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