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.
My Friend PJ, the project of long time Ottawa music scene member PJ Catsiyannis, recently released a new EP titled Don’t Give My Love Away.
Yes, PJ Catsiyannis is back making music with his new solo project My Friend PJ, which features Michael Laing and David Gervais. Many people may recognize PJ from his most recent bands Stay Classy, The Gallop, and Brights. Others who have been kicking around the scene for a while may also remember him from his earlier punk rock bands Thin Ice and Rivals from many moons ago.
Don’t Give My LoveAway is a four song EP chalked full of emotional lyrics, as the title would suggest, and very catchy indie melodies, riffs and hooks, as we have come to expect from PJ’s projects.
While the title track is undoubtedly positioned to be the lead single with its great sing a long potential and a topic we can all relate to, the other three tracks are very strong in their own right. From the excellent harmonies and brake down in lead track “Liars,” to the beautiful self-doubt and guitar work in “Throw Me Away.” However the highlight of the EP for me is track three “Selfish Needs.” I love the return to some more punk rock sounds with the palms mutes, angrier tone in the vocals and on point drumming.
Don’t Give My Love Away is just the beginning as My Friend PJ intends to release more new music in 2019. If this is the appetizer, I can’t wait for the main course.
Have a listen Don’t Give My LoveAway below and go see them live at The 27 Club this Friday November 9, as My Friend PJ opens for Edmonton’s Scenic Route to Alaska, info here. Advance tickets can be purchased online on the Spectrasonic website, or at Vertigo Records and both Compact Music locations.
Ottawa’s lo-fi garage rockers Expanda Fuzz just released a new video just in time for Halloween, for their aptly named song “Ghosts and Flowers” off of their brand new LP Cotton Candy Jet Engine.
I mean I think we can all agree that nothing says Halloween like ghosts, flowers, blurred vision, and acetaminophen… or maybe they are waking up from a night of a little too much boos. Sorry I couldn’t help it.
The video is shot in a way that truly matches the band’s lo-fi vibes. From the shots of the sunflowers in the garden to the mannequin in the medic tent surrounded by old school medical supplies, this video really captures the fuzzy ambiance and slow driving flow of the song.
For anyone who has ever seen the band perform or seen their previous videos, note that this is one of the first time you ever get a chance to see Niki Nine Doors without her infamous 60’s mod chic white sunglasses.
Check out the video below and go listen to the rest of the most excellent Cotton Candy JetEngine and grab yourself of copy of limited edition cotton candy pink vinyl.
Over five years since he last toured with Evening Hymns, wrote a song, or recorded new music, Michael C. Duguay has returned to the Canadian music scene with momentum and new material.
Now based in Kingston, the multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and composer has assembled supporting musicians for his live band and skilled players to start recording The Winter of our Discotheque, a full-length album coming in 2019. His old friend Jonas Bonnetta (Evening Hymns) is producing the record at Port William Sound, his rural studio in Mountain Grove, about 100 kilometres south-west of Ottawa.
We reached Michael a day before his tour begins in Kingston. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Ottawa Showbox: After your break from music, what prompted you to come back? Was there a specific moment that clicked?Or was it more of an accident?
Michael C. Duguay: It has certainly been no accident.
I experienced a relative amount of loss over the course of a few disastrous years, not the least of which was a sort of loss of identity, including but not limited to my identity as an artist and musician. I became increasingly self-conscious of referring to myself, my career, and my work in a past tense, while scrambling to find social, professional, and emotional footing in a new community. I tried on a few different professional hats, including returning to my work as a chef, none of which fit very comfortably. There was clearly something missing from my life.
I have a very close relationship with my twin sister, Dany, and I was reaching out to her once or twice a week seeking advice on new and half-baked career ideas. After tolerating this for a while, she responded by insisting that I return to music. She encouraged me to try doing what makes me most happy in life again. So that played a serious role in my return, and in a real way the process has been a reclamation of a very essential lost sense of self.
