An Interview with The East Pointers at EFMF

 

 

The East Pointers may appear like newcomers to the traditional music scene in Canada but each individual member has amassed performance experience in a wide variety of genres from country to folk. Comprised of Koady Chaisson (KC) on Banjo and the resident step dancer, Jake Charron (JC) on Guitar, and Tim Chaisson (TC) on Fiddle; the trio are a musically proficient generation of Traditional musicians based out of Charlottetown, PEI. Their debut album, Secret Victory, is primarily instrumental music compositions with some singer-songwriter tunes in the mix as well.

Their down-to-earth likeability and passion for music is evident as they begin their interview with handshakes and hugs all around. Their enthusiasm to be at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival is evident with Tim noting that EFMF is one of his favorite festivals, “They treat us so well out here, it’s so organized, it’s amazing!” They also had the time to check out some of the other musical acts with Jake noting his excitement to see Dervish, “They’re staples in the Trad music scene. It’s great to see what they’re doing out here” and Koady’s love of Dreamer’s Circus.

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How do you make Traditional music accessible to modern audiences?

KC: Drop the bass!

JC: We’ve got a couple little tricks to fatten up the sound a bit. We’ve got a bass pedal, stomp box, and traditional tambourine. We’re trying to make as big a sound as possible in order to be able to play these big stages and be comparable to these big bands. We’ve been writing new tunes and hope people will like them.

Why did you decide to incorporate aspects of singer-songwriter tunes as well into your  instrumental approach as well?

KC: I feel with this style of music, there are the diehards that like strictly the tunes. For a broader audience, it’s always nice to sprinkle in a bit of song to change it up a little bit. Plus, we love it! It’s been fun writing songs. I’ve always written tunes, but songs are a new thing.

TC: With songwriting, we grew up listening to Traditional Celtic music. But obviously, you’re exposed to many types of contemporary music like the radio. You grow up playing fiddle tunes but then you hear top 40 and think, “that’s cool too,” and go back to playing fiddle tunes. You subconsciously hear all those melodies in your head. It’s cool to incorporate a bit of contemporary song-writing style into playing tunes.

DSC_0509Is there any fear of missing out on an audience because you’re playing Traditional instrumental music?

TC: There was no pressure in the band. It was very organic. We would get together to play tunes and have a few beers and play tunes all night. And thought, “we should start a Trad band!” and we’d laugh about it but none of us had time to do it at that time. But organically it kinda grew so there was no pressure from the get-go.

What is it about Trad music that connects to people?

TC: It’s in everyone’s blood. Maybe, not everyone, but it’s such an old style of music. It’s been around from the beginning of time.

KC: There’s always been dance music. We seem to have forgot that fact about Trad music. It’s actually dance music. There’s EDM dance music but there’s actual dance music that goes back hundreds of years. All of you have to do is expose people to it and they can see that rhythm that is very danceable. The music, as Tim said, with the Irish, Scottish, and French in Canada, the music resonates with so many people.

TC: Our parents were advocates to keeping the tradition alive. As teenagers, Koady and I were shy to step dance or play the fiddle in front of others because none of our friends are doing it. But now, it’s such a good thing to do!

When did Trad music become a cool thing to do again for you?

KC: When I got old enough to realize it doesn’t matter what certain people think. If it feels right for us, if it’s fun for us, then hopefully that is expressed through our tunes and on-stage shenanigans.

TC: It’s interesting to see people shy away from it at a certain point because you’re influenced by friends and popular culture. But you tend to go back to it, because it’s in you, and it’s part of your make-up.

JC: There seems to be a bit of resurgence of acoustic music in popular music. There are successful bands out there playing acoustic instruments that comes in waves over the years.DSC_0249

Why was it important to incorporate step dancing, Koady, into your live shows?

KC: I think it might loosen the crowd up a bit if one of us gets up and step dances. In our family, from the time you could walk, you danced to this music. It was your initiation to the music besides always being exposed to it. My mom taught me how to step dance when I was a little kid. It’s so funny, when I talk to mom she says, “I’m so happy you’re still doing those steps I taught ya!”

TC: Are some of those Donna Chaisson specials?

KC: I’m literally stealing my mom’s moves. How cool is that?!?

Do I sense a dancing throw-down?

KC: She would dance me under the table. She’s an amazing dancer.

You all have different genres of music experience coming to Trad music. How do those experiences influence your work in The East Pointers?

JC: We all grew up listening to a lot of different music. We draw from that when we’ve been writing music today, it’s not just Traditional. It’s everything we like that we try to put into our music.

