Category Archives: Interview

An Interview with North of Here

 

From the humble beginnings as a high school band, North of Here, made their debut at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this weekend. North of Here, comprised of Luke Jansen on vocals, banjo, and bass; Ian St. Arnaud on vocals and mandolin, Will Holowaychuk on vocal and percussion, revealed that they did not grow up in households with a heritage of music-making. There were no mandolins, fiddles, and banjo’s scattered throughout their homes for them to experiment on and self-teach. Luke noted that he and Ian have a background in piano but they began to learn more instruments once they formed the band. Will shared that with the exception of playing percussion instruments in school band classes, he picked up a guitar when they started the band. Ian notes, it provides “a great incentive to get better.” They express the sentiment that, by working together, they make each other better musicians.

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An Interview with Dylan Menzie

A few thousand kilometres from his home province of PEI, Dylan Menzie, 22, arrives in Edmonton to play his largest Folk Music Festival to date. “The energy at this festival is unlike anything I’ve felt before. I’ve heard on the Sunday night finale, when all the candles come out and thousands singing along together, I’m excited to see that. I’ve never played to that many people before,” he reveals before continuing, “it is such a relaxing environment even though there is thousands of people.”

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Interview Preview with The Slocan Ramblers

The Slocan Ramblers — Frank Evans on banjo, Adrian Gross on mandolin, Darryl Poulsen on guitar and Alastair Whitehead on bass — are consistently described as one of Canada’s up-and-coming bluegrass acts to watch. We wondered how they got their start, their musical taste, and how they go about writing their tunes. Whitehead of the Toronto based group answered some of these questions for us prior to their visit to Edmonton.

The Slocan Ramblers had a whirlwind start, practically booking an opening gig before you even had played together. What prompted the formation of the band in the first place?

Yea, it’s funny to think back on it now. Adrian and I (Alastair) were living together while at music school, Darryl, Adrian, and I had started jamming at our apartment, and had bonded over our mutual enthusiasm for bluegrass and folk music, something not all that common for a few jazz school guys. I had met Frank at work and heard he was a great banjo player. We upgraded our jams to the garage to make room for him. The four of us hit it off both musically and socially pretty much from the get go. We were offered a gig before we had even really decided to be a band let alone chose a name. It went really well, and we were offered a monthly gig, then a weekly gig. Eventually we made our first album, started touring, and now it seems to be a full time occupation. We’ve definitely been really lucky with how it has all worked out.dsc_0121


How did you guys become a bluegrass band given the diverse musical backgrounds of each of the members as individuals?

We all got to bluegrass in our own separate ways, and perhaps for different reasons, but I think we can agree that our love of the music was solidified by the very vibrant bluegrass scene in Toronto. We get asked a lot how a bunch of young guys in Toronto got interested in bluegrass, the truth a lot of people don’t know is that there is a world class bluegrass scene in Toronto, with top notch bands almost every night of the week. Bluegrass is definitely a music best appreciated in a live setting. Having such a wealth of live bluegrass in Toronto was always a great source of inspiration.

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A lot of your interviews mention the Foggy Hogtown Boys — how has this group has influenced your group?

As I mentioned before, Toronto is a great city for bluegrass with weekly gigs on almost every night of the week. One of the longest running and best known of those shows was the High Lonesome Wednesdays at the Silver Dollar Room. It ran for almost 20 years and was a major institution in Toronto, not just for bluegrass fans but all kinds of folks from all walks of life. For the majority of the High Lonesome Wednesdays existence, the Foggy Hogtown Boys, a well known Canadian Bluegrass band were the entertainment, performing under the name Crazy Strings. We all used to go to that show regularly. The Foggy Hogtown Boys are a great band, and set the bar high. They were a great source of inspiration for us, and in many ways helped shape the sound of our band. We have gotten to know all of them over the years and they have really supported us. Chris Coole one of the groups co-founders was kind enough to produce our last album. A couple of the Slocan Ramblers also perform somewhat regularly with another Foggy Hogtown Boy John Showman. I think the Foggy Hogtown Boys really helped establish the Bluegrass scene in Toronto and inspired a whole bunch of younger aspiring musicians to get into the genre.