A moment that I can directly pinpoint as the real catalyst was attending a Jeff Tweedy concert in Kingston with my friend Jonas Bonnetta, who is producing my new album. While I was inspired by Jeff’s work… he’s an incredible artist… I was equally motivated by my conversation with Jonas before and after the concert. Jonas is a peer, friend, and mentor of sorts, who has helped me redefine my understanding of success, both in the world of professional music as well as life in general. Quite simply, taking in a great concert with a dear old music friend, who I hadn’t seen in ages, triggered some really warm memories on the best side of the minutiae of a former lifestyle. Made me realize a large part of what I had been missing out.
I’m extremely grateful to Jonas for that night. I promised him I would write a song—unprovoked, I don’t think he asked me to—and I did the following day, for the first time in over half a decade.
What is the meaning of The Winter of our Discotheque?
The title is actually a name of a song on the album, which refers pretty explicitly to both the Steinbeck novel, The Winter of Our Discontent, and the Shakespearean passage from Richard III it draws its name from. Steinbeck’s novel is an exploration of the moral degradation one can experience in the pursuit of reclaiming lost power and social class, and the persistent denial of wrongdoing, guilt, or vulnerability to the world’s evils throughout this pursuit.
The discotheque imagery in my title refers directly to the winter that I worked as a manager and DJ at a nightclub in Peterborough, in my final year in my hometown. That I can really pinpoint as the time that I turned myself pretty willingly down the wrong path in life, despite the advice of my close friends and family; where I began to abandon music as a composer and performer, while maintaining at least outwardly that I was in control and knew what I was doing. I was trying in vain to reposition myself in a community where I mistakenly believed I had lost my place, and I was causing a lot of collateral damage.
So, the song, and that album, is, in essence, an exploration of that time, as well as my life now where I am attempting something similar, but with a bit of a clearer head and a desire to tread much more lightly; and the tremendous amount of painful and traumatic stuff, as well as some of the really inspiring and joyous experiences, that happened in between.
Is this album different from Heavy on the Glory?
Aside from my involvement in both, I can’t or won’t really compare the two. They’re respectively born out of such different times, and momentums, and personalities, and ideas, and practices.
In what way?
Heavy on the Glory is extremely special to me. The bulk of it was recorded over the course of the summer months of 2010 with a very large group of my closest friends at the time. The producer, James Bunton, lived in the makeshift studio we put up in my living room almost the entire time. All of my roommates appear on the album, as do most of my neighbours. On a few occasions, we grabbed musicians we had never met before from local bars after their sets to come over for 3 a.m. recording sessions. It was an extremely fun time, we all partied a lot, and there was a lot of love and joy in the air, and we all worked really hard, especially Jamie. I know that we all remember that specific time really fondly.
How or why has the music evolved?
Musically, this practice is pretty obvious on that record, and the title basically refers to it. My ethos was, essentially, push each moment of that record to its limit with a wall of sound approach. The question I asked most throughout was “how do we make this more epic?”
So it was extraordinarily fun, and the players involved were incredible, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world—but I would never take that approach with a recording again. In almost every way, I’ve settled down in life and I suppose my definition of “epic” in the context of music and songwriting has changed as well. I would much sooner excite a listener with a beautifully crafted, evocative lyric, than with 18 violins performing simultaneously. Occasionally, I still have the instinct to over-arrange, but Jonas is very good at reigning me in.
Who is involved in the project so far?
The band takes a variety of shapes. The same interest that I had in heavy collaboration when we produced Heavy on the Glory still exists, and I’ve yet to perform this new project with the same band twice.
While it calls for a lot of rehearsal, it keeps me incredibly engaged and, I find, serves the songs in their development. I was discussing with Michael Broadhead last night, who has been providing live and studio bass for the project, how the ideal band, for me, draws from a broad circle of skilled supporting players and neither suffers nor lacks in anybody’s absence, but which also doesn’t become unstructured, messy, or overindulgent if we’re to all perform in unison.
As for the studio, the core group thus far has been myself, Jonas, Liam Cole, and Julien Dussault from Ottawa. Michael Broadhead provided the bass parts, as mentioned, and a few other session players have been involved.
You’re on tour this fall, what cities are you most excited to spend time and play music in?
