Toronto singer songwriter Amber just dropped her latest album, Tall Tales. The opening track “Grave Robber” comes on like a Tom Waits tune with ragged trumpets and that lurching 20’s swing. You can tell right away that Amber plays the keys well and has an ear for recording piano tracks. I found the keys on Teardrop to be especially resonant, and reminiscent of the lo-fi flavour The National nailed in Fake Empire.

Amber has a sultry, smoky voice and prefers singing long inversions over pretty pop progressions. Most to of the album is comprised of tunes that repose on Amber’s storytelling ability. The album is easy to listen to, something you throw on on a rainy day after you light some nag champa. I’ll be sure to let you know when Amber hits Montreal this summer. Bang –

Sebastian Freeman and Amanda Mabro are 30 Frames, an electro pop band from Toronto who recently released an energetic and highly danceable record that was two years in the making. It was well worth the wait; the album is really strong.

They did a great job of maintaining consistency without being overly repetitive so that the album flows seamlessly from track to track. The songs compliment each other so well, yet are different enough to maintain interest throughout all eight tracks. The production value is also top-notch.

30 Frames features beautiful instrumental and vocal layers sung mainly by Amanda but with support from Sebastian. There are some really fun drum beats; check out the second track Make It, one of the most danceable tracks on the album:

The third song, When I Was Young, pulls back a bit, is more reflective and a nice reprieve from the high energy first two tracks. It’s followed by Hey You which transitions back to a more upbeat tempo by using a moderate groove in the verses, which then bursts into busy choruses.  These explosions are my favourite moments on the album.  It’s a powerful song; it forces you to move and to sing along.

Snake Charmer is a little darker, a little more industrial and features Sebastian more on vocals than in other tracks. Anything Else and Give it Up are kick-ass dance numbers. Give it Up in particular has some really great vocal layers. The album closes with Sing Me Home where Amanda and Sebastian trade off vocals in a nice, warm way to bring us home.

The strengths of 30 Frames are many. Vocally, it’s a powerhouse. Paired with the strength of the songwriting, including the melodies and chord progressions, structures and production, it’s an achievement they should be very proud of. It’s interesting, cohesive and identifyable.

Put this record on at a house party if you want to get people pumped up, or crank it while you’re getting ready to go out. It will definitely set the mood for a great night.

 

Turns out The Economist likes Montreal. Their “intelligence unit” ranked us as the second best city in the entire world to live. Montreal beat out such luminaries as Stockholm, Brussels, New York City, Paris, London and Hong Kong. The only city we lost to is, well, Toronto.

best citiesThis was part of a larger study done on “urban security in the digital age” and while Montreal didn’t rank at the top of any particular category, we did place second for overall best city to live in. They included six “indexes” they studied to come to the best city result: Safe Cities, Liveability Rankings, Cost of Living at the municipal level and Business Environment Rankings, Democracy Index and Global Food Security Index at the national level.

While including a good hockey team index or a best bagel and poutine index may have bumped us ahead of Toronto (sorry Toronto friends, you won this one and I love you, but I’ve got to get my digs in), this is still nice. I’ve never really bothered to read The Economist, but praise is always nice.

While we may complain about the state of our city, our politicians, our transit system and rightly so, it’s good to know that on some level, in the minds of some Intelligence Unit somewhere, we’re better off than Stockholm.

You can see the best city to live in ranking to the left and consult the full Economist study, but what I really want is your feedback:

Do you think Montreal deserves this honour? Does this really reflect all of our city’s residents? Is it really an honour to be praised by The Economist? Does this give you civic pride? Let us know…

Student politics may not seem like the most interesting of ‘current affairs’ to follow. That’s understandable. After all, if you are not a student, a lot of the things that students care about don’t really matter to you. That can be contested, however.

I have two strands of student politics in mind. One of them actually takes place within campuses, with elected student representatives doing their business. There is, however, a broader sphere of student politics, which actually involves lobbying governments, provincial and even federal.

Let us focus on the federal level for today, because what is happening right now is some Westeros-level political intrigue. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is the largest student association in Canada. Basically, student unions from universities are able to become members of CFS; just like how individual labour unions can unite under a larger confederacy. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, 81 student unions are members of CFS; but here’s the kicker, not all of them want to be members anymore.

What usually happens, if you feel like you want to stop being a member of a federation? If you are a large union yourself, you hold a referendum, asking your constituency, “Hey, do we want to keep on being members of this thing?” Your constituency says either yay or nay, and then you go on your merry way.

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See, that’s not how CFS rolls. In CFS, first you need to hold a petition, collecting hand-written signatures of 20 per cent of your members. Then, you need to send this document full of hand-written signatures to CFS, where CFS will count the number of signatures, and determine whether or not the signatures are ‘legible.’ That is, if they receive the petition and that it doesn’t get ‘lost.’

Anywhere during this, CFS may just declare your petition to be invalid on any of the reasons I’ve stated above. In the case of McGill University’s Post-graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) – the case I’m most familiar with – the invalidation of the petition was brought to the Quebec Superior Court; where the judge presiding compared the situation to a ‘bad marriage.’

But that’s not all! Even if you manage to get the petition in, and force CFS to recognise its validity, holding a membership referendum itself is extremely restricted. Everything and anything that the people campaigning to leave CFS say must actually be approved by a CFS appointed overseer before it’s released to the public. The rules of the game are set by CFS. If there is any violation, CFS will declare the referendum invalid. And then, you cannot petition for a referendum for another five years!

(Also, PGSS is holding a referendum this week. Took them roughly five years to get here.)

I’ll get to the financial aspect of this entire spiel momentarily.

On their website, CFS says that there are four student unions in Quebec that are its members. What it doesn’t say is that all four of them are struggling really hard, or have been lucky enough to leave CFS. Concordia’s student unions also are struggling with CFS, and they’re in much more of a pickle than PGSS.

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Palais de Justice de Montreal. Photo by Jean Gagnon (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The University of Toronto’s Graduate Student Union (UTGSU) also tried to leave CFS, and last November they held their own referendum. Allegedly, 66 per cent of the eligible voters voted no to CFS, but they failed to meet the quorum of 1606 people, by seven people. Because seven people failed to vote, UTGSU cannot hold a referendum for another five years.

There are a bunch of other examples, but I’m not gonna bore you with details. You can find details here, and here if you want to be bored, or if you are genuinely curious about this, for which I thank you.

What does that mean? I promised I’d talk about finances, so here’s finances. CFS charges its member unions $13 per student per year. UTGSU has roughly 16 000 members. That makes $208 000 per year. UTGSU cannot hold another referendum for five years. The cost of failing to leave CFS, therefore, is $1 040 000.

But wait, there’s more! I mentioned before that some student unions take this to the court. You can imagine, easily, that legal fees for running years long legal battles against a federation the size of a medium city (CFS has a total of roughly 1.5 million students under its umbrella). Conversely, CFS also needs to pay legal fees. Where does that money come from? That’s right! The very students they are suing!

But why do student unions want to leave CFS? What the hell is wrong with it? To be perfectly fair, CFS does have some interesting campaigns. For instance, they have a campaign called “Let People Vote,” which essentially involves CFS lobbying against the federal Bill C-23. Bill C-23 is law now, so clearly their lobbying did not work – perhaps, along with other reasons, but still.

