Nathaniel Sutton

Interview with Nathaniel Sutton of Defend the Rhino

canadian music, Interviews
Nathaniel Sutton
All photo credits: Brandynnleigh Photography

by Monica Ng

Nature calls…

I came across Defend the Rhino thanks to a follow by Cups N Cakes.  Cups N Cakes (IG: @cupsncakesnet) is a volunteer run promoter of Canadian indie music. I’m huge on Canadian music and nature, so when I saw the drone footage of a beautiful landscape with incredible ambient music on Cups’ post, I took a listen to the song and was instantly hooked. I write this a lot, but I get so excited when there are many songs that I like from the same artist. It’s very satisfying to be able to dig deep and delve into their entire discography.

Contact

Instagram: @defendtherhino
Facebook: @defendtherhino
Twitter: @defendtherhino
Bandcamp
www.nathanielsutton.com

Music

Make Do (2022) – Album
A+ (2021) – Album
Wing It (2020) – Album
Glisten (2019) – Album
Fabricated (2018) – Album
Static Breeze (2017) – Album
There’s No Place Like Home (2016) – Album

Nathaniel Sutton
Photo credit: Brandynnleigh Photography

About 

Nathaniel is composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer based in Edmonton, Alberta. He produces music under his own name, but created Defend the Rhino for his ambient and cinematic music. Nathaniel is passionate about scoring music for films and videos and embraces opportunities for the creative process.

Interview

Me: Hey Nathaniel! It’s always an honour to interview musicians whose work I’m a huge fan of. You record music under your own name – which based on my listen is alternative with lyrics. My favourite songs produced under your name are Perfect Time and Wing Tech 3000. What motivated you to produce music as Defend the Rhino?

Nathaniel: Hi Monica! I appreciate the love! I originally began writing music under my own name, using a portable digital recording studio (a MRS 1608 16-Track Digital Recording Studio to be exact) and it produced very lo-fi recordings onto CD, but helped me create my first recordings as a musician. I started writing music based on indie-rock influences such as Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie. As time progressed, I discovered more artists and my list of influences grew. I started to really get into instrumental post-rock artists, one of those being a band in the UK called, Mogwai. Once I discovered Mogwai, I bought their whole discography. I knew that I’d love to attempt to make music like that someday.

Defend The Rhino was born this way, I pieced together instrumental melodies and riffs that I just loved, and built onto those sounds using drums, bass and even synth. Using this method, There’s No Place Like Home became my first release and Mint 400 Records helped me release it, which was a wonderful experience.

Me: It’s great to hear how your project started. I checked out Mogwai and can definitely hear their influence on a few of your songs. I recently sent off my interview questions to Shierro – a super-talented beatmaker/music producer from the Netherlands. I told you that you guys should do a collaboration piece.  That would be wicked! Have you done or plan to do any collaborations?

Nathaniel: Actually, yes! So, after releasing my second album Static Breeze with Mint 400 Records, the label asked if I’d be interested in having some of their artists provide vocals for some songs that I produce. At that time, I had four unreleased songs that I wrote but they didn’t make it onto any albums. I thought this would be a great way to collaborate with artists on the roster. And so Fabricated became a collaboration, featuring Fairmont, Tiegan, Young Legs and aBIRD. It was such a fun experience and I would absolutely do more collaborations down the road. I follow Shierro now, he’s on my radar for sure!

Me: I’ll have to take another listen to Fabricated now that you mention the collabs and looking forward to collab work between you and Shierro.

I’ve danced alone in the forest so many times to Bucket List. There’s something so invigorating, happy and hopeful about that tune. You said that it’s your favourite song as well. I love that so many moods are expressed through your music, but I’m especially fascinated by the organic feel. I’ve used so many of your tracks in my IG reels and stories and I haven’t run out of songs yet.  What inspires your music?

Nathaniel: Haha, yes! I thank you for using my music on your reels and stories. Bucket List is definitely one I’m proud of, just the way it builds up and explodes at the end. I love those kinds of songs. Actually, Mogwai is a lot like that, they’re a huge inspiration to me (have you noticed!? Haha). Other inspirations include a great soundtrack to a film. It’s my opinion that a great soundtrack can make even a mediocre film look amazing. One of my favourite movies of all time is Big Fish, the movie itself is just a nice and wholesome flick but the soundtrack makes it so much better. Danny Elfman and Nick Ingman worked together on that one. I love it.

Me: I do sense that Mogwai is a source of your inspiration lol. The first thing that I thought of when I saw your name were the poor rhinos being poached for their horns.  Then I saw one of your posts about Sedan, a rhino who had died.  How did you decide on Defend the Rhino as the name for your project and how does it tie in with your music?

Nathaniel: Yes, it’s so tragic. At the time when I was deciding on a name for this project, they had guards protecting the last male Northern White Rhino, Sedan, it broke my heart.

When I began this project, it was nameless. I decided to solely work on the music and the name would just come naturally. After I had finished There’s No Place Like Home, I started listening to the completed tracks on a consistent basis. I attempted to picture myself in different scenarios along with the music, I would close my eyes and see where the music took me. It wasn’t until I heard about the last Northern White Rhino being protected by an armed guard 24/7 in Kenya that my mind started to become visual with the music. I would envision myself as a soldier, defeating poachers and saving the rhinos. It was like a movie in my head along with the music. That is how the name Defend The Rhino stuck with me.

Me: That’s a pretty intense and dark visual of you as a soldier and I get the chills when you mention the 24/7 armed guard. It’s depressing that they had to resort to full time protection for an animal’s survival. That speaks volumes about the destructive nature of the human race. When will the destruction end?

You posted that your music starts with an idea, but it boggles my mind that these beautifully layered and rich songs can be created from a few plucks on your guitar or bass or by pressing down a few keys on the piano.  I can’t play instruments so it fascinates me how this can happen.  As a multi-instrumentalist, what instruments do you play, what goes through your mind as you put together a piece and what is the creative process involved?

Nathaniel: My main instrument is guitar but I dabble in many instruments, such as bass, piano, drums. I just know what I like and the music that I want to make, so these are my tools to do so. It’s hard to explain the creative process but it really does usually just start with an idea. Maybe it’s just a simple melody that loops throughout a song or maybe it’s drum pattern that a bass riff would be perfect for. It really all depends and the outcome can be amazing, or go nowhere – there is no in-between, haha.

Me: I love how musicians can put melodies together in their heads. I guess it’s similar to when I write – a word or thought will enter my mind and it has potential to spin quickly into a story.

It’s amazing that your score music for films and videos.  BTW – anyone looking for music for your projects or films, Nathaniel is your guy.

Nathaniel, I challenge you to a new piece about the pandemic. While you’re working on it, tell us…if you had to score a song about the pandemic state of the world, in words, what sounds/feel would you imagine?

Nathaniel: Oh gosh, yeah it would be a somber song for sure, with a slow tempo, lots of reverb and probably some gentle orchestral strings in there. I can almost hear it.

Me: I’m looking forward to listening to the piece. I have such a strong connection to Canadian music. Most of what I listen to is Canadian. What does the music scene like in Edmonton and what challenges do you face getting your music out there?

Nathaniel: I’ve been heavily involved with the Edmonton music scene for a long time in various ways and I can say that it is very welcoming to almost any genre of music. Got a punk band? There’s a place for it. Got a blues band? There’s a place for it. Got an experimental noise band? Yeah, there’s a place for that too.

I think the main challenge to be faced here (which is not really any different than anywhere else) is just getting your music heard. Especially with so much competition out there, it can be difficult to stand out, but I think that’s a challenge worth accepting and figuring out how you can make yourself known.

Me: For sure challenges can be seen as a good thing if you can accept it. Your pages are very interesting. I love the Fisher Price tape player video clip on your IG page @nathanielsuttonmusic. It’s amazing that the tape recorder can still play. Quality is definitely a thing of the past! Because the tune on that post caught my interest, I asked you for the song title and you said that it doesn’t have one yet. What are your plans for releasing gems like these?

Nathaniel: I’ve been really getting into tape recording lately, there’s something nostalgic about hearing that hiss that comes with recording and playback of cassette tapes, much like the subtle crackles you hear on vinyl. So, I found an old Tascam MF-P01 tape recorder on Kijiji and have been messing around with tape loops and recordings. I have more in the works. I’m not sure what my official plan is yet for these recordings but I enjoy making them and will hopefully release them all as a collective down the road, just for you Monica! Haha.

Me: That is too absolutely sweet! I will definitely buy the collection if you release it. And if you don’t, I am open to you sharing your music file with me. I love your mini mic singing post on @nathanielsuttonmusic too, and you have a tiny music piano cranking out creepy tunes. Where do you find all the interesting props shown on your page?!

Nathaniel: Thrift shops! I find a lot of cool things going to the thrift shop. That’s where I found that creepy toy piano, I’ve also found old shoebox recorders that you’ll soon see on my @nathanielsuttonmusic page. I’m always working on something behind the scenes.

Me: I can picture a mini band with all of your tiny instruments lol. Looks like you have a lot of nature-related tattoos on your wrists. I love tattoos. What are they symbolic of?

Nathaniel: Yes, I’d like to get a sleeve eventually but tattoos are so expensive! My right wrist is trees and mountains which represents land and my left wrist is ocean waves which represents water. So, behold! Land and water, I just thought it was “cool” Haha.

Me: I agree that tattoos can get expensive – especially having a detailed sleeve. Ok, now my mandatory get-to-know-you question – who are top three favourite musicians or greatest musical influences?

Nathaniel: Well, one artist that I’ve been mentioning throughout this interview is Mogwai, so they’re definitely on the top three list. Another long-time favourite band of mine is Pinback, they’re packed-full of melodies and inspired a lot of my earlier music. Kurt Vile would make this list too, I’ve been listening to his latest album “(watch my moves)” on repeat. I really dig his style and find his unconventional vocal style – so soothing, weirdly enough.

Me: I’m listening to (watch my moves) as I’m writing – wonder why Kurt put “watch my moves” in parentheses. Upon a quick listen of this album – I agree that he has unconventional vocals and style.

In my opinion, there’s nothing like live music. Not sure how it would work with your instrumental music, but as yourself (haha, that sounds weird and I can’t figure out how to word it properly, but you know what I mean!) – do you have any plans to play live?

Nathaniel: If you look at the cover photo of my album Wing It, that’s actually a photo of me performing my first time live as Defend The Rhino. I performed instrumental music while Nisha Patel read her poetry and it was a really neat experience. When I played live, it wasn’t music from any albums, it was improvisational-based guitar riffs and loops. That’s the way I’d have to do it live unless I ever got a band together to play music from my albums live, but I don’t foresee this happening as I have been putting more effort into composing music for visual media these days.

I do agree though, live music is a much different experience than just listening to a recorded album. It’s something I look forward to getting to do again, going to see live shows after two years of being deprived, due to the pandemic.

Me: I’ll let you know in advance when I visit Edmonton so you have time to arrange a show for me.  I will be there. I’m so happy to have discovered your music and thrilled to have a chance to chat with you. Thank you so much for your time and enthusiasm. Everyone, you know the drill – stream and buy music, buy merch, follow on socials…and MOST important, be generous and share music with everyone! I’m a musical sponge too, so keep sharing music with me.

Nathaniel, is there anything else that you would like to share?

Nathaniel: To be honest, my latest release Make Do will be my last release as Defend The Rhino (for now, or perhaps indefinitely). I’ve been really focused on building a brand, under my own name, composing music for film/visual media, and I want that to be my main focus for the foreseeable future. I’ll still be releasing albums/music but it will be under my own name, rather than an alias. I’m so thankful for people like you, Monica, @cupsncakesnet and for the labels that helped me get my music out there. Most recently Shady Ridge Records, who have been such a huge help in reaching a new audience. A few cassettes/CD’s are still available through www.defendtherhino.bandcamp.com

In the meantime, you can follow me on my social media pages:

Facebook: @nathanielsuttonmusic

Instagram: @nathanielsuttonmusic

Twitter: @nathanielsutton

YouTube: www.youtube.com/nathanielsuttonmusic

Me: While wrapping up this interview, I bought one of your last Make Do CDs. It will be a collectors album now that you mentioned it may be the last from Defend the Rhino. I’m sad to hear this, but I wish you the best in your future endeavours!