TC: We don’t purposely go out to a certain style; it comes in somehow.

KC: I love danceable music and I feel like we just want people to dance.

Do you think we’ve lost some of the dancing magic?

KC: Everybody is so self-conscious about what their neighbor thinks. If you all just danced, then it just gets crazy.

You have all had diverse occupations from lobster fishing to personal training, when did you all switch to professional musicians?

KC: I didn’t really enjoy lobster fishing. I always wanted to be a musician. I feel like I was biding my time until I could navigate that path to get out of lobster fishing. It was a good job, don’t get me wrong. I always dreamed about being able to play music and whenever this band started that was my number one goal: We have to make it successful enough so I don’t have to go lobster fishing again! I haven’t lobster fished in the past two years so things are going alright.

TC: I did work on a potato farm, and I worked in a fish plant, and substitute taught. I did rough it out for a bit. I’ve been playing music for a long time doing solo stuff. I always loved playing music and I’d play with different artists over the years. Nothing beats doing what you love.

JC: Same sort of thing, I guess. I didn’t necessarily think I’d be doing it for a living but it was always what I loved to do the most and eventually realized what I should be doing. I’m really happy to be doing it.

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Is it difficult to multi-task when you have other musical commitments in terms of solo work or accompanying other groups?

TC: The East Pointers has been so busy especially the last year. It’s been so amazing and we’ve been working with great people in different countries and get to travel to places we’d otherwise never go to. As far as I go, I’ve done a few solo shows in between and always writing different kinds of stuff.

JC: It’s been a priority for us to get this band up and going.

What is your group songwriting process like?

JC: You come up with little ideas on your own. We’ve been together for the past 8 months on the road and been writing stuff on the go.

KC: That’s something I’m grateful for. There are lots of bands for one reason or another, they find it hard to write on the road. When you’re traveling to such beautiful places, it’s pretty easy to get inspired to write. Festivals like Edmonton and Winnipeg, when you’re there and you hear the music, something happens inside and you think: “I wanna write and I wanna grow as a writer and musician.” We all feel the same way in that way. It’s inspiring to be places like this. The people are amazing. The music is amazing. It’s just happiness.

What wDSC_0121ere the first instruments that you all began to play?

TC: Fiddle came first for me.

KC: Step dancing and then fiddle was my first instrument.

JC: Piano but we also had fiddles around the house all the time so I was playing that pretty young too.

TC: There was just a bunch of instruments kicking around the house. I had a bunch of older brothers that played drum and bass and guitar. So fiddle then drums and guitar.

KC: That’s something else I was happy about: [being surrounded by instruments]. “I’m going to play a mandolin because there’s a mandolin in the house!”

TC: My brother hated when I played his drums. He got so mad when I was done playing them.

KC: I remember that! He would check the drums sticks!

TC: I would play drums for four hours while he was gone and put everything perfectly back. My dad was a piano player so he didn’t mind me playing his piano.

How is it being programmed in the more Traditional music sessions when you attend folk festivals now?

KC: It’s different in the different countries that we tour in. In Australia, they put us in dance spots and people just dance their faces off. It’s awesome. I mean, I like both. It’s an honor to share the stage with some of the bands we’ve done workshops with. The fact that you’re up stage with them is humbling. I love when people dance. I don’t know if I mentioned that🙂

DSC_0505What are some of the future goals for the group?

TC: I think more of what we’ve been doing. We’ve been fortunate over the last little while to travel and play different festivals and meet great musicians. We’re working on a new record and working on a lot of tune writing. What’s the ultimate goal? It’s great to make people happy and keep people smiling.

JC: It’s exciting to grow as a band and really excited to get going on the new record. Get touring and playing for different people. Hopefully, we’ll be back here again someday too.

KC: I never thought that playing this style of music could take me the places it has taken me. The places you’ll go! We’re going to Spain in a couple of months. That is something that blows my mind. I think the goal is just to see where it goes. It’s been a great run so far and it’s only been a couple of years.

Do you ever have any checkpoints throughout this process?

TC: I definitely take moments to realize how fortunate to just play music and tour. I try to take moments to stop and sometimes on stage like today look up and see people dancing. Trying to be in the moment and realize it’s a beautiful thing.

KC: I try to live in the moment. I don’t necessarily do it all the time.

JC: We definitely don’t take it for granted to play at festivals like this.

TC: As a musician, there are so many years to work towards something. I remember thinking: “Oh, it would be so cool to play festivals every weekend and tour full-time.” I don’t forget pushing through to make that happen. Now that we’re actually doing it, I don’t take it for granted.