Students and their allies joined communities across Canada in actions today opposing Bill C-23, the Unfair Elections Act. (CNW Group/Canadian Federation of Students - Ontario)
April 26, 2014. CFS protest opposing Bill C-23, the Unfair Elections Act. (CNW Group/Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario)

I’m just going to give you a few seconds to let the irony of having a campaign called “Let People Vote” while making it extremely difficult for people to hold referendums sink in.

Going back to Quebec in specific, CFS has not been active in la Belle Province since 2010. That year was crazy in terms of CFS politics, because some internal leadership disputes caused the provincial wing of CFS – aptly called CFS-Quebec – to leave CFS. Or rather CFS disowned CFS-Q. Or perhaps CFS-Q transformed into something called Rassemblement des associations etudiantes? It was more or less all of this.

CFS did create a new Quebec wing, however the actual members from Quebec (namely Dawson Students’ Union, Concordia Students’ Union, Concordia Graduate Students’ Association, and PGSS) were not part of this new wing. So there was no Quebec representation in the National General Meeting of CFS.

Also, CFS has a national general meeting, where they make decisions about the regulations regarding leaving CFS. With no Quebec representation, it’s obvious why problems may arise.

I’ll cut to the chase. If this was about the small labour unions or local political parties trying to leave their federal umbrella organizations, but actively denied their right to free association (that is, freedom to become or stop being a member of any organization/club/whatever of your desire), it would make top news – political party more so than the labour union, but I digress.

There are unimaginable political games happening within the realm of student politics, and it is mostly going under the radar. If these stories ever appear in mainstream media, they are treated as trivial. In fact, CFS still retains its title as the ‘legitimate’ voice of student concerns on a federal level, yet with all these legal battles against it, its lack of accountability, and overall shadiness shows to me that it should be otherwise.

A few months ago I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing members of Toronto indie rock band Low Hanging Lights following the release of their EP Insulated Picnic Bag. Last week, their singer-songwriter/guitarist Al Grantham released a solo album and sat down with me to discuss his songwriting process, what he was aiming for with this project and what it’s like being an indie artist in a big city.

Stephanie Beatson: With your solo work, what kind of sound are you trying to achieve? You told me before that you are strongly influenced by Bob Dylan and a lot of his contemporaries in the seventies, partially because of the lyrical content. How does that translate into what you’re trying to do as a solo artist?

Al Grantham: The original idea for the record was for it to be kind of a throwback, a confessional singer-songwriter album that would be pretty stripped down with basic instrumentation. What ended up happening is once I got into the studio, I can’t help myself, but I want to try to make really weird sounds and arrangements. We did a couple of weird things on one track and then I said, “Whatever. Let’s just make the whole album like this.” I like hearing weird and new things. To me that’s way more exciting than the alternative. I think the songwriting is very old school songwriter stuff, but we dress it up with arrangements that are hopefully a little more progressive and different.

SB: Tell me about the instrumentation on the album.

AG: Originally we wanted to do the whole album live off the floor, acoustic and vocals. It was supposed to be a Nashville Skyline Bob Dylan -type album, or a Neil Young album. Kind of a throwback with minimal instrumentation and just make it folky, rootsy. We went about recording guitar and vocals, but it’s really stupid to record that way without a click track and then record drums to them. Thankfully Kaleb Hikele, the producer, is a freak and can do that sort of thing. Luckily, after listening through we decided we could record drums to about two thirds of the tracks after the fact. A few of them we had to re-record with a click track. I like the looseness of the live-off-the-floor tracks, but I think I’m a better vocalist when I’m recording them after the fact. I’m glad we have a blend though. It makes the album more varied.

SB: In what ways does your solo project differ from the band stuff?

AG: Ian Boos (bassist in Low Hanging Lights) used to play in a punk band. That’s his background. I like a heavier sound as well, so we made a decision to streamline LHL about a year and a half ago and play more upbeat, heavier stuff but still with some strange things in the arrangements. The solo stuff I don’t think about playing live. I kinda like that because I feel like I don’t have to be hampered in the studio. Not to say that the tracks on the album couldn’t be played live, they all could with the right people, but I don’t have to worry about it which gives me the freedom to do whatever I want with the arrangements. That’s exciting because it’s like the sky is the limit. You can go down the rabbit hole without having to worry about finding a way back out. In terms of the band and the music, there are similarities. We’ve been playing two or three of the tracks on the album as a band, but made them more streamlined and aggressive.

Al Grantham2

SB: What was the inspiration behind this album?

AG: When I started writing the songs, I was going through a really bad break-up that was messy. It fell apart and it was pretty bleak. I was in a bad spot. It was kind of like when you’re eighteen or nineteen and you’re kind of messed up, and you write compulsively. It is a very therapeutic thing. I’m not sure when that stopped for me, and I still enjoy writing, but I didn’t do it out of necessity. After what happened a year and a half ago, that feeling came back and I found myself writing all the time because I had to. Then I had all these songs. I wasn’t even really planning on making an album, but the idea came around and I got excited about it. I’ll have to get another broken heart before the next album! When you’re writing from a dark place it comes so easily. When you’re not feeling that dark or sad anymore, it’s hard to know what to write about. Lately I’ve been writing about people and characters I see around town. It’s so easy to see stories everywhere you look.

SB:  What’s it like to be an aging independent musician?

AG: It’s difficult. At times you feel like a crazy person. I’ve sacrificed everything in my life so far (career, money, girlfriend, family) for something that’s not always very rewarding. When it is though, it really is. That keeps me going. That and the fact that I’m not sure how functional and effective I’d be in a normal environment anyways. I remember the last few years I spent in Paris (Ontario) when I was trying to figure out what path to choose in life. I was so bored growing up there at times that I could literally feel myself dying. The thought of settling down into something comfortable at the age of twenty-two was scarier than every horror film I’d ever seen combined. Also, I really believe this is the worst time in history to be a musician, unless in the middle ages musicians were executed for bad performances or something.

It’s a strange feeling to keep investing so much time and money into something that doesn’t even seem to be on an upward trajectory. I’m a total independent. I don’t work with a label. I’m used to playing empty rooms, and have been for ten years. I’m almost thirty. This is just a crazy, crazy thing to keep doing. You do it though, because you know somewhere, someplace, there are people who will really, really understand what you’re doing and you will make their lives better in some capacity.

SB: What’s your favourite song that you’ve written so far?

AG: For a long time it was “Solitary City Man Death,” a Low Hanging Lights song. Musically and melodically I thought it was the most interested song I’d written. Recently I really like “Ms. Who I Thought That You Were,” because it’s so simple and really direct. I listened to After the Gold Rush by Neil Young right before bed one night, and when I woke up in the morning I grabbed the guitar right away and tried to write something in that style. It evolved into that song.

SB: What would you say your favourite subject matter you’ve written about has been?

AG: I always try to write about personal experiences. I wrote a song about Optimist Park in Paris, Ontario which is on the first album I put out. I think just writing about relationship dynamics. I think a lot of people think they know more than they do, including myself. I think it’s a human condition that we all believe that we should have answers to a lot of things. When something goes awry, then we get angry because we have other expectations and we think something’s a certain way. In reality there are a million different valid perceptions about anything. We’re not above basic human processes like attraction, repulsion, that kind of thing. I try to get across in songs that I really don’t know anything, haha. It’s okay to not know. People always need a definitive answer for everything, you know? We don’t do well with the unknown. But that’s okay. It’s life.

