for “Tölt” and “Attic” can be seen below. Be sure to catch Flying Hórses’ JUNOfest performance on Saturday, April 1 starting at 8pm at St. Alban’s Church along with Her Harbour, Charles Spearin (Broken Social Scene), and Pugs and Crows and Tony Wilson.
What have you been up to since returning from Iceland? Can you talk a bit about your involvement with Banff Centre?
I’ve been pretty busy. I got back from Iceland just in time to perform my first two solo-piano concerts as part of the Festival de Jazz de Montreal. I spent the summer writing new material and collaborating with videographers.
I was invited to go work over at The Banff Centre in the fall. Waking up every morning to clean, fresh air, in the middle of the mountains, and to be surrounded by talented, inspiring artists was so amazing. I had my own studio, with a grand piano, harpsichord, vibraphone and a few percussive instruments. The other musicians in my residency we’re singer/songwriters and we’re working on two or three shorter songs, but I decided when I got there that I was going to compose one, longer instrumental, movement. I had written a small part of the new track over in Iceland but the entire rest of the movement happened really organically during my first week in Banff.
Being back in nature, really brought the song to life. I had heard about the residency through Charles actually, and being a fan of his post-rock band DO MAKE SAY THINK and of his work in general, I applied. I guess both himself and Brendan Canning thought I would be a good fit for the residency. I ended up meeting a classical guitarist and experimental cellist, Alex Mah out there, who was there working with Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire) and after hearing him play, invited him to record cello on my new piece. Charles played horns and a few other musicians also contributed to the movement.
I wanted the entire recording experience to feel organic, and stress-free. The new movement was mixed by Efrim (Godspeed You! Black Emperor over at Hotel 2 Tango in Montreal and I just got the master back from Biggi (Sigur Ros) in Iceland. It’s a pretty heavy listen, but it’s colourful and it represents a really important recent time in my life. We are shooting a short film/video for the single right now in Iceland. I’m very excited about the whole thing. It’s going to feature a very well-known actor/model in the Icelandic community, so I’m really glad to be working with this team, overseas. The new movement and video should hopefully be out in the spring.
The video for Tölt is a beautifully crafted, yet tragic story of two young people alienated from the world in different ways. Why were children the subjects? Can you expand on the concept?
I wrote ‘Tölt’ during a time of reflection on my own childhood. The entire record ended up feeling/sounding like a soundtrack to the past. I used a lot of instrumentation that represented the innocence of being young and wide-eyed. When Alex approached me with the idea of making a video/short film for that particular track, he already had a lot of great conceptual ideas, and before even bringing up what the track represented to me, he was already story boarding about a childhood trauma. We connected on the video, immediately.
My contribution to the video was limited. Once Alex and I went over the storyboard together, he began casting calls for the actors, and it wasn’t long before they them. Production spent some time in the fall working on production and the post-production happened in the winter. The whole process was really amazing. Both young actors really did a great job, and I’m so grateful for the level of professionalism the entire team demonstrated throughout. It’s been an honour working with all of them.
What does the piano mean to you? How has music helped you through past struggles and traumas?
My relationship with the piano has been a roller coaster since I was a kid. I’ve tried my hand at a few different instruments over the years, but my heart has always lead me back to the piano. It feels the most organic. I enjoy having the keys right there in front of me, I’m a very visual person. I really have no idea what I was doing with my life, before writing and composing music, and I don’t know what I would do without it.
Is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming video for attic? Will it be related to the story in Tölt?
Attic was produced by Antoine S. Legault from Lonely Fire Productions. The song is one of the last tracks on the record. I never really intended for it to end up there, actually. It’s quite dark, heavy and creepy and I think is a transition between the really optimist, innocent, lullaby songs that start off the album, and the new single I’ll be releasing sometime in the spring. I wrote it while I was reflecting on memories (much like Tolt). The video opportunity came about organically, this past winter. I sat down with Antoine back in December and we talked about making this short film/video that was kind of dark, creepy and mysterious. Coming out of a bit of heaviness myself, I decided to focus the story on loss and melancholy. Antoine came up with the storyboard and we shot the video in one afternoon in an abandoned house. It was freezing cold and creepy, but it was a really awesome experience.
