Articles by: Jessica HuddlestonJessica Huddleston
Jess has a Bachelor of Journalism degree from Carleton University and now works as a Communications Specialist, as well as a features writer for Ottawa Life Magazine. Writing for two arts and lifestyle websites on the side, Jess loves to keep her finger on the pulse of the music scene and is always ecstatic to share what she hears with others.

Great Big Sea: “Ottawa Is Like Coming Home”

June 3, 2013 11:31 am
Great Big Sea: “Ottawa Is Like Coming Home”

On the 20-year anniversary of touring the band’s East Coast folk music around North America, Great Big Sea is happily bringing the show back to the capital at Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest – one of the many seasonal festivals that have welcomed the legendary Canadian band with open arms. Whether the Tulip Festival, Jazz Festival or Canada Day – Great Big Sea believes Ottawa might be the place they’ve played the most outside of their native Newfoundland.

“In a weird way, Ottawa is kind of where we first became a big hit,” admits husky-voiced lead singer Alan Doyle. “Whatever the festival is that’s on in Ottawa, it seems our music fits the bill for them all.”

Scheduled to play the packed LeBreton Flats on July 12, the distinct nature of the enlivening experience is not lost on the outfit, two decades after their pub-playing inception.

“Being part of a festival that’s so big, so well organized and just technically perfect – it’s amazing,” says Doyle. “If you’re in a band and you’ve played all over the world, you wish that more festivals were like Bluesfest.”

The diverse festival crowd is also a perfect representation of what a typical Great Big Sea fan might look like – in that a typical Great Big Sea fan actually isn’t typical at all. According to the band, the best part of playing such engaging Celtic rock is that your toddler, teen and grandmother can enjoy the music to the same degree. Peering into the crowd in the heat of their upbeat, instrument-jammed set, founding band members Alan Doyle, Bob Hallett and Séan McCann are always in awe of the broad sweep – and dedication – of keen Great Big Sea followers.

“In 20 years, I’ve never seen such ageless audiences,” says Doyle. “I’ll recognize people out in those crowds from 15 years ago, but hey, now they’ve come with their kids. It’s a special thing.”

The fan base has remained as unwavering as the group’s steadfast pursuit of bringing jovial Newfoundland jigs to studios and main stages. Straight out of university and working odd jobs, the founding members assembled in St. John’s in 1993 to play popular cover songs, sea shanties and their own rock twist on traditional Newfoundland folk for the locals. The band’s energetic sounds commonly filled downtown pubs in Atlantic Canada all the while appealing to elders who appreciated the heritage music of the Coast. With gig numbers racking up and impressive independent record sales, the guys were quickly picked up by Warner Music Canada and they powered into high gear as one of the most recognizable faces of Canadian East Coast music.

“People just liked us,” Doyle muses. “More people than could fill a pub.”

And people still like the music, just the way it is. “I don’t think any of the normal pressures that are put on bands were ever really put on us,” says Doyle. “Record companies just sort of let us do our thing because our thing worked – and it’s worked for reasons that people had never seen before. Hell, there have been times when we’ve begged for direction and Warner would say, ‘Why change?’”

“You don’t hear that happening often,” he laughs heartily.

It helps too that Canadians have a remarkable appreciation for our cultural, geographic and musical diversity. Doyle agrees, “I don’t think there’s one country in the world that celebrates its regions more than Canada.”

He says that “For Great Big Sea, it was a blessing to grow up as singers in a place that had its own songs. Most traditional Newfoundland songs we don’t even remember learning; we were never even sat down and taught. But we know them, the same way people know how to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’”

Whether it’s their solo albums, book deals, occasional stints on film or television thanks to their esteemed pals and acquaintances, the band hasn’t slowed down since the lads were twenty-something, driving from gig to gig in a station wagon and making $175 a week, without a care or responsibility outside of chasing the dream. Now the dream still lives on a-plenty, in a rigorously scheduled and surreal fashion.

“I’m proud of a lot,” says Doyle. “But the thing I’m the most proud of, outside of just keeping the band together, has been adapting to everything else that has come with real life – kids, cars, houses and families – all of those normal changes.”

He added that “Our friendship with each other has become family in itself, and sure, there are ups and downs in families. But it becomes like another arm, and a tour like this is a great excuse to pause and be grateful for each other.”

Great Big Sea will continue to take its powerful brotherhood across the US and Canada throughout the summer right until the end of 2013, still riding the release of last year’s XX – a double-disc album commemorating its anniversary with the favourites, the unheard and the covers. Any Great Big Sea fan knows the trio has a soft spot for a good cover song. Take R.E.M.’s End of the World, for example.The carefree song just spoke  to them. With the crew’s latest spin on Pete Townshend’s Let My Love Open the Door, they found that recognizable keyboard intro worked well on Bob’s accordion keys. Any good pub band knows that playing a legend’s classic song loaded with vigour is always a crowd pleaser.

Great Big Sea remains ecstatic about its big anniversary, which the band celebrated in St. John’s on April 27th, 2013.

“How lucky am I?” chuckles Doyle. “It’s an incredible thing to do for a weekend and I’ve done it my whole adult life.”

But things are a little different than they were back then.

“Right now, I’m standing in a parking lot in a huge American city, watching a crew of nice people load our gear into a theatre. You know, 20 years ago for me and all over the world right now with any young band – the simpler pleasure would be not to have to lug your own shit around. Well, I am pretty lucky because I have not carried my own shit since 1994. I should be over the whole thing, I really should… but I’m not. Every bit of this is an amazing ride.”

 

Mother Mother: Back to Basics on The Sticks

November 21, 2012 11:57 am
Mother Mother: Back to Basics on The Sticks

At the peak of digital possibility, for every one artist capitalizing on the technology age, two are cursing its contribution to the demise of good music.

For every Rebecca Black, there is a Neil Young – an established artist there to remind us that it didn’t used to be all MP3 and YouTube; there was a time when music, performing and fandom were organic. A time that some people raised in today’s era of music might not understand.

But then there are contemporary bands that do get it. Take Mother Mother, for instance – a popular Canadian indie-rock group that is, in principle, part of a style-savvy, tech generation. Mother Mother has grown into Canada-wide fame with the world at the band’s fingertips; watched technology develop and aid their every attention-seeking desire. But, as you’ll hear reiterated on the band’s new album The Sticks – Mother Mother would rather strip back to basics. The band has a refreshing case of the Neil Youngs.

“As an artist, as a band, as people – just trying to adapt to the rampant technological advancements is a thing in itself,” Mother Mother front man Ryan Guldemond frankly admits. “It feels like people try to cater to that, forgetting the very simple and raw act of creativity.”

Mother Mother speaks to organic creativity and blocking out the
noise on their fourth full-length, The Sticks

Looking at Mother Mother, the Vancouver-bred quintet that found their bearings in 2005 and quickly captured Canadian airwaves with a danceable rock sound and undeniable knack for delectable hooks – the band’s trendy guise suits their clever hits well. Progressive layers of versatile rock sound, flashy live performances, Guldemond’s spiked golden coif and the rest of the bandmates’ stylish threads speak to their progressive outlook – but are qualities not to be confused with tagging alongside music fads.

“Believe it or not, we don’t really follow the trends,” Guildemond says. “We try to come by our own evolution and how we write naturally. Songwriting should be seen as more of an act of servitude – people take too much credit for their creative output. Realistically, you’ve happened upon a song, you‘re lucky – you were able to pull a song out of the air and channel it.”

Mother Mother should, however, take a little credit for the unique flavour of edgy alt-rock that they have coined as their own; whatever air Mother Mother grabbed, their three-album discography has gifted the band members with handfuls of animated numbers that translate into exhilarating live shows. On their fourth full- length album, the band boasts clarity and perspective – while remaining charmingly quirky – reflecting on their whirlwind experiences through the rough terrain of the overcrowded music industry.

Having returned from touring their last album and now setting sail again, Mother Mother is well aware that overseas gigs are always different stories than the brimming Canadian festival grounds and leaping crowds of native followers. Though the homecomings are forever heartening, Mother Mother often finds the “organic experience” performing in foreign places.

“It’s incredibly humbling having to win people over,” lead singer Guildemond says. “Using only the merits of the music and whatever you’re able to perform and deliver that night to a small crowd – it’s very grounding. In Canada, you can manufacture these epic experiences by using a big fan base and loudspeakers. The people who are coming there love you biasedly. When you’re insignificant and unknown – the raw elements of the music are going to determine your success or depth of imprint.”

Gearing up to rock Ottawa’s Bronson Centre on Friday night, Guldemond exclaims that four albums later: “It’s all still totally riveting – especially how challenging it’s getting to write the darn set list.”