–End–

Here are a few videos to enjoy from Defend the Rhino and Nathaniel Sutton:

Interview with Canadian Band: Screaming Riots

canadian music, Interviews
Screaming Riots
Photo credit: Screaming Riots

By Monica Ng

Hot New February Release: Fire and the Dark

How I started tossing and turning

I got a follow from these guys on Instagram and after I checked them out, I was hooked. Seriously – alt-rock music, Canadian musicians and nice guys…need I say more?

I mention it often, but I like it when bands give me a follow on socials.  It brings new music to my attention, and since I do these interviews 100% out of passion, you know how much I love music.

Contact

Instagram: @screamingriots
Facebook: @screamingriots

Music

Fire and the Dark – single (2022)
Toss and Turn – single (2022)
Reach for the Sky – single (2021)
Sunrise – single (2021)
Far from Home – single (2021)

About 

Born during pandemic times, this three-piece “drummerless” band is made up of Paul Do Carmo (Singer/Bass), Geno Satino (Guitar) and Andrew Pelvin (Guitar).  Based in Toronto, Screaming Riots is on a roll, pumping out non-stop rocking tunes.

Photo credit: Screaming Riots

Interview

Me: Hey guys! Let me just say that Toronto is absolutely rockin’ with incredible musical talent. I’m a bit picky with my music, so when I listened to Toss and Turn for the first time and it hit me – I was all excited. Honestly, I know within a few seconds if I like a song or not.

You guys were part of a band named Forces before starting up this one. Geno, during a live stream session you said that you really missed Forces because you put your everything into it. How did you guys decide to start all over again as a new band? And do you plan to add a drummer?

Geno: After Forces, there were times when we wanted to try to get back together and write again, but life happened and it kinda never worked out. When the pandemic happened, the world went on pause, and we were able to get together because everybody had the free time. It worked out in our favour in a way, where we were able to start collaborating again and started to find out ways to collaborate from home. 

Andrew: But how did that start though lol?

Paul: I think I called Andrew or Andrew called me.

Andrew: Yeah, I think I called Paul because I had some ideas for some songs.

Paul: Initially Andrew and I got together to work on releasing some covers or whatever and we thought Geno would be interested in. But seriously though, look at Monica being all thorough lol. Forces was a great band that we loved and enjoyed immensely and I guess at the time it felt like it was like a “final stand” at attempting a lasting career in music. The industry was/is hard on musicians, and rightfully so. It’s an industry that demands time, patience and extremely thick skin. When Forces was at its prime, the band members breathed nothing but music and at its end, it felt more like a job. A job that we weren’t getting paid to do… which made it even worse lol.

Andrew: Yeah, it wasn’t fun anymore.

Paul: It was scarring lol… to the point that I sold everything I owned after that band and anything that remotely resembled music. I just didn’t think I was destined to pursue music after that attempt but ultimately, music never leaves you. 

Andrew: With Screaming Riots, one of our number one goals was that we wanted it to be in our free time – no pressure. When we had some free time, we could go onto the computer and add a part to a project or write a new project altogether if we wanted to. It didn’t have to be an every day thing. It obviously evolved from there. It’s a bit more serious now, but definitely has the same vibe.

Geno: It definitely has the same vibe. Do we plan on adding a drummer? 

Andrew: It’s easier not to lol.

Paul: It really depends on what the future holds for the band. There are many bands out there that function through hired session musicians for tours and live shows.

Andrew: The writing process may be more beneficial with the addition of a definitive drummer, but it’s been easier as a trio so far.  

Geno: It’s not a no from us, but the drummer would have to be equipped with a home studio and be as easy going, open-minded and as passionate as we are about the music we release.

Paul: That person would have to be ready to be family lol.

Me:  You guys are obviously in tune with each other. I can feel the camaraderie – love it! I was lucky to catch one of your live streams. You guys are so personable and great! You were chatting about how band members, in general, often come and go – making it hard to have a lasting band. What makes you believe that Screaming Riots will be any different?

Paul: We all grew up together and this is actually the third time we’ve tried this. The difference as of right now, is that it’s just us three this time and in just a short period of time, we feel we’ve accomplished more than past projects. That’s not a statement or testament of the quality of our other bandmates in the past, because we have worked with brilliant and talented musicians. Sometimes, it’s just simply a chemistry or timing in life thing.

Andrew: It’s always been easy with us three. We’re on an even playing field where we feel that no one is better than the other. 

Geno: Because we have a lot of history and a good foundation of writing together. In past projects we’ve always felt like the three of us were the core and it has always been easy to make decisions regarding music or moving forward with publicity. We work really well together and always have.

Me: It’s great that you guys work so well together. That will make a big difference. I know how hard it must be to pick a unique yet catchy band name. In my interview with Ben VanBuskirk of Blackout Orchestra, he openly admitted that they picked their name from a site that generates names. What’s the story behind choosing your band name and the meaning behind it?

Geno: With Screaming Riots, I thought it came out pretty organically, because it was part of a lyric that Paul wrote in our first single called Reach for the Sky, and I thought it would be a pretty cool band name.

Paul: I remember us discussing the idea of trying to come up with something that related to the pandemic. I believe we had a few other candidates like “The Essentials” or “Social Distance”. We wanted something relatable to the times we were living in and “Screaming Riots” was different but still completely relevant. The world lost itself during this pandemic and we would love to perhaps propose the idea of allowing music to center yourself.

Me: I’m certain the world wants to scream “Make the pandemic go away!” about now. We are fed up and exhausted. I basically started doing interviews at the start of the pandemic, so there is a common theme of struggle for musicians throughout many of them. Describe one guiding life philosophy that is helping you through these crazy times.

Paul: Oh wow, we’re going deep are we? Uhm…the only thing we can say is that there is nothing out there that gives you permission to give up on life. Music helps us breathe, wake up and push. Music is not our only reason, but we do feel strongly about what we do. We hope we can help you move past a moment that disagrees with you. If music doesn’t work for you, find the thing that does… if you can’t please seek help from your friends and loved ones… they ARE there!

Me: Yup, me digging deep as usual lol. It’s always interesting to have a feel for what others are thinking. I love the lyrics of Sunrise: “Can’t stop the sun from the rise and the fall, couldn’t change anyway/one rise away from us facing the truth and we can’t break fee” – such a great way to express how certain things are beyond our control. What is the process behind your writing and where do you get your inspiration from?

Paul: Writing is hard sometimes, however, the process is almost always the same. The Chorus or “The Hook” essentially determines the remainder of the parts. Words are not necessarily present all at the time. I almost always start off with gibberish at first to catch all the syllables of the melody in my head. I’ve even sent it at times, just like that, to the other gentlemen for review. Imagine their excitement lol. Then sometimes a song title is sent jokingly or purposely and it sparks a line of words. From there, the song evolves into what it becomes. When it comes to inspiration, it really comes from everything around us. Movies, life experiences, conversation or emotions. It could be based on how my mental state was throughout that week. With Sunrise, I’m glad that you caught that lyric perfectly. Sometimes I like to write lyrics that are blatantly obvious while others are complex and may have an underlying meaning. There are no rules to having a right or wrong way… that’s the beauty of being an artist.

Me: Great insight into your writing process. Keep up the good work. You guys are so interactive on Instagram. I had the pleasure of chatting with you and getting to know you. Insta-instant friends? LOL. We live in a new world and with so much expectation from people to get an instant response or feedback through DMs and messages, how do you manage to keep up with socials?

Geno: It’s honestly hard to keep up with on some days because we still have 9-5 jobs, but we feel like we’re doing a great job considering. We understand the importance of maintaining “friendships” online. With the sheer amount of material that is being released nowadays, everyone’s attention span is down to seconds so the “like” or quick response to show people that you appreciate the mention or the reaction to a new release is ever more important. It’s difficult to regularly upload new material to post since we live far from each other, but when we do, we try to document the day when we do and we post important music related news that may have felt important to us that day. It’s probably the most tedious part of being in a band whose main source of advertising is through social media. However, we feel like we underestimated its importance with past projects.

Me: Well, you guys are doing great with your time and distance constraints. And socials are definitely good for free promo, reaching a bigger audience. I’ve discovered tons of new music through socials – including you guys! The three of you are by far the most ambitious I’ve seen with respect to releasing new music. You mentioned that your goal was to release one new song every month. Tell us more about your plans.

Andrew: We actually discussed this for a long time before we started releasing music.

Paul: Yeah, I remember that lol.

Andrew: In the end, monthly releases were realistic. There are times we smash through two songs in a month. Other times we hit a dry spell and get artistically stumped, but the material we have can support that timeframe. We also wanted a timeframe that would push us to actively write. 

Paul: We also have a short attention span lol. Any song that takes longer than a month to complete is possibly not worth completing. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to work into a potential future song so all ideas are saved. 

Geno: In terms of future plans, we hope to release a full album on vinyl towards the end of the year. We don’t feel like a physical CD release is a requirement at this point. There is an increasing itch to scratch with playing a few shows. 

Andrew: Our main goal though, is to try and get some radio play. We feel that’s a big deal if that gets accomplished. We need to take this opportunity to seriously thank Sam Cook and our friends from Hamilton’s INDI 101.5fm for helping us realize some of that goal. Mohawk College is doing some great things within the radio broadcasting community. You can catch the station online as well by visiting INDI1015.ca. Currently they are playing Sunrise, Reach for the Sky and Toss and Turn in regular rotation on their station.

Me: That’s fantastic that you are getting some airtime. I’m rooting for you guys and a show! Nothing beats live music. Ok, now my favourite get-to-know-you question – who are your top 3 favourite musicians?

Paul: Ian Thornley, Jared Letto, John Mayer and Dave Matthews (oops you asked for 3…. sorry lol).

Geno: John Sykes, Adam Jones and Slash.

Andrew: Eddie Van Halen, John Mayer, Dave Grohl and… Paul Do Carmo lol.

Me: Sorry, I know it’s hard to limit your selection to three. And Andrew, you’re so supportive of your own band member! It’s not music related, but hiking is something else that I’m really passionate about. I was thinking about people always telling me that it’s unsafe to hike alone or commenting that they could never go out alone. I always say, that if I got a stone every time someone said this to me, I’d have a beach full of them. Of course, I take some precautions, but I don’t think that these types of comments are conducive to living life to the fullest. Often they are excuses from people not to do things. On this note, let’s have some fun…fill in the blank: If I had a dollar for every time someone said “____” to me, I’d be rich.

Paul: Lol, “You should be a singer.”

Geno: “You guys should be on the radio.”

Andrew: “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Chris O’Donnell?”

Paul: “Who?!… OH WAIT, YOU ARE TOTALLY ROBIN FROM BATMAN!!! I will never unsee that now lol.

Me: Chris O’Donnell? And Batman? Totally…lol. Thanks so much for your time and enthusiasm. The world needs more people like you. Guys, look out for me in the crowd – I’ll definitely be rocking at a show real soon. Everyone, you know the drill: Show your support by clicking like and leaving positive comments on their posts and giving them a follow on socials. And don’t forget to buy/stream/share their music, buy tickets to shows, etc.

Guys, before we wrap things up – is there anything else you want to share?

Paul: We’re not the only band trying to make something happen. There are a ton of bands working hard and that deserve to be heard and there are many that we support. We want to send our kudos to Sun Satellite (disbanded but available on Spotify), TRUCE (From Moncton, New Brunswick, available on Spotify), Haley Stark (from Brampton, Ontario) and Maybe May (From Toronto, Ontario… big tunes!!!). We would like to also extend our thank you’s to Greg Dawson of “BWC Studios” for the recording of the Forces albums and Dean Hadjichristou of “All Buttons In” for our current mixes and masters. Dean, you are a MACHINE!!!