Do you find it’s a challenge to acknowledge your achievements as well as move forward?

JC: To be successful, you need a bit of both of that: You have to recognize where you’re at but see where you need to get to – keep moving forward and not be satisfied with where you’re at.

It is clear that The East Pointers are only just beginning their work to revitalize Traditional music for a modern generation of listeners.

Top Picks from EFMF 2016

Twila: This week has been tough – no live banjo music serenading my daily activities, which have included packing up the tarps for another year, washing industrial amounts of both DEET and sunscreen out of my clothes,  editing a ton of festival photos and drinking black coffee like it is going out of style.

I’m not sure if the 16-18 hour days on site (Saturday and Sunday) were what did me in this year, but it has been an extra rough Folk-Over. So as we return to our previously scheduled lives, let’s take stock of what awesomeness happened at EFMF 2016.

Sable: Folk Fest is equal parts of thrilling and exhausting. I was able to bike down to the festival all four days and I didn’t have to rainproof all my electronic equipment! It was a waning on the hot Saturday afternoon with hours of intense sun but I gained momentum with my consecutive interviews on Sunday with Chloe Albert and The East Pointers.

Thank goodness for the annual tradition of Folkover Brunch with Twila and friends on the Monday following EFMF. I think it’s one of the best methods of recovery from so much musical enrichment.

Favourite Festival Moment:

Twila: At Matthew Bryne‘s concert on Saturday he described the moment that made his festival – Jason Wilber playing a songWatching Picasso” he wrote for Ron Hynes at the “Men of the Deep” workshop (it was pretty special).

It is a series of these sort of moments that touch us individually that makes up the magic that is a folk festival. My festival moment was at the “Losing Traditions” workshop on Saturday afternoon on Stage 3. In real life I’m a musicologist, who studies Western classical music, imagine my surprise and delight when Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen the violinist of Dreamers’ Circus stood up and started rocking out with some unaccompanied Bach only to be joined by Ale Carr (cittern) and Nikolaj Busk (accordion). My love of folk music was instantly combined with some of the most gorgeous Western classical music around. I was hooked, and haven’t stopped talking about them or that moment to anyone who will listen.

Imagine this being performed on the corner of a workshop stage in the middle of Gallagher park –PURE MAGIC!

 

Sable:

Nathaniel Rateliff
Nathaniel Rateliff

My favourite festival moment was dancing with the majority of my tarp mates during Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats Mainstage act on Sunday night. The four day EFMF can feel like a long haul with many hours in the sun and stepping over bubbling, muddy grass, but there is that cathartic release when you can just dance all that energy out. The hill was hopping on Sunday night. I mean, how can you stay still when a hit like this comes on?


Favourite New Discovery:

Sable:

Sarah MacDougall
Sarah MacDougall

I was a fan of Sarah MacDougall. She has this soulful warmth in her vocal tone that really resonated with me, especially in her Swedish rep. It also didn’t hurt that she had some of the best festival fashion I saw at the festival.

 

 

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Dreamers’ Circus

Twila: Unsurprisingly Dreamers’ Circus is my top fest pick. I was at all their performances this past weekend, I even re-jigged my schedule on Sunday to catch more of their music. Not only was there the J.S. Bach influence, on further listening I wonder now if I  hear shades of minimalism – Philip Glass or Terry Riley? And other composers like maybe a little Aaron Copland? Fantastic stuff.  As far as I can tell these fabulous musicians are only performing in Denmark and Japan for the foreseeable future, but I will definitely be keeping tabs on them.

 

Favourite Workshop:

Twila: “Nashville”, Stage 3, Saturday, 3 PM: Tom Russell, Mike Farris, Lera Lynn, Maura O’Connell and Karan Casey

I was waffling between the “Ancestors” workshop and this one. But the stage-wide jam of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues put this one over the top for me. Tom Russell and Mike Farris’ interactions made this workshop all the more enjoyable.

Sable: “Desperados Waiting for a Train”, Stage 6, Friday, 6 PM: Rose Cousins, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dar Williams, Lisa Hannigan

I am always a fan of a good workshop host and Rose Cousins led the way with the perfect balance of wit and admiration for her musical colleagues. I loved this sisterhood of  vocal power on stage. Cousins was able to round it all out with comedic banter and getting them all to think of their Olympic events which ranged from sleeping to tarp rolling.

