Try Harder, Do Better

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I love to create. I was fortunate to receive nurturing parenting and support throughout my upbringing to be told that my artistic talents were something worth exploring and cultivating. I understand that this is a privilege and am very thankful. 

I found myself writing at a very young age. Long winded stories about my brother's girlfriend getting stuck on the bus forever, or our family dog developing a stream of consciousness and robbing the local convenience store. One of my more light hearted pieces was titled "Buttercup: The Murderous Cow", which took a sci-fi approach to a herd of cows infected with Mad Cow Disease becoming angry with Farmer John and splitting his head open with an axe. I was often praised by my parents, who between fits of laughter would tell me to "just keep writing."

I'm cleaning the bathroom, do you mind?

I'm cleaning the bathroom, do you mind?

Despite their best efforts to encourage art as a healthy way to keep balanced while pursuing a more feasible career, or at the very least, a high school diploma; I was drawn effortlessly to slacking off. I seldom attended any of my classes save English, French and Theatre. Every other hour spent in school seemed a miserable waste of my talents, which at the time were far better suited for smoking gaggers outside of the Blockbuster. 

No idea how the car withstood this many potheads at one time.

No idea how the car withstood this many potheads at one time.

Post-secondary was definitely not an option, so I stuck my nose into a kitchen at sixteen and spent the next eight years immersed in the culture of food. I fell so in love that eventually trade school became an exciting possibility, and finished my culinary degree at 21. The hours of the kitchen and the stage ended up being too conflicting, and I was left with a difficult decision.

Check the height on those fuckin salads, eh?

Check the height on those fuckin salads, eh?

When I first started performing songs that I'd written, I was given a lot of help. My brother and the roots community of Calgary were not shy about offering me opportunities to perform, and as a result I was given a bit of a "fast track" in that regard, and I am not blind to it. That being said, I will argue that regardless of my connections, the songs spoke for themselves.

Now, I struggle to stay out of debt by working odd jobs for friends and family (and at a local record store owned by some fantastic Albertan folks), most of the time I'm barely scraping by - but I've certainly done what I can over the last year to push myself and keep my momentum rolling, despite many setbacks. I now find myself in a unique position with my music.

Bryson Waind, Carter Felker, Bucks, Rob Lagace. One of many "In The Round" shows I performed in the early days at Wine-Ohs, an unfortunately no-longer live music venue in Calgary.

Bryson Waind, Carter Felker, Bucks, Rob Lagace. One of many "In The Round" shows I performed in the early days at Wine-Ohs, an unfortunately no-longer live music venue in Calgary.

Optically, when we see someone with success and the things that we want, we tend to antagonize. This, among many others, is one of my great weaknesses. I have coveted and hated strangers and friends alike for their successes, words of praise or even their baser artistic instincts. 

Only within the last year has it truly sunken in what it means to be a Professional Artist. The term is tossed around so casually that it has begun to become worthy of eye rolling and disdain on my end, particularly from people who complete three mediocre renditions of cover songs at an open mic and complain about their lack of artistic reward.

From my experience that most anything can be solved and achieved with a very simple statement: Try Harder, Do Better. I can understand how the mantra of "just fuckin' be better okay?" seems blunt and possibly an under-thought approach to the many layers of work that is required of an artist, and subsequently a sole proprietor; but it really does encompass all of the important elements of what I consider to be success.

We live in a comparative culture. Regardless of the kind-hearted crap crammed down everyone's gullet to "lift each other up" - we all know the harsh reality: we want it all. If you're reading this and thinking, "I don't want it all. I just wan't to be content with what is right now." You've achieved spiritual oneness and can kindly fuck off. Anyone else with dreams of making an actual living in the arts can keep scrolling.

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How many times has it happened that someone has gotten a gig, press or an opportunity you've wanted? Nay, something you've felt downright entitled to? In the last four years when I've let humility beat the bejesus out of me in moments of naive arrogance I very quickly realized that the world, your art, life, and people don't owe you shit. What you get is in direct correlation with what you put in. I'm not shy in saying that 90% of the people complaining about their career trajectory need to give their fucking head a shake and crank up the work ethic. 

I guess what this long-winded rant is supposed to demonstrate is that success can really only ever be internal. In my humble opinion, if you look at someone else's achievements and think "that should be me." You might be right. Or, you might just be truly afraid to ask yourself: how can I get there? And if not afraid to ask, you might just be afraid of doing the fucking work. Stop looking sideways and look forward. Hold yourself and your art accountable, to the highest of standards; or, find peace within the middle ground and quit bitching.

MB

The Fuck Went Down In 2017?

