If you were to explore the depths of Ottawa’s music scene, it wouldn’t take long to run into your fair share of folk rockers, singer-songwriters, or punk and garage bands. However, when it comes to bands that make soulful, funk-driven tunes meant for getting a little sweaty while tearing up the dance floor, only a few bands in the area come to mind. Perhaps the irresistible R&B hip-hop fusion of Blakdenim might get you going. Maybe the sexy throwback soul sounds of The Split are the kind of thing that make you want to bust a move. But one thing’s for sure – of the relatively few active soul/funk/jazz bands in Ottawa right now, no one sounds quite like Slack Bridges.
Slack Bridges is a newer band in town, having formed in the latter part 2015 and just released their debut, EP1, this past May. It is comprised of six musicians whose musical resumes are long and varied. Lead singer Matt Gilmour, for example, grew up as a dedicated member of the Ottawa punk and hardcore scenes, cutting his teeth as a youngster performing at all ages shows and learning what it meant to be part of a community. For over a decade, Gilmour has been musically active in various capacities, playing in bands such as HAMILTON, I Refuse, We The Accused, and currently Heavy Bedroom and Slack Bridges.
Although participating in punk bands growing up, Gilmour admits that he’s always had a voracious appetite for funky soul music. “I’ve become aware of my blind spots and have begun to revisit the merits in popular soul and contemporary R&B that I loved, which includes influences like James Blake, Eric Roberson, Kwabs, and James Fauntleroy.”
Bassist Garett Barr grew up also listening to punk rock, but it didn’t take long before he explored some new horizons, including funk, soul, calypso, afrobeat, and hip-hop. He managed to sharpen his skills over the years playing bass in the now defunct reggae band Tea for the Voyage, and as a founding member of the popular local group Mackenzie Rhythm Section.
Saxophonist Julian Selody graduated from the esteemed Humber College and even played a gig with world-renowned group BadBadNotGood on a European tour stop. Guitarist Chris Elms has been making hip hop beats his entire life. Drummer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Ross is a seasoned musician and has lent his diverse abilities to artists spanning multiple genres. Keyboardist Marcus Ward has honed his jazz piano skills while playing in a yacht-rock cover band Pleasurecraft. Needless to say, there is no shortage of experience and skill in this group.
Slack Bridges is all about combining different visions, influences, and styles and turning them into a unique cohesive sound. EP1 is the product of countless meetings and band practices hashing out exactly what that sound would be. Barr describes the approach as “destroy to create” – someone brings a small song idea to the table, and the band jams and builds on that idea as a group. It normally gets taken in five or six directions before they settle on a final idea.
“For a bunch of music nerds, it’s definitely a really fun way to compose, even if it means sometimes going crazy together,” laughs Barr.
EP1 is a groove-laden, intricately layered onslaught of soulful jams that are clearly the product of time, effort, and a lot of chemistry. Each track off the 4-song EP offers a display of each member’s strengths, at times allowing Barr’s bass lines and Selody’s ardent sax to take the lead it tracks like “Lion City” or Ward’s irresistible keys to reel us in on “All For You.” Gilmour’s deep and dynamic vocals tie it all together, offering daring melodies and smooth, seamless transitions between notes in the same vein as Leon Bridges.
After playing a handful of shows and releasing their debut, Slack Bridges is on the brink of finishing up the writing of EP2, another 4-track effort due out this fall. “We know that what we’re doing is unique to Ottawa and we wanted to get some recordings out ASAP,” explains Barr. “We figured that we didn’t need to wait until there was enough material ready for a full length.”
The band has stated that they’ll be refraining from releasing physical copies of their EPs, but you can hear everything digitally at http://slackbridges.bandcamp.
This article is cross-published between Ottawa Showbox and Ottawa Beat, the city’s new music newspaper. Find it in issue 3 of the paper at various locations around town August 10th.