Favourite Festival Food:

Sable: I’m so glad Curry N Hurry is back because I absolutely love eating curry that looks like it has been stewing all day in a large pan. Seriously, there is something so comforting to have large spoonfuls of bubbling curry over coconut rice, crispy samosas, and fresh nan.

Twila: Coffee from Kicking Horse Coffee, now also being served at the bottom of the Hill (my legs thank you).

*N.B. Although this is a post about festival favourites, I need to state a regret. I didn’t get to see The Steep Canyon Rangers due to scheduling conflicts. This made me incredibly sad and I live in the hope that they are back in town soon, so I can catch them then. – TB

*N.B. I am sad to say I was absent for Saturday afternoon to early evening. Folk Fest is a sacred time, but alas, when friend plans a wedding, they don’t always take a folkie’s priorities into consideration. I have serious regrets for not making the “Losing Traditions” workshop with The East Pointers, Dreamer’s Circus, and The Stepcrew. I heard there was jamming on Bach! – SC

An Interview with Chloe Albert at EFMF

 

Chloe Albert enters the media tent with a sense of exterior calm amongst the festival frenzy. Numerous accolades surround Albert, an Edmonton based singer-songwriter, with a 2014 Juno Nominee and Western Canadian Music and Edmonton Music Awards for her most recent album, Dreamcatcher.

This is Albert’s second time performing at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival; she notes with a smile that the first time she was on Gallagher Hill, she was just a bundle of nerves. She exudes the patience of an Artist that has the stamina to build her career in gradual manner.

Tell me about a formative musical moment in your upbringing.

C: For me, actually, it was Lilith Fair, probably around 15 years ago. Right around when I bought my first guitar was when Lilith Fair happened. There were all these women and artists I really loved and looked up to. The merging of those two things together at the same time was when I got excited about it and thought: “I’d really love to do this!” I was always really shy and performing was not something I did otherwise. It was struggle to get out but I love the rush of it.

Are you ever surprised about people’s connection with you through your music?

C: That’s my favorite thing ever. Even at this Festival, I still have this idea in my head that I must know everybody who listens to my music because I must have a relatively small fanbase. However, CKUA has a really broad reach. Even at this Festival I’ve had people say they’ve been listening for years. A kind gentleman yesterday, said to me: “your voice has stopped me in my tracks so many times over the years,” that still surprises me and makes me feel really good. A lot of times you really don’t have a way of knowing. Not everyone is on social media and even if they do they might not reach out.

What made you decide to pursue music as a profession?

C: It really changed year to year. Fifteen is where I thought: “Oh, I want to do this.” I was really naïve, I didn’t know the road ahead of me that was awaiting. This is embarrassing to admit, but I kinda grew up in a time where my favorite singer/songwriters were discovered singing on a street corner. I wasn’t too worried about it. I played some open mics and I was interested in traveling. I wasn’t too worried about pounding the pavement and thought, “someone will discover me!” Then I put out my first record and that changed things a lot.

Then I took music in college. I was in college taking a Bachelor of Arts program, I felt like a fish out of water. I enjoyed it but I didn’t feel like I was in the right place. My mom suggested the music program cause I’ve always played music. I wasn’t hoping to go to school for music but it ended up being the best. That’s where I got my first glimpse of the idea of playing music and not necessarily having to be a superstar. Many of my professors have been jazz musicians and played music for their whole lives in Edmonton and Alberta. I remember thinking, “that’s so cool!”

I have a local band I play in here with some of my best girlfriends. Now it’s really nice because when I’m taking a break, I had a baby last year, not taking a break from my own stuff but focusing on writing and not performing. And this band can keep me busy and pay some bills. It’s been an evolution. Between my first and second record I knew that [a career as a professional musician] was possible and this was what I wanted to do.

It sounds like post-secondary education seemed like a positive move in your training.

C: Just the level of musicianship was so high and was something to strive for. Hearing that practical side of making a living while playing music. It was really positive.

Even the world of grant writing was important to learn about, which as an independent artist, you really need to know. That was really important because grants funded both my albums. It gives you the power back from “maybe I’ll get discovered someday!” to “I’m going to apply for some grants and I’m going to get the work.”

Motherhood is a new component into your various roles. Do you enjoy the diversity and change each of your roles offer?

C: I knew I wanted to continue to play when I had a baby. Singing and playing is the same as exercise, if you stop you gotta to start from scratch again and you’re out of shape. It’s definitely a juggle that I’m still adjusting to. I’m still trying to do everything I was doing before and obviously there’s this beautiful, human being that I’m taking care of so that takes a large portion of my time. The first year I was putting no pressure on myself. I was enjoying motherhood and performing every couple of weeks. Now I’m starting to find the balance. He’s 1.5 now so it’s a little more structured. I’ll probably be figuring out this juggle for the next while. It’s good, it’s fun!