The tightly-knit group is too lovesick for the musical process, the many wins and their “darn set list” to allow the chaos of the new industry to change their mind about a life spent in music. According to Guldemond, the birth of a new musical chapter is always like a new romance; it has its ups, downs and butterflies; it’s lusty, it’s learning – but it’s beautiful.

“This whole thing – it always takes feeling out, all over again. We’re in the honeymoon phase of The Sticks, and we’ll need to take what we learned from our last album, find the grooves of this one, bring in a new maturity and try and have fewer hang-ups each time. But every time, we do feel more grounded as musicians. Each time, we take this starry-eyed, punch-drunk feeling that comes with a new album and try to savour it all. Not belittle it with doubt.”

PHOTO:  Matt Bourne

Mother Mother is set to rock the Ottawa stage on Friday night. More info here.

 

 

Inlet Sound: The New Romantics on the Block

November 6, 2012 1:10 pm
Inlet Sound: The New Romantics on the Block

When young indie crew Inlet Sound ventured to record in the cabins and churches of the Canadian Shield last spring, their escapist recording experience mimicked those of many veteran rockers before them who stole away from the pop of camera bulbs and city noise to achieve musical serenity. Only, Inlet Sound is technically just a few years into its musical infancy.

But, listening to The Romantics – their appropriately-named mature debut and result of said deep North recording – it becomes clear that the young power-folk troupe have more perspective than their ages might suggest. Whoever has survived life in the big city – especially in their tumultuous twenties – knows that the experience can easily lend itself to reflective songwriting and the need for retreat.

“You know, at this age your ideals really are challenged, and you realize pretty quickly that life is an adaptive process,” says Inlet Sound’s co-founder Sean Hardy. “We sort of hashed out an arc – track by track you’ll hear everything from excitement to shreds of doubt.”

While lead singer Michael Wexler’s Decemberists-reminiscent vocals remain a triumphant, harmonic thread throughout the instrument-layered folk-pop album – the storyline is every bit as winding as Hardy suggests. While opening jubilantly by the way of Romantics I and Magnetic North – the melodic first single and golden moment – mid-album quickly swoops into chillier key-driven numbers featuring solemn strings and expressive prose.  By the time Young Hearts closes out the album, Wexler and a bevy of upbeat sounds have rounded back full circle – preaching to his generation to “reach for the sun again.”

Beginning in Toronto in 2009, Wexler and Hardy’s two-piece folk duo shortly thereafter morphed into its current five-piece front – one that was put to the test on their first tour, which included stops out east – where they were greeted with warm Maritimer reception (not surprising, based on the coastal inclination to bubbly string-driven live acts). Most importantly, weeks on the road spent “steeped in each other’s emotions” actually solidified their musical capabilities as a unit.

“We have other things going on in our lives – school, work, etc. – but it would be nice to focus on this together right now,” Hardy says of the October 16th album release. “Being in the band has become such an integral part of who we are right now.”

Somewhere in between conversations about goals, the album title and his generation at large – Hardy reiterates what his disposition and stories within the first full-length shot already demonstrated.

“We are very, very hopeful,” he says.

 

 

Holly McNarland: Juggling Lives On Her Own Terms

September 24, 2012 8:26 am
Holly McNarland: Juggling Lives On Her Own Terms

When Holly McNarland’s smash single “Numb” went viral as she approached her mid-twenties, she was a bright young rocker, a rookie to the record label and a hopeful firecracker quickly winning her way on to MuchMusic countdowns and Women & Songs compilations. Like any fresh face, she was ready to tour tirelessly and make her dent on the Big Shiny Tunes line-up of male-dominated alternative rock bands that ruled the genre.

Run Body Run

And she did. So much so that, speaking with her is a little daunting when remembering a few late 1990s years spent mouthing alongside her throaty rock howl on the radio. Almost 15 years later at age 36, following her debut Sour Pie and subsequent albums Stuff, Home is Where My Feet Are and Chin Up Buttercup, McNarland is still in the game with a new album to boot – and also with a few rules to play by.

“In the past, having all of those hands in the pie never really worked for me,” McNarland says bluntly about her past recording experiences. “I ended up feeling just so bitter and pissed off, because nothing seemed like it wasn’t in the artists favour anymore.”

Despite these frustrated years, the admitted string of label contentions led Holly to exactly the place she wanted to be, but was told she might not get to – the independent release of Run Body Run, a studio album that would be slow-cooked, thought over and produced to sound just like Holly. The country-infused soft rock compilation is led by the empowered summer single “Alone’s Just Fine” –while the rest of the album oozes a liberated kind of musical enlightenment. It boasts no strings, few other hands and multiple rewards.

One of the biggest being that McNarland wasn’t made to feel bad about also working full-time as what she considers the most important role in her life – Mother to 13 year-old Nege and five year-old Coco.

“I’m a Mom, I’m not a rock star."

“I’m a Mom, I’m not a rock star,” she laughs candidly. Visions of her chopped pixie cut and tattooed arms violently strumming a guitar pop into mind, making it tough not to chuckle alongside her confession. “I didn’t wait around for my career to hit new heights — I had kids. I cook and clean and garden, but I also play when and where I want to play without the labels getting mad at me.”

McNarland interrupts herself to tend to her son – both kids are home sick from school, and she’s playing Mom today. Neither of her children is yet asking about, or overly interested in, the fact that Mom has a Juno. Maybe because in desperate times, she’s been known to use it as a door stop.

When McNarland’s kids eventually grow to take a curiosity in her admittedly “pretty great job,” Run Body Run will be a prime point of reference for their understanding the kind of artist their Mom is. She did, after all, name the album after the experience of telling her then three year-old daughter that she can be whatever she wants.

“This album has been on my terms; it’s been about taking my time and not hating a single part of the process. For the first time, I’ve loved every single aspect of it.”

54-40: Still Rocking Over 30 Years Later

September 20, 2012 3:26 pm
54-40: Still Rocking Over 30 Years Later

As time goes by, those groups of old friends – the ones who have known each other for decades, seen it all and weathered the storms of time as a unit – can’t always find the time to get together.

But when they do, when life grants them the excuse to steal away, relive the memories and create new ones – that’s when the real magic happens.

For 54-40, one of Canada’s seminal alternative bands who’ve been jamming together for 30 years, their Gold, Guts and Glory tour will be just this. Not only a chance to showcase the material from their thirteenth studio recording, Lost in the City, but a chance for a group of what front man Neil Osborne describes as “old fishing buddies,” to reunite and light up the spark again.

“We don’t get to see each other as often as you’d think,” says Osborne about the veteran rock crew. “So, at the beginning of a tour we go out for a nice meal, have a couple bottles of wine and then get to work.”

Work being 23 tour dates beginning in their native British Columbia and ending in Ontario; a fall season filled with the rebirth of their longstanding popular rock legacy, one that’s stood the very long test of time amidst today’s hyper-artistic sea of eager young musicians.

“You know, it used to be a lot different in our early days. When we were starting out as ‘indie’ – if you just had the wherewithal to make a recording and press vinyl you’d get noticed,” says Osborne. “Now anyone can throw up a song on YouTube.

“In a lot of ways music is healthier because more people are doing it, but then I again, a lot of what’s out there is becoming homogenized.”

When three of the four 54-40 band mates came together in British Columbia in 1981, it took a few years of grassroots promotion – postering the city, playing small gigs and finding college airwave success – before the Canadian commercial breakthrough that was a result of their album Show Me, featuring the hits “One Gun” and “One Day in Your Life.” Although songs like “Baby Ran” and “I Go Blind” (covered in 1996 by American band Hootie & The Blowfish) off their 1986 self-titled release eventually gained North American notoriety, it took an old-school kind of grind to get this band off the ground in their infancy. Today, the right number of YouTube views or a controversial Twitter account can oddly work wonders for new artists.

54-40

“Social media is just a new variation of what we used to do by printing t-shirts and handing out flyers, so we’ve adapted to do that now too – to a certain degree,” comments Osborne on the age of digital promotion.

Aside from the obvious technical advancements that have appeared throughout their 30 years as a rock band, the sounds and stories within 54-40’s albums have inevitably shifted too. Known for their pleasing alternative-rock melodies, catchy hooks and nearly ageless rock vocals, the band has the pleasure of looking at their albums as small time capsules – representing the eras of their lives that inspired song writing.

“Of course, every album is going to be relational, it’s going to be about having a good time – but this album is also a commentary,” the front man says. “It’s a reflection on how we’ve grown, how we’re older and seasoned, how the world has changed so much. The concepts and the themes are an interesting look back.”

