The past year hasn’t been easy for local musicians and artists who make their living through live performances. Since March 2020, the once vibrant and eclectic Ottawa music scene has been eerily quiet. But one band with a big heart and an enormous sound is still making noise.
Slack Bridges has been playing together since 2016, ever since band members Garett Barr and Chris Elms met while accompanying a solo artist for a separate project. The two quit the project together and exchanged phone numbers in the parking lot, wanting to reunite to collaborate. Barr had a friend from university named Matt Gilmour, who they incorporated into the project, and they became a trio.
The three had an innate passion for music, and a love for jazz.
“Chris has dropped a lot of knowledge on me as far as classic soul goes, and Garett can span from many eras and genres,” says Gilmour. “I was initially more into modern R&B and soul. We found a nice balance of composing within the various realms that we were all into and bridging that into something that was cohesive.”
Through the years, Slack Bridges has grown from a three-person band to a diverse musical collective with seven core members and additional contributing personnel.
“We’ve just slowly kind of pieced all these people together,” says Barr, who plays bass guitar.
Slack Bridges released their third studio album titled Lindenlea to Ledbury on Sept. 14, 2020. The record takes listeners on a journey through decades of funk, R&B, soul, and jazz.
Elms and Gilmour, the two other founding members, take on the roles of lead guitar and vocals respectively. Some of the band’s members play multiple instruments, which lends to their complex sound.
Laurel Ralston is the band’s trumpet player, but she also plays the flugelhorn and the flute.
“We’re lucky that we play multiple instruments,” says Ralston. “I play multiple instruments, which gives us a lot of options, even just within the core group. We did bring in extra musicians for the album, obviously.”
Julian Selody, Slack Bridges’ alto and baritone sax player, is another multi-talented musician in the group. He and Ralston wrote much of Lindenlea to Ledbury.
“Sometimes Laurel would write something and Julian would arrange it,” says Barr. “Sometimes Julian would write something and Laurel would arrange it. I think Laurel arranged the vast majority, which is really awesome.”
Kim Jackson, the band’s keyboardist, lends a lot of musical range to Slack Bridges’ songs. Without her contribution, the band couldn’t create the “wall of sound” effect that’s heard on the track “Living the Dream.”
“Kim has a lot of different sounds at her disposal, which is pretty awesome,” says Barr. “So between her and Chris and myself, it’s always kind of like, ‘Who’s gonna have the weird sound here? Who is going to be normal?’ And then we just kind of trade roles, which is kind of fun.”
Lindenlea to Ledbury took 15 months to produce. The band attributes the lengthy process to the obvious COVID-19 hiccups that all musicians are experiencing, as well as their unique songwriting method.
Gilmour writes most of Slack Bridges’ songs and says it takes him a long time. It’s not easy to create a lyrical masterpiece.
“It can take us a long time to write a song. Six months, sometimes, until it feels perfect, and we didn’t always give ourselves six months.”
And then there was the business of recording. Since the pandemic prevented Slack Bridges from mixing their album together in a studio, they had to mix over Zoom instead. Fortunately all the tracking was completed just days before the pandemic hit, but cementing the album’s overall sound at a distance was tricky.
“I remember when we first started recording we wanted to achieve a live feel, which I feel like we did achieve pretty effectively,” says Gilmour. “Because of that, it meant that our recording process was different than just laying down drums to a click track.”
This process required all the rhythm instruments to be recorded at once, which meant no mistakes. Sometimes, the group would have to do five or six takes before getting it right.
“I think because all the songs that we were sharing with each other and all the songs we reference and cover were all recorded that way in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and even the ‘90s, and that was really important to us,” says Barr. “It was like, well, if that’s how our idols were doing it, then I think we need to at least give it a try.”
Recording and releasing an album during a pandemic may seem like a feat to other musicians who are struggling to make ends meet right now, but Barr says Slack Bridges was just incredibly lucky. They finished recording the album just before pandemic restrictions were implemented in Ottawa in March of 2020.
Since Lindenlea to Ledbury was recorded, Slack Bridges has released two music videos via Youtube.
“We were going to record a song live, and we cancelled that,” says Barr. “And then we recorded one of everybody playing at home, and that was the “Next in Line” video we put out. Then Matt had an idea for a music video that was kind of COVID-themed, taking advantage of the empty streets of Ottawa at the time. And it was so easy to get shots with no people, no cars. So he kind of built a narrative around that.”
But the band is looking to the future. Barr, who runs Ottawa’s annual Bangers and Mash Festival in April, says he’s working with city planners to schedule more live music events in the capital this summer.
The band will be performing at Bangers and Mash, and Bluesfest, according to Barr. What the members all really want is a chance to reunite together on a stage.
“I feel like as much as we love our record, part of the experience of Slack Bridges is being in a venue and throwing a big party and having 100 or 200 people show up and just producing this experience that is visceral and fun and lively and energizes people,” says Gilmour.
“We’ve designed our band around that concept in so many facets that I think it’ll be an interesting challenge—but a welcome one—when we’re able to get back in a room and rehearse and then finally revisit that idea.”
Gilmour says that more than anything else, what inspires him to write and create music is the atmosphere and ambiance of an audience having a great time.
“So much of our product was this wild show that people would come see where there would be little moments you could share with the audience,” says Gilmour. “In some instances Julian would lean over my back and crouch down or I might jump into the crowd, or we would all kind of coordinate [a sing-along]. That’s what I really miss.”
The band acknowledges it may be difficult for their fans to transition back to the mindset of hugging, dancing, and being in a close, intimate space with one another. In fact, Barr says they may have to accept a different kind of future. However, he’s remaining optimistic for now.
“I think just performing the record front to back in front of an audience would make all of our lives complete right now,” says Barr. “So that’s kind of my hope, is that Slack Bridges can get out and make some people dance this summer without having COVID in the way.”