On the matters of the heart
I looked far and wide
And found this ebbing tide
Then nothing at all
But on any given day
You’re still my Wonderwall
Afterall this time
You still have a hug that is lovingly mine
And they keep pointing to fears
I’d pushed underground
Echoing gasps of ‘its time’
Be the early bird that catches the best of the worms,
Appreciate your energy enough to know nurturing
Lip service is only worth it
When it’s followed by tough love
The kind that turns into a dove
Crossing the battlefield so lit
with anxious bravery
with curious enthusiasm
Maritimers know how to have a good time, as a factor of the saltiness of their environment and family gatherings. It’s no wonder (but is certainly a refreshing treat) to hear that CBC considers some Halifax locals to be worth listening to right now.
On this recent list, Devarrow and Walrus were both named as two of ten emerging artists to listen for as they continue pursuing an ever widening path into the Canadian and global music community. Devarrow – an artist moniker for Graham Ereaux – first came to my attention playing small university shows in Sackville, NB, and contributing a recording to the school’s annual benefit CD entitled ‘Conduct Becoming‘, in memory of an alumni with proceeds going toward cancer research. That early sound of playful art coming from this young man, his guitar, and any other instruments he could play simultaneously (incl. kick drum, harmonica, tambourine, looping tracks) were the talk of the cozy university town earlier this decade. Alongside this series of compilations of classmates’ ingenuity and liberal arts awareness synthesized into music, I listened to The Coast, The Cottage on repeat back in the day.
Last spring, I was delighted to hear Devarrow’s remade sound as ambient interlude music for a 100in1Day planning event in the Halifax Central Library meeting room. Considering the joy already in the room, it was a lovely cherry on top. I was unsurprised to have another familiar face in the room, though no less delighted. Knowing this music that had early promise was finding continued venues to nurture success is a confidence boost for the community our generation has formed. SO, to hear Graham made this list with special nods to his recent win of Casino Nova Scotia Artist-in-Residence grant is a huge step as a sign of Halifax’s supportive network of musicians.
Among the list are emerging favourites like Hillsburn (a brilliant group with boisterous energy behind their folk lyrics as time goes on) and selections from a diverse range of styles including hip hop/r&b to ‘aquavibes’ and ‘lazy pop’ – which rounds out the collection nicely to add Walrus to round out the compilation. Holly Gordon and Tahiat Mahboob carefully identified these acts as making splashes in the harbour that are rippling all over the world – and for good reason.
The multicultural network of Halifax has a complicated history that dates back to the time of colonization of the port city at the time pre-Confederation. It is through the communities built on the shores of Nova Scotia that prepared our country to become as pivotal on the world stage as it has remained – for casual, humble, honestly good fun. That’s what this list embodies. A collection of people who find purpose and value in making good, enjoyable art. And even more important, people to enable this creative power with support of local music.
Strength in local music is, in a way, an adequate litmus test for a community’s economic well-being, strong ticket sales indicate additional disposable income and/or venues making these events accessible to those interested in attending. Even better is a community that removes those barriers of cost and exclusivity – and Halifax is part of the Canadian movement to limit those issues where possible. More bands for less $$ is the ideal.
With a post-secondary institution visible from most vantage points in the city, the average age of the downtown dweller is attractive for keeping live music active in evening venues. The popularity of the Halifax Pop Explosion has enabled other music festivals to draw audiences at other times of the year, with two winter events this past season including Walrus (Cold Smoke, in January), and In The Dead Of Winter Festival (in February) encouraging a culture of live music being a year round activity, not just reserved for the few busy weeks of summer festivals.
Those summer festivals, however, can be a backbone for an entire summer to a touring, experimental band. It’s a time for casual networks to develop, showcase recent material, stock the merch table with leftover discs and new releases… and create a joyous bliss for fans of the whole lineup. Gridlock 2016 was beautiful in that regard – a blend of local and from-aways, big names and equally wonderful newbs. Echoing the ambiance of Sappyfest’s single white tent, it curated an atmosphere of community in the best ways. From these cute events to big shabangs like Evolve, Halifax artists find a home in many places quite easily.
This atmosphere in Nova Scotia, from what I have observed in the past few years, is nurtured by the entire Atlantic region’s arts community that strengthens and supports emerging talent in the face of economic downturns. Hillsburn played with Ben Caplan in support of the Fort McMurray fires last May at the Carleton, and drew a crowd of emotional enthusiasm for local compassion through song. The key is to keep music at the heart of the community, and allow those who produce it to not just survive, but to keep the community thriving because of its inclusion.