And, what makes that kind of profound reflection possible ten, 20 or 30 years later – is the fact that the band mates, believe it or not, still enjoy each other. Despite all the odds, the parties, the families and stretches of time apart, 54-40 aren’t like many fame-craving modern day bands, who Osborne notes, “after a period of time, realistically can’t stand each other anymore.” No issues there.

And above all that, there’s been no shortage of motivation to churn our more albums for their devoted fans to look forward to.

“You see, there’s a difference between an artist and an entertainer, and we happen to be both. We love being on stage, but the artist in us keeps writing good music because we’re truly compelled to,” says Osborne. “We want to interpret where we’re at in our lives, and also express who we’ve become.”

Three decades and 13 albums later, the Gold, Guts and Glory tour is a three-part whack at delivering the same thrill they did after a few basement sessions birthed their Canadian rock sound in the late 1970s.

“Gold is the old classics we’ll promise to play, I suppose guts are what we have as a bunch of rockers that go way back – and glory is hopefully what we’ll achieve at the end of each night.”

 

Aussie Folk Artist Marta Pacek: “Canada is my second home”

July 5, 2012 9:00 am
Aussie Folk Artist Marta Pacek:  “Canada is my second home”

It’s not uncommon for Australians to land in British Columbia upon arriving in Canada – forming a connection with the country as they discover it through the lenses of the beautiful West coast scenery and laidback demeanor. And to dash across Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec and East Coast soil – playing folk music, the spirit of which speaks to journeying – is just about the greatest way to secure even more of a Canadian home away from home.

Such is the case for Australian singer and songwriter Marta Pacek who came to Canada with a guitar and pocketful of hometown success – hoping to get her feet wet in international waters. After being eyed by Toronto-based management, the neo-folk Aussie began receiving numerous collaboration opportunities within Canada, as well as the US and Europe. Despite opening for David Cassidy, performing with the Gala Orchestra in Milan and filming a music video at New York City’s famous Hotel Chelsea during her introductory North American years, it was the heartwarming Canadian experience that struck a chord with the artist.

“I feel like I have such a Canadian connection,” says Pacek.

“I feel like I have such a Canadian connection,” says Pacek, who is now based out of New York City. “It really is my second home. When I decided to come to Canada I was still kind of finding my way, but once I arrived, I felt this sense of discovery when I stepped outside of my comfort zone, hoping to land on my feet.”

And those feet have been hustling.

As her new tour van’s rolling wheels growl beneath a thick accent, Pacek tells the tale of her typically memorable, and lovely, touring expedition with her latest release Rebel Baby. Beginning in the great West, passing through the noisy metropolises of Ontario and Quebec (which she still boasts are “friendlier” than those in her new US hometown) and on to the folk enthusiast centers of Canada’s East Coast – Marta has tried to focus her tour experience on the promotion of her album, as well as stirring creative juices for the next, less heartbroken one.

“The last album was centered on bad concepts and melancholy concepts – and they were real experiences, unfortunately – but I’m hoping maybe over the summer I might write some things that are non-romance related; that some real writing will come out of this tour. Maybe songs about the sun,” she laughs.

For the soul-searching songstress, she’s wedged herself into the right genre.

“Folk music is about real things and real people,” she says.

“Folk music is about real things and real people,” she says. “I played a show a week before I played my album release at an Aussie music festival. And this lady approached me with tears in her eyes because her daughter had just separated from her husband and she needed to buy my album to help her daughter heal – she thought her daughter would be really helped.  Now that was mind-blowing.”

Whether she knows it or not, the essence of folk music sounds just as Marta does while her charming and ever-so-grateful disposition hollers over the highway sounds.  Folk – every twang and every forlorn confession – has the sublime ability sound, if nothing else, down to earth.

 

The Tympanic: Beat Goes On

May 11, 2012 9:37 am
The Tympanic: Beat Goes On

For six years, Ottawa groove-rock band Tympanic has been rocking stages across the country and at home in the Capital. The band loves jamming and according to lead vocalist and self-proclaimed wild child Troy Lajambe, Tympanic has set its sights on a life filled with bigger gigs, never-ending “boombastic” beats and a new recording within the next two months.

“We really believe in the product that we’ve been producing and in our own potential,” says Lajambe. He added, “It would be great to be able to tour and play so much that I don’t need a real job.”

Eric Eggleston, the production wizard behind their most recent five-tune recording, took 13 demo songs and stripped them down to bigger beat-heavy, worldly tracks which the band’s boogying fan base can “really get into.” During the recording process, Eggleston could pinpoint two obvious qualities about the group that set it apart from other bands and offer a glimpse into what fuels Tympanic’s relentless six-year party in the Capital.

Photo by Jen File

“I’ve been in bands so I get how it can work, with the drama and opinions – but these guys have camaraderie,” Eggleston says. “They really enjoy spending time together. Also, even in pre-production of this record, you can see that they’re good musicians – whether it’s the vocals, horns honking or world beats – they really give ‘er.”

Often the reality of most Ottawa bands is that the moonlight dance parties follow a demanding daytime routine – and such is still the case for Tympanic. Although spurring bouts of bopping, eclectic Dave Matthews Band-meets-Earth Wind & Fire-style funk across the province, at local hot spots like Live Lounge and Rainbow Room, and securing radio and live TV gigs around town – their day jobs range from youth minister to farmer to parent.

Charity Corbett, the woman behind the roaring saxophone and only girl within the goofy Tympanic “boys’ locker room,” points to the sea of Carleton frosh bouncing to their uppity jams year after year or the East Coast tour-goers mouthing Tympanic lyrics as affirmations that if they play their cards right, this gig could last a lifetime for all of them.

“Our best experiences are when a crowd is just very open to hearing what we have to play,” she says.

It looks like six years later – more energized than their first groove onstage and with a new recording in the works – Tympanic will most certainly play on.

Juno Weekend Lights Up Ottawa

April 6, 2012 5:42 pm
Juno Weekend Lights Up Ottawa

This weekend, Ottawa was undeniably alive. During the weeks leading up to Canada’s biggest night in music, it seemed as if there was a portion of the population still unaware the event was coming to town. But as the last week of March passed, the Juno flags began to sway from downtown Ottawa’s lamp posts, Canadian music superstars from every generation trickled into the city with their celebrated songs on hand – and soon, there wasn’t a shadow of a doubt that an explosion of cultural spirit and pride had hit the nation’s capital.

Prior to the awards gala and broadcast which brought together some of the country’s largest musicians, Ottawa’s Juno week events were lively platforms for local artists and venues to draw in the flocks of entertainment media and rub shoulders with industry veterans. St. Laurent shopping centre was the autograph grounds for deadMau5, Simple Plan, Carly Rae Jepsen, Alyssa Reid, Classified and more, the JUNO Cup musician versus hockey player showdown took over the Nepean Sportsplex and JUNOFest packed both budding and established local and national acts into the set space at Ottawa’s hottest bars all weekend.

Cuff the Duke. Photo: Quame Scott

To commence the festive weekend, Ottawa Life hosted rockabilly darling and the face of the magazine’s most recent cover, Lindi Ortega, at Mambo in the Byward Market. Lindi, a guitar, her black birdcage veil and little red boots stomped solo in front of a microphone to a crowd of fans and patrons in the restaurant, celebrating the two Junos she received nominations for with her upbeat acoustic set. Although Lindi didn’t take either award home to Nashville with her this year, she did steal another little piece of Ottawa’s heart with her old soul country jams and humble disposition.

As much as the week’s fanfare events were fantastically engaging ways to garner hype around the city, once the doors of the Ottawa Convention Centre opened for the first night of awards distribution on Saturday evening – the build-up swiftly turned to buzz about which musicians would be taking home those neat little glass statues. Around the dinner hour, suits and gowns (1600 of them, to be exact) filed into the ballroom of one of Ottawa’s newest and most exquisite re-builds – so many familiar faces, voices and mannerisms that it was impossible to continue feeling star struck twenty minutes in; unless very well-versed in placing names-to-faces, it might have been hard to tell you were in the drink line with an Arkell, or, because there were so many identifiably legendary artists mingling together, you were smart to just give up on the notion of feeling jumpy.