Some of your songs are written by you and some are traditional tunes — what does the process of writing a tune look like for The Slocan Ramblers?dsc_0105

We started playing bluegrass because we loved the genre. There’s a pretty rich repertoire of songs in the bluegrass canon, and the best way to learn the music is to learn as many of those songs, and listen to as many recordings as possible. We really took that to heart when the band first got going. I feel like we will always enjoy digging up old songs and finding ways to adapt them to our sound. However, as the group evolved from our bar band roots we definitely wanted to challenge ourselves and find a sound we could call our own. Writing original music seemed like the natural progression. We have all really embraced composition and song writing, and I feel it has definitely become a strength for the band. In terms of our writing process, I feel like it is still continually evolving. We still draw a lot from the traditional roots of the music, but we are also a lot more confident to stretch the boundaries and challenge our listeners. The process is pretty fluid and often different from tune to tune. We try not to self analyze too much.

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Reviews of your gigs constantly praise the vibrancy and excitement of your performance — how do you keep the enthusiasm levels of your shows high night after night on a tour?

Bluegrass is a really infectious and energetic music to begin with so that definitely works in our favour. It is also a music that is best enjoyed in a performance setting. Often people that had no idea they would enjoy bluegrass see the show and are total converts. There’s a lot of factors that play into it, the improvisational aspect of the music, the energy of playing live, the energy you get back from the crowd, when it all clicks it’s something really special. For me I think the biggest factor is that as a band we all still get along really well. I think the longevity of a band, and its success is largely based on whether or not the members still enjoy each others company after 5 years of touring, spending time together in the van, sleeping in hotels etc. Ultimately we all still get along really well, we still laugh at each others dumb jokes, and most importantly we are still inspired by each other musically. We all feel pretty lucky to be able to go on stage together every night and play our music for such great audiences, the energy seems to provide itself.

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There are couple opportunities in Edmonton to hear and/or be a part of this infectious and energetic music for yourself:

  • February 22th The Slocan Ramblers will be the backing band for Bluegrass Karaoke hosted by the Northern Bluegrass Circle Music Society (NBCMS) at Pleasantview Hall (10860 – 57 Ave Edmonton). Admission is $2 and homemade pie is $3.
  • February 24th The Slocan Ramblers play Edmonton’s New Moon Folk Club.  For ticket information please see New Moon’s website.

*The last time we saw The Slocan Ramblers was at the Edmonton Folk Fest in 2015, we searched our archives and found the in-text photos that accompany this interview.

Interview Preview with The Wardens

Scott Ward of The Wardens took some time to chat with Folk on the Road prior to the group’s upcoming concert at the Horizon Stage. The trio of park wardens/musicians (Ray Schmidt, Bradley Bischoff and Ward) have been described as humbly telling homespun stories, and are based in the Canadian Rockies of Banff National Park.

Did you start out with the intention of making warden stories known through song?

Yes, we started at the national gathering of park wardens in 2009 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the park wardens service—we wrote some songs to perform there. We kept going after that and have branched out from that into mountain culture songs.

How do you do go about researching the stories that become The Wardens songs? Or are they from first hand accounts?

Most songs are from first hand experience and a few such as Bill Neish [“The Ballad of Bill Neish”] are based on research.

Some of the characters in The Wardens’ songs are really interesting — where did you find the characters that are woven into your songs like “War(den) Bride” or “The Ballad of Bill Neish”?

These characters are historical persons affiliated with the National Park Warden Service. Dorothy [featured in “War(den) Bride”] is a friend of Scott’s—he worked with her husband Ed during the first ten years of his career. Bill Neish was a warden from the ’30s. Lots of colorful characters to choose from in the Canadian Rockies.

Who writes the music and lyrics? Is it a collaborative process?

We each write our own songs, bring them to the group, and work on the arrangements together. Whoever is singing the song is the one who originally wrote it.

Where do you draw musical inspiration?

All three of us as singer/songwriters have different influences. Both Brad and I are big Tom Russell and Ian Tyson fans. As well I am influenced by Gordon Lightfoot, John Prine, Bob Dylan and a host of other “folkies”. Ray loves bluegrass. We all like folk/rock.

How did you gain your instrumental ability? And how did you maintain it while in the backcountry?

We have all played since we were kids. I had one guitar stashed for the summer in one of my backcountry patrol cabins—but my district had 13 cabins and 2000 square kilometers of area so I didn’t get to it all that often! We always performed or jammed at parties in the bygone days.