The year began with a bang, and that's about as much of an understatement as I'm prepared to make. I'll never forget that email, which I scanned ever quickly from excitement to find the gory details: Block Heater Festival... opening... Hayes Carll. My mouth fell open onto my keyboard and my eyes welled up with tears of joy. Were they fucking kidding me? Worst possible practical joke to play on someone with expectations as low as mine. They weren't.

The Lantern Church buzzed with excitement for my 45 minute opening set. I was joined by my right hand man, Keane Eng and my now manager, Jessica Marsh (JAM Music). We received a standing ovation. There is nothing comparable to that kind of love and support in your hometown, and I think in some ways I carried that encouragement throughout my entire year of performances.

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Immediately after Block Heater, I flew to Kansas City to partake in yet another year of the Folk Alliance International Conference and Festival in Kansas City, MO. A whirlwind of late nights, hotel rooms and new friends: this time of year is always especially stressful and rewarding for me. 

Here's me pretending to work in the great Kansas City, MO

Here's me pretending to work in the great Kansas City, MO

I flew into Calgary and packed, again. Half written charts and notes, guitars, gear, clothes for a week. I was on my way to Lethbridge to record the new album. What transpired over the course of those weeks is hard to describe, still after all this time has passed. The energy and creative buzz inside the Rebeltone Ranch was something I'd never experienced before. And if I'm not being too cocky, I think you can hear that in the tracks.

Photo by Leeroy Stagger

Photo by Leeroy Stagger

I grabbed on with both hands trying to prepare myself to handle a heavy booking and festival season. I'm not overly administrative, but I am at least jittery enough to work at a decent pace; albeit sometimes months behind. (If you're wondering about the songs written for the Crowdfunding Campaign, yes they're done, yes they're coming. If you're wondering about my album, yes it's done, yes it's coming.)

Stampede, South Country Fair, Canmore and Edmonton Folk Festival(s). I saw and heard some of the best music I have ever been privileged to see, from the backstage vantage points. I was treated like gold by volunteers, staff and listeners. I could not be more thankful to have participated, it was a solid progression of development I haven't seen in myself since we recorded the album.

Festivals are an intense environment, in the best possible way. 

Snapped just before the big 'tweener at the Edmonton Folk Festival, right after Valerie June and right before Leon Bridges. Photo by Jessica Marsh.

Snapped just before the big 'tweener at the Edmonton Folk Festival, right after Valerie June and right before Leon Bridges. Photo by Jessica Marsh.

No, I didn't forget about hose shows at the Jubilee, opening up for k.d. lang. I've just been struggling to find the words to remotely describe how humbling and uplifting of an experience that was. I am stricken constantly, as all artists are, with the fear of Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is essentially the sometimes delusional belief that you aren't deserving of success. Not because you don't recognize talent within yourself, but because it is hard to quantify success with the way people interpret your art. Fear of being exposed, fear of saying or writing the wrong thing: these are constraints we put on ourselves to appease who we can, to share what we can with those who want to feel it. 

So because I have this self-imposed, fabricated condition and fear impending pressure intensely, I often reach out to mentors and family for a pre-game pep talk. I texted Leeroy Stagger, and he said: "Open your heart up to the room and the people in it. Let them in."

I have sarcastically evaded most ideas of spirituality and energy transfer among the pre-show ritual. I didn't get it. Have a shot of Jameson's, drink some water, hug your bandmates and don't fuck it up. Those are the rules I abided by, but my anxiety was often still palpable. I was masking my emotion with false confidence and the wrong energy. Or at least, I realized that's what I had been doing. 

So here's what happened when I opened myself up: I felt my heart grow ten thousand times bigger. I saw my mom in the third row, my best friend in the fourth row. The room lit up and laughed with me as I paused to tune and sweat into an uncomfortably reverberated room. My best friend and band mate completely eased in and cranked off the best guitar parts I've ever heard him play. And here's the kicker, we did that two nights in a row. Which is merely a prelude to the absolute best part: hearing k.d. lang and her incomparably smooth, rich and focused band. She owns every note and moment on the stage, and off. We were star stricken.

After the madness had somewhat subsided, I completely forgot to pencil in any semblance of a vacation or time off. I had three day gaps between ten or fourteen day stints, each day sometimes hours long including travel. Which rolled us very quickly and abruptly into rehearsals with my new electric band, (name TBD). We weren't rehearsing just for the hell of it, though I will say in my somewhat limited years of working with session musicians, these MacEwan graduates are some of the more professional and hardworking folks I have come across. We nailed down some very thick tones with a five piece rock outfit. 

Which threw us head first into Alberta Focus and BreakOut West, a Western Canadian Music Conference with partner events dedicated to the export of Canadian talent to European markets. Always as daunting as it is difficult, these conferences can be completely defeating and sometimes demoralizing. All in all, we put on a great show, recorded live by CKUA.