Devarrow, originally from Moncton is nurtured by rural environments just as much as he is supported by urban ones. Recording for his most recent EP (released in Europe, awaiting North American logistics and promo still) was completed in Ketch Harbour home studio solitude + focus funded by a kickstarter page featuring detailed summaries of what to expect, including the promise of growth: “Reinventing the Devarrow sound with a meticulously written dark, melancholic, yet oddly uplifting indie-folk-pop album.” This new sound has been compared to Fleet Foxes ethereal playfulness, not far off from Walrus’ homonymic soundscapes reflected in Tame Impala on the international scale but supported by Halifax-founded Wintersleep on multiple tours, most recently in Europe this spring.
Walrus is another genre entirely, continuing the Beatles echo into the 21st century, but still shares some common Maritime moments with Devarrow – including playing Sappyfest and other Sackville, NB events (where Graeme began unpacking his Devarrow thoughts into song). The geography of this entire list is beautiful, especially knowing the number of places they have all slingshotted to around the world between moments at home in Halifax. Keep an eye out for these artists and every other event poster plastered to Halifax street poles and event boards. I sure do. (the posters alone are worth a second look !! )
Now, it is time for another listen to Family Hangover yet again, to get another salty psychedelic breeze through the airwaves and this casual stroll through familiar maritime streets in Walrus’ timely fashionable music videos. peace n love broskis
*some small plot detail spoilers contained in the description below*
When I found this book on the stacks of Halifax Public Libray, as I navigated through the careful architecture pathways – looking for inspiration in environment or education or both – I noticed in the Table of Contents that the second chapter (all named after playlists and important songs to the story telling) was titled Hey Jude. So, naturally my interest was piqued, if i am to play into this Beatles ascribed identity for this life. As I read the story at the beginning of chapter 2, Rob describes building a mixtape of only Hey Jude for the entire length of the cassette by repeating portions of the record into an album of filler “hey” “na na na nanana” and “JudyJudyJudy” – I knew the storytelling would continue to balance musical entertainment with heartache and joy in careful harmony to tell his story.
The story of his wife unexpectedly dying, and his coming to terms with their romance’s untimely end is eloquently explored by describing their relationship in a series of mixtapes from their life together. The mixtapes were evidence of their mutual adoration of music at the time, and the changes in the alternative-punk legacy with albums which had in the duration of the track length, each contributed to this love story.
His wife, Renee, completed the music part of his life, and soon filled in the gaps he didn’t know he needed filling by a southern accent and sassy comments. Their love feels so true off the page, being in their company must have been a simple treat.
And so, while reading this comfortable love story, the despair of her loss being within each story about his memory, I am comforted by the peace he has found in the joy they shared. It’s their love story, and it has ended – in the sense of no longer continuing into the future. but I can understand the need to preserve what was, for the sake of the beauty of the story. for the perseverance of our belief in love.
Reading into their life together, i was cheering for the happy couple the same way they were living it – until, as abruptly as it happens, Rob carries you into the truth of the situation. that in less than a minute, his wife dies from a brain aneyursm.
In the flurry of the grief and frantic planning of memorializing her body + memory he recalls not sitting with the immensity of the loss until later, on solo drives in the days following when music on the radio (no matter the station) would remind him of her. Stating what I feared was true, “I knew I would have to relearn how to listen to music, and that some of the music we’d loved together I’d never be able to hear again.” (149)
Soon after, this thought is followed by the assurance to the reader that as the story began, it continued:”mix tapes were the life raft I held onto” – and understandably so. It seemed this was what was happening while they were living and falling in love, but now more than ever, it would be the best self-made therapy to keep creating new memories in the style of the old ones.
Where this hits home the deepest, is how there are plenty of unwritten stories kept within my personal memory of music intersectionalities. And how I share some of the songs with this tender couple’s experience, but how many of the songs were briefly popular during the late 80’s and into the 90’s – and they never made it into my working memory of the time period (okay, I was a small child living in a rural place..). Even with the missed association with the value of some of these songs I could appreciate their organization together as even song titles creating simple, abstract poetry of shared living in a globalizing community of shared stories.