Are there any similarities between being a National Park Warden and performing in a band?

Similarities—both require hard work and team effort!

What is your favourite part of performing?

My favourite part of performing is meeting great folks from all over western Canada and hearing some of their stories and connections with people we know at the end of the show and often staying with hosts.

What is your most memorable warden story?

So many gripping stories—some that can’t be told and others told in song. This is what sets us apart—very real and gripping stories between the songs that lead up to a song. Mountain rescue, bears, lonely horse patrols for weeks at a time, working with wildlife.

What are The Wardens’ future plans?

We just finished our third album and it’s now in Toronto for printing—it’s definitely our best effort to date—recorded at Leeroy Stagger’s Rebeltone ranch in Lethbridge with four months of pre-production working closely with Vicki Ambinder a producer and performance coach from Oregon. It has 11 new songs and a new version of our classic “Ya Ha Tinda Bound”. We are headed to the International Folk Alliance in Kansas city as a part of Team Alberta in mid February. We plan to take this little band as far as we can!

Is there anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t asked?

We are having great fun with this project now in its 8th year and are grateful to be playing fantastic venues such as the Horizon Theatre.

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The Wardens are playing an afternoon show at Spruce Grove’s Horizon Stage on February 9th, for more information or tickets please see the Horizon Stage’s website.

Interview Preview with Catherine MacLellan

Photo cred: Jule Malet-Veale
Photo cred: Jule Malet-Veale

Catherine MacLellan takes some time to chat with Folk on the Road prior to her upcoming concert at the New Moon Folk Club.

Coming from PEI, an island that has a small town feel, how does the warmth of this community emerge in your music?

Prince Edward Island is an amazing place to grow up, no matter what your interests are, but as a writer or an artist, it is so engaging and encouraging you can’t help but create. There is music everywhere, in every home, every bar and nook and cranny.
As a musician here, there isn’t the sense of competition there might be in larger urban centres, we are a very close knit community.
But what also makes this a perfect place to create is the quiet, the solitude. I live in the country and am inspired by the life around me, whether it is the animals in my yard, the wild ocean churning or the leaves or snow falling to the ground. There is a lot of time for me to contemplate and to turn the world around me into song.

Your Father, Gene MacLellan, was a songwriter while you were growing up before he passed away when you were 14. Are there any memories of his songwriting process or lifestyle that stood out to you as a child?

I will never forget the image of my father sitting in the living room with book and pen and guitar, always at work, always editing and creating. He would never take the easy way out with his music, he worked every line until it rolled off the tongue perfectly.
Sometimes, I would wake in the middle of the night and go downstairs to find my dad in the kitchen, at the table, working on music. I think those quiet moments were his most productive times. When the whole world is asleep, there is a sort of quiet magic or inspiration.

You manage multiple roles, such as being a singer songwriter as well as a mother, do you find multiple roles informs your perspective while performing in either domain?
My writing certainly changed after becoming a mother. There is a certain shift in perspective that happens when you give birth, a very abrupt awakening to the realization that the world and all the people in it are multifaceted, many layered, and all someone’s child.
Perhaps it’s just a growing up, maturing thing as well – you realize that not everything is about you. It has allowed me to look into other people’s stories and wonder about what’s going on in their heads, which became a whole new source of inspiration.

You have mentioned in previous interviews that songs may be subconsciously percolating in your mind while you are creating quiet moments for yourself, such as through gardening. How do you create a meditative atmosphere for yourself in order to channel the creative flow of your thoughts?

I’m not sure it’s something that can be planned, but it is a common phenomenon. If you think too hard about something, you’ll never find the answer. But if you take a break and do something mundane or meditative the answer or the idea may come to you out of the blue. I meditate every day, which helps keep my mind clear and present. Other than that, I try to give myself over to my hobbies like gardening or this time of year it may be knitting or sewing. I’m a maker, it turns out. I like to plant a seed and see how it grows.

Is there anything else you would like to mention that I’ve missed?

I feel very grateful that I get to play music for a living… I think everyone needs some sort of creative outlet and I feel fortunate that mine is also my job.

Catherine MacLellan performs at New Moon Folk Club on Friday, February 3, 2017.

Interview Preview with New North Collective

 

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Spoken word Artists and Bassist, Pat Braden, from the New North Collective takes some time to speak with Folk on the Road while on are on tour.