Which brings us right up to now, as I sit here in Toronto drinking a Goose Island IPA at the brewery, waiting to check into what feels like my 100th hotel. Last Thursday, the full band opened a show at one of Edmonton's biggest venues: The Starlite Room. As most of my buds will know, I'm usually to be seen as a three piece or sans drummer: until now. The new record demands the presence of a full band and I have assembled a crew of true beauties. 

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We sang, we drank and partied until the wee hours. 7am came a little too quickly, as I boarded a flight in Edmonton straight to Ottawa for a show at the infamous Black Sheep Inn with the incredible Mike Plume, one of Canada's finest songwriters. I think it goes without saying that any artist who can take the time and effort to mentor someone younger and in the beginning stages of their career is  a true gem of a human. Mike Plume is exactly that. He has taken a stark interest in my songs and consistently put his neck out to have me open shows or share the stage with him, and I am forever grateful. 

Wakefield is the most beautiful town I have yet to see in Canada, bar none. Thank you for an incredible night to all the listeners and the venue staff.

With my rented Jeep Wrangler we rode the wild 401 highway to Toronto the next morning, holy fuck. Anyone who complains about our coveted highway 2 here in Alberta will receive a sharp tongue lashing from me, from this day forward. The 401 is an entirely separate beast, and I say with full sincerity that driving in Ontario is truly taking your life into your own hands. 

After driving back to Ottawa, flying back into Edmonton and now loading the car to cruise to Calgary (home, thank goodness) for our album cover shoot - I am reminded of some valuable lessons from the year in review.

There is nothing more valuable than friendships, shared experiences and gratitude among these people and places. Great things will come to those who bust ass. There are people in your corner. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but be sure that there is also inescapable, blinding darkness to precede and follow. Live within the light and transform within that darkness. The spirit is a resilient thing. 

Call me idealistic or hopped up on old acid trips, but these are things I whole heartedly believe entering the New Year. 

Oh, and someone bet me I couldn't go all of January as a vegan, so watch out for violent anger in the first two weeks or 2018.

Love, 

Bucks

Updates & Uphill Battles

Lord, send love to a leaving lonely lady.
She's been so tired and it might be time to settle down,
It might be time to stick around.

That's a baby Buck somewhere in the interior of British Columbia. I think that summer I got my second of five tattoos, drank around 96 Kokanee beers and fell asleep on an anthill. Not pictured: best bud RD.

That's a baby Buck somewhere in the interior of British Columbia. I think that summer I got my second of five tattoos, drank around 96 Kokanee beers and fell asleep on an anthill. Not pictured: best bud RD.

The Summers are so different now. Time passes so quickly and in erratic intervals. Instead of miles and days it's minutes and seconds counting down to the next obligatory function; a wedding, any occasion in which you have to smile and say "How are things?"
And have the appropriate and calculated response when someone returns with "Great, and you? Still doing music?"

Doing music. Yeah, me and music get down about twice a week when I find time between procrastinating and deciding between a wake and bake or exercise. We exchange small talk, foreplay and sometimes even an evening of romance. 

What I'm doing is my job. A job I love and live for, far more than anything I've ever pursued, or wanted to. The perks far outweigh the downsides, and I'm well aware of how fortunate I happen to be. That all being said, I get sick of my life's work being condescendingly confused with a hobby. Something to pass the time, while you look for something sustainable and serious. 

I'm currently working my ass off to plan the marketing and release of my sophomore album. I've had countless support from producer and friend, Leeroy Stagger and his family. His home has become what feels like my own. We've gone back and forth a thousand times, and argued about everything and anything. I'm proud to say I've only had one meltdown this entire stretch. 

Now comes the most difficult part. Looking down the long list: merchandise, publicity, media, press, shipping, manufacturing, vinyl, CD, radio mail-outs, single release and eventually, the album release night. 

The bad news: our forecasted release of September 30th has been postponed. 
The good news: the album is being mastered this week. The pre-orders will open back up to the public in a matter of weeks and a new release date will be announced in the fall of 2017.
The awkward news: some good folks purchased release night incentives (Date Night Package) or pre-ordered albums, and these people will have to shuffle their plans around or wait on discs. It gives me no pleasure to ask for favours after already being so graciously rewarded with endless support from my community and peers. But, as we all know, good things take time, and I seem to be running low on time these days.
The best news: the contributions raised by our campaign will 100% cover the pressing and manufacturing of vinyl and CD. Your names are patiently waiting on my shipping list for when the day comes that I can ship everything out. 
All I need is your patience. I mean, I've already got your money, right? Tasteless joke.