And how, the era of the mix tape is unique all in its own. But we still understand the value of compilations, of sharing collections of music; track order does, and sometimes does not, matter. In many senses, technology is advancing faster than our ability to make use of it in our own time. When i was a kid I used our family’s CD/tape player to record copies of my sister’s CD tracks into a mixtape for the car (which only had a tape deck) or create strange CD mixes based on whatever music I had used our computer to download via Limewire, Napster, and whatever software at the time was able to translate a cool song into a digital file. As a child, I didn’t believe anything could happen by copying music in this way, because it’s just like making mixtapes and sharing music across the street, it’s just across the world now.
My history with music as a transition aid has been the most valuable part of the loss of places, people associated with those places, and the soundtrack we build underneath it all will be what holds us together when the rest falls apart. That’s where Riverhouse/Heartwood are a foundation – or atleast two deck posts- of my grief; layered with changing places (“we’re not us anymore”, unfortunately) and the loss of people who created them.
So I have an undercurrent of favourite songs which have and will continue to guide me along the path of getting over yesterday and growing into tomorrow. It’s in reading this book that I can put my experiences into the greater context of loss, and understand them to be far less consequential than the abrupt end of a marriage due to the loss of the person while the love remains. And then, it clicks, that’s what I’ve been chasing. Closure from the love that never ended, rather the physical presence was removed. So, I’ve learned to love the music and people of the place differently, without necessary discussion of why we are all connected, because it hurts too much.
And, some songs stick with you even after the loss is fresh. Hearing the song by the Replacements mentioned in this book brought back memories of the first year of infatuation with my Edmonton interest – who made sure I knew to listen for Unsatisfied during their set at Osheaga. But I didn’t, I slept through. And that was some cosmic joke played to remind me of a number of ‘read between the lines’ meanings. But also to remember that it is a song worth listening to, because of its legacy, and great lyrics, and weight. Hearing Leonard Cohen sing on a recording, and knowing you’ll never hear new music by him again. Or, in the heart of the loss, the warm fatherly baritone of Bobby Gibb recite the ode to the haggis on Robbie Burns day. Or see Shotgun Jimmie with Mark Kroeker – though the year he came through the prairies we each caught a show in our respective cities and congratulated the other on accomplishing that Bagtown goal. Some people are always going to be memorable. And if they’re lucky, they’ll get a mixtape of memories all to themselves. Keep the music makers close and the family of appreciators closer. (sometimes outdoor concerts are chilly!)
The nostalgia coded into a song’s storytelling and melody is crucial for its soul to come through, but it needs to transcend an individual’s nostalgia and become ubiquitous into the human experience. That’s where mixtapes – good ones- can communicate more than a kiss in some scenarios. They can be better than a therapist. (not a replacement, but enough to know why you’re unsatisfied, perhaps)
And if you’re lucky, you get to have someone narrate all the reasons why they chose the songs they did to you, with introductions and stories. Appreciating the community this music has created on the airwaves alongside the chaos of living.
I’m not sure if this book was an antidote or an amplifier for my retrospective tendencies, but flipping back through pages of the book now completed seem as familiar as floating backwards into my own memories – smiling at experiencing that joy with the lucidity of deja vu. flashes of curious familiarity mimicking past emotion.
And now, in the phase of my living where I am finding more courage to start learning music and developing unique style + character in playing piano and guitar, I understand the challenges involved with creating a ‘new’ sound, if only for the immediate frustration involved with the pain of not knowing how to get the sound you don’t know you need. So, my gratitude meter is restored with each new song, and each time I pick up a guitar and default to D chord, because it’s the transition from uke to guitar and I feel comfortable there. But i’m getting really sick of that note in particular. Thankful for all the sharers of music ability and advice. Without them my inspiration meter would have no traction against the current of modern life. With them, i have a memory of a time of my growing up and out of naivete.
“a mixtape steals those moments from all over the musical cosmos, and splices them into a whole new groove. … I’d rather hear the Beatles’ Getting Better on a mix tape than on Sgt. Pepper any day.” – pg 23/24
there’s more of my story to be told – about radio synchronicities and mix tape ironies. but for the moment i’m glad to have indulged in someone else’s. Highly recommend this read to you, internet person; if i haven’t spoiled it for you with the plot leaks.
From the chilly wind that brought them out of Halifax for an evening, this band of music bros arrived at the college town legion in the precolonial heart of the Annapolis Valley as a headlining local Nova Scotia feature band and so eager to play pool! When we were eating a meal after soundcheck, Justin + Keith (guess which ones!) were playing a phone pool game and chatted to prepare for things getting REAL at the local pool hall/legion.
They were there to play a set, but priorities dictated darts and 8-balls were an ideal warm-up to a frosty March night. An assortment of local regular members of the Legion occupied one table, while the term’s students’ mingled and enjoyed a brief reprieve from intensive cartography et al.