Hey Rossetta. Photo: Quame Scott

Contrary to popular belief, 34 of the 40 awards – including Group of the Year, Pop Album of the Year and Video of the Year –  were handed out at the Saturday evening gala prior to the JUNO broadcast. So, although a formal and more intimate affair including a dinner and six performances by the likes of Lights, Oliver Jones, Dan Mangan and Lindi Ortega – the media still waited with eager fingers hovering over recording devices and keyboards foreshadowing the newsworthiness of following night, which would include the red carpet and the live broadcast. CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi hosted the awards dinner, and despite the pleasant candidness of his appearance, his jokes didn’t always result in a wave of knee-slaps throughout the room. Still, the Canadian broadcaster managed to get the ball rolling while introducing the presenters and nominees, as well as rocker Sam Roberts as the first ever Juno Sustainability Ambassador, Blue Rodeo as the newest inductee into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, music entrepreneur Gary Slaight with the Walt Grealis achievement award (and very long tribute video from Canadian artists to the tune of “We Are the World”) and Simple Plan with the Allan Waters Humanitarian award. Other big wins during the evening went to The Sheepdogs, Feist, The Arkells, Hedley, Drake and Melanie Fiona. On making it in the music business, music tycoon Gary Slaight said plainly: “You have to work hard and you have to be committed. If you write more songs, than you’ve got the key to success. Don’t do anything stupid and treat it like a real job – because it is a real job.”

When Sunday morning rolled around, along with some nasty storm clouds and equally as unforgiving music industry hangovers – the city picked up and hauled out to Kanata to begin set-up for the biggest evening in Canadian music, the Juno live broadcast. While the red carpet rolled out and Feist’s beautiful skin-tight red gown, a glowing Sarah McLachlan and dapper Dan Mangan, Dallas Green and host William Shatner rolled in – the ceremony kicked off to a screaming crowd of Scotiabank attendees. “Hello, I’m recording artist William Shatner,” the 81 year-old Captain Kirk said in a monotone growl, soliciting a roar of cheers from the audience.

Aleesia. Photo: Quame Scott

International pop-rockers Nickelback were the first to perform before Newfoundland collective Hey Rosetta! stepped out, wooing the crowd with their touching newborn-themed rock anthem “Welcome” – a showing that later earned a shout-out from legendary Blue Rodeo frontman Jim Cuddy in their media room appearance. “That Baker guy has just an amazing voice,” Cuddy gushed.

City and Colour nabbed Songwriter of the Year and later in the night performed his haunting tune “The Grand Optimist” in a brave acoustic piece set to a family slideshow; a feat that only someone with Green’s caliber of confident milky vocals could pull off with such power. The kids  enjoyed an uppity “dance mix tape” medley performance by Alyssa Reid, Anjulie, Dragonette, Mia Martina and JRDN moments before Feist took home Artist of the Year over some of her Canadian superstar peers. Although the award made number 11 for the famed indie sweetheart, she was adorably startled by the honour. “I’m in shock, I can’t believe I’m standing here,” the belle of the ball said in disbelief.

Another sweet favourite was scruffy indie-rocker Dan Mangan, who has worked incredibly hard to now be a deserving two-time Juno winner in the Best New Artist and Alternative Album categories, to which he graciously said, “I’m just a pebble on the beach of progression. The trick is… it takes time to do anything that is worthwhile.”

One of the undeniably odd parts of the night was all of the absent nominees; although mostly with legitimate reasons, it still didn’t necessarily feel as esteemed or illustrious as years past, where the star-studded attendance roll was almost too much to handle. Some names who received nods but skipped the trip were teen sensation Justin Bieber who sent a pleasant ‘thank you’ video, Drake, Adele (shocking, we know) and The Sheepdogs, who were touring with John Fogerty in Australia –something, however, that is completely understandable and had Canada’s approval. Maybe more strange than the missing musicians was the fact that Michael Buble won Album of the Year over Drake, Justin Bieber and Nickelback…for his Christmas album. Not only because it was the awards note we ended on, which is highly unfortunate after a pleasant evening, but if you are to investigate the qualifications for winning this award – this is a selection I think everyone can agree was either a huge mix-up, or a huge mistake.

In any sense, while Feist absolutely lit up the stadium with a profound performance of “The Bad in Each Other,” Blue Rodeo and Sarah McLachlan did the classic “Lost Together” collaboration and Lights proved herself worthy of a Deadmau5 party duet on stage, there were hundreds of other memorable little moments from this year’s Juno awards. Although we missed some faces, couldn’t possibly make it to everything and had to inevitably say goodbye to many of Canada’s A-list friends on Monday morning, any cause to gather and appreciate music – especially the breadth of Canadian music we have at our fingertips – is a wonderful thing to look back on.

Pelting Out The Oldies

March 23, 2012 5:18 pm
Pelting Out The Oldies

If you get the chance to catch The Pelts, make sure you jump at the opportunity. This band, made up first and foremost of a bunch of buddies, knows how to throw a party and because of their carefree approach to shaking out danceable feel-good music to the delight of their audiences, it doesn’t look like the bash is ending any time soon. The guys bring a certain magic to the local music scene with their brand of eclectic music.

“I like to think of our sound as what would happen if Tarantino got a hold of your prom,” Pelts guitarist Billy SLiM laughs about their blend of mod-rockabilly-doowop-ska — an infectious and swinging live boogie that unites the young, old, musically oblivious and very clued in.

Pelts music is a blend of mod-rockabilly-doowop-ska — an infectious and swinging live boogie that unites the young, old, musically oblivious and very clued in.

In writing their own ditties and mixing B-side covers with anything they pull from their funky back pockets, the Ottawa-based live band admits there is often no rhyme or reason to how the unique melange of fresh-meets-throwback concepts are born (admittedly, their distinctive assortment of sounds doesn’t always come instantly), but according to drummer Sam Menard, so long as their boppity set gets a rise out of the audience, they’ve done their job.

“We’ll morph a Robert Johnson song into a Vanilla Ice cover. Of course, it will always sound like The Pelts in the end – but to see people’s faces when they hear a song they recognize, and weren’t expecting it? For us, that’s it — just playing music that creates something joyful.”

The Reverend, the charismatic frontman whose suave steps and youthful vocals sweet talk the audience into movement from the tip of the stage, agrees on the energizing benefits of playing non-traditional covers at their local gigs. “Mixed with our own spins, the covers we play make for a kind of music that really anyone can sink their teeth into.”

Having randomly met through friends at The Manx, the institutional Elgin Street basement bar, their laid-back beginnings speak to their still casual approach to being a band. Over a few beers one night in December of 2008, they realized there was a singer, bass player, drummer and guitarist present, marvelled at the convenience of unanimously wide open schedules to “jam” that next day — and three years later are still jamming, kicking and making moves around the city.

Pinning down their first gig shortly after conception at Ottawa’s Promdemonium, a hip, wild and wacky prom fundraiser — the tone was set for The Pelts moving forward. Their music would be offbeat and like a prom, it would evoke memories of yesteryear, but their contemporary twists would make it a little more challenging than snowballs and two-steps. And it would be very, very fun.

“What people don’t realize about Ottawa is that there might not be a mainstream cultural scene here in that there are always things of a certain magnitude happening, but from fringe to theatre to music — there’s a real vibrancy to the scene. People support some very off-the-wall stuff,” says Blazer Mack, their accomplished bassist who hailed from Toronto before joining the band.

Although they claim to be popular with a varied demographic of Ottawans, by accident — not design harking back to the classics might be one of the secrets to their bumping live shindigs, says Billy SLiM.

“For what people consider to be a conservative sleepy town, we just so happen to play music that reaches back into an older era certain ages identify with.”

The Pelts don’t try to be anything they’re not. What they do is bring a certain something to the music scene; something, old, new, borrowed and something very cool.

With their presence in Ottawa widely known along the party circuit, the band admits to an interest in testing the waters outside of the Capital if opportunities arose, but are honest about their real intentions as musicians. Leaving their pelt pins, fedoras and dapper suits at home during the day, all four musicians lead lives and other careers outside of their buoyant jam sessions — and appreciate the relaxed enjoyment of simply playing for their own pleasure and pastime, as well as the enjoyment of their fun-seeking follower.

Despite plans to press tracks within the next six months, a musical career without demanding benchmarks, deadlines and nasty industry pressure is ideal for this group of buddies – and they plan to play until it isn’t fun anymore. That doesn’t seem like a likely conclusion to this ongoing party, but as drummer Sam Menard says calmly, The Pelts’ beat will go on.

“A the end of the day, we really have a great time together. So, we were friends first and we’ll be friends last.”

Little Red Boots Made For Walking

March 22, 2012 3:00 pm
Little Red Boots Made For Walking

Nominated for two JUNOS and riding the early success of her roots album Little Red Boots, the general consensus by critics is that the Toronto-born artist, who has drawn comparisons to Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, is the next big thing in country music.