—End—

Here a some videos to enjoy:

Interview with Canadian Musician Daniel Victor of Neverending White Lights

canadian music, Interviews
Photo credit: Amy Pelow

By Monica Ng

Thank you, Spotify! 

Spotify is great at shuffling mystery songs into my playlist whenever I’m listening to music. The same thing happened when I got hooked on Canadian musician Kane Miller’s music. I was listening passively at work when The Grace by Neverending White Lights (“NWL”) caught my attention. I had to immediately maximize my Spotify page to find out what song it was. And after hours of listening to NWL’s music and sharing it on my socials… here we are! 

Contact  

IG: @neverendingwhitelights 
Facebook: @neverendingwhitelights 

Music  

The Grace – single (2015)
Falling Apart – single (2011) 
Always – single (2007) 
Act I: Goodbye Friends of the Heavenly Bodies – album (2005) 
Act II: The Blood and the Life Eternal – album (2007) 
Act III: Love Will Ruin – album (2011) 

Photo credit: Amy Pelow

About  

From Windsor, Ontario, Daniel Victor is the genius behind Neverending White Lights. Daniel is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer who continues to push boundaries with his music, while helping to breakdown the stigma associated with mental health issues – especially for musicians who are struggling with them. 

Interview 

Me: Daniel! I absolutely love your music and what you are about. You’re a true gem. Honestly, I get so excited when a song touches my soul. Whenever I’m hit with such a song, I immediately look up the artist on socials and Spotify and buy my favourite songs on iTunes. Because I have such high standards for my music, I secretly hope that the musician has more than one song that I like. You did not disappoint me. I’ve added so many of your songs to my collection and have been listening to your music every day since I discovered you. What inspires your music? 

Daniel: Thanks Monica! That means a lot.  

What inspires my music? My journey in discovering life’s meaning and purpose, and the emotions behind what it means to be human and feeling things at your core. While I am often inspired by bands, albums, films, books, and other art, I am led to create music from a deep internal guidance. I guess you could say it’s about soul searching.  

Neverending White Lights is a journal of my personal inquires around life itself, what existence is and isn’t, and peering into other realms of the spirit. I was always fascinated with the truth behind existence. In my youth it felt lonely to look up at the night sky and wonder how things could be so vast, yet so few of us are paying any mind to it. It seemed like people were distracted from uncovering their true nature.  

I’ve always experienced this constant longing. For what, I’m not sure. But it drives me to write music. Maybe for a home somewhere, or for some place in the universe. To find something deeper behind why we do anything. I’ve tried to cope with these feelings the best way I could over the years and recording music helps to ease the agitation.  

I am also inspired by melancholy and emotion itself. Beautiful tragedy, sad endings, loss, heartbreak, and grief. I like tapping into the essence of yearning, sadness, and hope. I love when things make your spine tingle, or when the goosebumps happen. I try to use that as a measure when I write.  

Me: You’re so articulate. I often wonder the same thing – how there’s so much out there, but it seems like no one is noticing it. For example, I can go on and on about the colours of the sky at sunrise and sunset, the beauty of how light touches the earth, etc., but people usually just stare at me blankly and change the topic lol. There’s a sense of harmony and peace when you can connect with nature as well as the vibrations and energy all around. 

Your single and album covers remind me of dark and sultry vampire movies. Also, the way you named your albums as Act I, II, and III, is like a playwright – something theatrical with a dramatic flair.  In my opinion, your song Theme from Love Will Ruin is the perfect example of an intense theatrical piece. I was reading your comments that your albums can be read like a story. Can you briefly describe the concept that you had in mind when creating your albums and what you are trying to achieve with your music? 

Daniel: NWL is based a series of concept albums. Every album is focused on a theme and story. Act I was about losing faith in life and our cosmic connection to beings and angels. Act II played around with musings about eternal life and love on the other side of the veil. Act III was more down to Earth both in sound and lyrics. It was conceived as a tragic love album focusing around heartbreak, loss, divorce, and how pain is often inevitable with love. The idea that we have to trade potentially devastating heartbreak to understand and receive love makes us venerable, which is why the album cover has a woman’s neck exposed – a fragile offering.  

My goal with each album is to create a mood. The atmosphere and instrumentation help translate the lyrical content, in a similar way the cinematography of a movie creates its vibe. How can I make a snare sound sadder, or a choir dreamier? Guest singers bring unique characteristics to the music much in the way actors do for a script.  

Each album will unravel as sequence of acts, eventually amassing to one giant work with overarching themes between them. Act I, II, and III have begun the initial trilogy. The journey will continue with Acts IV and V. 

Me: So true, like the saying goes “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I’m looking forward to the next Acts. What does pandemic life look like for you with respect to the music scene and how is the music scene generally? 

Daniel: My city has been on lockdown for two years now, and still is as of this interview.  

I have personally spent much of that time focusing on my own self-healing. I’ve taken a few online classes as well, including mixology, Earth ascension (consciousness expansion), and learning the Tarot. I wrote a series of books and created two blogs. I also directed two music videos for an up-and-coming artist named MELØ – my first venture into that realm. I’ve also been working weekly with a spiritual coach, Georgia Jean, who is an extra-dimensional channel. The insights I have received through our work together has been life changing. 

As for the music scene as a whole, this time on lockdown has given people a chance to regroup and recalibrate. Artists and bands have lost their ability to tour and perform consistently and several venues have closed. The live-streaming platform has helped though. It’s thrilling to watch your favourite band perform from the comfort of your living room, and selling virtual seats means a larger audience for the performer. I caught some cozy shows from Matthew Good, Sara Slean, and Rufus Wainwright. The interaction with the artists is a fantastic way to connect. I got to chat with Rufus and asked him if he felt he had accomplished everything he set out to at his age. He loved the question and replied that he had indeed, but that he still wants to write musical theatre. That man is a genius. It seems the lockdown has given artists new energy and inspiration to get out there and create.  

Recently, the pandemic in general has shifted my attention towards the mental health side of things. The fear of dying and spreading illness is a huge weight for people to carry. The separation of sides on the issues has created rifts between families and friends. I see a lot of people arguing instead of finding solutions to work together. I’ve lost several close friends just over differences of opinions on the virus, the vaccine, the masks, etc. It seemed to create this great divide for humanity.  

In such a panic, we can lose our centeredness, intuition, and discernment for what’s best for ourselves and those around us. People have become afraid to interact with or be around others. I have seen many people make fun of and tear down those who have chosen to follow their inner guidance. Some are angry with the government. Some are angry at those who won’t follow the mandates. And some are just angry with the confusion. Regardless of what “side” you are on, the question becomes…what long-term effect will all this have on our mental health? 

It is not healthy to obsess over fear…every day…all day…for years. While we can recognize that stress, disease, war, conflict, illness, viruses, and death all do exist, it doesn’t help any of us to worry about them 24/7. Stress chemicals in our bodies deplete the immune system and slow down our cellular function. We need to be more careful with what we feed our minds and bodies. Has the CNN or the news ever made you feel at peace? A constant barrage of fear isn’t healthy for anyone.  

It is important that we stay positive and use our inner guidance to do what’s right for each of us. This means there is no one solution or truth for everything. And this means we have to accept everyone’s truth as just as valid as our own.  

We all want the same things – health, happiness, and well-being for all. This won’t come until we let go of separation mentality and work together instead of righteously blaming and attacking one another. Yes, the pandemic was hard, and yes there was loss, and hardship, and many uncomfortable experiences. We need to use more love and less fear. We are all here as divine souls and we are much more than just the bodies. Compassion on all fronts.   

Me: Sigh, I agree with you on all points. I’m fortunate that I haven’t been affected that much by the pandemic, but I know how much life has changed for others.  

I told you that you have fantastic taste in music. When I first heard The Grace, I mentioned to you that I could hear influences of Matthew Good (one of my favourite musicians) – which could be a reason that I was instantly hooked on your music. You said that you are a big fan of his music. When I reached out to you for an interview, I sent you a link to my interview with Moist as a sample. You said you are also a huge fan of Moist and even opened for them once.  Wish I was there for that show. It must have been wicked! What goes through your mind when you are performing on stage and from what age did you know that were meant to perform? 

Daniel:  Yes, Canadian Rock is incredible. Matthew Good is one of my favourite artists of all time. His lyrics are stunning and his songs kind of stab you in a way. They’re very potent. His catalogue is a treasure. I opened for Moist a long time ago. I still listen to their albums. Gasoline and Breathe are my favourite tracks.  

I love performing. Being on stage is a much different experience than being in the studio. I love producing songs and watching them come to life, but there is another side of me that lives for the stage. It’s more raw and real. I always wanted to be a performer. I used to sing acoustic cover songs to small drunken audiences, but it wasn’t until after I released my first album that I got the true taste of how special it was to perform original songs to people who were actually listening.  

The energy in an audience can become electric. It is a mass expulsion of frequency and connectedness. Everyone in the room feels the vibe no matter how big or small the show is. I love that. Most of the time I’m way too inside my head when I am on stage to fully enjoy the experience. I do love the bond between a band and the audience, it’s like extended family. Performing live allows me to dive into the core feelings in the songs, like reliving a powerful memory or experience. All old songs become new again in the moment and I get taken to the initial emotional spark.  

Me: I listen to Moist all the time. I can feel a chill when you talk about the energy while performing live. How amazing! If I can properly articulate, your songs are rich and beautifully layered with elements of darkness and sensuality. My favourites are The Grace, I Hope Your Heart Runs Empty, Dove Coloured Sky, Theme from the Blood and the Life Eternal, The Warning, Distance, From What I Once Was and Falling Apart, Last of the Great Lovers, A Littlepiece…but actually, I love ALL of your songs. You mentioned that The Grace was a “big part of your life”. What was the inspiration for that song and what is its significance to you?  

Daniel: Thank you so much. I love the idea of darkness and sensuality. The Grace was a big part of my life, and it launched my career. It connected with a lot of people, and I realized that I wasn’t alone in my own little world anymore. And that melancholy had a new place on the radio, which was a big deal for me then for some reason. I had this issue to prove when I was 26 about mainstream radio and video playing cookie-cutter and commercial songs that lacked depth. Everything seemed so schlocky and corporate. I thought, where did all the music with meaning go?  

I eventually learned that ALL music has its place that it doesn’t have to just be about emotional longing or dramatic ballads. I learned to like Nickelback. Well, almost. But the point is it’s all about not resisting what’s out there and just letting things be. What’s meant to find its path, will. There’s room for everyone.  

I wrote The Grace in a quick burst. I was on a phone call with a friend, and I had this inkling that something was coming on, an inspiration. I hung up the phone, picked up my guitar and it came out. When these songs appear, it’s never about trying to force something, but instead more allowing the idea to come through without getting in the way.  

The lyrics were inspired by feeling displaced and having suicidal thoughts, but not in the desperation of pain, more in the uncomfortableness of having to live a life without understanding why. It was about it being all right to not be all right with it. And maybe not even belonging here. And that it was perfectly acceptable to think these things. The chorus is a long-distance call for home, wholeness, and completeness, in whatever realm that is. It’s a conversation between a man and his angels looking for his peace on either side of the veil.  

I knew Dallas Green would be the perfect fit for that song because his voice has passion, and his style is brilliant. We had already recorded together, and I called him back to “try one more idea”. And that was it. I’m grateful it was able to reach so many people. In the end, it’s not really my song. It’s a collaboration with the angels and the higher realms. Like, where does anything we create really come from? I believe we are channels. I’m just trying to get it down on paper.     

Me: I feel the same about commercial radio play. I don’t necessarily do it on purpose, but most of the music I listen to is Canadian. I’m so proud to be Canadian with such musical talent and totally support them. I dream of having my own trendy vegan café where I only play Canadian music. We need to hear more indie Canadian music on Canadian airwaves.  