I’d been to a Madic house concert a couple of times, and have enjoyed the atmosphere created by intimate settings of these like any other venue. They adequately meet the expectations of any lil ol café show, while keeping expenses low for the attendees. That, alongside capacity building and audience growth, helps the life of the musician just a little bit more. The well-rounded artist helps keep a community connected to their shows, not just a sporadic audience, especially when it remains a community-focused event: all ages, low costs, familiar spaces used to make a concert out of a natural gathering. In this case, the local Legion was the perfect place for such a show. Thanks to the COGS Student Association for supporting the event, it was promoted as a student oriented event, and allowed for a break from the stress we are all voluntarily in the Valley to be under. (Centre of Geographic Sciences, in a town that’s hardly on the map and is always confused with a surfing spot near Halifax… yet is temporary home to 200 map-heads. Go figure.)
After months of toying with logistics, it came together, with great resilience to changing plans and contact people and unwavering confidence it could and would happen. Student support to put on the show was invaluable, but also, they enjoyed participating in a show. Being in Lawrencetown is an isolating experience, and once I began to introduce the idea of a live music event it became appealing as an alternate form of entertainment in a quiet town, especially for fellow classmates who missed interacting with the music communities of larger hometowns. Zac Fredericks opened the show with some originals and a cover of The Weight by The Band and What I’ve Got by Sublime, happy to be able to take the stage and play louder than a classroom or student-rental-level volume on the amp.
It is very rural and often quiet town. But, with a small contingent of students eager to do something on a weekend that isn’t school – you basically have to make your own entertainment. With the help of the student association, and after cycling through the options for a venue – settling on something familiar. In a sense, I was struck by a reminder to ‘take a sad (town, in this case) and make it better.’ #sameregularplacesameregulartime becoming all too real for this Legion show. Though for the very Albertan type wind that had hit the valley that night, there was 40 students and a few out of town guests excited for this band of friends was playing a show nearby – before heading out on new 2017 adventures.
Walrus’ music continues to be compared to the Beatles, if not only for the initial name but also once those who had no idea what they were about to get into – the hypnotizing effect of warbling sounds and psychadelic solos provide a warmth very similar to Dan’s new sounds emerging from his former lives into Club Meds – a soundtrack to the changes in the band and life around them. Unmake is exactly that, with the dissolution of +Blacksmith as the permanent traveling band alongside Dan’s songwriting stylings emerging as a creative force allowed the split to remain amicable and professional. This split, however allowing the label producer side of Dan to emerge, and throw more energy into supporting other artists who can benefit from more shows, more tours, more sales. Ultimately, the goal of Madic Records is to be as professionally personable as possible, and make good music out of real life situations. The honesty – of music and of lyrics – is cherished deeply by this initiative, and supports the idea of balancing personal work with the work of responsibilities. Handling mental health and the experimentation of creative bursts drive this support network of curiosities more and more into mainstream with every new show booking in an interesting place with ‘happy little regular faces’. (seriously tho, check out this new video!)
The power of the alternate venue was confirmed when I was living in Edmonton – where the whole city kept rediscovering its capacity for hosting a fantastic show. From the Artery, to Wunderbar, to Pawn Shop, to be the same audiences rehoused in emerging redefinitions of favourite places including the Aviary, Buckingham, Arcadia, Mercury Room, and now The Needle, Have Mercy, and Bohemia are emerging as the arts community remained determined to find houses for music, culture sharing, and supportive space for creativity in many forms. This transition, alongside communities of house concerts spearheaded by local community members – is an idea that doesn’t have to stick with a formula, it’s an idea that facilitates growth and taking valuable risks.
When Walrus most recently played Edmonton (at Up+Dt Fest) , they were in the cozier space of Brixx Bar underneath Starlite – which has had its own history of revolving identities. But, decades later the building still houses touring acts alongside locals in the lofting concert hall with slanty floors. Because of its character, and legacy, within the city communities of movers and shakers have poured endless energy into sustaining the venue. Not unlike most of Halifax’s rebuilt infrastructure – both cultural and physical, these music making mellow magicians are one example of the reason why cities continue to reinvest in the arts. There’s something of meaning in holding on to cultural events as superb as these live music resources have come to be engrained within our experience of whichever home we’re at in the present breath.