When you first hear her effortless vibrato, fluttering guitar picking combined with her yesteryear storytelling, you could be mistaken for thinking you were listening to a seasoned rockabilly country artist with countless awards under her belt. Instead, it is the mesmerizing voice of 32 year-old Lindi Ortega. While hers may not be a household name yet, this singer is one artist you are going to be hearing a lot about very soon.

With her token red cowboy boots and swipe of red lipstick, Ortega is on her way up.  She’s been nominated for JUNOS in the New Artist of the Year and Roots and Traditional Album categories at Canada’s Music Awards and yet, she is very humble and modest, oblivious to the fact that hers is a career that is about to take off.

Ortega got a little taste of everything before creating her own musical flavour.

“It seems cliché, but after growing up watching shows like the JUNOS and working so hard for so long to be recognized by anyone, it’s just all very surreal,” she states. In fact, she’s nervous about walking the red carpet, giddy to meet some of her musical peers and relieved she’ll have her mother by her side. And of course, there is the thrill of some exposure. “If anything, hopefully the JUNOS will be another chance for more people to become familiar with my music.”

And what a type of music to be familiar with for the many of us who have become unaccustomed to roots and rambling old-school country music amidst the newer pop-infused sound that rules the airwaves. Now based in Nashville, Ortega cheerily says she’s a “happy girl” if life means singing songs that might pay the rent. “I’ve got my record player and know a great little record shop up the street, so that’s all I need,” she says. “And the other night we watched some traditional old country cats who could really play live; I mean, they still wear the old vests and cowboy boots, and they’ll just get up there and play with anyone. They’re just as good as anybody famous.”

The striking singer-songwriter herself pens a tune those old cats have hummed for years, one that is far before her time and laden with Deep South twang despite her Ontario upbringing. Ortega got a little taste of everything before creating her own musical flavour – a traditional jangly style paired with bluesy stories that have always hit home for the Torontonian. Her music is a blend of milky folk vocals, reminiscent of Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, of quirky chords similar to those of the great Johnny Cash and her lyrics are Hank Williams-style stories of loneliness and heartbreak.

“I’ll never stop exploring new things — I’m a constant student of music."

“I’ll never stop exploring new things — I’m a constant student of music,” she says. “But from a young age, those country stories of love and loneliness really spoke to me; not only as a language I understood, but one I would be capable of speaking myself.”

After independently releasing two albums in 2001 and 2007, Ortega signed on to be a part of Interscope Records where she released two critically-acclaimed EPs, leading to gigs on tour with fellow Canuck rockers Noah and the Whale, Keane, celeb-turned-hillbilly-rocker Kevin Costner and the Modern West, as well as a vocal spot on Major Lazer’s 2010 EP. After a little time brushing shoulders with some industry veterans, Lindi left Interscope for the indie label Last Gang Records – a decision she says has contributed greatly to the evolving success of her most recent album Little Red Boots, which has sold 20,000 copies worldwide so far.

“So far, this album has been so successful in my own determination,” she says. “I can’t wait to let it grow organically because for me as a listener, that’s one of the best things about music — feeling a sense of pride in discovering something and knowing you were a little part of that history.”

The album, a 12-track trek through the countryside featuring everything from the powerful and swaying Fall Down or Fly to two-stepping barnyard jams like Little Lies and I’m No Elvis Presley, to the forlorn Dying of a Broken Heart – which Ortega claims is very representative of her “bad luck with love.

During a long and grueling climb to releasing an album of which she rightfully is proud, it’s evident that the country darling has managed to stay connected with a refreshing appreciation of the little things. Amidst a slew of phenomenal musical opportunities and introductions, the laid-back pixie marvels most at the candid touring moments and raw talent of other promising artists who joined her at points during her recent European tour.

Ortega is on her way to becoming a great star.

“I’ve seen incredible things on my journey. We went to see the Palace in Versailles and it was a real band-bonding experience. As we were rolling out, we saw the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen in my entire life where the clouds looked like a painting. I then realized it was very reminiscent of the painting in the Palace — the skyscapes, the angels and cherubs — and suddenly I could see the inspiration for the artists. They really were painting what they could see right in front of them the way we saw it, and I found myself humming that ‘They painted the skies in Versailles’…” she laughs and trails off. “Those things stick out in your mind.”

Such symbolism and imagination have undeniably played a large role not only in her folklore ditties, but also the crafting of her image and album title, which came after she was gifted her first real pair of little red cowboy boots during a song-writing expedition in Nashville. She isn’t sure what drew her to the boots originally — whether it was the colour of passion, her Mexican heritage (her father hails from Mexico), her childhood obsession with Wonder Woman or the bright shade of her apartment walls – but upon sliding into them and consequently hardly taking them off, fans began commenting on her footwear as much as her musical talent. According to Ortega, the next natural thing was naming the album and sultry title track after those red boots, where she croons: “You may not know my name, ‘cause I have not met fame, but you’re going to know me by my little red boots.”

“Lately I’ve been getting the audience to sing along at the Uh-huh part of the song at live shows and it’s the most beautiful, magical and special thing,” she gushes. “I’m really so happy that I named it that – and now I guess people really are starting to remember me and my little red boots.”

And with that, Lindi is finally starting to sound like she gets it.  She is on her way to becoming a great star.

Education Series: Painting a Hopeful Picture for Ottawa Families

March 7, 2012 9:13 am
Education Series: Painting a Hopeful Picture for Ottawa Families

Thinking in Pictures Educational Services (T.I.P.E.S.) has been bridging the gaps in Pervasive Developmental Disorder treatment in Ottawa for over five years. Sisters Deborah and Jennifer Wyatt spearheaded the enterprise.

If you tell a child with autism that it’s raining cats and dogs outside, you might get a blank stare in return. Seeing as most children with this particular type of Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) generally think in pictures, they probably would envision animals falling from the sky.

It could take five trials to help one child with autism understand a concept like this or master a skill, while it could take another upwards of 1000. This is the nature of working with children with exceptionalities. It involves intensive educational programs that entail long hours, varied types of professional counsel and therapy, incredible persistence and lots of patience. Thankfully, there are not-for-profit organizations around to help out. Take, for example, T.I.P.E.S. – a multifaceted service for children with all exceptionalities, appropriately broken down to stand for Thinking in Pictures Educational Services.

It can take some children up to five times to understand metaphors.

“We’re known to be doing about six things at once,” laughs Deborah Wyatt, 27-year-old co-founder of T.I.P.E.S. Her twin sister and co-founder Jennifer Wyatt smiles and chimes in, “it can be chaotic. But it’s always organized chaos – and it’s so worth it.”

In 2005, after working at camps and CHEO’s parent resource centre throughout their young adulthood, the Wyatts decided there was an undeniable scarcity of services available to parents whose child had been diagnosed with an exceptionality like autism. “We watched families lose homes and cars while trying to get help for their child. Many hit a brick wall in terms of options,” says Jennifer. “We wanted to cater to all families, regardless of the diagnosis – with all of the services they need under one roof.”

In between their own higher education in both Ottawa and the United States, forfeiting extra income and spearheading every aspect of their business concept – then 23-year-old Deborah and Jennifer built T.I.P.E.S. from the ground up. After nabbing massive development company Minto as their corporate sponsor, the ladies went from tending to a handful of children in a house to working with over 150 families out of T.I.P.E.S.’ Kanata location. In establishing T.I.P.E.S., the two have led slightly atypical lives compared to other 23-year-olds but they strongly believe their service was, and still is, needed. “It’s easy to have so much drive when there are noticeable holes in the system,” says Deborah. “A cancer patient needing treatment will get it. A child who needs insulin will get that. This is what these children need.”

Combining their own decade of experience, skilled staff of social integration experts, speech pathologists and psychologists – the T.I.P.E.S. team crafts specific behavioural programs for each child’s exceptionality using the revised Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills, a system which examines a number of behavioural categories across a wide set of skills we should all have at a young age. From that assessment, using Applied Behaviour Analysis principles, many children on the spectrum need the recommended 40 hours per week of Intensive Behaviour Intervention. This requires extreme patience and time, says Deborah, but when a child who was entirely non-communicative upon entry to the program advances to verbal communication that would leave an outsider in the dark about his/her disorder their work has paid off.

The T.I.P.E.S. team crafts specific behavioural programs for each child’s exceptionality using the revised Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills.

“When a child walks in our door, you really never know. All you can do is try with each one,” she says.

Such was the case with Lance Laporte’s son Nicholas, who at age two was visibly plateauing in development compared with his twin sister. After waiting 10 months to see a CHEO specialist, who delivered Laporte with what he believes was an uninformative and less-than-optimistic diagnosis — he sought answers on his own. Laporte was pointed towards Dr. Jeff Sherman, an acclaimed psychologist with T.I.P.E.S. who had led some children to the path of recovery through intensive supervision and treatment.