Joking aside, I really am proud of what I will have to share in the coming months. Videos, original songs and covers written and recorded for campaign supporters; a sneak peek into merchandise design and updates on progress will be provided as often as possible. 

So think of it this way:
My job as a musician is to provide you with quality recordings and performances based on your auditory and financial support. You pay me for a service, I deliver. There's been a delay in our release process to properly market and coordinate its release. Your delivery will be late. Trust me when I say that I hope it will be worth the wait.

I'm taking some much needed time off until July 1st. I'm currently in the Okanagan sipping a cold brew coffee, listening to motorbikes obnoxiously scream by. It's overcast and I'm almost thankful, the heat and I do not always agree. So I'll accept these introspective moments carefully over my next few days off to organize, categorize and most importantly, to create. I'll be nourishing my soul with song and practice to get my head fully screwed on for the next months of my life. I think they're gonna be a doozie. 

Love to you and yours,
Bucks

 

Kansas City, 2017

To this day, "In Cold Blood" is still my favourite book. It's gripping, tense and completely haunting. I must have read through it close to six times, and though I know exactly what to expect on each page and how to predict the rising surges of emotion and adrenaline for the characters, and moreover myself, I rip through it in three days with wide eyes and hunger. 

That same chill that comes creeping down my spine when I hear about Perry's bowed-legs and total lack of remorse or Dick's unsettling femininity, sneaks up on me when I drive into Kansas City. To clarify: the crimes that pique my peculiar interest were committed in Holcomb, Kansas state. Kansas City is next door, in the neighbouring State of Missouri. One of the country's largest correctional facilities is in the town of Lansing, Kansas State. 

The midwest is an odd convergence of familiarity and emptiness. It can be so reminiscent of my prairie home, yet the mountains that comfort me are nowhere to be found. Littered around the century-old architectural delights are strangely located farm houses: some abandoned, some never updated but still very inhabited.

The city isn't set like a grid at all. I took an Uber to run some errands yesterday and chatted with Thomas, who says this isn't his full-time gig but that he's become quite the welcome wagon. There are diagonals, one ways where there should be no one ways, and a shitload of dual or triple turning lanes that seemingly turn you right back around.

I know full well to keep my political opinions quiet and my please's and thank you's close by in this part of the country. Thomas told me he hailed from Colorado and made a comment about the legal and medicinal benefits of marijuana. I saw an opportunity.

"I've been told that Missouri and Kansas are red states." I left very little around the statement for interpretation. 
"Yeah, in large part. The West district of Kansas City is progressive, young. It's where the artists live and there's a river market. You gals might like that. I'd suggest going on a Sunday."

A moment passed. I felt as though I had spoken out of turn.

"This country's freakshow knows no bounds. I thought all of this bullshit had ended with Nixon. Just embarrassing. But, try to stay positive I guess. Can I come to Canada?"

In the midst of a "Forbidden Folk Music" Conference we were still surrounded by the theoretical eggshells of the locals. I always feel the same guilted excitement when buying my $20 case of Miller Lite inside the Walmart, watching Rascal scooters disappear up and down the aisles. Plastic cheese, plastic fruit and BBQ gas stations. Am I completely pious of my country's advantages? Do I posture Canadian privilege in a country of almost six times the population? Does anybody give a fuck at all what moral dilemma's I might be having? I still buy the beer, and the BBQ is out of control. Ribs are the specialty in KC, I'm told.

The conference centre was teeming with an energy unlike any I'd ever felt. The ego so typically offered by songwriters was masked by an unearthly low buzz of excitement, truth and connection. I hardly hid in my room at all this year. If I was between showcases or preparing, I'd venture to the Colorado room, Oklahoma, Wisconsin. I fell in love with craft beers from every state, beautiful people and songwriters from every city. I shook hands and made friends. I felt alive, I felt a part of something bigger than myself. 

Highlights: Linda McRae offering me a generous invite to write with her in Nashville, Heather Rankin giving one hell of a fist bump, John Fullbright's inimitable voice and songs, David Onley, Tim Easton, Terra Lightfoot's generosity and trouble making, Maria Dunn's poignant traditional folk music and Nora Guthrie.

#FAI2017

The view from Benton's private suite. Beautiful showcase room, 360 view of Kansas City downtown. That's Union Station all lit up in blue. 

The view from Benton's private suite. Beautiful showcase room, 360 view of Kansas City downtown. That's Union Station all lit up in blue. 

 

 

 

The New Year

Happy New Year to you and yours. 

 

The New Year marks the abrupt end of my least favourite season. Christmas, Holidays and the like take a substantial toll on my attitude, through no fault of anyone but my own. I hate the undue stress, the commercials, the fake sincerity. Financial and emotional burdens put upon those who can bear the least, masked by tidings of cheer and over consumption of mass produced garbage. Bah, humbug. 