These cities are just one example of a revolving door of music spaces hosting ‘final’ shows only to have the same people organize and perform at the bar down the road next week. But the identification with the walls of a bar can be formative to a band. Most importantly though, is for that band to never stop trying out a new stage. That, has been my experience with Walrus, ranging from Seahorse to Gridlock Fest in Citadel High’s parking lot, to Marquee Ballroom for #coldsmoke17, to running into them en route to a Montreal cat cafe while waiting for a Tame Impala show to begin. They’re neat dudes with neat tunes.
With some change in quantity of Keiths, they have been an actively touring band for over 5 years, and in the past year alone I have attended at least four of their shows – all within Halifax, though the first song I heard of theirs was on a BIRP playlist in 2012. They’re a band of surprises and honest connections to their music and fans, an attitude encouraged by Madic Records and Double Denim Management. They’ve taken their chameleon sound and tested it in numerous audiences, and are always eager to try a few more. Something about the soft pop harmonies pique unsure listeners’ interest, and by the time the guitars kick into Jordan’s drum solo everyone’s pretty much sold. Always seeking another dimension to the hypnosis, they are eagerly booking tours and single shows.
Those adventures are particularly exciting as new steps in their musical career (thanks to stellar management and alternative marketing techniques courtesy of Madic’s backbone of keeping music accessible). A European tour is on the horizon alongside the upcoming release of their first LP, in succession to the 4 song sample EP (available on walrustheband.bandcamp.com) will continue to push the small town success of a groovy garage band and turned their sound into a sensation being discovered by entirely new communities. Family Hangover, most recently previewed at Lawrencetown Legion Branch #112 will be in hard copy by June. Until then, sit back with some paints and create some happy little trees with these boys’ regular faces as your instructors.
While they were in Lawrencetown, I asked these lads some familiar questions:
Hardest ever laughed
MurphyDad’s house in Grand Falls (answers to this question are so often family related!)
Fave place to play
Quebec City (Mostly because of the DIY scene they have built there, the venues always have a good turnout and people who get right into it.)
Don’t look back in anger – Oasis
Thomas Tank Engine theme song (Keith)
Fave cover song
Lucky Man by the Verve (played at show!)
Best road trip jams
Howard Stern, Serial podcast, Stone cold steve austin, Ricky gervais, Sirius radio stations
(Side note: My connection to loving satellite radio goes back to Said the Whale, when I was in Alberta, still very much connected to the christian community. I was the only one in the car who liked the music but I realized then “the church discouraged what was within me” – re: new lyrics! – the connection to the indie music scene developed from there, and when I was able to hear My Government Heart live, it was a big ol deal.) This connection from hearing a band in digital form and then finally hearing (and seeing!) IRL the interaction required to create a full, dynamic sound. I love what that Discovery’s lead to. ‘i discovered my heart had become the earth,’ said the whale. and so, the story continues.
What is your Patronus/spirit animal? [clarified the intent is more the epitome of happiness that drives you, to appreciate the significance of spirit animals as a traditional indigenous honour statement; Patronus required a bit of a refresher but lead singer Justin was keen to fill his drummer bro Jordan in on its ability to provide safety for you as an embodiment of your greatest form of love]
Keith (new) identifies as a fox with cunning abilities
McGrath identifies with an owl
Jordan, hockey stick? ‘What does that say about me?’
Justin was curious about what object he could be if Dan was a bookshelf…..
(see my interview with Astral Swans, another on Madic Records’ label, about another way to answer this question.)
Hat’s off to Walrus for a community gathering alternative venue show at Legion Branch #112 in March 2017
Good luck in Europe! Goo Goo Gajoub!
(What’s holding you back from organizing a show of your own? Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions for hosting an alternative venue or house concert.)
Regardless of the instance, I’m always seeking a better way. For the sake of saving time or saving face it’s why we’re here in the first place. It’s why we sought out these third places of our past – for solace and sympathy, for challenge and calamity. For comfort, and for refuge from the fear of saying ‘i don’t know’ yet again.
But we’re not all here from the same past and we’re all going to different futures – when the worth of our bettering loses sight of that quest it’s time to hold back and just agree. Sometimes, it sucks. Sometimes, it’s harder than it should be. I want to say it’s possible but the roadblocks that detoured me here said that some things aren’t supposed to be changed – at least not yet. Sometimes you need to take a reprieve and take a leave of absence.
Find yourself in the leaves of the forest, or in the generalized polygons of the forest. It’s all for something if it’s not for naught.
Give your struggle meaning. It will figure itself out along the way.
Ask questions, and accept answers. find ways to make giving a shit fun.