What does it mean to you to be part of the Juno festivities taking place in Ottawa?
I don’t perform very often. In fact I pretty much only played festivals last year. My focus has mostly been on writing new material, and catching up on the release of the record. Junofest asked me to perform as part of the only ‘instrumental/experimental’ showcase for the festival. It will be fun to share the stage with Charles Spearin again, and a good friend of mine Her Harbour is playing too. It’ll be nice to see so many great musicians roaming around Ottawa for The Juno’s.
We’re getting excited to present Sight & Sound: An Audiovisual Experience on March 4 featuring the music of Ottawa veterans Amos The Transparent and the prodigy known as Trails. This will all be going down at The Record Centre in Hintonburg (1099 Wellington St.) and LES666 will be providing a visual art installation that is sure to create the a fully immersive experience for audience members. Needless to say, we’re pretty honoured to be working with the JUNO host committee and OMIC for this special night.
We’re giving away a couple passes for this event, so be sure to enter today!
There’s a good reason why Amanda Rheaume has become one of Ottawa’s most revered and respected musicians. If you’ve had the chance to listen to her music, you would know that her talent and songwriting abilities speak for themselves. Rheaume’s awards include winning a cash prize in Live 88.5 Big Money Shot, receiving a Canadian Folk Music Award for Aboriginal Songwriter of the Year and a Juno Award nomination for Aboriginal Album of the Year, both in 2014 for Keep a Fire. She has also been shortlisted for the Council for the Arts in Ottawa’s RBC Emerging Artist Award.
Even more important than these accolades is her involvement and dedication to the community. She was the co-organizer for Babes4Breasts concerts and recording projects, and a major part of Ottawa’s Bluebird North songwriter showcases. She has performed for Canadian troops in Afghanistan three times and raised money for the families of military personnel. On top of that, she sold 6500 copies of a Christmas EP in Ottawa alone to raise money for Boys and Girls Clubs of Ottawa.
I spoke with Amanda recently to discuss her new album Holding Patterns, the follow-up to 2013’s Keep a Fire. Rheaume has always told stories, and being métis herself, she dug deep and touched on stories of her ancestry. On Holding Patterns, she takes a different approach to her storytelling and enlisted the help of some major players in Canadian music to help bring it all together. Not only that, but the first single “Red Dress” is being sold in benefit for the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Safety and Violence Prevention Program, getting help from 2014 Juno Humanitarian Award winner Chantal Kreviazuk about the role of intergenerational trauma and oppression in the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Amanda Rheaume plays the NAC’s 4th Stage on May 5th, which recently sold out. Check out the video for “Red Dress” and read the interview below.
Interview with Amanda Rheaume
Your music has always had powerful stories and messages woven into them. What is it that you wanted to convey to your audience on the record?
It’s funny because that didn’t show up as obvious as the last record, which was very much a story-based album and I planned it that way. I didn’t really know what I was going to do with this one. I toyed with the idea of making it a story-based album, but I felt like I was pushing the idea too hard. I felt like I needed to write songs that were raw, honest and true, and about what I was feeling at the time.
In retrospect, vulnerability and honesty were big parts of Holding Patterns is a recognition of the things I’ve been doing in my life and the patterns I’ve been repeating. I was recognizing all these things I was participating in and all the energy I was putting out that wasn’t necessarily helping me. This album was about believing you can change whatever is going on in your life and that there are different possibilities.
Was it challenging to pull together all those life experiences together on one album?
Yeah it was. When I wrote songs when I was fifteen years old they were very honest and vulnerable, and not that Keep a Fire wasn’t like that, but it was more story-based. It was less focused on me and my feelings and more on these nice sentiments and memories that a lot of people can relate to because we all come from somewhere. But making an album with heartbreak songs and songs that expose my fears and weaknesses, that was a different direction. That was the challenge, not just writing the songs, but saying to myself “Okay, here we go.”
What were the advantages of working with other accomplished musicians like Chantal Kreviazuk or Jim Bryson when recording the new album?