I wrote a video game song called “Never Found a Princess” about video game addiction. I wrote a song called “Emo Porn Ballad” about the porn star Sasha Grey. I think it’s a really weird, interesting industry. It’s one of the most profitable industries in the world but it’s still so taboo to talk about it. Most people watch porn in some capacity, but a lot of people still feel uncomfortable admitting it. Sasha Grey is an interesting case because in interviews, she’s very intelligent, very articulate and she’s done some serious acting as well. That led to a song. I’m always interested by people and subjects that are on the fringe. I’ve always identified with outsiders.

Al Grantham’s original (it’s got theremin!), interesting and poignant self-titled album is out now and available on Bandcamp.

Photos by Stephanie Beatson. 

The Revival was the scene of the hottest show in Toronto last weekend.  The Justin Bacchus Collective held their CD release event at this swanky downtown joint, and quite honestly, I’ve never been to an album release that hosted as many guests before.

Bacchus and the band drew on its fans from their years of residency playing at the famed Rex Jazz and Blues bar, a musical mecca in the heart of downtown Toronto.  It was at the Rex that this group of musicians, who were all at the top of their game already, were able to jam together and fall into their Collective groove.

They have honed a sound that is very obviously influenced by Stevie Wonder and his contemporaries, but each song has been given the “Collective treatment” which is uniquely theirs; a blend of funk and jazz, with some soul and R&B in there too.  There are even gospel inspired harmonies in some tracks.

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Yes indeed.  The music is colourful and engaging.  Every band member is in the top tier of the city’s pool of talented musicians.  They’re make-a-deal-with-the-devil good.

Seriously.  Bacchus fronts the band with his powerful pipes and wrote or co-wrote most of the tunes on the album.  The music director of the group, Sam Williams, who also plays keys/synth and bass and co-wrote many of the tracks, has done some truly outstanding work arranging the tunes on the album.  Elmer Ferrer performs electrifying solos more skillfully and tastefully than most musicians I’ve seen; he’s an absolute monster on the guitar.  Larnell Lewis masterfully provides the rhythm section.

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This is a must-see live band if you like jazz and funk music.  Their spirit is contagious.

That said, it’s always an extreme challenge to capture the energy of a live show in a studio recording, especially when you’re accustomed to performing to fans who obviously love and adore you, because players feed off the audience and vice versa.  Time of Your Life comes pretty damn close to a live show.  Listening to the album, it’s so obvious that everyone in the sessions is having fun, and that’s what funk is all about.  The Justin Bacchus collective brings a refreshing modern flare to music that any fan of Stevie Wonder or James Brown would truly dig.

Hopefully some footage from the CD release will be posted, but in the meantime check out a video of the band performing John Mayer’s hit Waiting on the World to Change at one of their regular gigs at the Rex a couple years back.

At this point in time, only one of the album tracks, What It Is, is available on iTunes as a single.

Photos by Stephanie Beatson

Toronto musician Marlon Chaplin is a diverse fellow, not only in terms of his musical style but also his abilities as a performer of multiple instruments. Earlier this year, Chaplin released a video featuring Jessica Speziale titled “Don’t You Fall,” that had a jazz club vibe to it and featured sultry, soulful vocals. Then, this month, he released a punk cover of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.”

In it, he replaces the keyboards and club beats with a straight drum beat, electric guitar shots and slapback induced vocals. And, Chaplin plays every instrument on the recording: electric guitars, bass, drums, vocals and synthesizer. The video, directed by Devon Stewart (The Nursery’s “Lysergically Yours,” Seraphic Lights’ “Breeze”) employs jump cuts and frantic pacing to compliment the vibe and pacing of Chaplin’s bold interpretation of this tune.

I caught up with Chaplin to pick his brain about his music and his thoughts on Lady Gaga.

Stephanie Beatson: Awesome, and original, interpretation of “Telephone.” Why did you choose this song? Is Lady Gaga an inspiration to you or did this song just speak to you?

Marlon Chaplin: I remember hearing it when it first came out and it struck me as a simple, very well put together pop song. The original has a very driving, relentless quality to it and maintains a real dramatic nature. That’s a lot of what rock ‘n’ roll is about. People have told me that it’s such a strange choice for a cover for me, but that it still works. It’s three chords. A lot of people hear the words Lady Gaga and sort of scoff. If any kind of art moves you, it’s important not to let other people’s projections trick you into feeling self conscious in about liking what you like. The truth is it always sounded like an Eagles of Death Metal song to me.

SB: How did you get into writing and performing music?

MC: I got into music at a very young age. I grew up in Toronto and my parents would always take me to the Sunday matinee at the Brunswick House when it was still a rockabilly bar. I was taken with two things: the sheer volume and power of the band – for a seven or eight year old, that kind of atmosphere is pretty monumental – and the drummer. The whole experience was like something from another planet to me. So I eventually got the Tupperware out at home and put together my very own custom kit. That early seed got planted and just never stopped growing. A little later on I’d constantly have these song ideas swimming around in my head. It’s hard to write a song on drums, so naturally I progressed to the guitar and piano.

MarlonChaplinPhotoShoot2013 093SB: What do you find the biggest challenges are as an indie artist?

MC: There are so many. Simply getting heard can be a big challenge.

SB: Tell me about your songwriting process. How do you choose your subject matter, or does it choose you? What are you trying to accomplish or portray with your songs?

MC: It’s important for me to be able to gain perspective on a subject if I feel it’s worth writing about. Sometimes I need to be away from the thickness of whatever it is I’m going through before I can string something together that has meaning or would make sense to someone else.  In the midst of a hurricane you’re not going to be seeing that much around you. It might sound odd, but the songs I’m most proud of, that hold the most weight emotionally are usually written from a place of detachment. All I’m ever trying to accomplish in the end is to move people.

SB: When you choose other artists like Jessica Speziale to feature in your songs and videos, how do you choose them? Are you looking for something in particular?

MC: In the case of the video for “Don’t You Fall” I did with Jessica, when I wrote that I envisioned myself duetting with her even though I’d never heard her sing that style before. She’s a very talented performer and it didn’t seem a stretch for her to lay down something that had a little more subtle of dynamics than what she’s known for. I collaborate with a lot with different types of artists and the only things that ever matter to me are if there’s a cohesion between us and if we’re utterly confident in what we’re making.

SB: From what I’ve seen, you have quite a diversity in the songs you write and perform. Is this a conscious choice, and if so, why is diversity so important to you?

MC: It’s extremely important to me. The experiences we go through as human beings are diverse. Situations and emotions we encounter throughout a relationships can be diverse. The people we meet on a daily basis are diverse. Life is diverse! And what is music if not a way of dealing with whatever life throws at us, attempting to express the intangible? As important as it is to establish an identity as an artist, I can’t help but write and be influenced by whatever moves me. That range happens to be pretty wide.

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SB: What are your future plans and goals?

MC: I’m in the process of recording a single with a group of outstanding musician friends of mine I want to put to vinyl as soon as possible. I’m also recording an album leaning more toward country and folk with Aaron Comeau. I’ve just finished my first full length as sole producer too for the Ada Dahli & the Pallbearers record that should be coming out before Christmas. She’s a powerhouse vocalist I write and perform with.

SB: Any plans to tour, possibly visit Montreal in the next while?

MC: I love playing Montreal and I’d definitely love to return soon. I’m currently booking a whole slew of dates for the next couple months, so let me get back to you on that!