“When Nicholas started with T.I.P.E.S. in 2008, he was non-verbal, throwing tantrums and frustrated,” Laporte states. “He went from nothing to being talkative, social, independent and just a really sweet kid. If he were to be re-diagnosed today, I don’t know if he would be labelled a child with autism.” As Lance speaks, Nicholas can be heard singing and playing piano in the background. Upon hearing the music behind him, Laporte chuckles. “You see? There’s something else I never would have imagined four years ago.”

As well as recently launching a private academy called Edelweiss for children transitioning from T.I.P.E.S. into the classroom, the entrepreneurial Wyatt twins have significant plans for the organization moving forward. And amidst the sometimes “organized chaos” of running a business, the two admit to working incredibly well as business partners and having generous support from friends and family.

“Basically, if we know you, we’re going to get you involved in some way,” laughs Jennifer. “We fix toilets, our wonderful parents and grandparents build furniture and make crafts for fundraisers – you name it, we’ll avoid spending money so that it can all go to the kids.”

And that’s the picture they think in. Despite the education, awareness and changes still needed, the T.I.P.E.S. family, consisting of staff, parents and children alike, will continue adding to the bigger picture, that every child deserves a chance.

Keeping You In The JUNO Know: Awards Show Fever Is Here

February 27, 2012 4:26 pm
Keeping You In The JUNO Know: Awards Show Fever Is Here

With less than a month before the festivities commence, talk of the JUNOS is revving up in the capital city.

Early media events have slowly started to divulge information about the Canadian music awards show and the inevitability of it consuming the attention of Ottawa during the last week of March – and there’s no doubt that the hype will continue to grow along with the long list of globetrotting Canadian artists and celebrities who are expected to attend the April 1st event at the Scotiabank Place.

On Friday afternoon it was announced that William Shatner, Canadian actor and celebrity host who originally hails from Montreal, will be handling hosting duties from behind the microphone on the big night – introducing the performing likes of Nickelback, Hey Rosetta!, Feist, City and Colour, deadmau5, Hedley, Sarah McLachlan and Blue Rodeo as well as a live dance “Mix Tape” performance by new dance artists Alyssa Reid, JRDN, Anjulie, Mia Martina and Dragonette.

Melanie Berry

“We’re delighted to welcome one of our nation’s shining stars to Canada’s biggest night in music,” said Melanie Berry, President & CEO, Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) and The JUNO Awards. “William Shatner is a Canadian hero, and with his love for music, the stage, and entertaining as a whole, it’s sure to be an incredible show.”

The week prior to the red carpet affair and music-filled televised event will see an influx of national media and Canadian artists into the capital region to participate in JUNO publicity events, such as a collaborative visit to the National Gallery of Art with Canadian artists called the JUNO Tour of Canadian Art, as well as PANDAMONIUM at the Civic Centre, JUNO Hoops at the University of Ottawa, JUNO fanfare at the St. Laurent shopping centre and JUNOfest, a multi-venue showcase featuring 100 local, regional and national acts to take place the weekend of the awards show. Further East, Toronto is holding a number of showcases and lead-up events that will collect some of the biggest names in Canadian music before they trek to Ottawa for the Sunday night broadcast.

Press at the Juno press release.

Perhaps one of the most intimate prelude events is the JUNOS Songwriter’s Circle, hosted this year by famed folk-rock artist Dan Mangan, and designed to bring together talented Canadian singer-songwriters for a cozy trading of strums and stories on stage at the Centrepointe Theatre. Mangan will conduct the dialogue, perform his own acoustic Canadian hits and introduce CBC Radio 3 artists like Max Kerman of The Arkells, David Francey and Lindi Ortega during the ticketed musical gathering.

On Saturday, March 31st, pop-punk band Simple Plan is to be honoured with the 2012 Allan Waters Humanitarian Award during the 2012 JUNO Gala Dinner & Awards. The award, which recognizes outstanding Canadian artists whose humanitarian contributions have positively enhanced the social fabric of Canada, will be given to the band for their launching of the Simple Plan Foundation, an initiative that has donated more than $750,000 to youth-focused charities since December 2005 and helps both young people in need and children facing life-threatening illness in Canada and abroad.  The group’s most recent benefit concert with the Montréal Symphony Orchestra raised a whopping $1 million in donations to go towards the Foundation.

Canada's brightest stars will be honoured at the Junos.

On receiving the award, lead singer Chuck Cormeau said, “Words cannot express how grateful we are to be the recipients of this award. To be recognized by CARAS and the JUNO Awards is a true honour for us. As a band we have been very fortunate to receive the constant support of our fans, which has allowed us to continue doing what we love for the last ten years. Because of that, we believe that it is extremely important for us to give back, and the Simple Plan Foundation is our way to do this.”

All-Star games, another successful Winterlude and now the biggest evening in Canadian music taking place in Kanata are all proof that Ottawa has a substantial place on Canada’s culture map in 2012 – so stay tuned to Ottawa Life online as we celebrate Ottawa’s presence with more emerging updates and live coverage on the night of the broadcast.

For more information or tickets to any of the JUNO events, visit http://junoawards.cahttp://shows.ctv.ca/Junos.aspx or  http://radio3.cbc.ca

*All images courtesy of Quame Scott of Q3 Studio*

Canadian Country Superstar Begins The Busy Next Chapter

February 7, 2012 8:49 am
Canadian Country Superstar Begins The Busy Next Chapter

One might say that Paul Brandt could be the star of a modern-day Western. The bravado and mysterious picture of a Western’s protagonist certainly isn’t representative of Brandt – an approachable country music veteran, family man, devoted humanitarian and influential songwriter 16 years into his solid career. But the megastar’s nobility and hands-on dedication to making a difference, however, undoubtedly align with philosopher Shai Biderman’s picture of the Western hero as “a man motivated by his will to do the right thing.” That is Paul Brandt to a tee – and he’s now returned to his roots to do more.

Paul Brandt

Last Saturday, it was announced that Brandt – a celebrated Canadian artist who has seen tremendous international success over the course of his illustrious career – will be headlining ten performances at July’s 2012 Calgary Stampede. The musical event, titled “Century” to commemorate the Stampede’s Centennial Grandstand Show, will also feature The Young Canadians of the Stampede – a group of budding stars finding their musical bearings similar to a young Brandt when he first emerged at the Stampede Talent Search in 1992. According to Brandt, the Grandstand Show exemplifies family values and what it means to be Western – and is “proof of what can be accomplished if one only dreams big enough.”

“The whole experience has really come full circle,” Brandt says, sighing with a chuckle. “I drove past the theatre where I got my start the other day and I had a really neat moment as I thought, ‘Man, I’m one of the people that gets to do this for their whole life’.”

As part of what Stampede board President and Chairman Mike Casey says will be their “biggest show ever,” Brandt hopes he can provide wisdom and mentoring to the young artists performing alongside him in July. In the thick of his early 1990s climb to stardom, he admits he could have used some advice while transitioning from a small gig-playing registered nurse in Calgary to Warner Music’s newest sign in Nashville – the center of the country and western universe.

Brandt is currently heading East as part of his nation-wide tour.

“At the time, I didn’t expect to be in Nashville very long – I thought I’d come back and apply to medical school if it didn’t work out,” Brandt remarks. “But within a year my career took off and we began touring the world.”

Currently heading East on the second leg of his nationwide tour, Brandt has jumped wholeheartedly back into the chaos of tour busses, packed stadiums and returning to the performing limelight. The touring journey, however, has matured into one that includes his wife Liz, a singer in his band, and their two toddlers, Joe and Lily, who are along for the ride. According to Brandt, the kids know that “Dad plays music,” but that might be the extent of it.

It could take awhile before they’re aware that Dad’s music dates back to 1996, when the smash single “My Heart has a History” hit number one in Canada and made him the first Canadian male country artist to reach the US Billboard Top Ten since 1974. Following that, the album Calm Before The Storm struck Gold in the US and Triple Platinum in Canada. And these days, Brandt is enjoying the success of his sixth studio album Give It Away – which was named 2011 Canadian Country Album of the Year by iTunes Rewind.

As well as running his own record label and consistently writing new material, the Calgary native maintains that his allegiance to Western family values, as well as his recording industry success, are what have enabled him to participate actively in philanthropy and carry out his belief in “helping out your neighbour.” Brandt is renowned for his intense involvement with a number of charitable initiatives like World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse – and more recently he’s contributed as the host of CMT’s hit television show Build It Forward, which documents the construction of new homes for families living in uninhabitable conditions.