What is the significance for you to live a traditional lifestyle but translate this for contemporary audiences?

In our understanding of a traditional lifestyle, we see ourselves as contemporary northern artists. We connect to traditions in our individual lives through language, community, our teachers and elders and living like most northerners do by connecting daily to the land. We interpret our northern lifestyle through our music, acknowledging and paying respect to the traditional cultures that have formed and influenced us. These traditional values as well as our own stories and experiences of living in today’s modern world are all subjects that we write about in the NNC.

Do you have any specific memories of living in the North that was formative in you becoming an Artist?

Pat:  My Mother played organ in the church for as long as I can remember and my brothers would bring home LP records and Rolling Stone magazines which I consumed voraciously. As a boy in the mid 1960s, I had the opportunity to hear a few of the local musicians playing around town. In the basement of the Legion one Christmas, I was able to catch a glimpse of a guitar player on the stage and thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Later on, I got to know that guitar player and after I started to play music in Yellowknife, many of the other musicians as well who played music through the 1960s and 1970s.

What does a collaborative session with the other Artists look like when you are rehearsing?

Our rehearsals or writing sessions have taken place in recording studios, performance spaces and in one of our sessions, in Burwash Landing in Kluane Park, YT at Diyet and Robert’s home where we were quite rudely interrupted by a visiting grizzly bear.
We set up our instruments and amplifiers in a circular or semicircular arrangement and jam and pitch ideas back and forth until we have the structure of a song. There are usually band member’s children around our sessions as the work/life balance can be demanding for all of us. This also helps to keep our work real with family close by. Meal times and downtimes are also an important part of our process as we take these times to reflect and discuss the work of the day.

New North Collective – First Sign of Spring from Brett Elliot on Vimeo.

It has been mentioned that there is a common goal in NNC to discard the stereotypes of the North, instead, what image do you wish to leave audiences with instead?

We hope that an audience will leave with a sense of having been invited into our lives and welcomed into our community. Leaving our concert with a small sense of freedom and leaving whatever assumptions of the north that came in the door of north behind. Maybe a spark for an adventure and desire to learn more about this incredible, diverse and humble part of the country.

Members of the NNC are passionate about a wide range of musical styles, including folk, rock, jazz, improvisation, classical, singer-songwriter, storytelling, etc. and we bring them together in the Collective.

What is the personal significance for you to be a part of the NNC?

Pat: It is important to be a part of a group of northern based musicians who have similar values, lifestyles, life experience that we all wish to express in our music. It is also significant in that this is based on first and foremost, the creation and performance of collective / collaborative created music. Each of us have our own solo careers but the NNC gives us a chance to contribute new ideas to a collective process and to gather new ideas for our own personal creative works.

New North Collective will be performing at the Arden Theatre on Saturday January 28, 2017.

St. John’s Waltz – A Ron Hynes Tribute at Northern Lights Folk Club

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Northern Lights Folk Club is hosting a Ron Hynes tribute with musicians, Maria Dunn, Eileen Laverty, Saskatchewan’s Tom Wilson, Bill Werthmann, Ben Sures and Shantel Koenig sharing their voices to honor his tunes.

Singer-Songwriter, Maria Dunn, had time to speak with FOTR in anticipation of the upcoming performance at NLFC.

What is the significance for you as a singer/songwriter to pay tribute to Ron Hynes?

Ron Hynes was a profoundly gifted songwriter who wrote so eloquently about Newfoundland and its people, bringing that part of our country to life in his songs.
His songs made a huge impact, in Newfoundland, across Canada and beyond. Sonny’s Dream is sung by people everywhere and was recorded by artists as varied as country star Emmylou Harris and Scottish folk singer Hamish Imlach.

As a songwriter who wants to improve my craft all the time, I admire Ron’s ability with words, story, melody, point of view. His catalogue of moving and memorable songs is huge.

Do you have any specific musical memories of Ron Hynes tunes from your childhood?

I didn’t know Ron’s music as a child, but became aware of his songs in my 20s, when I was a volunteer DJ with a weekly folk/roots show on CJSR FM88, University of Alberta Campus/Community Radio in Edmonton. In fact, Hamish Imlach’s version of Sonny’s Dream might have been one of the first that I heard in the late 1980s.