I sent you a DM about how your music has touched my soul. I’ve always been a spiritual person, but I was in the midst of what I felt like a massive spiritual awakening when I came across your music. Your music has supported the array of emotions that I’ve been experiencing, including happiness, joy, feeling alive, longing, emptiness and sadness. I told you that I felt like I was floating because I was so happy, and you said that you could feel my energy (through my social media posts).  

When I think of “neverending white lights”, images of fantasy, afterlife and eternity conjure up in my mind. How did you decide on the name? 

Daniel:  The name Neverending White Lights is a metaphor for the soul.  

We are all made of light. When we die that light moves on into new form, while we leave our bodies behind. The name came about as I was writing Act I. I had a vision of these dark endless tunnels or pathways with bright white lights on each side that kept going through a heavenly plane. Almost like a portal or vortex. The words “Neverending White Lights” started to appear.  

I believe the name was placed there by my higher self for me to remember who I am, beyond the skin and bones and programming. That I have a history off-planet, cosmically. That I came here from the stars to remember. And to help others remember their own light. To be a light. To help people uncover their own light and discover that we are all infinite.  

Me: I love it, Daniel. I like the notion of light. I believe that we all have a flame inside ourselves – be it weak or strong. Sometimes we just need a spark to set it off and there is no turning back after the fire has started. There is so much to discover about ourselves and the Earth we live on. Concepts of lost souls, soulmates/twin flames, reincarnation, afterlife are everywhere.  

On your Spotify write-up, you mention the collaboration work that you do with other musicians. From what I gather, you play all the instruments and have another musician sing. It’s funny because I got two comments from friends that they didn’t like the voice (I like it) in I Hope Your Heart Runs Empty.  How do you decide which artist should sing a particular song and what made you decide to personally sing Always? Also, tell us more about the creative endeavour of collaborations and why you like it?  

Daniel: Scott Anderson’s (Finger Eleven) voice in I Hope Your Heart Runs Empty is transcendently stark and gripping. Of course, not everyone will like everything. I’ve had plenty of comments over the years of voices that “work” or don’t. But I have to use my own intuition to decide what’s best for a song.  

Finding the right voice for a track is like casting for a movie – every performer will give it a different feeling. I do sing a few on my own when I feel more connected to the song. Always was the first single from Act II and it felt like it needed to be my voice. It’s just a feeling of what the song is asking for. It’s not about vocal ability with anyone I work with, myself included, it’s just what the song wants to be. The lyrics to Always were very personal to me and it was a story I wanted to tell through my own voice.  

Collaborating with other artists is stimulating, especially working with my favourites. I am a huge fan of all of them and it was a dream come true to write and produce songs with bands I grew up listening to. It gave me the ability to see inside my record collection and break the fourth wall. And it also provided a massive challenge to make this seed of an idea happen in real life – from my notebook to the world. It was a personal feat I was driven to achieve.  

Part of the concept was to take singers out of their comfort zone and place them in something foreign. It made the artists vulnerable and pushed me to help make them feel confident in stretching their wings.  

I really wanted Scott from Finger Eleven to tap into his more sensitive side away from the aggressiveness of his group. Writing music that would give artists room to feel around for new ways of performing was part of the beauty. When 311’s Nick Hexum decided to work on Age of Consent, it opened him up to his softer, more buttery vocal style. I encouraged him to tap into the contemplative melancholy he rarely used in the rock-reggae of his band. He told me it inspired him to record another 80’s cover called Lovesong by The Cure which became a huge radio hit for them shortly after.  

Funny thing, as Lovesong was featured in the movie 50 First Dates. Adam Sandler originally wanted Hexum singing Age of Consent, but the music supervisor thought it was too mellow. Lovesong was the replacement.  

Me: Lovesong is one of my favourite songs. It super old, but I just listened to it recently when I suddenly found myself signing it in my head. It’s amazing that you can hand pick artists for each song and find energy in collaboration. I’m not musically talented, so I am thoroughly impressed that you can play many instruments. What instruments DO you play and when did you pick up your first one? 

Daniel: I play guitar, drums, piano, bass, percussion, and vocals. I started out on drums when I was 7. My father had a vintage Ludwig set I would bang on for hours. I still love drums the best – they’re hands down the most fun to record. I was the drummer in several bands for many years before starting NWL.  

I studied classical piano for a few years, but it never stuck, so I learned on my own. I couldn’t handle all the strict rules and scales, it took the enjoyment out of getting lost in the music. I studied with nuns at the local conservatory, and it was the most un-fun thing I can remember musically as a kid. They would be grading every subtle technique and punish any mistakes. It made me dread playing. Thankfully, I was able to do it my own way, which is more by ear. I can’t read much but I can feel my way through.  

My father taught me how to play guitar when I was 13. I had the fuzzed-out noise of the Grunge/Alternative rock scene of the early 90s to jam along to. Smashing Pumpkins was a considerable influence on my guitar playing and tone. Billy Corgan’s clean sound on Siamese Dream was so gorgeous. I would listen to the song Soma on repeat for hours. That album is definitely still on my top five of all time.  

Me: That’s awesome that you can play so many instruments. I feel you about piano lessons. I was forced to learn piano as a kid. I hated every second of it probably because I had to play classical music. I am proud to say that I learned one song that I love – Dust in the Wind by Kansas. I can still play it today. In your interview with Margaret Konopacki of Birdsong: David Martin New Music Foundation, you said “I think many people forget how rare it is to be here, and that it won’t last forever…once we are gone, we are gone.” Your thoughts resonate with me a lot and it’s something that I think about every day. With this in mind, what focus does this philosophy give you in life? 

Daniel: I believe when we’re gone from this life, the specifics of that life experience have come and gone. What we’ve learned we carry with us in our soul’s records, imprinted in the universe.  

We’re only this version of ourselves once, even though we’ve incarnated hundreds of times. Everything we learn in every moment changes and shapes us. We only have this one life to be the person we are under these exact circumstances. In the next life, that will change, though it will still be us on a soul level, just a new avatar. All that was learned is gained for the soul’s journey and the greatest good of all. Every incarnation we get to have a new experience. In one life we’re rich, then in another we get to learn what it’s like to be poor. In one we are a dictator, in another a slave.  

My views on these topics are always in flux as I’m always learning, so none of this might be true for me tomorrow. But it is currently the stage of my awareness.  

Being on Earth at this time is challenging because we are born into the experience of separation from our Source, and from each other. The veil of amnesia we pass through at birth leaves us with little memory of our past lives, let alone our multidimensional star ancestry. We have to stumble in the dark to find our way and come up with meanings that are convincing enough for us to keep going. That can be religion, science, drugs, alcohol, sex, love, family, work, music, money, or even just survival. Most of us don’t sit in caves and mediate for answers all day and we have plenty of distractions out there. Why were we born into a place and time where we know nothing about our origin or truth? Why do we keep doing the same things every day without taking the time to find the answers?  

I believe we all have a purpose for coming into this world. It’s a path of remembering who we are. Humans are more than just a physical vessel, made to wake up, go to work, retire, and die. The universe is not random and chaotic, and there are clues in our reality about how synchronistic and connected the world is. I believe we all have special powers that were kept from us – that we are all magical and psychic.  

We are not victims to life, but co-creators generating our reality. Yes, life is hard, but what we focus on with intent, what we believe in, we get to experience. Everything is malleable. It’s not easy to change our thinking patterns and habits, but it is possible to awaken to our truth and break out of limiting beliefs. This is the great awakening happening right this minute on Earth. We are seeing humans start to shift towards the importance of being authentic and doing what makes them happy. We are seeing people breaking free from fear, oppression, rules, and order, and tapping more into their hearts. The best way to harness our cosmic divinity on Earth right now is to explore our creativity. When we create things, we are expressing alignment with our soul.  

Me: That’s incredibly deep…and you mirror my own less articulate words! My sense of awakening is so intense at times. To really be able to see and feel, is so incredible and a gift. 

In the same article, you openly admitted your battle with mental health issues including depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. In my opinion, musicians are geniuses and may have their brains wired a certain way which allows for that type of creativity. For myself personally, when I’m experiencing feelings of depression or extreme happiness, my written work is more inspired and creative.  

It’s so inspirational that you are trying to help other musicians (and others) struggling with mental health issues to understand that what they are going through is normal and not shameful. In my interview with musicians, Ben VanBuskirk of Blackout Orchestra, Andrew Ford of Inner Pieces and AARYS, they talk openly about their personal struggles with mental health issues and advocate for the importance of understanding and dealing with the impact of mental health as a collective society. It’s very inspirational when musicians channel their inner battles through music that heals their souls and well as those of others. 

I read that you were struggling the most with your mental health issues during the recording of Act III: Love Will Ruin. Can you elaborate on this as well as your thoughts about the stigma of mental illnesses/conditions and how are you managing your own struggles day-to-day? 

Daniel:  Yes, it has been said many times that artistic ability is usually linked with mental illness, but we all struggle with it. We all are suffering in some way. It’s just part of the wiring of the brain.  

Feeling depressed and unhappy can sometimes seem like normal life, but it’s not supposed to be. We often have a subconscious feeling of detachment and abandonment. It’s like a background noise. We label it “depression” or “anxiety” because we need to medically define it, but it’s all just misalignment with our higher self, waiting to be corrected. You’d be anxious too if you were dropped off on Earth with no map. Plot twist – the map as it turns out is inside us and the key to the treasures are within our hearts.  

It’s important we openly discuss our mental health and be willing to share our true feelings and experiences. Most unwellness and disease is linked to emotional trauma, which is linked to what we think about, speak of, and focus on. This is often attached to unwanted experiences we’ve had as children. But there is a way through. To live happy and healthy lives we must start opening ourselves up to a new paradigm of healing.  

Once we come to recognize our symptoms (anxiety, nervousness, restlessness, chronic fatigue, etc.) taking prescription drugs and living with it, will only mask the true inner cause. We need to learn how manage our thoughts and face the shadow parts of us that we might be neglecting. We need to love and accept every aspect of who we are.  

When we are in worry or fear about anything, we create anxiety. We worry about the future, but the future doesn’t exist, as is just a sea of potential outcomes based on decisions and actions we take in the present. The NOW moment is all there is. This is where our focus needs to be. Not the past or future, as that is where anxiety creeps in.  

I’ve been working hard for years to get better with my symptoms. I’m doing well now, though it has been difficult. I am grateful I have found new methods and I am eager to share them with those who are looking for new ways to feel better. I believe we all suffer in different ways. If I can be of assistance to anyone for inspiration, guidance or music, that is what I am on Earth to do.  

Me: Well put. I like the plot twist…the key to the treasure is within us. Breaking the stigma and opening the dialogue is so important as a first step. So many people are suffering on their own, thinking that they are alone – when they aren’t. It’s just that no one else is talking.  

I’m really looking forward to new music from you. What are your current/future plans with your music? 

Daniel: It’s been over a decade since I have last released new music. I’ve taken a slight detour. I just fell off the track, I guess. I think my soul was trying to guide me away from my career so I could fix what needed to be fixed inside.  

But I’ve written nearly 100 songs that are in varying stages of completion. Most of them will never see the light of day, but there are a few gems that I am very excited to share. There is a dreamy sentiment to the new music, kind of like a lost memory. The themes so far have to do with the awakening on Earth and our moving out of darkness, though I don’t have a title yet.  

I am hoping something surfaces this year, maybe a new song. I know I will finish Act IV at some point. I’ve recently started sitting with the material again. Listening. Thinking. Feeling for that knowingness to sink in. I’m waiting for the spark of inspiration to tell me its time. Until then…  

Me: Daniel, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and your time. I appreciate your insight into the spiritual world. There is so much in this interview for us to think about and digest about us being more than vessels moving through this lifetime. I’m so thankful to Spotify for giving me the gift of your music and to you for creating your transcending masterpieces. Before we wrap up this interview, is there anything else that you would like to share? 