“Helping others, through music or anything else, is really the reason I do what I do.”

“Helping others, through music or anything else, is really the reason I do what I do,” he says. “When I get up on stage, knowing that I’m raising money to free someone from human trafficking or give them clean water, it really puts the wind in my sails and convinces me that I will continue to do this for the rest of my life.”

And so it is, that the humble Canadian hero will continue his journey through the frontier – family in tow, unwritten songs up his sleeve and admittedly more chances to “jump from one incredible opportunity to the next” – and his audience will continue to watch proudly with bated breath as two more remarkable decades unfold.

Big Soul Project Delivers Huge Holiday Fun

December 6, 2011 3:46 pm
Big Soul Project Delivers Huge Holiday Fun

“We’re here to sing about peace, love and hope.”

As the dozens of robe-adorned choir members of the Big Soul Project shuffled out from the sacristy of the Fourth Street Baptist Church last night – colourful cloth draped around their necks and ear-to-ear smiles spreading while they waved to family and friends stacked in pews – it was hard not to feel all three of these things.

The reasoning behind the Monday night show is a spot-on representation of community choirs, local arts projects and their fundamental purposes. The choir’s official holiday concert, taking place this upcoming Saturday at the Dominion-Chalmers United Church, has sold its 1000 tickets – so, for a small food or cash donation to the Fourth Baptist Church, the public were free to attend last night’s dress rehearsal and sample the full program. Holiday cheer and good will at its finest.

Photo by Jake Morrison

Roxanne Goodman, the fearless shepherd coaxing the energetic claps, steps and three-part harmonies out of the community gospel choir since 2008, modestly stood before the hundred-piece choir – a group that’s generated so much interest it can hardly fit its members behind the altar of the quaint Glebe church. Heaps of voices piled through the small venue as the crew “wet their whistles” with a fun version of the winter classic “Jingle Bells”, the first of many numbers that audience members were prompted to croon along to. The band chimed in – a lovely touch of saxophone, percussion, bass and guitar that would accompany vocals throughout the night – and over the hill we went.

Kicking off with Eric Clapton’s “Let it Rain” and sliding into gospel goodies like “Joy To The World”, and “This Little Light of Mine” – the concert received the mighty nudge it needed after a delightful interjection from Goodman, who swiveled at her podium to address the audience about the purpose of collaboration and the beauty of song.

“If someone tells you not to sing or tells you to ‘stand in the back’, something inside you diminishes,” she said to a hushed audience. “Who am I to tell someone not to sing? I don’t recall anywhere in the Bible where God says, ‘Don’t sing – you’re not in key.’

“That doesn’t matter. We’re here to make a joyful sound.” Holiday cheer and good will strike again.

Photo by Jake Morrison

After the Director herself performed a haunting solo of “Oh Holy Night” alongside a simple steel drum backing, a John Mayer hit slid its way into the set list as well as a ballad written by a member for her husband and number one fan, who stomped the night away from the audience. A soloist’s rendition of “Croire” – the booming anthem performed at Jack Layton’s funeral – spoke to much of the program’s thematic thread and this year’s concert title, Croire-Believe.

A bright moment took place near the end of the evening, when a soloist was introduced as “an example of what happens to someone who enters the choir – someone who has a little voice and then starts to believe they can sing.” Flashes of the tiny-framed yet big-voiced Sister Mary Robert from Sister Act came to mind, before the live version squeezed out from the crowd of singers – an equally as petite lady who further drew mental comparisons after shouting her powerful bluesy rasp into the free-held microphone on “How I Got Over”. Huge gospel backing, a mid-song instrumental jam and fired-up crowd didn’t stop her voice from coasting over the aisles and securing her a spot in our hearts, and Sister Act 3.

Any pitchy moment, forgotten word or nervous soloist went unnoticed, because as Goodman and the voices of her gospel devotees so clearly chanted – none of that really matters. The pats of support on each other’s backs, lively whoops in between verses, synchronized sways and beaming smiles are evidence that the Big Soul Project hopes to show, if nothing else – that a little groove and a little faith in each other are exactly what the season calls for.

Police State or State of Police? Part 2

November 14, 2011 7:06 pm
Police State or State of Police? Part 2

A few other notable Canadian cases involving allegations of misconduct against the police:

Fredy Villanueva, Montreal, QC – August, 2008: Over three years after Fredy Villanueva was killed, no answer has been offered as to why police opened fire on the 18-year-old teenager. Villanueva , who was playing a game of dice on the street with friends, was shot after an officer attempted to arrest his brother. The unexplained shooting sparked a riot, public outcry and subsequent discussion into racial profiling.

Photo: Toronto Star

Toronto G20 Summit – June 2010: Lacy McAuley from Washington, DC was documenting arrests made outside of the G20 detention centre on June 27, 2010, when she was arrested for taking photographs. McCauley alleged she was tossed to the ground by officers, dragged three metres into an unmarked van and placed face down, before an officer sat on her back, held her throat and threatened her – causing her to wet herself. This is only one story of hundreds of protesters who reported alleged beatings, assaults or hostile detainments during the week-long political summit that has led lawyers, protesters and civil rights groups to speak out.

Harold Hyde, Halifax, NS – November 2007:  Hyde, a mentally ill prisoner apprehended for assault in Nova Scotia, was stunned five times after trying to escape a police station, before going into cardiac arrest. Paramedics revived him and he was released from the hospital on the condition that he be returned to the emergency department if the court did not provide him with a psychiatric assessment. Hyde was returned to jail without medication or the ordered assessment, and following hallucinations of “demons” and another attempted escape, Hyde was repressed on his stomach and died.

Aron Firman, Collingwood, ON – June 2010: The 27-year-old schizophrenic was shocked when he was aggressive towards Collingwood OPP officers after they responded to an assault complaint. The unarmed victim, who lived in a home for mentally ill patients, died from “cardiac arrhythmia precipitated by electronic control device deployment in an agitated man,” according to the medical examiner’s findings.

Photo: Globe and Mail

Buddy Tavares, Kelowna, BC – January 2011: The investigation into suspended RCMP officer Geoff Mantler’s videotaped misconduct is set to begin this time next year; a civil lawsuit that is one of two assault charges against the officer. RCMP received a call to shots fired at Kelowna golf club, where they proceeded to arrest a compliant 51-year-old Tavares for the careless use of a firearm. Videotape then caught Mantler kicking Tavares in the face – who at the time was recovering from a brain injury suffered in a car accident – while he was on his hands and knees. Following the incident, Tavares and the BCCLA have also alleged a civil breach in which the RCMP released an unverified statement saying Tavares’ charge was related to a “domestic violence situation” – information Tavares and his family say is untrue.

Mario Hamel, Montreal, QC – June 2011: Montreal police knew of Hamel, a homeless man with a history of severe mental illness who had been living in a rooming house downtown Montreal, when they approached him before dawn on June 7th. While tearing into garbage bags and threatening officers with a knife, Hamel was unable to be repressed with pepper spray and the officers opened fire. How many rounds were shot is unknown in the ongoing investigation, but it is known that enough were fired to kill Hamel and claim another casualty nearby. The next day, Public Security Minister Robert Dutil said he was “dumbfounded” by the shootings.

Patrick Limoge, Montreal, QC – June 2011: Patrick Limoge was on his way to work at St. Luc Hospital when police opened fire on Hamel at Ste. Catherine and St. Denis. Limoge was struck by a stray bullet and rushed to the hospital, where he later succumbed to his gun wound. The deaths of Hamel and Limoge have sparked the debate surrounding Quebec’s tactics of police-investigating-police.

Photo: Globe and Mail

Jamie Haller, Williams Lake, BC – September 2011: Haller, a 17-year-old Williams Lake girl, was being chased by gang members when she stopped a passerby to call the police. Once RCMP officers arrived on the scene, Haller was quickly placed in handcuffs and jostled into the back of a cruiser. Confused and struggling in the backseat, Haller was then held down by an officer while the other punched her several times in the face.

High-school student Tasered, London, ON – September 2011: During a quickly unfolding street brawl involving two 17-year-old students, police officers approached and shot a Taser into one of the teenager’s ears. Witnesses say the weapon was deployed without the officers yelling at the students to stop or attempting to pull them apart, and despite the fact that provincial regulations advise against Tasering sensitive areas like the head – the Special Investigations Unit has said the incident doesn’t meet its criteria for an inquiry. London police instead opted to probe into the matter internally.