2017, and all of the years who've come before have the same distinct quality of beginning after my worst possible reflections. My hours spent in darkness dreading family dinners for fear of disappointing the happy participants, my shame for not being a happier companion; all silenced and put immediately on the back burner as the January sun dances on the blacktop and snow. I drive to work again, and am immediately let go after being back less than a week. 

It's easy for me to become disenchanted with the blog forum. I hate reading the self-indulgent nattering as much as I hate posturing myself as someone worth reading about.

I'm proud of my tunes, well, most of them. I don't waste time or energy on comparisons and status markers, mostly because it's far more likely to put me in the ditch than pump my tires. At this point, my focus should and does remain entirely on crafting songs that come from my guts. I don't think people want to hear anything less, I know I don't. The day I move away from that dedication and passion will surely be reflected in my shows, my songs and my singing. 

I'm just in the midst of looking at my calendar and seeing hockey games filling up Sunday and Monday evenings. I'm preparing diligently for the coming months, littered with opportunity and promise. 2017 is going to be one hell of a ride.

February, 2017: Block Heater Festival
This particular show marks not only the largest crowd of my still budding career, but a humbling opening slot for one of the best songwriters still writing and performing: Hayes Carll. I am overjoyed to be performing in my hometown for so many friends and supportive comrades at the Lantern Community Church in Inglewood. Tickets are sold out.

February, 2017: Folk Alliance International, Kansas City, MO
After attending last year, I was completely overwhelmed with the intensity of a conference so saturated with talent and... banjos. I thought there was no way I'd be foolish enough to push my introverted heels back into the fire, and yet, here we go again. With the help of our provincial music association and the Bow Valley Music Club, I've lined up almost fourteen showcases for the 5 day conference. Yikes.

This year marks an especially exciting trip because I'll be singing with Saskatchewan's Belle Plaine, who has an official showcase. This will be particularly challenging as I'm not playing an instrument, just singing the third above on a few of her songs. Pretty great way to improve the harmony chops.

February / March, 2017: Recording w/ Leeroy Stagger, Lethbridge, AB
I'm recording my sophomore, full-length album with my friend and mentor, Leeroy Stagger. Stay tuned for ways you can help and listen by subscribing to my newsletter (bottom of the page)
Tentative release: Fall 2017

To alleviate some of the costs associated with the project, I've started an Indiegogo campaign. There are donation incentives for every level, so please help how you can. View the campaign by clicking the image below:

Take care,

Bucks

 

 

 

Forward, Onward, Inward

The last ten months have been an insane shitshow. Moving everything I own into my go-kart of a Chevy, now sold off the impound lot if you were wondering, and stumbling madly over my own feet into semblance of some small successes. I played the Folk Fest in my hometown, which was an honour and truly humbling. That festival has long been a goal of mine, but I never saw it coming so soon. 

Classic Mariel, looking unimpressed and confused

Classic Mariel, looking unimpressed and confused

I went off of my anti-depressants, both of them, cold turkey. This is dangerous for a variety of reasons: for one, doctors will tell anyone that it should always be a slow process and that the drugs should be slowly removed from your system. I felt completely fine until the six month mark, at which point, I headed for what I assumed was a certain breakdown. However, instead of careening over the edge into blackness I'd seen so many times, I slowy tiptoed the edge of the cavern and thought: "I know what is at the bottom. If I fall, I will remember what this edge looks like, and the vastness beyond".

I'll always be first to say that medicine is not for the weak, and it is absolutely a helpful and necessary tool for some to fight mental illness. It is not an easy way out, lazy western medicine hard at work, or any of the other foolish blabberings of the ignorant. Depression is not the same for any one person, and the more options we have to fight against it, the better.
I will say that the most important piece to my mental stability and coming off of medication was continuing to see my therapist, and remaining open with friends and family, as I still am today. 

I had a record year for shows, industry connections, and meeting new and amazing people. Edmonton has become like a second home to me. I love all of the people who have opened their hearts, ears and homes to me. 

I made the decision to record my second, full-length record with none other than Leeroy Stagger at his brand new studio in Lethbridge, Alberta. Leeroy and I became fast friends last year after his album release tour. I joined in for three dates and fell wildly in love with his sense of rebellion, restlessness, and inability to settle for second. I am very excited to begin our work together.

Leeroy has a serious ice-cream addiction: I've tried an intervention but it didn't take

Leeroy has a serious ice-cream addiction: I've tried an intervention but it didn't take

I participated in a number of amazing co-writes. One of those lead to something far more special than I ever could have anticipated. "Driving In The Dark" will be a single from my upcoming record, co-written with the exceedingly humble Grant Davidson of Winnipeg, Manitoba; and the songbird prairie Springsteen, Val Halla of Regina, Saskatchewan.

