A Rockin’ Intimate Night of Music with The Ethics and Winchester Warm

By Grace Smith and Frank Smith

The Ottawa scene is an arts and culture hot spot of late; full of things to do and music to take in.  This past weekend was no different, with widely advertised events like Westfest and Doors Open. If you were lucky enough to score a seat at a private house concert in the heart of Nepean Saturday night, you would have been treated to a full evening of original music by two brilliant, local indie rock bands: The Ethics and Winchester Warm.

The bands played to a packed house of 40, some fans awaiting the return of The Ethics to the local music scene after a four year break, some newcomers interested in supporting local musicians and others in discovery mode. The Ethics are back with a brand new set of songs they are road-testing before a return to the recording studio. The core members of Kevin Hersak and Jeff Gleeson have teamed up with Matthew Godin and Jonathan Pearce of Winchester Warm in this new collective.

Winchester Warm — in a pared down format from their usual four piece — with songwriter Jonathan on guitar/lead vocals and Matthew on drums and sweet backing vocals, took the stage first at 8:30 to deliver a beautiful set of songs from their two excellent studio albums Sky One Room and Belle Attente. The band also played a couple of tunes from the Poorfolk Project. The sound was pristine in the intimate space. An attentive, appreciative audience hung on every note and turn of phrase. These guys bring serious song-writing chops to performances, with experience in the studio, in local music venues and the festival circuit. Top-notch gear and instruments helped to elevate the concert and fill the house with superb indie folk/rock. Winchester Warm had the crowd singing along to the moving "I Forget Nothing", from the Sky One Room album, repeating the chorus with the band in a real spiritual moment of communal song.

Following a short break, which saw the audience gather in the living room to chat with the band and to purchase the bands CDs and LPs, The Ethics took to the house concert, Persian rug stage. All four members delivered a jaw-dropping performance of melodic rock, with frequent trippy instrumental jams. Kevin Hersak is a presence to be reckoned with in a live setting.  He sings in a rich, world-weary baritone that carries an emotional wallop for his deeply personal songs. Material from the studio albums At Cities' End, Even The Stars and What I Did for Modern Love was performed. Half of the generous, nearly 80 minutes, set focused on a batch of great new tunes. In between, Kevin joked with the audience and band that he still hadn't settled on the final titles for any of this recent material. As a four-piece, there is true musical telepathy within The Ethics. Kevin was quick to appreciatively acknowledge the playing and singing of his mates: Jeff on virtuoso lead electric guitar, and Matt and Jonathan who anchored a rock steady rhythm section.

There was one cover during the show, a gorgeous rendition of "Under The Milky Way", a hit for the Australian band The Church in the late 1980s. The Ethics closed an amazing evening of music with two encores, which drew sustained applause. Kevin made sure to thank Peter Franklin who spoke before the start of the show about the Stop Gap Initiative which is making many businesses in Ottawa and throughout Ontario accessible to persons with disabilities with custom-built, portable ramps. The hosts of this house concert series always invite a charity, flying under the radar, that is doing important work in our community.

After the show there was an opportunity to chat with Kevin Hersak. When asked what the band has been up to in the last four years, he explained:

“The other guys each play in other music projects. Jeff plays guitar in Cherie – which have been doing quite well. He also has worked as a producer for the first time – producing Andrea Simms-Karp latest record. She now goes by Naviger. Jon & Matt are both part of Winchester Warm & Poorfolk – both for which Jon is the songwriter. Personally, I became a dad about three years ago which put playing music a bit on the back-burner. I never really stopped working on new songs, and tried out a couple new music ensembles before finally getting the chemistry and dynamics right with Jon & Matt joining Jeff and I.”

The Ethics recently performed at Irene’s Pub in early April, where they debuted many of their new songs. "It felt amazing. In fact, extremely cathartic. I actually fought some tears after getting off stage. Cathartic for a few reasons,” revealed Hersak. “For one thing, it had been a long time – and it was super performing again! I’ve always loved playing live. The first show as the new formation felt great. And, we played 9 brand new songs. They are by far the most personal lyrically speaking than anything I’ve done before. So it was quite a feeling of release to get these songs out there for the first time.”

When asked about how Matt and Jon came to join the band, he explained: “Jon and Matt are good pals of ours. We met through the music scene years ago. Jon came on first, and was really excited to not be a band leader for once. It’s freed him up to enjoy playing and inject a lot of creative energy, without the pressure that comes from being the songwriter and leader.”

“We’ve been trying to find the right drummer for a while. And now we’ve totally got it with Matt. He’s all about the dynamics – and has the capacity to play with finesse and softly, and then to let it explode. He does both very well – which is not actually that easy to find in a drummer. More than anything, the band chemistry is at an all-time high. I can’t wait to record with these guys,” beamed Hersak.

Hersak writes all of the songs for the band, bringing the lyrics, core melody, and structure, which then develops into a real collective effort, as they hammer out the arrangements bringing new ideas to each of the songs. 

“The songs for the new record are pretty much all arranged with the exception of the lyrics which I’m still labouring over. Really trying to get them right,” he explains. He admits that this collection of songs is by far the most personal, dealing with circumstances in his life. “The tone is not bitter though. It’s facing some dark things, but inching closer to a better place.”

When can you expect to get your hands on the Ethics new CD?  The band is planning on self- producing this time. Jeff Gleeson has been developing a home studio. Their plan is to lay the bed tracks at a full blown studio over the course of a weekend, then add the other layers at Gleeson’s studio. The timeline to record will be this fall/winter.

It’s always interesting to hear about what feeds a songwriter’s musicality. Do they have a hobby that  rejuvenates their creativity. Kevin Hersak shared, “I read a lot. I love literature and I think the characters and worlds that I discover in reading come to play in a subconscious way when I'm writing songs. I also love to travel and engross myself in new cities. I get well off the beaten path, and take a lot in. This fuels the creative juices for me as well.”

This house concert was a first for The Ethics. When asked why performing in someone’s living room is so much fun, Hersak remarked: "The reason is the intimacy that exists between the audience and the performer in a house concert setting. Tonight for example, there was a couple dancing to one of our songs which was extremely grounding for me. I loved it. With the audience giving you their undivided attention,  it can be both frightening and exhilarating because you don’t have the noise and commotion in a bar to hide behind. This was such a supportive audience and the positive experience will resonate with me for a long time."

While we wait excitedly for their new collection to emerge, there is still plenty of outstanding music from both The Ethics and Winchester Warm to listen to.  The Ethics has three studio CDs available and Winchester Warm has released two albums  Check out their websites: https://ethics.bandcamp.com/; http://winchesterwarm.ca/

Born and raised in Ottawa, Grace Smith completed her B.Com (Honours)
at Carleton University. Engineering at Canada Post is where she hangs
her hat. Her other passions include her husband of 25 years, Frank Smith
(an OLM 2014 Top 25 in the Capital finalist), volunteering, macro-photography,
cooking and playing the Djembe. She believes that kindness is something
we should all practice. It should be as natural as breathing.

Frank Smith works full-time at Carleton University as the National Coordinator,
of the National Educational Association of Disabled Students, an advocacy group
that represents college and university students and recent graduates with disabilities.

Frank is a graduate of the journalism program at Carleton. In his spare time,
he is a singer-songwriter with the folk/progressive rock band
Sills & Smith, with Jeremy Sills.