Everyone, check out NWL and don’t forget to follow Daniel’s page. Now. And remember to show your support by buying/streaming music, attending his shows, buying merch, etc.  

Daniel: My pleasure. Thank you for thinking of me and taking the time to reach out. Much love. xx 

—End— 

Here are some videos to enjoy:

Interview with Canadian musician Basqi

canadian music, Interviews
Photo credit: Basqi

Finding Basqi

Forever the curious person I am, I clicked on Basqi’s profile when I saw it on my Instagram story. I saw that he’s a Toronto musician and we follow a bunch of mutual people.  I love that Basqi has music clips on his page. I point this out because it’s feedback that I give to musicians who don’t have any video clips or music samples on their page – I encourage them to add some. In the few seconds that you have someone’s attention, it could be a chance at getting a new fan.  Anyways, Basqi has another huge fan (me) because of this.

Contact

Instagram: @basqiofficial

Facebook: @basqiofficial

Music

Lost Souls – single (2021)
Myself – single (2021)
Pick Up the Pieces – single (2021)
Tell Me – single (2021)
Not Sorry – single (2020)
Control – single with Tommy O (2020)
Lies – single with Purple Mind (2020)

About

Basqi is a Toronto-based singer, songwriter, producer, photographer and videographer who enjoys collaboration work with other musicians and chillin’ outdoors with his dog.

Photo credit: Basqi

Interview

Me: On one of your posts, you wrote that Myself was inspired by how you felt during this COVID-19 pandemic.  Although my life wasn’t affected too much, I can totally relate to this song. I like the lyrics “lately feels like I’m just going through the motions to feel right. I’m just trying to find a moment to feel like myself.”  I spend a lot of time not feeling like myself and being inside my head wondering where my life is going. Pandemic-wise, lots of people have been deeply affected by the isolation and changes brought about by it, so it’s amazing how you took a life experience and spun it into a beautiful song. What are other sources of inspiration for your music?

Basqi: Thanks, I’m glad the song really resonated with you! Honestly, most of my music comes from my struggles with my mental health issues like depression and anxiety. I also tend to write a lot about personal relationships – romantic and non-romantic. I’ve been trying to find inspiration in other places, but right now during the current state of the world, it’s been hard.

Me: No kidding about the state of our world. When I reached out to you for an interview, I sent you a link to Stuck on Planet Earth’s interview as a sample. You said that you knew Al (singer/bass player) and that he is your cousin…our six degrees of separation!  I came so close to meeting you at Stuck’s concert in Brampton back in November 2021, because you told me that you were their videographer for the evening. You are truly multi-talented.  When I suggested that you share a stage with Stuck, you mentioned that you have never performed live before.  What are your upcoming plans musically?

Basqi: I do plan to perform live as soon as I possibly can. But right now, it’s proved to be hard due to lockdowns. In the meantime, I’m just working on new music and trying to build a bigger catalogue of songs. I also stream music production and performance on Twitch occasionally, but I’ve been terrible at promoting that fact lol and I should do it more often.

Me: I’m happy to hear that you plan to perform live. There’s nothing like experiencing a live show. I’ll definitely be there! How old were you when you discovered your talent for music and what’s the first instrument you picked up? Also, other than guitar, do you play any other instruments?

Basqi: My first instrument was actually the guitar. When I was in Grade 3, we had a guitar club and I was somehow able to convince my parents to buy me an acoustic guitar and let me join. Even though all the small acoustic guitars back then were still way too big for my tiny body, I still tried to play. I then moved on to drums when I was around 13. The way I remember it, my dad and I would often go to Long & McQuade because I loved to look at and play all the instruments. And he’s a great dad. So, we were there one day and I decided to play on the drum-kit and one of the salespeople walked up to my dad and said something along the lines of “he’s pretty good” (which I think they probably say to every parent there with their kid) and next thing I knew we were taking home a kit that day lol. I also played alto sax from Grades 6-12, and I say played because I haven’t touched it since graduating. Besides those, I dabble a bit with the piano for production purposes. To answer the part about when I discovered my “talent” – I don’t really know. I still don’t consider myself to be talented really. I do consider myself to be a hard worker though, and I’ve come a long way from where I started.

Me: So modest about your obvious talent and sweet that you speak highly of your dad. It’s rare that people openly say nice things about their parents! All of your tunes are catchy and relatable. I love your song Not Sorry about a toxic relationship. Lyrics go “toxic behaviour, and I ignored the warnings to deal with later, and now they’re back to haunt me… why are so toxic…I’m feeling like a target…pushing my buttons like you can control me…play games with my mind…” It sure sounds like you had a relationship gone bad. What advice do you have for others to be able walk away from those types of relationships?

Basqi: Thanks, I appreciate that! My advice would be to just know your worth, know that you are good enough and that another person can’t define you or make you feel any less than you are. Seek advice and listen to the people around you who truly love and care for you – like close friends and family. Seeing things from another perspective (especially from a perspective of somebody that deeply cares for you) can change everything.

Me: I completely agree about knowing and realizing your self-worth. I wrote a story on Instagram before with the line “No one is worth pretending for” and it’s true that you should be authentic and kind to yourself first. I see from your posts that you skateboard and spend time outdoors with your dog. As Myself was inspired by how you felt during the pandemic, what else have you been doing to destress?

Basqi: Honestly, it’s been hard recently, but I pretty much do the same things. I’ve just been making music, hanging out with friends and hitting up open mics (when that was possible, not long ago).

Me: That sounds pretty chill. Based on your posts, you’ve done some collaboration work with Purple Mind on Lies, and Control with Tommy O.  BTW – I added Lies to my music collection – great song. How would you compare the collaboration process versus producing music individually?

Basqi: I enjoy the collaborative process a lot. Tommy is a long-time friend who I’ve been collaborating with as a producer and audio engineer since before I started releasing my own music. And Purple Mind I actually met through a discord server that’s for producers and musicians. They’re actually based in Germany, so collaborating with them was an interesting process. It was all done remotely via discord and sending of recordings via email, and that was a first for me. To compare it to my solo process, I actually find that I’m more motivated when working with others and really enjoy the different energies that different minds provide to the writing and production process.

Me: I can imagine that collaboration work would be interesting with musicians coming from different backgrounds with their own ideas. It seems that you manage your own socials like many other musicians. Seeing the way I discovered your handle – do you have any advice for musicians with respect to building a social media presence?

Basqi: Honestly, lately I’ve been slacking off. I don’t think I’ve been active on any socials in over a month. But if I had advice to give it would be, post often and be your authentic self. Nothing creates a more genuine connection with your audience than just being the real you.

Me: Agreed. Your authenticity definitely shines through on your page. I can’t avoid this “get-to-know-you-better” question because I find that knowing what type of music someone listens to says a lot about them. Who are your top 3 musical influences or favourite musicians? And don’t feel obligated to say Stuck on Planet Earth lol!

Basqi: I always find this kind of question to be so difficult because my musical taste ranges so much. But right now, I guess I’d say Blink-182, Blackbear, and The Wonder Years. It’s a bit of a random list and probably not my all-time top 3, but these are some artists I’ve been listening to for a very long time and connect with, as well as draw inspiration from.

Me: Nice. And so many musicians I’ve never heard of. I’ll have to take a listen. I’m looking forward to new music and your first show.  Thanks again for your time! Everyone, check out Basqi’s music. Show him some love by giving him a follow on socials, stream/buy his music and attend a live show when the city is alive again.

Basqi, is there anything else you would like to share?

Basqi: Nothing I can think of, besides check out my music and follow me on social media lol.

—End—

Check out these wicked tunes!

Interview with Canadian Musician Ro Joaquim

canadian music, Interviews
photo of Ro Joaquim
Photo Credit: Patrick K. Leung (Instagram @patrickkleung)

By Monica Ng

How did I live before?

I can’t believe that I ever lived without Ro’s music. I may have seen his name before because he has done a few collabs with AARYS (one of my favourite female musicians), but only took the time to explore his music when AARYS mentioned him in one of her IG stories. With music you know right away if you feel it or not. With Ro’s…I’m definitely feeling it. It’s what happens when music runs through your blood and makes your body move on its own. Ro’s songs Can We and Code of Conduct got me hooked. I’m lucky because at the time I discovered his music, he had just announced a live performance. I didn’t think I could make the show because I had Stuck on Planet Earth‘s (playing with One in the Chamber) concert just days after, but I knew that I would kick myself if I missed it. I summed it up to “VERY important music interview research” and bought my ticket. Cheers to living with no regrets!

Upcoming EP: Edible Flowers

Contact


Instagram: @rrojoaquim
Facebook: @rRojoaquim
www.rojoaquim.com

About

Originally from London, England, Ro is a Toronto-based singer, songwriter, composer and spoken word poet. He takes centre stage warming the crowd with his catchy hip-hop and R & B tunes, vibrant lyrics, positive energy and buff bod.

photo of Ro Joaquim
Photo Credit: Patrick K. Leung (Instagram @patrickkleung)

Music


Can We – single (2021)
Code of Conduct – single (2020)
Love, Pt 2 – single (2020)
Inner Peace – single (2020)
Water Fights EP (2019) – The Real, Let Em Go, Movin’ On, You Time, Look Away
Fallin’ – single (2019)
Touch Down – single (2019)

Interview


Me: Ro, Ro, Ro! Your vibe is vibin’!!!

I have already shared your music on so many of my reels and stories on social media. From the feedback I’ve received so far, you have at least three new fans. A friend said that he added you to his playlist right away and appreciates the freshness of your music. I love your freestyle videos about the pandemic – they are hilarious! You can find these videos on Ro’s IG page. And congrats on being the voice of Jeep in the ad you posted on your socials. What are your thoughts on the Toronto music scene as the city is slowly reopening during the pandemic?

Ro: Toronto had such momentum before the pandemic and we have some serious catching up to do. Just like the mosaic of the city, the artists here create from a beautiful blend of cultures and experiences.

Me: I’ll definitely do my part to support musicians. BTW – thank you so much for treating me to a drink at your concert. It was totally unexpected and sweet!

I know that you and AARYS are involved with other musicians at Division 88 – a Toronto-based recording studio bringing musicians together for collaborative work. Can you tell us about your involvement and briefly describe the creative things that happen there?

Ro: It was part serendipity and part the brilliant workings of Division 88 owner and founder Billy Wild. Billy found me at a songwriting camp where I was writing for another local Toronto singer. A song was being created at the time, Billy asked me to take a stab at it and the rest was history. At Division, amazing artists from all styles come together and create music with no particular goal and what comes out is usually amazing.

Me: Sounds like a creativity is brewing there for sure! I love the thriftiness of your lyrics – yet each word is right on target. That’s true poetry. It reminds me of my haiku writing (5/7/5 syllables) – you can only use a total of 17 syllables to conjure up a visual and deep symbolic meaning of the human experience. When did you start writing and what influences your musical style?

Ro: I started writing in elementary/middle school. I actually have a speech impediment so I’m sure it assisted in me diving into the creative arts – as it forced me to be intentional and narrowly focused on what I was creating and the emotion I wanted it to convey. My influences are Nat King Cole, Tupac Shakur, DMX and late 90’s and early 2000s RNB.

Me: It was great to hear some music from your upcoming EP at your concert. Come Forward is such a catchy, fun song – can’t wait to add it to my playlist. What inspired the album and why did you choose Edible Flowers as the name for it?

Ro: I am a writer first, that being said, I wanted to put together a body of work that showcases that. Individually each song was inspired by a different woman in my life. Similar to my poetry I take an introspective look at a situation that I experience or someone I know is experiencing and the art creates itself. Each song is about the women in my life and my partner has grown my intrigue for plants, so somewhere in the cross section came Edible Flowers.