Recently, though, I've been focused on next steps. New press materials, applying for a certain radio contest that I know many have polarizing opinions about. Briefly: I could care less who thinks it's a sham and who doesn't - it's development money that I might have a shot at grabbing, absolutely I will go for it, and learn whatever possible in the process. I'm done condemning opportunities because I feel somehow above them, that attitude is pure poison and only produces cynical barstool prophets in greater numbers. 

The photo shoot for my "re-branding" as the industry will dub it was an absolute blast. The evening began with flank steak taco bowls, cooked of course by Ms. Marsh and myself. It might be our favourite activity to host, feed and socialize. 

The ranch we drove to was south of Okotoks by about seven miles. Mister O'Flannagan, as he prefers to be called due to his regal, rich and certainly not crude heritage, was our knight in shining armour who found the site, visited with the ranch owners, and pleaded our case. 

We drove onto the property about half an hour before sunset. There was one very pregnant horse and her stud who didn't seem particularly keen on our presence, but we maintained safe distance and respect. Horses, in my opinion, are the most intelligent and beautiful of all creatures, with wisdom pouring so honestly from their eyes that I sometimes cannot bare to look at them directly. 

I had the idea to bring some dogs along for the ride and see if we couldn't get a good shot with my favourite four legged companions. The album is to be titled "Stray Dogs", for context. Of course, the dogs had an alernate agenda than sitting still and staring at a camera. Wouldn't have changed it for the world, spirits were incredible that evening and a real comraderie was shared.

Left to right: Sean covered by Gus, Sarah, Jessica, Zoey's bum, Kayla, Tucker and Kaitlyn Photo credit: Sebastian Buzzalino of Unfolding Creative Photography

Left to right: Sean covered by Gus, Sarah, Jessica, Zoey's bum, Kayla, Tucker and Kaitlyn
Photo credit: Sebastian Buzzalino of Unfolding Creative Photography

Almost a year ago I fell madly in love and haven't been able to keep my mouth or instagram shut about it. For all of you who know me well, this suddenly very giddy romanticism must seem out of character. It isn't. It's being unabashedly unafraid to show my heart and who I carry in it. And I carry her wherever I go.

Photo credit: Unfolding Creative Photography

Photo credit: Unfolding Creative Photography

Which really has been the biggest turning point. I am just now becoming unafraid of the world around me, and the world inside of me. I love myself and am sharing what good I can with the people around me. 

No, this doesn't mean I don't still enjoy being a sarcastic fuckwit, and upsetting the upper crust with crude comments and a well-placed middle finger during a corporate luncheon.

I take such pride in the artistic community I am a part of, and all of the people working within it. Launching festivals, crafting beautiful brews, taking still photos of timeless moments, running bars and restaurants, creating, loving, and making something bigger than all of ourselves to share with the world. 

So whether your prejudice is contests, popular radio, misplaced bigotry on Facebook, or just plain old everything, remember this: the bleeding hearts of the poets and artists will pump life and energy to our most viable resources; each other.

Love yourselves and take care. 

Edmonton

Most of my Calgarian counterparts would sooner throw our neighbourhood to the North under the provincial bus than sing its praises. Whether you think it's impossible to navigate (it is), impossibly cold in the winter (also, is), or just not fancy enough for you (seriously? where are YOU even from?); fact is that Edmonton is a dynamic, artistic and vibrant city.

Context: of course my new infatuation with the capital city stems primarily from having fallen for a gal who had been living here for seven years. And as a side note, there are literally ONLY beautiful women in Edmonton. It's not a joke.

 

I played competitive hockey for close to 14 years, and between the terrible haircuts and tournaments, I was up and down the province a decent amount. I've been to Ponoka, Leduc, Sherwood Park and Lacombe, mainly. We once drove to Cranbrook two weekends in a row for a three game tournament. My dad loved to take us on the road. He was my coach for almost the whole time I played. 

We had a tough time. I didn't deal well with constructive criticism, he didn't deal well with me calling him a 'fuck' at practice. I have a rough mouth. I think that comes from feeling really fired up and not knowing how to deal with it like a normal human. 

Anyway, I basically remember Edmonton as this freezing cold, barren wind-scape of really tough hockey girls. Basically every time we went, we lost. Maybe I was just shitty? I don't know. I loved the trips, I loved driving with dad. He was always speeding but you felt invincible. I think that's a common feeling when dads, *or paternal figures of some kind, drive you around.

In Calgary, we played out of a few communities. I started playing boys when I was about six or seven. I played until I was ten. I had to practice with body contact, and it was awful. I was a really sensitive kid though, so it probably took nothing to make me cry and say "fuck it".