Photos by Devon Stewart, and Bobby Singh (Front of House).

the nursery

To conduct a pre-show interview with Toronto band The Nursery last night, I followed the foursome down a dimly lit alley, where, as we were getting started, a lone wanderer passed by and commented, “are you guys a bunch of models or something? I mean, people that good-looking shouldn’t be allowed to travel in groups together. You all look like you’ve just come from a photo shoot!” I’m not sure why he felt good-looking people shouldn’t travel in groups, but he had a point; every member of this group is a babe, which makes watching them perform that much nicer on the eyes.

Looks aside, this is a very talented and creative group of musicians with far-ranging influences who come together to form something uniquely theirs. They’ve been labeled individually as psychedelic-rock/pop, synth-rock, synth-pop, electronic, indie-rock, alternative, post-punk and more, but their sound seems to me to be a blend consisting of elements made up of bits and bites from each of these sub-genres.

Their synth work is definitely a driving feature, and they use it to successfully convey the sense of psychedelia and headiness that pervades their music. The guitar work is also tasty and top-notch, and the driving drum beats make for songs that are danceable as well as lyrically and musically interesting. Frontman Alex Pulec’s lyrics read like poetry and convey deeper meaning when read beyond the surface of the rhymes. His voice connects me at times to a couple of different vocalists including Matthew Bellamy of Muse, but more often than not I am reminded of Jack White during his White Stripes years.  It’s the punchiness in the way he delivers the lines, his vocal range and the way his voice is presented in tracks like “Lysergically Yours” that are reminiscent of White.

The Nursery is made up of Alex Pulec (vocals and guitar) who does the majority of the music and song writing, Victor Ess (bass, vocals, bass synth), Jared Roth (keyboards and synth) and Jocelyn Conway (drums). I want to linger on Conway for just a moment. Female drummers are a rarity, and I’m sure there are lots of theories about why this is, but listening and watching Conway hammer on those things is watching art happen. For her petite frame, she still manages to play with such strength. Not only does she hit hard, but with speed and precision as well. She’s a keeper!

I asked the band about their formation, their writing process and what they’re up to and planning to get up to in the future. Here’s what they had to say:

Stephanie Beatson: How did The Nursery form?

Alex Pulec: Victor and I have been playing for a few years now in a few different projects. The Nursery is the first time we decided to extend beyond the both of us. We formed The Nursery about a year and a half ago.

Jared Roth: I joined a little after that and Jocelyn joined in February.

SB: Your album, Carnival Nature, has the obvious carnival theme that you continued through the track “Lysergically Yours,” which reminds me of being trapped in a fun house. What was the inspiration behind the carnival theme?

AP: I co-directed it with Devon Stewart. I wanted to make a video that you can get lost in. We didn’t have the biggest budget, so we had to think about how to create a space with pretty much no budget that could move you out of any type of typical space that a band would play in. We came up with the idea to cover our rehearsal space and studio with tin foil. We wanted to make it feel like you’re suspended.

JR:  We wanted to go with the idea of the fun house where something catches your attention, and you’re mesmerized, then something else catches your attention and you don’t like it. We think it matches the lysergical nature of the song.

SB: And the music has the carnivalesque nature about it too, so it’s all in the same vein.

AP: We wanted to play off that for the video. It’s polarized a lot of people. The jimmies that are glued to our mouths, some people love the idea and some people find it disturbing.

Victor Ess: I had someone call me and say that they loved our previous video for “This Wild Heart,” but “Lysergically Yours” made them feel uncomfortable with the candy around the mouths. It made them feel difficult feelings inside [laughs].

SB: What was the reason for using the jimmies?

AP: We wanted to do something that was fun but also had a dark, twisted edge to reflect the song. I thought of it like a mixture between childhood innocence with kind of a darker, sexual edge. But it’s mostly stylistic. There were blue, red and turquoise lights so we kept to those colours with the sprinkles.

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SB: In the video for “This Wild Heart,” I thought it was cool how you filmed the desert scenes in colour with the band shots in black and white. What does that signify for you?

JR: Again it was an aesthetic decision.

AP: To make each world its own so they didn’t really cross into each other. The black and white world that we were in had to be its own character and vibe just to keep them unique from each other.

JR: We bring the two worlds together at the end a little bit. One of the characters in the black and white world is in the desert at the end.

SB: I understand Alex does most of the music and lyric writing. When he brings a song to the band how does it take shape from there?

JR: We each get to add our own input through the arrangement of our parts, through the writing of our own parts. Alex or Victor usually will come with a musical idea which we’ll each fit our parts around, and then the lyrics and melody will come. I wouldn’t say it always works that way though.

AP: It’s very organic. Sometimes songs come in eighty percent done, sometimes songs are created at rehearsal. Certain songs have come together in half an hour of us working on them, and some are still not where we want them to be after working on them for a long time.

JR: Sometimes when that happens, we’ll take part of an incomplete song and add it to another song so it won’t be a total loss.

SB: How do you choose your subject matter when writing lyrics?

VE: It just develops. I always feel that a song will reveal itself to you as you go along.

AP: It’s that moment where you’re writing and you’re almost in a suspended reality where you’re saying something, but you don’t really know what it means yet. A moment later you go, “that’s what that song’s about.” It reveals itself later.

JR: Sometimes the lyrics pair really well with the music and other times we might have a lighter, dance-pop song with deeper lyrics.

SB: Your lyrics read like poetry. I love the flow and that there’s depth to the meaning of each song.

AP: Lyrics are the things that people hold on to. Melodies can excite and mesmerize people, but if a song doesn’t have lyrics that communicate to you, the song doesn’t have as much life.

JR: Alex has really good attention to detail in his lyrics.

AP: One thing that’s really important to me is that I want the lyrics to stand alone. If someone were just reading the lyrics, I want them to convey almost as much as listening to the actual songs.

The Nursery (3)

SB: What’s next for The Nursery?  

AP: We’re recording an album right now in Buffalo, at GCR Audio, and we’re about seventy percent done. We chose GCR after it was recommended to us. Robby Takac from the Goo Goo Dolls owns it. We checked it out and fell in love with the space. It has really good energy and a great engineer, and at this point we’ve created such a comfortable, amazing relationship that it just feels like home. We’re also going to do a tour in November and we might put out a single first before we release the full album.

They’ve got the looks, they’ve got the talent and they’ve got the drive. I daresay more good things will be coming their way. Look for them on tour come November. In the meantime, they have several videos to scout out, including “Lysergically Yours,” the other single off Carnival Nature, which indeed sounds (and looks) like being in a house of mirrors, possibly while on acid.

Support indie musicians! The Nursery’s six-song EP, Carnival Nature, released last June is available on Bandcamp.

Photos by Stephanie Beatson.

Ron Baumber

Ron Baumber has been part of the music scene since the 70s and is one of those names that you probably don’t know, but should, because he’s worked on a surprising number of projects over the years with other artists both as a performer and a manager. He’s also played in commercials and TV shows. He’s got Gold and Platinum records on his wall at home. It seems he’s done it all!

It all started for him when his own 1976 independent release China Doll did very well. That album immersed him in the music scene and introduced him to people in the industry. Though he doesn’t like the focus of the conversation to be on the awards, rather on the music and the people, he worked on records with Sylvia Tyson, Joe Hall, Christopher Ward, Ronnie Spector, Marie-Lynn Hammond, Helix and many others in the 70s and early 80s.

He won a Juno award for his contribution to No Refuge, an album by Eddie Schwartz featuring the hit song “All Our Tomorrows” that made Billboard’s Top 200 list (Schwartz also penned “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”). Baumber also worked on a campaign with Showdown which helped their 1980 album, Welcome to the Rodeo, sell over 300 000 copies and go Double Platinum in 1981. Yes, Baumber has been around the musical block once or twice.