Truthfully, I’m just excited to tour—it’s been so long. The venue I’m performing at in Montreal is actually in the same building that my ex-partner lived in while she studied there, and where I actually composed a couple of songs on HOTG, so that will be a cool vibe. I’m really eager to spend some time in Ottawa where I’ve been developing a great group of friends and collaborators.
I’m really just excited to get in the van with Liam, listen to records, make some new friends, see some old ones, and live in the moment. This is what I want to be doing again, and I’m really grateful to be doing it.
How is the music community in Kingston where you live?
I’ve found it extremely supportive and positive thus far. Before I connected with it as a performer and active member, I’ll admit that I had difficulty understanding the cohesion in it. But in the moment that I reached out, and asked to be involved, I was both immediately accepted and supported, and the scene began to make sense as an, albeit complex, mostly unified force.
Area Resident, which is the brainchild of CBC journalist and beloved traffic guy Doug Hempstead, is set to release his third album in so many years this Friday, October 26th through Record Centre Records. Echolette is a collection of songs that are rooted in Hempstead’s real-life experiences, or (often ridiculous) stories that are based in the Ottawa Valley and Outaouais.
Death is a concept that is explored throughout Echolette, as Hempstead’s father sadly passed away during the recording of the album. While it’s not overtly about death, per se, there are references to mortality peppered throughout. For example, “Let The Holy Guest Wait” is about his father’s deathbed and the minister who got his name wrong three times at his funeral.
Somewhere “By the Water” is about Hempstead’s childhood cat Marmalade who kept going down by the waterfront in his dying days, seemingly hoping to have a waterfront view as he passed away.
“Marmalade died in the garage next to the Corolla at the age of 21,” Hempstead admits.
“Somewhere By the Water” has a deep southern blues feel, and contains bellowing harmonica and backup vocals by Catriona Sturton. To me, this track is a great microcosm of what this album is at its essence. It’s not trying to be anything else, and is distinctly part of the Area Resident cannon. Much like how The Tragically Hip has a repertoire of songs blues-influenced tracks like “New Orleans is Sinking”, “Blow at High Dough,” and “Boots or Hearts,” they were always distinctly their songs and their sound. Similarly, Hempstead has carved out his own approach to storytelling and defined his identity as a musician over three albums. Each builds on the other without contrivance.
The crunchy, reverb-laden guitar work throughout the album is kept tame only by the steady and controlled percussion. One of the tracks that caught my attention the most is “The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.” There are subtle electronic elements to the song and Hempstead’s vocals are dipped in reverb, creating a soundscape immersing the listener in the story. Heavy over-driven guitar flourishes are scattered throughout, and the song stands out as something outside the box for us to take in. The song itself is named after a Star Trek episode, and is about a trip down the Creighton Mine in Sudbury to see the Neutrino Observatory.
While Hempstead plays with a live band composed of guitarists John Higney and Paul Jensen, along with bassist Kristy Nease, he composes most of the arrangements and plays the instruments himself on Echolette.
“The album is performed by myself, with overdubs by Jordon Zadorozny. Two tracks with Catriona Sturton and some French horn added by CBC workmate pal Trevor Pritchard, who used to do traffic before I did.”
Needless to say, Echolette is yet another album by Area Resident that stands at the top of this year’s local releases so far. Fans of true and gritty rock like Matt Mays and The Hip will fall into it with ease.
Be sure to catch Area Resident’s Echolette album release on Friday, October 26th at Irene’s Pub along with Still Winter Hills. Basic door price is $10, while $20 gets you in with a promo CD, and $30 gets you in with a deluxe vinyl LP. Watch the new video for “The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” below.
It is almost impossible to listen to popular radio these days without hearing a song new or old by USS. They brought that same type of energy and then some to the show Monday night. While The Elwins and Shotty Horroh might not be as well known, they are certainly worth checking out after their great performances.
Our photographer Aidan Thatcher was there to capture all the action. Have a look to the gallery below.
On a humid and muggy day like this one, arriving early to a show at Black Squirrel Books and Espresso Bar in the heart of Old Ottawa South was nothing short of a blessing to me. Two reassuring words: air conditioning.