We started in Glenlake, close to North Glenmore Park; where I work now. Then I think I did two years in Trails West, an old Southeast community. Then Midnapore. There was a year I can't remember what neighbourhood we played out of, but we had the best Swedish jerseys, bright yellow and blue. We were called the Cougars. We kicked ass. 

Actually, if you ever go to play a gig at the Nanton Auditorium, (or stop for afternoon beers, it's common), you'll see a photo of a girls hockey team on the wall in their bar. The photo is of my hockey team after we won the Nanton tournament. 

While you are observing this nice, genuine photo of some girls with pseudo-gold medals and hockey gear on, you may notice that in front of them there is a giant, dead, stuffed, *posed*, cougar. You will also notice that a guy who is so obviously my dad is just so excited about the whole situation.

Lastly, you will probably look behind you to make a quick exit because you've realized you might get flack for not finding this completely normal, you will look up. Inside, on the slanted roof hanging over the bar, is the same cougar. He seems cool. You let it go, order your Pilsner, and think nothing of it.

You will also see hundreds of photos of musicians who have played their stage. They are incredible.

But I digress. Hockey memories aside, Edmonton was always a sort of mystical Northern land that always held disappointment and shame.

As I grew older and started playing music, lots of my Calgarian colleagues despised the city. Claiming "there's no money", "no venues" and "no gigs"; it's easy to see how I would be pre-emptively deterred from learning more about the city itself. Not to mention, intimidated by the vast roster of talented musicians and songwriters. But this post isn't to pump their tires, they know what's up.

My first positive Edmonton experience came from staying with Pete and Denise of 100 Mile House in Bonny Dunne, with my brother, Tim. We played a festival dowtown called "The Works". Awful turnout. Weird weather. Bums everywhere. But it wasn't the gig itself that made the trip. 

The Last Call Garage, probably a venue some a familiar with, is 100 Mile House's garage and doubles as a music venue. Pete invited us in after what seemed like hours of drinking at the Empress, my other favourite local hang. The room itself is modest. A bar, some stools, chairs and what could be made into a stage. But it wasn't the room that got me, either.

 

Everyone I've met in the Edmonton music community has this weird sense of... well, just that, COMMUNITY. Support is limitless. Musicians, sound techs, writers and performers are all one and the same. Everyone has each other's back and has made venues out of basements, back yards, anything, to get their friends playing and in front of people as much as possible.

I feel like a raving lunatic comparing apples to oranges. Alberta has some of the best songwriters in Canada. And as much as I'll never want to live on Whyte Ave, or spend my days apartment hunting in the capital - every time I drive the QE2, I feel like I'm going home. 

Not to where my parents are, or my old dog. It isn't a place where someone welcomes you in  with a hot cooked meal. It's open arms, smiles, and support. It's an artistic community somewhat void of judgment and bullshit. There's just really good people wanting to help you have the best time you can while you're visiting. 

 

Saskatchewan

My days of being a road warrior are few and far between. I am an unabashed homebody. I love to cook in my own kitchen, sleep in my own bed and see the familiar faces that bring me comfort. I say this well knowing that my banner image is a beautiful mid 70's Chevy pickup with an almost serendipitous Alberta plate on the front. 

Taken on October 12th, 2014 - Killarney, Calgary, AB

Taken on October 12th, 2014 - Killarney, Calgary, AB

The whole concept of a home-loving roots musician, especially one who sings about travel and living off the road as much as I do, seems blasphemous to an extent. To many, the dues to be paid exist only on the dash of the beater we push from town to town, gig to gig, empty room to empty room. All this being said, of course, the heart yearns to wander. I find myself seeking escape cyclically throughout the year - winter's beginning, spring's fresh smells; mostly seasonal triggers, will often light a fire that revs my engine for a steady week of travel. I also say 'travel' knowing full well that a trip to the province next door is not exactly considered worldly.

I've been very fortunate as of late. The wandering spirit residing in my head has been peacefully at ease. I've fallen madly in love, and so I feel at rest. For some, love comes as secondary to success, or isn't a priority at all. Laissez-faire, it will happen when it happens. For me, this has never been the case.

This made my recent jaunt to sunny Saskatchewan a very different kind of journey. I didn't hit the road staring down the pavement with the same kind of fire burning within me. I wasn't running towards or from anything. I had love by my side, I could have driven forever.

I'm not as high as I look. We had a sleepover at Danny Oliver's house and hung out with Colter Wall. There may have been some morning bourbon consumed...

I'm not as high as I look. We had a sleepover at Danny Oliver's house and hung out with Colter Wall. There may have been some morning bourbon consumed...