Ron Baumber colour

He left the music scene in 1982 and has only recently returned. Now he is focusing on producing his own music. Last year he released Side One, featuring a collection of original tunes that touch on folk, blues and singer-songwriter genres. Getting to know Baumber and his music a little bit over the past few years, I can say he is one of the most humble, talented, genuine and selfless artists I have ever met. I had the honour of discussing Baumber’s illustrious career with him and gaining some insight into his current output and future goals.

Stephanie Beatson: How did playing music come about for you?  What are your influences?

Ron Baumber: I started playing at age eight in Regina on my Roy Rogers guitar. I got my first electric from the Sears catalogue. It was a Silvertone. I absolutely loved the Ventures and the Beach Boys and then pow… The Beatles… they are probably my biggest influence.

When did you start writing music?

Baumber: I started writing very young and had many influences. I came to Toronto in 1969 to study guitar and took a Berkeley course with the great Hank Monis. My major musical influences at the time were Lenny Breau, Tom Scott, L.A. Express, Larry Carlton and others.

Do you choose your subject matter or does it choose you?

Baumber: I’m not a formula writer. I write as it comes. It has to be real.

How do you choose the people you play with?

Baumber: Talent, skill, spirit, work ethic and their general love of music.

You’re always including friends in your shows and recordings. It’s rare to find a musician who is so eager to share the spotlight with others. What drives you to do this?

Baumber: There’s amazing talent out there. I’m secure with what I do. I look at music as community and I want to be part of this community and share it with everyone. The talent, the spirit, the songwriters and the singers out there are outstanding. Good music should be shared.

I recently learned that you’ve had nice success overseas with digital downloads. How did that happen?

Baumber: Yes, in over 45 countries. How did that happen? The internet… maybe good tunes… sharing…? I don’t really know but it’s pretty cool. The live video for “Blanket” is well on the way to 6 000 views on YouTube. How? I don’t know. I guess folks like it.

What’s coming up for Baumber? He plans to release the follow up album to Side One, aptly titled Side Two, which will include a studio recording of “Blanket”, and shoot a couple of videos. Otherwise, he plans to continue playing music for fun, with his friends, and doing as much community work as he can. Yep, he’s a true gem.

Baumber is offering a free download for Side One on Bandcamp.

Photos by Erin Baumber and Terry Debono, respectively.

Pretty Archie

Pretty Archie are a folk/country/bluegrass band from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia who came to Toronto to play NXNE. They write honest and fun music with a goal of connecting with their fans. They achieve this with their dynamic live shows and relatable subject matter. Formed by childhood friends Brian Cathcart, Matthew McNeil, Colin A. P. Gillis and Redmond MacDougall, the foursome have fun together onstage and off. I caught up with them before their set at the Cameron House a couple of weeks back to chat with them about their music, where they’ve been, where they’re going and why people love Pretty Archie.

Stephanie Beatson: You guys have been friends since you were children. How do you find having a long history and such close bonds with each other affects the band dynamics?

Brian Cathcart: I think it’s great. It’s perfect because we’re not afraid to tell each other anything since we were friends before we were band mates. That goes a long way with being able to be honest with each other fully and not be afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings. Sometimes when you play with someone you don’t really know that well you don’t fully vocalize your feelings. With being super close friends, it’s okay to say, “hey man, that’s not working out. Try this.” You can talk easier.

Collin A. P. Gillis: It helps too if you’re spending long hours in a van together if you can joke around with one another. With being long-time friends too, you can do stuff like, “hey, remember that time in grade nine when you did this? I’m calling that card now!”

Can you tell me about your songwriting process? Does one person take charge or do you typically co-write?

Gillis: It varies a lot. With a lot of songs Brian will come with the lyrics and then we make the song as a band. Other times we sit down, if we have something we want to write about, we write it together.

Cathcart: It’s easy to write something if you know what you’re talking about. It’s easier to explain yourself. I feel like we take our songwriting ideas from stuff we’ve gone through or that we know well enough to be able to be a source on that subject, as opposed to making up a song about a situation. We have a couple of songs that do that, but it’s better for us to have the realness and the actual experience behind it so it’s believable.

Gillis: Too real sometimes!

When you’re writing, do you have a certain goal in mind or do you tend to write more of a happenstance?

Gillis: Again, it varies a lot. If someone’s going through something in their life that’s cathartic… a lot of our songs are cathartic, so it’s easier to write then. But a lot of them come because we decide to write about something. Like a big brainstorming clinic. I think that’s good because if songs came the exact same way, I think it would be boring.

Cathcart: Our type of music is not the type where you play somewhere and everyone automatically likes you. You play a bar and maybe ten people are actually listening. It’s really cool when people come up after and say, “we really connected with that,” and so it’s a slow building process.

Playing away from home, how do you find reception has been? Does it vary in the different places that you play?

Cathcart: We played in Alberta up through Calgary, and they loved it. They’d never heard it before and were really appreciative. I feel like there are more players or maybe more music the further east you go, and the sound is more similar, so we get a lot of, “you sound like these guys,” or, “you sound like my cousin’s band.” Maybe there’s just more players out east, but out west people were like, “woah.” On the whole, I feel like our music style is well received.

Gillis: It’s pretty bare-bones, roots music. I think anyone from a heavy metal rocker to a rapper still appreciates to some degree folk-based or roots music because they realize there’s no BS.

Cathcart: We had a tattooed biker from Hamilton who came up said he really dug our music.

Pretty Archie

Can you tell me what some of your musical influences are?

Gillis: It varies a lot. In terms of what the band sounds like, somewhere in between The Avett Brothers meets Old Crow meets Wilco. Kind of country folk with a little bit of extra on top of it. We write the song in a folkie sense where the lyrics are the focus, then because of our individual backgrounds and influences when we come together and put the stamp on the tune, it ends up coming out as country and bluegrass stuff. It’s a combination of our influences. It’s not something we purposefully do, it just comes out.

One of my favourite things about your music are the vocal harmonies. It adds a depth that I think people connect to.

Cathcart: That was one of my inputs coming into the band. We have to have good harmonies. They draw me in.

Gillis: You need harmonies, almost like another instrument. Plus, Brian’s the lead singer, but as a listener it goes from him singing about whatever the song’s about to the band singing about whatever the song’s about. Making it a real band thing. It’s fun. Everybody’s involved and a part of it.

How much do you guys rely on social media? How has it helped your career?

Gillis: It helps us tremendously, being able to reach five thousand people in a second.

Cathcart: It’s one of the main reasons why we can make a band at our age, where people our parents’ age wouldn’t have been able to get out there in the same way. It’s everywhere. Over-pollution sometimes, but it’s a good way to get out there.

How do you feel you’ve been able to differentiate yourselves when you’re in a sea of thousands of bands?

Cathcart: To be honest, I’m not sure we even think of that. I don’t think of that personally. When you walk through the city of Toronto, you see posters for hundreds of bands on the walls. I think being from the east coast, we don’t think about that. It would be very discouraging. You just have to make a plan and trust that what you’re doing is good. We’re very committed to our music. It’s our life, it’s our religion. Lots of bands die and go away, and we may too, but you’ve got to believe in it when you’re in it.

Gillis: You make the music without that in your thoughts. If people like the music, they’ll buy it.