Do you feel like motherhood has introduced a new perspective to your work?

C: Not so much. The most common question I get asked is: “now that you have had a baby, has this inspired a whole bunch of new songs?” Not yet. Well, like I said, for the first year I didn’t write at all.

I just attended a writing workshop in Nashville last week and I found that when I was focused on it and delving into it, I find that I do have a lot to say and maybe I haven’t realized it. But now it’s all starting to bud.

Do you have general guidelines in your songwriting session?

C: The most important ingredient for me is the inspiration behind the song. There has to be this inexplicable thing when I’m playing my guitar. It could be a lyric or a melody. You either get a feeling or you don’t about it. That is the sacred special piece of the song. What often happens, the way I write, I get that bout of inspiration that comes to me and from there I work outwards from there lyrically and melodically. Sometimes when you’re writing, you can lose the essence of why you’re writing. Sometimes in co-writing or if you go back to the song many times and re-write it, you can lose the essence. Not getting too caught up in, for example, as far as lyrics are concerned, there can be a lot of rules.

But really, there are no rules, because it’s art. In the last five years taking songwriting classes, really focusing on a lyric needing to be a certain way, I find sometimes you can compromise the essence of trying to make it fit into a box. That’s another learning and juggling act to dance around that fine line. I’m really pulling back now and realizing I was focusing too much on framework and structure and sometimes that can take away from the magic of the song. What I found generally speaking is that there are always exceptions to rules. You think, “that song one of my favorite and it doesn’t follow any of those rules.”

Do you have any checks to see if pieces work?

C: Before I used to be: “when a song is done, it’s done!” But now I’m more open to people’s takes and opinions. I want to be making music people enjoy. I’ve been writing a few new songs for the new record and I’ve been doing that playing it for friends or sending voice memos to family. I’ve also been trying them at smaller shows to get some feedback.

What do you enjoy about being a working musician based out of Edmonton?

C: Surprisingly, people think of Alberta of being oil country but we have a phenomenal Arts community. Having toured Canada now and traveled as an independent musician – that was when I realized how great Alberta is. Calgary has six folk clubs, Edmonton has two or three, that’s more than most cities!

The CKUA Radio Network is a huge part of keeping this circuit alive amongst folk independent artists. I find Alberta has been really great. The other is the corporate world. If you are dabbling in both, like I am, it’s really great here. There’s a wealth of Arts funding.

With social media coming into play, there was a time 10 years ago that I did feel the pressure to move to a bigger centre like Toronto, Vancouver, or out of Canada. But now, I feel like it’s not necessary. There’s the internet and you can share your music that way.

What is moving you forward in the next few years?

C: The thing that really drives me is the fulfillment of creativity. That’s why I love songwriting. I hope to continue to have a rich experience of collaborating with people and writing music. Ultimately, I’d like to be playing for larger audiences and touring more.

It is evident that this calm resilience and pursuit of songwriting excellent will continue to fuel Albert’s artistic work into the future.

EFMF 2016 Photo Review

Now that the tarps are packed up, and a semblance of a sleep schedule has once again been established, here are some of our favourite photos from the weekend that was the 2016 Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

 

Suddenly Sunday

And suddenly it was Sunday.

Fairy-tale in a Song

Saturday was full of stories shared and songs sung.

There Will Always Be a Place for Storytelling

Matthew Byrne
Matthew Byrne

Amongst all the technology that is a necessity for many touring Artists from unique electric instruments to loops pedals, there’s still something magical about the simplicity of a cappella singing. One can forget that a single voice has the power to generate images in the minds of listeners.

One such musician at Edmonton Folk Music Festival this year is Matthew Byrne. In his opening Friday workshop, Byrne introduced himself to the audience by putting down his guitar and stepping forward to the microphone to offer a sad folk tale of a maiden who had a fleeting romance with a sailor. His voice had a strength that sounded like it was forged from many evenings sharing stories around a kitchen table in Newfoundland. There is an honesty in his tone that moves me to listen to tales of loss about characters I have never met although they feel real to me through his words.

There is something familiar when listening to folk melodies. They have such an ancient resilience about them after so many years of repetition. I can think of no better way than to deliver that message than through the vocal medium. Byrne is a refreshing reminder that there will always be a place for storytelling when there is a voice that urges ears to listen.

One Summer + Two Folkies + Five Festivals

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