Me: Sorry Ro, but I can’t resist…lots of music = lots of ladies! Just bugging you of course. I love how your songs are relatable. In your concert promo poster, you indicated that there would be “special guests”. I wrote in a post following the show that the most special guest wasn’t ON the stage, but OFF the stage – your mother. She told me that she surprised you by showing up. Too funny when you promised her from the stage that you’d only say Motherf***er two more times. Also, you’re so polite – you asked the crowd if it was ok to take off your shirt because you were hot. Of course, someone feisty was telling you to take off your pants too, LOL. You have such a positive vibe and great message about the importance of open communication. If you had to live by a single philosophy, what would it be?

Ro: You hit the nail with this one. Single philosophy would be: Get to know yourself inside and out and learn to express yourself in a way you intend to be received.

Me: That’s a good one to follow and by extension – learn to love yourself. I didn’t get a chance to speak to your mother more, but I asked her if you were musical since you were a child. She hesitated and said that she didn’t really think so. I read on your interview with Canadian Beats that you did some writing for other musicians and a music producer encouraged you to sing your own songs. When did you discover your gift for music and do you play any instruments?

Ro: I wrote hooks and songs from about middle school but I never really had a medium that I was comfortable enough to express it. As I started writing for artists, there was a pivotal moment when one of the artists got an opportunity to be on The Launch. While there he performed a song I wrote, and the music executives gave such high praises about the songwriting. That was the moment I went from just being confident in my abilities to knowing I had developed the skill to really do this on a bigger stage. I’ve been teaching myself the piano and guitar.

Me:  That’s so amazing! I told you that I while I was driving with Can We on repeat, I thought of this specific interview question. The lyrics of the song go: “I get so lost in you/I’m upset when I only get a part of you/It’s killing me I wonder if it’s hard for you/poker face like it don’t even bother you…” then “Can we be friends/can we make love/can we surrender…?” You so beautifully described the inspiration for and the meaning of this song at your concert.  Can you share your thoughts again?  And I ask you – do you think it’s possible to have it all?  BTW – I love the shirts that you sold at the show. They each have a different message on the back – “can we be friends”, “can we surrender”, etc. I bought the one that says, “can we be open”. Everyone, if you are interested, you can purchase a shirt through Ro’s online store.

Ro: I got inspired to write that song after reading the book Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel. Perel is a psychotherapist who focuses on couples counselling. In the book she draws from her experience counselling couples and finds that in most cases, the couples who have been together for a long time often lose their erotic side either through the mundane patterns of the relationship or because children have changed the dynamic of the relationship. The conversation was brought up that can we have both? Can we have the security/friendship that comes from a long term relationship without sacrificing the erotic element that is so prevalent in the beginning. Mixed in with inspiration from my own relationship, we get the song Can We. I think it is possible to have it all, but it forces us to learn about ourselves and be able to communicate in an effective way. Miscommunication often comes from uncommunicated expectations. The “Can we be open” shirt is my favourite one. Thank you for that.

Me: It was great to have the chance to meet you in person. There’s so much to love about you. The world would be a better place if everyone was so warm and genuine like you. On stage and from your posts, I see that you put in your time at the gym. Other than working out, what else do you do to reduce stress?

Ro: Helping people. I believe I am here to serve, so whatever opportunity I get to serve others – that is what reduces stress and gives me a greater appreciation for the world I live in.

Me: That’s so lovely Ro. The world needs more people like you. I have to ask because I ask all my interviewees: who are your top 3 favourite musicians? I know it’s hard, but if it helps…who are you listening to currently?

Ro: Nat King Cole, Tupac, and right now Russ.

Me: What are you plans now that things are opening up and is there anything else that you’d like to share? It’s a bit ironic, because as I’m finishing up this interview, Toronto pandemic restrictions are being implemented AGAIN! Will this pandemic ever end?

Everyone – as usual, don’t forget to show your support to musicians by following them, like/commenting
on their posts, sharing their music with others, buy/stream music, buy merch, attend concerts, etc. And
remember that love is free, so show Ro some love!

Ro: I am working on some cool collabs with some established artists and I am excited for these projects to come to life. I will be releasing more singles from the project and looking to release in March.

—End—

Check out Ro’s music!

Interview with Canadian Band: One in the Chamber

Interviews, Music
Photo Credit: Keelan Nightingale

By Monica Ng

I’ve seen One in the Chamber’s name mentioned here and there on social media, but most recently through Sara Sunshine (IG: @sara_sunshine_meredith) and Canadian band Stuck on Planet Earth’s (IG: @stuckonplanetearth) posts/stories. I figured that I should take some time to listen to their music – afterall, Toronto has some wicked musicians.

Upcoming concerts:

October 30, 2021 – Halloween Rock N Eve (Fundraising concert in support of frontline workers at Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation)

November 16, 2021 – The Rose Brampton (with Stuck on Planet Earth)

Contact

IG: @oitcband

FB: @oitcband

www.oitcband.com

Music

Blow (single) – 2020

To the Gallows (single) – 2020

I’ve Got Something to Say (EP) – 2018 – Crooked Step, Bills to Pay, The Ballad of Captain Jack, Something to Say and Itchin’ Back

The Boston Session: Bootleg Demos – 2017

Photo credit: Keelan Nightingale

About

This self-described dirty rock ‘n roll Toronto-based band is made up of Mike Biase (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Cecil Eugene (lead guitar/backing vocals), Christian Dotto (bass) and Gerrod Harris (drums). One in the Chamber (“OITC”) is on a roll with over 20,000 Spotify streams, more than 10,000 followers on social media, and their album “I’ve Got Something to Say” being named as “Canadian EP of the Year” following its release by Canadian Beats and their readers.

Interview

Me: I’m delighted to have this opportunity to get to know the four of you. You guys are LOUD and banging – I love it! I admit that I haven’t been listening much to heavier rock lately, but I think I’m ready for some head banging. What I like about rock ‘n roll is that you can just let go of everything and ride the music. The pandemic has affected so many industries, but now that things are opening up again here in Toronto – let’s hear it…How was Voodo Rockfest?

Gerrod: Thanks for having us! Voodoo Rockfest was unreal. It was amazing to be back on stage and to see so many of our friends in other bands for the first time in almost two years.

Christian: Nice to meet you, Monica! Thanks for having us!

Me: Pleasure’s mine! And thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedules for this interview. You guys are really great with social media. When I first followed you, I got a DM asking what made me follow you with links to your socials. I find that music is a whole new experience when you have an opportunity to interact with musicians through commenting and DMs.  That being said, I can imagine that managing your socials is a full-time job in itself.  With over 10K followers, how do you manage and where do you draw the line between band life and your personal lives?

Gerrod: We try to keep it as professional and in tone with the band as much as possible. We have so much going on that we never feel that we need to post about our personal lives. It’s nice having the separation.

Christian: It really is a pleasure to connect with these people. We’ve met some of the most amazing fans and some truly cool musicians this way.

Me: I posted on my social media that I fell in love with your softer song Just for Tonight. It may sound weird, but it IS possible to fall in love with a song. I’ve only experienced this feeling twice in my life – the first time was Lewis Capaldi’s song Someone You Loved. If I try to describe it, I would say that your song has this way of wrapping itself around me and carrying me in such an intangible emotional way.  It’s been on repeat for a while now. So, thank you for this beautiful song. What inspires your music and your latest singles Blow and To the Gallows?

Mike: I generally write lyrics first. I always keep a notebook or paper around and I have pages and pages of lyrics written about whatever comes to mind. Sometimes I would end up writing music to them. For lyrics my inspiration has generally come from what is going on in my life (songs like Just for Tonight or Bills to Pay). Since being in OITC though, I’ve found that I like hearing the music first, and writing lyrics that come from the song. That was the case with songs like Blow and To the Gallows. The music has its own emotion and the words come out of it. I still write a lot in my books, but I find I’m also writing guitar licks and lines more often now, such as Itchin’ Back, and then putting lyrics in once we’ve written the music.

Christian: Wow! Thank you for the compliment! Just for Tonight (Stay) is a song that we recorded in Boston with former Bang Tango guitarist, Scott LaFlamme. The bassline that I wrote was inspired by an idea that Scott had given me at the time and was far more interesting than what I was playing during rehearsals. Blow and To the Gallows were written in a more organic way than Just for Tonight (Stay) was. Mike immediately expressed how the riff was too heavy, so he started messing around with it on his guitar and eventually created the main riff that you hear in the song. The original riff was still salvaged though, as that is what Cecil plays in the first verse of the song!

Me: It’s nice to hear the story behind my favourite song. Congratulations – I read that you guys recently made it to the semi-finals in 97.7 HTZ FM’s annual Rocksearch competition. How did you get involved in the competition and what’s the story behind how you guys formed as a band?

Gerrod: It really meant a lot to us to be recognized by 97.7 in 2020’s Rocksearch. It is a Canadian institution that has promoted some of the coolest bands to come out of our country for the last two decades and it was amazing to have been a part of that.

Cecil: The band formed in 2015. At the time, the band I was playing with was in the midst of breaking up, so I decided to get a bunch of guys together to start a rock/hard rock band. I knew Mike from the pub I worked at, which was at York University. We had played a few gigs together before, so when I saw him waiting in line on pub night, I asked him if he wanted to start a band, and so we were the first two members of OITC. I hosted jazz nights at the pub and one night Gerrod subbed in as a drummer for a group that I booked regularly. The guitarist in the group worked at the pub as well and gave me Gerrod’s number, saying he was looking for a rock band, so I gave him a call. We met up at one of the university’s music rooms and the three of us jammed the early stages of Bills to Pay. One night, I was talking to my brother, telling him we were still searching for a bass player. He told me to message Chris because he was also looking for a band and played bass. After a few months, we decided to name the band One in the Chamber and played our first gig at The Valley Bar and Grill in Mississauga.

Me: I love those stories…how destiny brought you together! I’m sure you get asked this all the time – how did you choose your band’s name? I stumbled upon another rock band with the same name while checking out your music.  How can fans avoid confusion on this front?

Gerrod: I’m sorry to the hear that! To my understanding, we are the only active band with the name, but follow us on our socials and website to see everything from us firsthand.

Christian: It actually took us about a month to finally decide on a band name. We had close to ten ideas that we’d narrowed down to a top three, and finally agreed that One in the Chamber was the name for us.

Gerrod: One in the Chamber is about making your one shot count.

Me: Cheers to first shots! I enjoy hearing how musicians first get into music. When did you guys pick up your first instrument and what other instruments do you play?

Mike: My dad used to listen to Q107 every morning taking us to school, so I started listening to rock music at a young age. My mum played guitar as well so I was surrounded by music all the time. I played trumpet in band in elementary school and picked up guitar when I was 12.

Gerrod: I grew up with music playing in my house all the time, but I started playing the drums in the seventh grade. Since then, I’ve learnt a little guitar but drums have always been my passion.

Christian: I also grew up around music. My parents would always have rock and metal music playing in the house and on car rides. When I was about 13 years old, I got my first electric guitar and picked up the drums and bass guitar in high school.

Me: Wow, your houses were rocking! Sounds like music is in your blood. As you may know, I interview musicians (mostly Canadian because I’m a huge supporter of my fellow Canadians) out of pure passion. What I love is that I have a chance to ask my questions and learn about them and what drives them. If you had to describe yourself in 2- 3 words, what would they be?

Gerrod: Dirty, rock and roll.

Mike: Hairy, hard hitting.

Me: That’s so funny and most awesome! I would have never expected those descriptions. I’ve received feedback from previous interviews that it’s really hard to pick 3 favourite musicians, but to get a feel for where you’re coming from – who are yours?

Mike: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen.

Gerrod: If we’re talking drummers, I’d say John Bonham, Chad Smith and Danny Carrey.

Christian: That is a tough one. I’m going to narrow it down, like Gerrod, and stick to bass players – Cliff Burton, Geezer Butler and Geddy Lee.