Cathcart: We’re going in a show-to-show, grassroots kind of way. You should be making music to make music.

Do you have a certain goal in mind when you’re playing live shows?

Cathcart: Absolutely. We love when audiences are up dancing, screaming, singing, partying. Even if someone’s just sitting there mouthing the words, it’s an adrenaline boost for me personally. You feed off each other. Crowd is hugely important to our type of music.

Gillis: We come from this dive bar/folk/playing at pubs background where we were playing three sets to keep the drunks happy. That’s our background as performers so when we get up now, our goal in mind is to make everybody have as much fun as they possibly can. And make them connect with the music as much as we possibly can. We lay it all on the line every night, emotionally. We sweat it out and have a good time and usually people do the same.

Every night you have to play and kill it. Give it your all because you never know who’s going to be there. I don’t mean in terms of a big shot, but someone might be there who will love your music forever, and will keep in touch and sometimes become a friend.

Do you find that you’re exhausted at the end of shows?

Cathcart: Oh absolutely. By the end of the show, my shirt’s soaked and I’m tired.

Gillis: That’s the way we do it. We’re an all-out group of labourers.

Pretty Archie have released one full length album to date, Steel City, and are recording a new album in September with an estimated release date of October 2014.

Photos by Chris Zacchia.

Low Hanging Lights

One of the best parts about meeting and interviewing bands is that I get to meet and interact with really great people. Almost without exception, all of the musicians I have met over the years have been hard working, humble and appreciative people and I really respect that. The gentlemen who make up Toronto band Low Hanging Lights are no exception. While setting up the interview, they kindly offered me a place to stay for the night in case I didn’t want to make the drive back home late at night. When I met them in person, they were just as welcoming. Before we get into the interview, let me introduce the band.

Low Hanging Lights formed in early 2011 following a solo album that singer/songwriter Alex Grantham released. After many line-up changes, the band has found the right mix with Grantham on guitar/vocals, Ian Boos on bass/vocals and drummer Aaron Bennett on drums/vocals.

Funny story about how Grantham and Boos originally hooked up. Both grew up in Paris, a small Ontario town about an hour and a half from Toronto. After Grantham released his solo album, there was a feature piece in a local Paris newspaper which Boos’s mother read, and suggested to Boos that he contact Grantham so they could play music together. Boos had also recently moved to Toronto, so he contacted Grantham and they started jamming, originally with Boos on drums. It became apparent that Boos was more inclined to play bass, so they decided to bring on a new drummer. Enter Bennett. The band first released an EP titled Small Talk.

The show I attended on June 28 was a launch for their latest release, titled Insulated Picnic Bag.

Within the music, their small-town roots and love of folk music can be heard alongside influences and experiences picked up since moving to the big city. As for their musical influences, they’re huge Nirvana fans, enjoying the distortion and noise aspects that have crept more and more into their latest repertoire. These little outbursts of noise are injected, like moments of chaos that eventually sleep when their momentum fades out. There’s punk in there too, with the way they move onstage and also that they don’t seem to strive for “perfection” (think over-production) when performing or recording, preferring something of a raw, emotive sound. Lyrics are of the utmost importance and are a driving force for Grantham, who does most of the songwriting. The lyrics are thoughtful and a main focus.

It’s this interesting blend that give Low Hanging Lights their unique sound. Since settling into their charismatic three-piece group, the music has become less folky and more direct, highlighting punk and rock elements. They also strive for a visual component, and brought a friend they affectionately call “Michael Jackson Jr.” who danced along to their set and had some killer moves.

“Undress and fall into arms, you were completed the day you were born. Undress and fall into arms, remove your face” are some poignant lyrics in ‘A Sharp Minor Suicide’, the song on their website that is most similar to their more recent output, with a noise outro to finish an indie-rock song which emphasizes lyrics. The song was composed after Grantham read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. He is voicing his distaste for arrogance and reaffirming his belief that everyone has flaws, and on a fundamental level, we’re all the same. “Everyone should be full of doubt, apprehension, skepticism and curiosity.”

Following their energetic and intense set at The Press Club, the band and I sat and discussed their music, lyrics and much more.

Stephanie Beatson: How has being in Toronto affected your songwriting?

Alex Grantham: Most of my songs were written when I lived back home. I’ve often thought that there’s a freedom from responsibility when you’re living in the house you grew up in. You don’t have to be the grown-up which gives you freedom to create. Now that I’m a busy dude trying to scrape by in Toronto, it’s sometimes hard to sit down and write songs, but I do it. The songs are different because they’re informed by where I live now.

Aaron Bennett: I grew up in a small town too and I think the difference is the level of artistic license that you can take in a big city is way more. There’s more people trying different things. You can meet so many more musicians, artists, filmmakers and share a common bond. It’s inspiring.

Ian Boos: I can literally walk down the street and see some of my favourite bands. Last night I saw Beck. It’s so inspiring having that access. In a bigger-picture sense, some of Alex’s earlier songs might have been a little simpler but since moving to the city, you can hear there’s more chaos in the music now. I think bands are taken in by their scenery.

Grantham: One of my favourite things about being in this band is that I feel we have so much room to grow. I feel like we haven’t tapped into the full potential of what we could be. We’re getting more aggressive and realizing what works for us and our musical personalities.  You never want to feel like you’re at a dead-end with a band.

Bennett: The city allows that growth as well. There are more venues here.

Ian Boos

Where do you draw your songwriting influences from?

Grantham: I’m usually more liable to write a new song when I’m in a place of emotional vulnerability. I went through a really bad break-up about a year ago and I got an entire album out of it. Whenever I’m in a place of emotional turmoil is when I write more, which is probably true for a lot of people. It’s so hard to write a happy song! [Laughs].

Bennett: We were talking about this the other day. For me, I think a song has to be really genuine and people relate to it when it’s genuine. When you write a happy song, it’s hard to make it not campy. A song that evokes darker feelings is easier to relate to. You can almost make that connection instantly. For myself, if I were to write a song, it would have to have those real elements.

Boos: When Alex is writing a song from the bottom of his heart, that’s the way we play it.

Bennett: What drew me to this band were the lyrics. They’re really thought out. That’s what made me want to work with them. I connected with the music and I think other people do too.

Alex Grantham

You guys have an obvious punk influence, and to me the biggest thing about punk is the attitude and often the lyrics and music take a backseat to the attitude. In your music, lyrics are the driving force. How do you manage to get the two seemingly opposing traits to work in tandem?

Grantham: As a songwriter, I’ve been very much influenced by Bob Dylan and many others from the ’70s. Their lyrics were very confessional and emotional. To me, the best thing about punk — and you talked about attitude — is it’s non-conformist, it’s  skepticism, it’s anti-authority. It’s questioning what’s laid before you and I think you can do that in an intellectual way like Dylan did. When you do it that way, it’s not some bush-league thing, it’s a higher intellectual pursuit. I read a lot of philosophy when I was in my early twenties and it had a profound impact on me. I read a book called The Outsider by Colin Wilson, Straw Dogs by John Gray and those books touched me because they’re intellectual and they’re punk inspired. If I could equate that to music, that was punkish because it was anti-conformist but it was done in an elegant and intelligent way and I respect that. Sometimes punk music can be a bit crass and stupid, and I hate it when punk music is demeaned like that because I think the higher goal of punk is more noble.

Do you have any closing words you’d like to share?

Boos: We want to be theatrical, we want to play well and we want to give it all we have. That’s what we do and it’s true to our hearts. We believe in it. We believe in the lyrics, we believe in the songs and I think that if we get a chance, we’re going to take it.