By the time I met Ron Hynes in person, at the 1999 Vancouver Island Folk Festival, I was sufficiently in awe of his abilities as a writer and not very articulate about how much I admired his songwriting. He was kind to me in that first meeting and encouraging in many other meetings over the years at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, the Northern Lights Folk Club (Edmonton) and The Ship Inn in St. John’s, NL.

Around that same time, I heard a CBC Radio live recording with Ron singing a song of his that I hadn’t heard before. I rushed to record it on cassette and caught about half the song. It was called “Dublin With Love”. In those years, I still drove a Firefly hatchback with a cassette deck as part of the car stereo and for several weeks, every time I was driving in that car, I would play that half-a-song and harmonize with Ron, I loved his singing of that melody that much. Lo and behold, the Edmonton Folk Festival rolled around a summer or two later and Terry Wickham gave me the wonderful opportunity of performing on a session stage with several Atlantic Canadian music icons, including Ron Hynes and Cape Breton Fiddler Buddy McMaster. Of all the songs that “The Man of a Thousand Songs” could have chosen to sing in that session, he started Dublin With Love. When I chimed in with the harmony that I had been singing for weeks in my car, he raised his eyebrows and gave me a sidelong glance which seemed encouraging at the time (as opposed to a “stop-that-racket!” glare). The experience was one of those little dreams come true, getting to sing along with one of my songwriting heroes! I must have done OK, because he invited me back to sing harmony with him at his folk fest concert the next afternoon.

What are you most looking forward to at the Ron Hynes tribute?

Hearing Eileen Laverty sing my favourite Ron Hynes song, Godspeed, written for the late songwriter Gene MacLellan (writer of Anne Murray’s hit song “Snowbird”) and brilliantly referencing Gene’s own song “Put Your Hand In The Hand Of The Man”. Ron had huge respect for Gene’s songwriting talent and his compassion in this song for Gene (who had taken his own life) rings through every line. Godspeed always moves me to tears and Eileen is a beautiful interpreter of songs. She will do a gorgeous job, I’m sure!

What current projects are you currently focused on in your own repertoire?

I am currently promoting and touring the new album, released in April 2016, entitled Gathering.

I’m thrilled that Gathering has received some accolades recently:

(1) Winner – 2016 Independent Music Award – Social Action Song category for the song “Malala”
(2) Shortlisted for the 2016 Edmonton Music Prize

In the months ahead:

I’ll be heading to Folk Alliance 2017 in February. I’ve been selected to perform an Official Showcase.
March 2017, I’ll be performing 4 special Triple Bill concerts in NY State with two US songwriters Si Kahn (legendary songwriter of “Aragon Mill”) and Joe Jencks.
Sep 2017, I’ll be heading back to the UK for another month-long tour of folk clubs.
And more dates to come in Summer 2017.
All shows will be posted on the website at: http://www.mariadunn.com
Folks interested in my music can subscribe to my e-mailing list there too, listen to lots of song samples and purchase the music.

Newfoundland has a rich history of folk music but you have documented many tales in Alberta which you have shared through song, what kind of stories inspire you to communicate them?

Stories of resilience and grace in the face of adversity.
Stories of courage and compassion.
Stories of so-called “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things.
Stories of people standing up to injustice.

The most recent CD, Gathering, is devoted to celebrating those kinds of stories with songs of family, community, humanity and the love that fires our actions to make the world a better place. In keeping with Pete Seeger’s words (1994), “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known”, the songs range from historical and narrative to personal and immediate, inspired by social justice stories both global (Malala, When The Grandmothers Meet) and local (When I Was Young, How I Live).

Stories from our history that I think more people should know about, for e.g:
When I Was Young – inspired by the 1980s-90s work of indigenous rights activist Dorothy McDonald-Hyde for her community, the Fort McKay First Nation.

We Were Good People – tells the story of the 1932 Hunger March in Edmonton

In the Shadow of the Rockies – about Ukrainian Canadians forced into the Castle Mountain internment camp (Banff National Park) in WWI
I Cannot Tell You – the story of a Vietnamese refugee coming to Canada in the late 70s

The Ron Hynes tribute is Saturday, November 26, 2016. Please see the NLFC Website for more ticket information. Upcoming acts at the NLFC include Rosie and the Riveters and Jim and Penny Malmberg,