First off – It was incredible to work with Chantal on “Red Dress.” Chantal is such an inspiring artist, vocalist, humanitarian and colleague and collaborating with her on such an important song was a highlight for me and was really affirming. It was one of those moments where you say “I’m on the right path,” and it gives you fuel to keep doing what you’re doing. Raising more awareness to MMIWG and money for the Native Women’s Association is really important and I hope this song will contribute to the movement that’s already happening.
I loved working with Jim as a producer. He also co-wrote a few songs on the album. He really helped me as trust myself as an artist. He made me realize that I needed to not try so hard and just focus on being me. Sometimes I worried about it not working out, and it always came back to trusting the music and the songs and just follow that. He’s unapologetic in his artistry, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. He just does what he does, and is so good. I really became inspired by that.
The video for “Red Dress” contains some powerful imagery and you’ve mentioned it’s concept being derived from the ReDress Project. Can you elaborate a bit on the project and how this idea came together?
Jamie Black is a female artist out of Winnipeg, and she started the ReDress project a while back. She did this thing where she asked for donations of red dresses and hung them in public spaces as installations to raise awareness about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada. The imagery of an empty red dress hanging is a reminder of how major the problem is, not only because of the missing and murdered women themselves, but also why this is happening. Why is it that indigenous women are more likely to be murdered or go missing? That’s messed up.
I attended a rally for the Cindy Gladue case which is a famous case in Canada, and it’s horrific. I was moved by that case specifically and I wanted to write a song about the women who weren’t only going missing or being murdered, but also discriminated against after the fact. I was inspired by Jamie’s project and the imagery because women normally put on dresses to go out and have a good time. To me it represented hope for the future, and that project was a huge inspiration for the Red Dress video.
Given the new political climate federally, are you hopeful that this will mean a change in how the government handles the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women?
I’m hopeful for sure, but I think it’s a big task that is really complicated. It’s not just one thing, and it can’t just be fixed right away. There are a lot of factors, and it is going to take a lot of time working through a lot of fine details. Not necessarily just on a legislative level either, we’re talking about a human level too – working on the ground with people and communities. But I do feel hopeful, and acknowledgement is the first step in healing. I couldn’t feel better about the the direction we’re going in with respect to awareness.
What role do you think music plays with respect to enhancing cultural understanding and confronting issues like racism or missing and murdered indigenous women?
I think that music is a voice that is important for moving people. Look at people like Bob Dylan, Buffy St. Marie, and people like them – their careers weren’t all about singing nice melodies. It’s so powerful, especially with the availability of internet access and information today. To have the general population become aware of the real issues and be moved by the music and the message is one of the most important things.
I think humans are humans, and it’s hard not to feel something when hearing these horror stories. I mean if you grow up in a nice home in Barrhaven like I did, these issues that some people in Canada have to deal with didn’t come into my reality for a while. Things like no running water, electricity, or housing, those are not problems that many of us have to deal with growing up. So when you grown up not knowing about these issues, you might think that it’s not a real problem in our country and that it is only something that third world countries endure. As artists we have a responsibility to enhance awareness on these issues.
There was a really great quote from Louis Riel – “My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they wake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” That is a testament to how important it is that artists keep on getting their message out, the message of the people.
Ottawa’s own A Tribe Called Red just seem to keep getting more and more recognition for their groundbreaking music. On Sunday night the boys took home a JUNO award for Breakthrough Group of the Year, giving a great speech upon accepting the award.
The Juno Awards are this Sunday, April 21st, in Regina. They are being hosted by one of Canada’s most famous exports… Michael Bublé.
But that is not what’s important, what is, is that there are some great locals up for awards on Canadian music’s biggest night.
Kathleen Edwards is nominated for Songwriter of the Year and her album Voyageur is up for the Adult Alternative Album of the Year.
Nineteen-year-old Kira Isabella is nominated for Breakthrough Artist of the Year.
Kristina Maria‘s album Tell The World is nominated for Pop Album of the Year
Ottawa Showbox wishes them the best of luck and Ottawa should be very proud of them just for being nominated. The Nation’s Capital does have some catching up to do though, as musicians from Vancouver and Toronto dominate the list of nominees.
Performing live at the Junos will be Metric, Billy Talent, Carly Rae Jepsen, Hannah Georgas, K.D. Lang, Marianas Trench, Michael Bublé, Serena Ryder, and The Sheepdogs.