Me: I like getting answers to this question because I get to discover more musicians. You guys are so personable and down-to-earth. I would imagine that those traits are assets in the music industry. Any advice for anyone starting their music careers?

Gerrod: Be kind, actively pay attention to the business side and never stop learning.

Christian: Also be genuine. People can see right through you if you’re being pretentious or trying too hard. If you’re doing what you love, just have fun with it!

Mike: Leave your heart and soul on stage every time you play.

Me: Love it guys. It’s been great chatting and I look forward to seeing you guys in concert.

Everyone – don’t forget to follow these rocking dudes on socials and check out their music. 

Guys, is there anything you wish to share before we wrap things up?

Christian: Thanks again for having us, Monica. See you around!

Gerrod: Thank you for your time! Hope to see you at a show soon!

—End—

Here are some videos to enjoy!

Interview with Canadian musician Jake Feeney

Interviews, Music
Photo credit: Julia Colangelo

Vegan. Toronto. Musician. Three words that caught my interest and prompted this interview. I “met” Jake on the Toronto Vegan Facebook group. He posted asking if anyone knew of any vegan restaurants where he could play live. Of course, I had to check out his music right away! I have to be honest, folk-alternative music is not really my style, but Jake’s songs are beautiful and heartfelt. His latest single, Evaporate is really nice.

Contact 

IG: @jakefeeney

FB: @jakefeeneymusic 

www.jakefeeney.com 

His Music 

Evaporate (Single) – 2021

Sunrise (Single) – 2021 

Pipe Dreams (Album) – 2020: Pipe Dreams, We Used to Float, Memoria, Jane, I’ll Get Halfway, Mooring, Ageless Storm and The Hall. 

Calling Cards (Single) – 2020 

No Headlights (Single) – 2019 

About 

From Toronto, Jake is a singer, songwriter, guitar player and music producer. He produces his music in his bedroom studio and enjoys performing in front of live audiences. Jake had an early start in music – with his first recording at age 8 in his father’s home studio. At age 18, he won a finalist award in RBC’s Emerging Artists program. 

Photo credit: Julia Colangelo

Interview 

Me: Jake, thanks for taking the time to participate in this interview. You paint a very nostalgic picture recording your own music in your father’s studio. I read online that your father is a country music producer, so it seems like music is in your blood. Can you share one of your favourite memories in the studio as a child? 

Jake: Thank YOU for doing this, it’s my pleasure to answer your thoughtful questions. Music has definitely been at the forefront of my life since I was born. My dad Joel did a lot of his work in his home studio, so I would have to say my favourite memory would be sitting on the carpet in the room next to the studio, playing with Lego and mini sticks. My dad has mentioned that the sound of me rummaging through the Lego box showed up in some of his recordings. Not sure if these takes made the cut, but those were lovely times. 

Me: I can totally picture you sitting there. I would imagine that the sound of shifting Lego blocks would be edited out lol. You’re one of my younger interviewees. Congratulations on winning a finalist award at the RBC’s Emerging Artists program. I’m happy that programs like these exist because they give musicians an opportunity to showcase their talent. How did you get involved with the program and what are your plans (including new music) going forward? 

Jake: Thank you! I’m happy that they exist too, and I honestly didn’t know about this one until they contacted me. The principal at my high school (Etobicoke School of the Arts), Rob Mackinnon, had submitted my music to RBC and that’s how I got involved. I am so grateful he did, because I think that experience gave me a lot of confidence and excitement about a career in music. My plans are to simply keep creating music that is authentic to me. I am also becoming more involved in other projects like writing for others and session work. The goal has always been to inspire others like my heroes do for me – so however I can do that, I will.

Me: Sounds like you have a great plan mapped out. I like the distinctive sound of your fingerstyle guitar. I read on your website that you’re a self-learned guitar player. When did you pick up your first guitar and do you play any other instruments? 

Jake: I picked up guitar around 13 after playing piano as a kid. I dabble with bass guitar and love to still play piano when I’m around one, but guitar is my main squeeze – I can’t get enough. I would play as many hours as I possibly could when I was younger and had fewer responsibilities. Being late or half asleep in high school because I stayed up too late playing guitar, was a very real thing. Discovering John Mayer and his playing was a huge inspiration to me.

Me: What, sleeping in class? Unheard of lol. Well, you certainly had a good reason for it. My favourite song of yours is “Calling Cards”.  It’s hard to explain, but somehow it takes me back to a less complicated time in my life. What is the source of your musical inspiration for your songwriting and style? 

Jake: That’s really nice, I love the different effects songs have on people. Songwriting came first, likely because I wanted to be like my dad. When I discovered guitar, I felt like I found my instrument and the right way to deliver my songs. I like to write songs about my life, but ones that can be interpreted individually. That’s why I don’t like to label a song as specifically about this or that. I think that’s why I love slightly more impressionistic songwriters, like Bon Iver and Gregory Alan Isakov. I’ve always gravitated toward mellow, melodic and emotion-heavy songs. That kind of expression is what comes naturally to me, so I try to embrace it as much as I can. 

Me: That’s one of the things I love about music – people can interpret the same song totally differently. For me, certain songs are emotionally loaded and take me back to a specific moment in time. As someone with stage fright, I really admire your confidence to perform in front of crowds. Do you get stage fright? And what kind of challenges have you come across promoting yourself and your music? 

Jake: I do get stagefright. Maybe a little less each time, but I’ve never not felt it on the day of a performance. I like the nerves though, because I think it means I care, and want to do a good job up there. After the first song, a lot of it dissipates. 

Promoting yourself as an indie musician is definitely challenging, and there are a lot of amazing musicians fighting the same fight. Sometimes I feel like the biggest challenge is trying to find your own angle. A lot of the time it feels like the music isn’t enough, and that you need a compelling story to really cut through the noise. While I do agree that this helps, I think it still comes down to writing a good song that will speak for itself. So more often, the biggest challenge is writing that song. 

Me: I can appreciate how hard it is for musicians to find their spot on a highly competitive metaphorical “world stage”. I agree that staying true to yourself and your style is important. In your case it definitely comes through. It’s obvious from your posts that you are smitten by your girlfriend Julia (who happens to be on the singles cover of “Sunrise”). In one of your posts, you wrote “my crush on her grows embarrassingly bigger and bigger every day.” Awww…young love is so sweet.  Did you write any songs specifically for her? And does she ever sing along with you? 

Jake: Absolutely I’ve written songs for Julia. It’s hard not to. She does sing along with me! She is a very talented singer and I’ve heard some beautiful songs that she’s written. We sing covers together a lot, and it always leaves me smiling.

Me: Amazing to have a partner in crime! If you had to pick one of your songs – which one holds the most meaning for you and why? 

Jake: I think it changes – but right now, my newest song Evaporate definitely holds the most meaning to me. I think it’s because it came from an honest and vulnerable place, and it’s about feelings I deal with constantly. It’s a reminder to me that it’s okay to let go of a thought. This is something I need frequent reminding of.

Me: It’s amazing that from vulnerability comes beautiful music. Letting go of things is something that I write about often. Music shapes and influences us in so many ways. Here’s my usual “get to know you” question: who are your top 3 favourite musicians? 

Jake: This is very tough… but I’ll try to narrow it to 3, in no particular order:

1. John Mayer
2. The Tallest Man on Earth
3. Frank Ocean 

Me: Frank Ocean and Thom Yorke are probably the most popular fav musicians named by the other musicians I have interviewed so far. Pandemic life has changed people’s lives in so many ways. What are your plans now that things are finally opening up? 

Jake: I am slowly getting back to performing here in Toronto, which feels great. My rule has always been to say yes to every gig (if it’s feasible) so I will continue to do that, and hopefully the ball will keep rolling. I’m also recording and working on releasing more new songs.   

Me: Amazing! I know this is a music interview, but it stemmed from your vegan group post, and I get really excited when I meet a fellow vegan. I’m glad that there is a huge global movement right now towards ending animal cruelty and saving the planet. This November marks my 3rd veganversary. You mentioned that you’ve been vegan about 2 years.  What’s the story behind why you became vegan? 

Jake: I’m glad there is too. It feels like I came into it during a big surge, which is very exciting. Julia had a lot to do with me switching to a plant-based diet – but not through persuasion, just education. I was inspired by her and I learned so many things that changed my perspective. The switch was a bit gradual at first, but as I learned more, I became more passionate about the movement. Now it seems being vegan is a no-brainer for me, personally.

Me:  Cheers to a more compassionate world! Jake, it was great getting to know you. Thanks again for your time.  Hopefully, I’ll catch you performing when I’m out enjoying vegan food. Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Everyone – check out Jake’s music and support local Canadian music!  

Jake: Thank you so much for doing this interview! I’d love to see you out at a show. The support you give to upcoming artists is so valuable and admirable, and it goes a long way. I hope your readers can find something that speaks to them in my music. 

—End— 

Here are some of Jake’s audio videos

Interview with Ben VanBuskirk of Canadian Band: Blackout Orchestra

canadian music, Interviews
Photo credit: Portraits By Shak (Instagram: @portraitsbyshak)

By Monica Ng

This is the second music interview that I give credit to @sara_sunshine_meredith (IG) for the band intro – the first one being Toronto’s Hideout Legacy. Sara’s a music lover and always discovering new music like myself. I get so excited every time I come across music that “clicks” for me. It’s like receiving the rarest, most precious gift because music is so enjoyable and can tap into emotions that you never knew existed (or have buried). Music can also heal your soul and take you on a spiritual journey. It’s like drummer Adrian Morris of Neon Dreams – I was blown away when I heard him play drums for the first time in concert. I never knew that drums could make those sounds. And same with Stuck on Planet Earth’s Adam Bianchi’s guitar playing…the music coming from his guitar awakens parts of me that I never knew existed.   

I say it all the time and I’ll say it again now – I’m so proud of Toronto’s local and Canadian musicians! 

New single “It’s Fine” releases August 1, 2021!

Contact 

IG: @blackoutorchestra 

Facebook: Blackout Orchestra 

linktr.ee/BlackoutOrchestra 

Blackout Orchestra’s music 

I Will Want You When We are Ghosts (Album) – March 2021: Siren Song, Fine Lines, Bijou, Nowhere Near the Looking Glass, Apartment Window, Stargazing, A Thousand Times, Wanderlust, Dreamers Often Lie and Nothing but Blue Skies. 

About 

Ben VanBuskirk is the singer, songwriter, guitar player and producer behind Toronto’s Blackout Orchestra (“Blackout”). With self-described “Lo-fi art-alt-post-pop-rock for long walks, dark nights of the soul, and underwear dancing in your bedroom” music, tied up beautifully into a solid 10-track album, Blackout masterfully gives the listener a glimpse into the darkness and light that exists within us. As the world slowly emerges from the ashes of the COVID pandemic, Blackout has recently had its first live performance and continues to make its mark on the world stage. 

Photo credit: Portraits By Shak (Instagram: @portraitsbyshak)

Interview

Me: From what I gathered about you online and through your posts, you were battling with alcoholism and serious mental health issues including depression and anxiety, and basically hit rock bottom after your relationship ended.  Often dark emotions inspire creativity. I find the same thing for my creative writing – I write my best stuff when my emotions are going haywire. Can you tell us the story of how you got to where you are today? 

Ben:  I suffer from depression and general anxiety disorder – it’s always just kind of been in the background, but I found a lot of ways to avoid dealing with it directly – drinking, romanticizing it – but eventually I was drinking to be social and to calm my thoughts, or writing about this overwhelming sense of dread. “The tortured artist” idea and all that – all kind of fell away. I was drinking to excess every day, I was broke because I was spending all my money on alcohol and junk food because I was too hungover and exhausted to even do groceries. I had nothing really left in me to fight for. When my last relationship ended – and she was dealing with a lot of the same issues, but they manifested very differently – I looked around and I really had nothing left in my life that I felt good about or proud of.