The venue was filled with an overwhelming sense of warmth and togetherness—welcoming faces, friendly reunions and collective enthusiasm for the closely approaching show. Three terrific bands, all of them seemingly close friends of one another, about to rock the fuck out of this cozy cafe.
Nashville, Tennessee’s Sad Baxter blasted out their first number under the dim lighting of Edison bulbs. Nirvana was the first thought that popped into my head—the 90’s grunge influence was clear as day. Their light-hearted banter contrasted with the gritty and sludgy tone of their music. The guitar was distorted and heavy, the bass controlling, and the drums (played by Alex Mojaverian) calculated and simultaneously chaotic. Deezy Violet’s vocals meshed with the instrumentals, her voice raspy and filled with longing and understanding. Her goosebump-inducing growls through “Sick-Outt” carried so much sincerity, and during “Baby” were supported by harmonizing from the bassist. Sad Baxter kicked off the show strong and confident, and were a good start to a night of great music and genial people.
It was hard for me to not smile like an complete and utter idiot when Montreal’s BBQT got onto the floor for their set. The power pop posse, ecstatic to be playing back in Ottawa since performing at Ottawa Explosion Weekend (R.I.P.) back in June, also came on with smiles on their faces. BBQT’s charismatic personality seems to possess the power to lift your mood no matter what and make any group of people feel like a family.
The band started off with “PEPSI”, a short n’ sweet upbeat song like many of their tracks. The sound from bassist Mikey Melikey was a thunderous quake that acted as a foundation for the fun, tweety instrumentals accompanying it. It blanketed the strong, catchy melodies and riffs. The sweet twangy-ness and slightly distorted guitar surfed around the bass, baiting it back and forth and up and down.
Bopping to the beat and sporting a string of fairy lights around her guitar was Amery Sandford, who absolutely killed the solos habitually played by guitarist Jack Bielli. Sandford giggled off the occasional slip-ups (which somehow added to their style) and jammed on. Solos mimicked her honest and carefree vocals, which she performed with the occasional wink to friends and family in the audience. Allison Graves passionately drummed a delicate surf beat as the whole venue belted out the lyrics to “HIGH WASTED”. Fun and punky and almost “post-ironic”, BBQT’s vibe made me forget just how damn quickly summer was coming to an end.
Last but undisputedly not least was Lonely Parade, who tonight celebrated the release of their newest LP “The Pits” with Buzz Records. Also based in Montreal, Quebec, Lonely Parade is a post-punk trio composed of long-time friends Augusta Veno, Charlotte Dempsey and Anwyn Climenhage. Going into this set, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To say the least, I was blown away. Their sound was weighty and almost unsettling, but in the best way imaginable. Droning, layered vocals gave me hints of That Dog—though tame, one could catch undertones of angst, determination and yearning. They begged to not be underestimated. Lyrics touched on the struggles and thrills of everyday life, and invoked a strange feeling of nostalgia.
Occasionally we’d get a fun sort of prologue to a song, a story or experience that inspired the music. For example, “I’m So Tired” was introduced with an anecdote about falling asleep in the car. You could envision yourself there: the stern and fluid bass steering you down a dark road, the guitar intertwining itself with it, often drifting away but always in sight. The guitar riffs kept you on edge, abruptly turning corners but always ending up back where they started. Moods would change as well as tone.
They’d go from a sort of calculated math rock to utter noise and spacey hysteria resonating Pavement instrumentals. It was fucking hypnotic. The drums kept everything moving. They were crisp and frigid and intimidating, sending shocks of icy blue through your veins. The temper the band created was so intriguing that the crowd refused to let go of it. After some eager persuasion to perform an encore, Lonely Parade closed effectively with “Grilled Cheese”, and it was time to return to the oh-so-fun humidity of the outdoors.
A truly stellar night it was. I urge you to catch at least one of these bands live when they return to Ottawa. Each band, though showcasing different styles, tied together seamlessly and turned the night into a fluent story. Each band was a new chapter and resonated a different mood, but all with the same underlying likeness. An experience like this is totally worth subjecting yourself to the ringing in your ears you’ll hear the next morning. No doubt.