 

I met Megan Nash sometime last year for a songwriter's circle at the Wine-Ohs Cellar. She had just begun a cross-country tour with Dana Beeler, an East Coast singer-songwriter. 

Megan and I became instant friends. We share the same low maintenance sense of humour and interaction. Have a beer, let's shoot the shit.  Nobody was looking for compliments or flattery, we played our tunes and nodded thoughtfully upon completion. The chemistry was organic and made for a great bill. 

About a month ago, Megan suggested a small tour around Saskatchewan, her home province. For those of you unfamiliar, Nash is something of a local icon. Every venue and gig we played was littered with fans from all walks. Her down to earth spirit catches the hearts and ears of anyone smart enough to listen, I was honoured to share the stage with her.

The tour began in Saskatoon. I won't lie, as a city, it was my least favourite. Large and ostentatious, I felt lost in the lights. That being said, it called for pause as I remembered where I had grown up. Is Calgary a similar vibe? Do people feel lost and alienated entering the place I call home? I had to wonder. This all being said, our hosts were incredible. Homemade vegetarian pasta and a warm bed for the night, great friends and conversation. I would like to have cooked for them and returned the favour.

Moose Jaw was a beautiful, boutique town. I enjoyed some of the best Thai food I have had, to date; and I say this after having spent a month in Thailand sampling just about every kind of food imaginable. I am an unashamed foodie. I spent ten years as a Chef in Calgary, finished my Red Seal at SAIT and eventually went the way of so many others - into a separate line of work. Another entry can cover my disenchantment with 6 day work weeks and cocaine mountains at 8am when the rest of the world are conquering Sundays.

Not pictured: Gentleman hula-hooping in the back of the cafe to Megan's song "Matchbox". Easily the most enjoyable part of the night.

Not pictured: Gentleman hula-hooping in the back of the cafe to Megan's song "Matchbox". Easily the most enjoyable part of the night.

Regina was surprising. Much smaller than I had anticipated, I felt an instant parallel between my home province's capital and the "city that rhymes with fun." (Hate the expression all you'd like, I stick by its message.) The venue was reverb-city. That being said, the stage must have been close to six feet high. This gave me an odd sense of confidence. Fresh strings changed immediately before, in the bar, were an added boost. Old friends put us up for the night, and taught us the hard ropes of shotgunning PIlsner in Vic Park. We got the real lay of the land. 

The tour's highlight was our last show in Gravelbourg, SK. Predominantly French in its demographic, I was unsure what to expect. 1200 residents is undoubtedly the smallest town I have ever even set foot in, aside from my hockey playing youth. I don't count that experience the same. It was literally into town boundaries, straight to the rink. My gal likes to call the rink a 'barn'; I always think that sounds way cooler. 

Gravelbourg was out in full force. The bar was full of eager hockey watchers. Not as many listeners. I played the country staples, and my optimistic 'full bar of drinkers' set list. Every room is different. It's always important to me to play the room.

I had a strange moment while playing 'Working Man' [track 4 - Motorhome]. The song itself was a mash of personal experiences written about friends, an old drunk in a bar, and the way the Canadian landscape was changing around oil production and environmentally sustainable futures. Generally in Calgary, the song garners a great deal of head nods and sincere applause. It is a favourite of mine. It is very dark, but was meant to be written as a request to the white collars to look down at the calloused hands passing up the bread to feed their wives. 

As I looked around the crowded, admittedly small town bar, I sang the song much the same as I always have. I put a great deal of hurt into the vocals. The song hurts me to sing. But as I watched the honest ball caps of farmers and industry workers bobbing up and down with laughter, and to sip from pint glasses; I realized how blatantly ignorant my song choice must have been. 

The song must seem a valiant message from the person who wrote it. I felt ashamed of my arrogance. How could I sing this song pretending to be a hero? I had not worked hard like this, not like them, not for a day in my life. I have never farmed. My hardest dues were paid among 15 hour days in a kitchen, burns and scars all over, yelling and sexism as common as the very smokey air to breathe. This is a different hard work. I was still working for the white suited, oily haired gentlemen sharing cocktails at noon on a Friday. I was still being taken advantage of, and working too hard to enjoy my own life at all. But it is not the same as working a farm to feed a family. It is not life and death. 

After the performance I realized what a real songwriter's understanding must come from. Perspectives are a lovely box of tinted lenses. We are fortunate to sort through the many colours, and hold one up to the light. But shining the light, alone, is not enough. We have to find the right room to shine it in, and the right faces to feel its glow. Although a dismantled metaphor at best, the idea stuck with me. 

I have profound respect for this country and the people I see living and working within it. I will remember this tour for teaching me that lesson.