Grantham: If you can afford a grande latte at Starbucks, you can afford to see a really good musical act in Toronto. Next time you go out, consider that for every one established act, there are twenty up-and-coming who are doing amazing shows. Find the smaller clubs; Press Club, Not My Dog, Rancho Relaxo, Silver Dollar… any of these small bars. If you want to see original music in Toronto, all you have to do is take the initiative and pay a $5 cover, the cost of a cup of coffee.

Bennett: Whatever you do — whether it be art, film, music — always do it with integrity. Never compromise. Do what you feel is best and someone will like it. If you’re doing what you love, that will last far beyond a flash-in-the-pan band or movie that comes along. Longevity is important. Often today, artistry in music is lost. When you see independent bands trying to do something new or different, give it a chance and support them.

The guys dressed up in suits for their show to mimic their dress in this video for ‘Solitary City Man Death’.

Photos by Stephanie Beatson

Twin Smith

What do you get when you cross ’60s style psychedelia mixed with spaghetti westerns? Twin Smith, a refreshingly unique band out of Toronto who sling guitars instead of guns, but pack a punch just the same. Their current roster of four friends includes Dave Browne (guitar/vocals), Stephen Court (acoustic guitar/vocals), Noel Bryant (bass/vocals) and Cosimo Costa (drums/vocals).

The quartet played a set during NXNE last weekend at Baltic Avenue bar, a gig awarded to them after a promoter watched them play a previous show a couple months back. The highlights of their sound are their charming three and sometimes four part vocal harmonies, and their fun and sometimes a little quirky spaghetti western tunes that sound like they could be on the Kill Bill soundtrack. There’s also a song about trolls, and who doesn’t love a song about trolls? They’re also all very talented and accomplished musicians.

Dave Browne and Stephen Court

I was fortunate enough to chat with these fine fellows after their set and get the low down on how they formed the band, how their style has evolved into something that’s really quite different in these parts (or, probably, anywhere) and what their plans are going forward. They joked about how they were born, and then formed a band, which isn’t far off from what actually happened.

Browne and Court started playing together a whopping twenty years ago, when the call to make music in their early teens brought them together. After different incarnations of bands in the early days (nay, years), Costa joined in 2003 as their drummer, eventually moving to steel guitar and is currently filling in on drums again until the band finds a permanent fixture following the departure of their former drummer. Bryant joined the group two years ago and has become part of the family, commenting how much he enjoys playing with the group because of the level of talent and the material that each person brings. Even if they stick with the current line up, the chemistry in the group is evident and an important part of the mix, especially with all the harmonies that work in tandem.

Noel Bryant

Stephanie Beatson: When you’re writing, do you generally co-write as a group or does one person come with an idea that is then shaped by the rest of the band?

Noel Bryant: Ideas are brought to the table and everybody works with them.

Dave Browne: It’s pretty democratic, the way we write songs. Everyone’s ideas are taken into consideration.

Cosimo Costa: I like that when any one of us comes up with an idea, we’re so excited to have the other guys make it better. A song always gets better when all of us touch it.

Bryant: There’s no ego. Steve’s kind of the maestro. He makes things work in musical terms.

Browne: We’re kind of barfing out ideas, and Steve tells us what they actually mean musically. He’s like a musical modem, and more.

Bryant: He translates our ideas.

So when you guys are barfing out ideas, do you have certain sounds or ideas that you’re going towards?

Bryant: We follow a path though we don’t necessarily have concrete ideas, but rather bits and pieces and then we see where it goes and if we can make it work.

Browne: We’re so unshamefully eclectic.

Court: That’s the way to be. When we’ve tried to be any one thing, we got bored very quickly and wound up doing something else very quickly, so we might as well be a mixed bag.

Browne: We all have so many influences. We’ll never all be listening to the same thing at the same time, so it all swirls together.

Would you say your style has evolved a lot over time?

Browne: Oh yes!

Bryant: We’re playing different styles than we were two years ago, and I’m sure we’ll be doing different things two weeks from now [laughs]. It’s nice to have that freedom to play whatever. Everyone comes from different stylistic backgrounds, so it’s nice to be able to use all those different things to do whatever works.

What are your plans going forward from here?

Browne: We have to do something concrete. The thing that’s hindered us, since we started, is we’ve gone through different line-ups, with drummers and what not. And a very fast evolution of songwriting. So we haven’t been able to say, “OK, these are our songs and these are our players, and we’re going to make this album.” It’s been constantly changing. It’s been hard to nail down. There’s no reason now we can’t buckle down and do something.

Bryant: It’s hard because you feel like you’re in a certain place before you lay down something concrete, and we’ve been changing and moving a lot of the time. It’s been a bit of a troubled thing, but I think we’re in a place now where we can really do something. We’re very restless with songs.

Browne: Our biggest problem has never been coming up with material, it’s been whittling down the mountain of ideas.

I’ve seen them play a few times, and it’s true; their set is constantly evolving and they regularly introduce new material. Recently, Twin Smith have been adding some synth to some of their songs, enhancing the psychedelia already present in the guitar effects. Though they have no official recordings to date, here is a video of their NXNE set:

Photos and video by Stephanie Beatson.

What’s better than a rooftop patio complete with live music on a bright Saturday afternoon? Absolutely nothing.

Audio Blood hosted a stellar NXNE event to showcase some of their artists, including Old Man Canyon, Slow Down Molasses, Army Girls, Royal Tusk, Fast Romantics and secret guests Teenage Kicks. The beautiful day and open bar were bonuses that helped everyone’s already sunny demeanors along that little bit extra. Outdoor shows are not always the most easily controlled, in terms of achieving good sound, but every band that played sounded awesome. The mixes were just right. We managed to catch most of the event, and here’s a rundown of the artists we were fortunate enough to watch play.

Army Girls is a two-piece band from Toronto featuring Carmen Elle (vocals/guitar) and Andy Smith (drums). Elle brought some dry humour to their outstanding set of garage band-style originals, but the highlight of their set were her sweet, sweet vocals. Petite but powerful, she blasted out some real beauties. Her pure sounding voice contrasted with the sounds she achieved from her electric guitar, but it worked in a complimentary way that I found really pleasing. Smith carried the beat and just helped the set groove along. It was perfect for a sunny Saturday afternoon.

On a side note, Elle is also a member of the band Diana who just made the long list for the Polaris Prize.

After Army Girls, Royal Tusk hit the stage. This Alberta band are in the midst of a Canadian tour to support their first six song EP, Mountain, on Hidden Pony Records. With five members, they brought things up a notch in terms of volume. Led by singer/guitarist Daniel Carriere and bassist Sandy MacKinnon, Royal Tusk play rock music with hints of Americana and soul. Their sound is rounded out by keys, drums and percussion. Their songs feature cool riffs, strong vocals, and a nice, full sound.

Secret guests Teenage Kicks played an energetic set that reaffirmed why they’ve been gaining such momentum since brothers Peter and Jeff van Helvoort formed the band a short while ago. They’re the whole package. Great tunes, talented and tight band, catchy riffs and good-looking to boot. When listening to their album Spoils of Youth, you’ll hear honest, cliché-free music; their most true expression of what rock music means to them.

teenage kicks audio blood rooftop party nxne

The album didn’t come easy. They recorded it in West Hollywood and found the original recording to be unusable. They lost band members, suffered bad timing and worse luck and yet persisted. Peter’s work as a producer made it possible for them to re-record the album with Jeff. They say hard work and persistence pay off and Spoils of Youth version 2 is certainly an example of this. Teenage Kicks are currently playing shows throughout southern Ontario.