11-year-old boy Tasered, Prince George, BC – September 2011: After stabbing a 37-year-old male, a young boy fled the scene of the crime into an empty building; he had been drinking wine, was reportedly wielding a knife and was prone to violent outbursts. Police tried to verbally coax the boy out of the building, which failed because he is hearing impaired and was not wearing his hearing aid. The next time he stepped out of the building, police Tasered the boy to subdue him.

Armande Cote, Sorel, QC – June 2006 – October 2011: Armande Cote placed a call to 911 in the summer of 2006 to say she had found her husband dead in the home’s gazebo from gunshot wounds to the head. Although Cote was fit to stand trial in what would have been a murder case against her (a rifle was found in the house) – the Supreme Court of Canada has been forced to throw out evidence based on police misconduct that systematically violated Cote’s Charter rights. The judge found police actions to be “aberrant” when they barged unannounced into her house in the middle of the night, searched her home without a warrant and interrogated her for hours without access to a lawyer – causing Cote to recently be set free. Criminal lawyer Frank Addario told the Toronto Star that the scenario sends a “strong and clear message” to police what happens when they do not follow minimum Constitutional criteria.

Tackling Our Climate’s Future

September 30, 2011 2:34 pm
Tackling Our Climate’s Future

The OLM Arctic Series continues, focusing on the pressing environmental consequences of our warming climate on Canada’s North, by taking a look at ArcticNet, one of the key players studying what is going on and evaluating the situation.

Established in 2003, ArcticNet is part of the Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada (NCE), which cultivates multidisciplinary partnerships between academia, the public sector, private sector and not-for-profit organizations.

As part of ArcticNet, experts in natural, social and health sciences collaborate with partners from northern communities, Inuit organi-zations, and various agencies to better understand the numerous challenges and opportunities brought by climate change and modernization in the Canadian Arctic. Like the rest of the NCEs, ArcticNet works to engage Canadians and promote a prosperous and competitive nation in the global economy – but also keeps their voice largely heard in the discussion of maintaining the prosperity and health of our globe as a whole.

ArcticNet is comprised of over 140 researchers from 30 Canadian universities, 20 federal and  provincial agencies and departments, who work alongside research teams in Denmark, Finland, France, Greenland, Japan, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the USA to get to the bottom of the Canadian Arctic’s threatened state.

Global temperatures are increasing at a quickening rate, which poses challenges for everybody – specifically the northern land that is home to Inuit communities and industries that are consequently in jeopardy. Sea-ice is already melting away, hindering traditional hunting practices by Inuit, threatening the natural habitat of Arctic wildlife and exposing Canada’s coastal communities to seaway traffic and intercontinental shipping.

The researchers and community members behind ArcticNet have a difficult task on their hands. The effects of Arctic climate change are something that must be addressed immediately and thoroughly (and it can’t exactly be done from an office in central Canada). In order to disseminate knowledge about the urgency of the situation, formulate immediate and long-term strategies to help Inuit communities and the rest of the country understand both the barriers and opportunities we face in regards to global warming – ArcticNet contributors have to place themselves in the heart of the problem.

So, they have. ArcticNet is currently conducting Integrated Regional Impact Studies on marine and terrestrial coastal ecosystems in the Eastern Canadian Arctic, Canadian High Arctic and in Hudson Bay. In addition to hands-on work within northern communities and on remote Arctic islands, groups of ArcticNet researchers are compiling multi-sectoral information from aboard the Canadian research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen. This vessel, which takes unprecedented expeditions across Canadian Arctic waters, gives ArcticNet investigators extensive first-hand access to the whole of the Canadian coastal Arctic – as well as access to grasping leading edge information and evidence.

It doesn’t stop there though – there’s also plenty of engagement and broadcasting to be done on the home front. In April 2012, ArcticNet will be part of an international group of research organizations hosting the 2012 International Polar Year From Knowledge to Action conference in Montreal. Under the leadership of the Canadian IPY Program office, the From Knowledge to Action conference will assemble over 2000 Arctic and Antarctic researchers, academics, policy makers and other key parties to discuss the environmental, economic and social issues facing the Polar Regions.

“The conference will bring together internationally renowned scientists with key policy makers and stakeholders, including northern residents,” says Peter Harrison, chair of the IPY 2012 conference. “Participants will examine important issues identified by Polar researchers and will develop collaborative strategies for addressing them.”

The knowledge, evidence presented and the discourse that will follow is aimed at contributing further to national and global decision making, as well as to the education of the next generation of international specialists who will be managing Canadian Arctic issues in the years to come.

“Taking our knowledge to the next level and charting the new polar policy course, the IPY 2012 conference will help shape stewardship, sustainable development and environmental protection goals for these regions.”

Aussies The Little Stevies: Not So Little Anymore

August 30, 2011 8:16 am
Aussies The Little Stevies: Not So Little Anymore

The Little Stevies’ lives truly are like a little folk song. This traveling trio from the land down under have not only mastered the laidback strums and effortless harmonies that contribute to that feel-good folk sound, but whether or not they know it, they coincidentally have an upbringing and ongoing narrative that re-assures they are in the right genre.

Sisters Sibylla and Bethany Stephen were blessed with heavenly voices and gusto for performing that might have been influenced by their own Mother and her musician yesteryears. The siblings grew up experimenting with their natural vocal talent – an activity they preferred to do without Mom and Dad hovering around – and now can admit it was probably in their favour that Mom’s former bandmate is the father and dear friend of their current bassist, Robin Geradts-Gill. Continuing the family pastime, the friends grew up close knit and musically curious – perhaps the golden ticket to the delightful and breezy folk harmonies that now make up The Little Stevies’ live performances.

Sisters Sibylla and Bethany Stephen

“It’s wonderful that our parents kept really great friends, and then had babies who were us,” laughs Beth through her charming Aussie accent. “They understood what we were trying to do – whether it was childhood dance routines, choirs or forcing them to be our audience members. They got it.”

The brood of next-generation music spawns picked up their instruments later in life and learned from scratch how to make those heartfelt folk melodies ring from them. “It’s really beneficial to learn with someone, because you actually go through every single step of the process together,” says Beth.

The inexperienced strums and goofy sing-a-longs lead to the official birth of The Little Stevies, a band that now exudes confidence and not an ounce of amateurism after their nearly six years playing stages. Combining their artistic talent with Sibylla’s (or “Byll’s”) music business degree, Robin’s filmmaker background and Beth’s years spent studying music – it seems as if the power trio has all the ingredients to continue their rise to folk fame.

The release of their sophomore album ‘Love Your Band’, which first highlighted the threesome’s cheery lyrics and minimalistic instrumentals, led them to the US for their first dip of the toe in North American music waters. Overwhelmingly positive responses and buzz caused the Stevies to pull out the bigger guns during their second album’s recording session in LA; guns that included uppity melodies, larger percussion, complex harmonies and undeniably catchy concepts.

The album release launched an extensive North American tour that supported stops all throughout the US and Canada, a cross-country drive from Vancouver to Ontario (that came with observations of strange Canadian traffic lights, how often we say “anyway” and the magnificent Rockies), and a multi-festival line-up that included the Ottawa Folk Festival.

“Walking onto the concert grounds, it was just such a big space and we were unsure how we could fill it,” Bethany remarked at the Hog’s Back Park setting, where the band played a live afternoon set and an inviting 25-minute acoustic performance last Saturday evening. “But, it was fantastic to see how at the end of the day we actually did.”

According to Stephen, the festival atmosphere was also a wonderful introduction to meeting other bands, seeing what they do, and discovering new music for their own pleasure.

Ottawa Folk Festival

“The more you play live music, the more you find yourself comparing and thinking about other bands critically as opposed to actually just enjoying them,” says Bethany. “The festival is a great way to sit back, take in and appreciate new things.”

Their sunny and modest demeanor most likely attracts fellow festival musicians to discover and befriend the kindhearted threesome themselves, considering their humble and infectious on-stage presence. Almost constantly exchanging knowing and friendly smiles with each other and the audience throughout a given set, it’s impossible not to fall in love with their impeccable harmonies and bond.

The bond which they call natural after “unconsciously working together and reading each other’s movements” for so many years, is one that comes across as refreshing and genuine in an age of rock star mentality and flash.

Although as we speak the trio is jet-setting back to their homeland for a rest after an album and video release, the storyline of their Australian folk song is certainly not nearing an end. Their “marriage”-like relationship is one that will sustain, despite all of the cutthroat ins and outs of the industry, because they’ve got a sound that grows bigger with every release, and an anything-but-flighty connection. After decades of learning about music and now re-teaching it to the masses, the jolly folk-family will keep singing for whoever will listen, because blood, in this case, is much thicker than fame.

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