Fast Romantics closed out the party with their blend of pop-rock that had everyone dancing, grooving and singing along. Formed in 2008 by singer/songwriter Matthew Angus, bassist Jeffrey Lewis and drummer Alan Reain, they were later joined by Aussie ex-pats Shane O’Keeffe (guitar) and Lauren Heron (keys). Their most recent release, Afterlife Blues (2013), came in part from a realization by Angus that he’d been through a lot of breakups and never written about them. The songs started flowing and working for a second time with producer Howard Redekopp allowed for the band to record this second album in a faster and more comfortable way.

Angus wanted to write straightforward lyrics and back them up with music that’s loud, yet playful and sometimes even euphoric. The band built a reputation by playing high energy shows, attracting a following that allowed them to tour and play many large festivals including Virgin Fest, SXSW, NXNE and CMJ. They also won Spin Magazine’s “Free the Noise” competition and were flown to New York City. Their music has been featured in many TV shows and films, including Shameless, Breaking In, Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars. “Funeral Song” has also been getting a lot of attention.

Audio Blood really nailed it with this event. They chose artists who complimented each other beautifully and hosted a hell of a patio party with the help of their partner Pistonhead Brewery. Well played, Audio Blood, well played.

Photos by Chris Zacchia, see the full album on our Facebook page

An explosion happened in downtown Toronto on Saturday night. Not a bomb, not a natural disaster of any kind, but local band METZ’s show at Lee’s Palace at midnight for NXNE. As soon as lead vocalist Alex Edkins opened his mouth, the place went wild.

METZ is a noise pop/hardcore punk band signed to Sup Pop records and since their inception in 2008, they have been steadily growing their fan base both locally in the Toronto area and abroad. Their self-titled 2012 debut release was shortlisted for the 2013 Polaris Prize.

On Saturday, I got to see what all the fuss is about firsthand. The show was revved up in every possible way. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a mosh pit as crazy as the one at this show. The entire ground level was in a flurry. People were running up on stage and diving into the crowd, often without checking to make sure there were hands to catch them first (a few were dropped, and yes, it looked rather painful).

METZ NXNE 2

An amp almost tipped over into the crowd when someone dove off it. Edkins brought an air of danger to the stage. A couple of times he knocked the microphone off the stand while playing wildly. Fans would rush up and replace it for him and then stage dive. He stood on the bass drum towards the end of the set (I can hear a collective of drummers gasping) for a good minute or two, and I swear a couple of times I thought he was so into the music that he was going to smash his guitar to pieces.

The intensity with which he sang and played was definitely infectious. Bassist Chris Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies complete the band and play with as much vigor as Edkins. Menzies is reminiscent of a tattooed Animal from the Muppets with his long hair and seemingly on-the-brink-of-losing-control style. Far from it though. The band is tight and obviously well rehearsed. And they have a lot of loyal and enthusiastic fans. The place was jumpin’.

It’s comforting to know that a three-piece rock band can make great music without feeling the need to bring in additional members. There’s something special about their raw talent that I really appreciate. Plus, it’s always a blast to go to a mega energetic show and jump around.

The band is touring western Canada, the US and the UK for the rest of the summer but here’s a video to warm you up until you can catch a live show.

Photos by Chris Zacchiam see the whole album on our Facebook Page

terra lightfoot

Terra Lightfoot (no relation to Gordon Lightfoot) performed as part of the Sonic Unyon CMW showcase on Saturday night at Cherry Cola’s. Lightfoot is playing as part of a trio these days, and the band led by this musical powerhouse lit the place up, performing many new songs which will be featured on an album she’s currently working on. Somewhere during the first song, everyone’s attention shifted to the stage, where she held it until the last note.

Her rich and powerful voice are perfect for the indie folk music she writes. Influenced by blues pioneers like Robert Johnson and Leadbelly, Lightfoot’s music reveals these influences as well as rock, country and more. She blends these together into a truly personal style that allows her to finger-pick some songs (she’s proficient at this) and blast out full and powerful chords in others. Yes, she’s quite the guitarist!

She effortlessly transitions from ballads to energetic rock tunes to country-infused numbers, including one she dedicated to the Carter Family. The mellow, perhaps melancholy sound quality of her voice doesn’t seem like it would fit with the sheer power she wields, yet it’s a wonderfully surprising combination that makes her voice unique. She has excellent control.

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In 2012, Lightfoot won three Hamilton Music Awards including Best Female Artist, Best Female Vocalist and Best Alt/Country Album of the Year. Lightfoot has toured Canada three times, overseas once already, and is now in the midst of recording an album with her other band, the Dinner Belles, while preparing her sophomore album under her own name. So, she’s making waves both at home and abroad.

Lightfoot’s voice and guitar are the focal point within the band. Here is one of her newer songs, ‘Moonlight’, performed with her talented trio for Exclaim! TV.

Photos by Stephanie Beatson.

flash lightnin

The bar was full to capacity two hours before they hit the stage. So full I couldn’t risk losing my spot near the front to get a drink at the bar for fear that I’d never make it back again. And so, drier than a nun during mass, I took in what turned out to be one of the best live shows I’ve seen in quite some time.

Flash Lightnin’ are a local Toronto band made up of Darren Glover (guitars/vocals) and Darcy Yates (bass), and I’m still trying to figure out how I didn’t find out about these guys earlier. Formed in 2007, they paved their way via a residency at the Dakota Tavern. Their first EP, 2008’s Destello, captured their energetic live show and earned them opening slots for Eagles of Death Metal, Metric and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

They recently returned from a tour opening for ZZ Top. They have released two full-length albums since, including Flash Lightnin’ and their very recent For The Sinners. ‘Flash Lightnin’’ the song has been featured in blockbusters Thor, Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows and The Last Stand.

Their set began with them cheersing the crowd with shots. From the very first note, I understood what everyone had so eagerly waited to see. Their music is gritty, raw and real. Gritty, but also incredibly technically proficient. Glover is one amazing guitarist, not only because of the speed and accuracy with which he performs very difficult solos, but because the solos in each song are noticeably different from all the others, tastefully crafted specific to each song. It was really something to see (and hear).

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In addition to the guitar work, the songs are also fun and well written. They have interesting rhythmic fills and changes, aided by the masterful playing of Daniel Neill on drums at this show. I should mention that despite Neill not being a regular band member, the threesome was super tight, a testament to the skill level of each musician. Neill timed and executed each fill with perfect rhythm, and between the three of them, every shot was bang on. The energy that the band established with the first chord was maintained through their entire set and Glover, obviously at home on the mic, worked the crowd like a seasoned pro.

People in the audience kept buying them more shots, and more yet. By the end I was amazed that Glover was still able to perform his flawless guitar solos. It was such a great show that I didn’t care that the drunk guy in front of me kept spilling his beer all over me, or that practically every person in the room had nasty BO. I can’t say a single negative thing about this band or this show.

So if you’ve been living under a rock, as apparently I have, and have not caught wind of this band yet, it’s time to peek your head out and take notice. Here’s ‘Flash Lightnin’’ (the song) performed by the trio last month at a show they opened for ZZ Top.

Listen to those tasty drum fills and the guitar solos, especially the one towards the end of the song. Oh man. So good.

Photos by Stephanie Beatson.