I was really lucky because a couple of friends saw where I was at and staged a sort-of intervention. They helped me clean my apartment, put together a budget, suggested some ideas to exercise as I was in really poor shape,  forced me to really think about what my ideal life would look like – and they put down some ground rules to help me drink less – “only on weekends” was the plan. But that first weekend came around and I had started to have a little bit of a sense of control over my life back, so I thought “why not push it, not drink this weekend either, and maybe go back to it the weekend after, once I’ve cemented some of these better habits” . But I never did have another drink. I was surprised at how much better I felt just with some of these steps.

I still suffer from anxiety and depression, and some days are harder than others, but being sober and really back in tune with my emotions and with a sense of hope and purpose, I don’t get to the point of feeling hopeless anymore. When I have a bad day it’s more like “oh, this again. Well, push through it – you know it comes and goes.”

Me: Thanks for sharing your story. Luckily you have good friends who weren’t afraid to confront you. Mental health is such an important issue that if left unchecked can destroy people. Whenever I think of mental health, I think of Frank Kadillac of Neon Dreams [read my interview to find out why] and musician AARYS. In my interview with AARYS she talks about her personal struggle with anxiety. She is an advocate for mental health awareness. It’s inspiring how you turned darkness into light through the power of your music. Do you have any advice to help those struggling with mental health issues and alcoholism? 

Ben: I only know what’s helped me. Being sober helps me regulate my emotions and keep perspective, so that’s been important. Exercise really helps me get out a lot of the nervous energy that comes with anxiety – so I can actually fall asleep at night instead of having to be at the brink of collapse to get there. And writing, just sort of unconsciously and letting what comes out happen, has been a really good way to process and think about what I’m feeling and deal with a difficult situation in a way that’s safe – and at the end I often have a song, so something productive has come out of it. Really that’s one of the keys – taking the negative things you’ve gone through and reframing them into something positive. You don’t have to make art to do it either – just consciously taking a hard situation and thinking “Whether or not the trade off was worth it, aside what did I learn from this situation? What has it made me wiser about, more careful about, what can I take from this to improve future situations?” And most importantly reach out – I’d likely be dead if it weren’t for those friends I mentioned earlier.

Me: I can appreciate what you went through, as I’ve had my own dark days. I’m really glad that you’ve found a way to channel your emotions and reach for the light. It’s obvious from your talent that you didn’t just become a musician as you were finding your way. When did you first get into music and other than guitar, what instruments do you play? 

Ben: I was a film score nerd as a kid – Aliens, Star Trek, Jurassic Park – I’d buy the CDs and play them on repeat and try to pick out the melodies on the little Yamaha keyboard my family had. When I was 12 or so, I discovered alt rock through my sister – she had introduced me to Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana and Moist. She ran away briefly as teenagers tend to do, and when she got back, I’d co-opted all her CDs and tapes. I still have most of them! From there it was just a matter of time until I managed to make a deal with my dad to save up half the cost of a cheap guitar and he’d pay for the other half.

It’s funny because I’m not “great” at any instrument. I play enough guitar to play the rhythm parts of most songs. I really enjoy playing bass, which I kind of picked up by default. I pluck around on the piano, mandolin, give me an instrument and I’ll find a way to do something with it, but in a really naive and unpolished way. I don’t think of myself as a musician really. More like a songwriter who just plays instruments sometimes in order to write a song. 

Me: I don’t think that you can convince me that you’re not really a musician! Your music says otherwise. Going back to your “rocky” relationship, I saw on one of your posts that you and Morgan have made your way back to each other and are now engaged. Congratulations!  How do you feel at this stage in your relationship and when is the big day?! 

Ben: It’s wonderful! She’s not the person that the album refers to – Morgan is someone I’ve known for 14 years or so. We’ve been together on and off, but always at the wrong times in our lives. This time we reconnected and it just lined up – I was getting my life together and so was she. We’re non-monogamous, which wasn’t my “default” relationship setting – but it’s turned out to be the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had. I’m very much an introvert who needs time alone, and she’s very extroverted – so we have an incredibly happy “home” life but also the space we need from each other to feel fulfilled in our own lives as well. No date set yet – it’s gonna be a small affair, probably late next summer or early next fall. We’re working it out as we speak!

Me: Very exciting for you both! Morgan is a talented musician as well. I love the arrangement of your stripped-down version of “Siren Song” with you on guitar and Morgan playing the violin. I also love her backup vocals in “A Thousand Times”, they add an unexpected depth to the song.  What is it like for you to collaborate with her musically and what are your plans going forward?  

Ben: What’s great about Morgan is that though there is some overlap, we generally have very different musical tastes. She’s a real “singer” – and also likes a lot of pop music, bluegrass, and folk. I’m more into sad bastard music, and loud rock and also hip hop and electronic music. So I’ll write with my own frame of references and then ask her to add to it – and it’s always something that I never would have thought of on my own. Whatever she adds is ten times better than what I would have thought of on my own, because if I think “this is a very Smashing Pumpkins sort of melody” I’d automatically write harmony in that style. But she doesn’t listen to that at all, so she’ll sing something that makes it more unique.

On the record she’s only on a couple of songs – she wasn’t able to be around at the time I was recording it, save for some of the early demos – so it’s largely a “solo” album. But she’s on most of the new songs we’ve been recording. And live, at least so far, it’s mostly been us as a duo. So it’s been really fun to strip the songs down to the acoustic format and hear what happens with the harmonies. That’s part of why we released the acoustic version of “Siren Song” – I loved the way it sounded when we were doing it live and wanted that version to be out there too. 

Me: Collaborations are nice – everyone shares their unique perspective. On the topic of unique – band names are getting more unique. In my last interview, I tried to decipher Toronto’s Phantom Atlantic’s name. They said it “came about from one of our long winded philosophical conversations that we love having, but beyond that we kind of like to leave it as a blank slate for people.”  What’s the story behind your name? 

Ben: I wish I had a good story for you on this one, but we literally just went online to a band name generator until we came across something we both liked. We could have been “Twilight Algebra” or something! 

What’s funny is – much later we found out there used to be an indie punk band from Australia called “The Blackout Orchestra”. I assume they went to the same band name generator page. 

Me: Well, the “1-2-3” promo would have been good for Twilight Algebra! That’s a story in itself lol. A good one after all…

It sounds like most of your album was produced during the pandemic. I read that some parts of your songs were created with the help of your cell phone. How is that even possible?! Can you describe the creative process behind your new album? 

Ben: The whole genesis of the project was in lockdown. I was writing some songs and had just got a new phone – not a fancy new iPhone or anything, a BlackBerry Key2 – and there were some basic recording apps. I’m a luddite so I didn’t have a computer or even internet at home for a long time. Anyway, it was really fun to play with for some rough demos at first. But as I got to know the ins and outs of it I found ways to work around some of the limitations. So I have a lot of decent gear – microphones, midi controllers, and the like – but it’s all running into my phone instead of a laptop. It probably makes the process ten times harder than it needs to be, but it also means I can record just about anywhere, anytime. And having a lot of limitations kind of forces you to get more creative. 

Me: Yes, limitations…reminds me of the old days. When I was growing up, my sisters and I didn’t have much in terms of toys. Instead we put together performances with our stuffed animals and wrote silly books. Creativity is always there, we just need to be open to it.

It’s rare these days for musicians to release 10 songs on a track – mostly they release EPs and singles. I mentioned in one of my social media posts that generally I don’t buy full albums. Normally, I’ll pick and choose my favourite songs, but I love your songs and have purchased the entire album. Did you have a consolidated theme in mind before you started writing and producing your songs? 

Ben: Thank you so much for picking up the album! I’m definitely an album guy. I like to listen to a record from beginning to end and really experience it, and I definitely write with that in mind. Our album – it’s not a “story” in the narrative sense, you can’t necessarily read the lyrics like a book or anything – but it starts at a relationship ending and takes you through the process of hitting rock bottom and climbing back up to being okay. And musically I was very conscious of the ebb and flow, where the energy picks up and where it gives you space to breath. The songs should work on their own but they’re definitely parts of the larger whole.

Me: I’ll take another listen with that in mind. I’m passively listening to your album as I’m putting together this interview. It helps me to connect better and feel the vibe. I don’t really know you, but instantly liked you more because we share a love for the band Moist and another musician who we are both currently on the fence about. On that note, here is my usual get-to-know-you-better question: who are your top 3 favourite musicians? 

Ben:  That’s the biggest question! Thank you for giving me a limit otherwise I’d just be naming bands I love for pages and pages! I can’t give a “top 3” because it all depends on my mood. But 3 of the many that come to mind at this moment are:

Radiohead. I love how they’ve never repeated themselves – they always just make whatever type of music they’re interested in at that time, and they also make really immersive albums that flow beautifully from beginning to end. 

The Cure. What I love about The Cure is that they can make the most sad, dirge-y music to mope to. Or the most joyful silly pop songs. Or the most visceral, angry songs. Sometimes all on the same record. If you throw “The Figurehead” on after “The Lovecats” – they’re completely different genres, but it always sounds like The Cure somehow. That’s sort of my goal, I think. 

Phoebe Bridgers. Phoebe writes the most heart-wrenching emotional lyrics, but she also has a wickedly funny sense of humour. Some people tag her as “depressing” but I actually find, even at her saddest, her music is really life affirming and makes me smile. Also, seeing her talk in interviews – she just always comes across as 100% authentic. Like, there’s no “persona” there, no rock star BS – she’s just her. It reminds me in a weird way of when I got into Nirvana – Kurt always came across that same way, and also had that sad but funny thing with his lyrics. They don’t sound anything alike but I definitely feel there’s some connection there.

Me: My younger sister was a huge Radiohead fan. Though I like their music I never really got into them. So true about The Cure…Friday I’m in Love…

You mentioned in a recent post that you’re working on new music…do tell us more! 

Ben: Yeah! We have a one-off single coming out called “It’s Fine” – first as an exclusive single through QuickFix Recordings out of the UK as part of their monthly singles club on August 1st. That comes with a bunch of bonus content like remixes and whatnot. It’ll come out on streaming services a little while later, but without the bonus stuff. It’s definitely a guitar pop song, sort of like a Pumpkins or Limblifter kind of feel. That’s coming out on its own because I really like it but it doesn’t fit at all with the next album, mood wise, so this was a good opportunity to have it come out there but not be tied to a larger narrative.

The next record – I’m just finishing up the last couple of songs for it – is, well, weird. This is gonna sound super pretentious but mood wise I’m going for that feeling of being between asleep and awake, when you’re having a really haunting dream, and that feeling is still lingering in your brain but fading and it’s also a brand new day with all these possibilities. And that’s reflected in the subject matter – which is a continuation from where “Ghosts” left off. Like – “Ok, I got through the hard stuff. I’m okay now, and things are good, but it’s not like everything is magically fine now.” So what do your days feel like when you’ve gotten through the worst of it but still have ups and downs? And when you’re between “big” moments in your life, like break ups and deaths and great loves. What do those “in between” days feel like? 

Originally I thought it was going to be very raw and acoustic – and that’s in there, but I was also listening to a lot of Nas and Black Star so some of the songs became very beat oriented. And I was also listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen, so there’s some darkness. And a lot of Bjork, whose orchestral arrangements I love. So it’s become a weird mish-mash of things that I love. It’s going to sound very different than what we’ve released so far. But like I said about The Cure earlier, you’re definitely still going to be able to tell that it’s us.

Me: I’m definitely interested to see how you pull off your next album. You guys are really on a roll. I look forward to new music. It’s been great chatting with you.  You’re so nice and down-to-earth. I hope everyone has a chance to check out your music and discover a little part of themselves while listening. 

Everyone – that’s a hint to listen to Blackout Orchestra’s music! Support musicians however you can – stream, buy tracks/merch/tickets…it doesn’t matter how you do it. We all need music in our lives. 

Ben, is there anything else you wish to share? 

Ben: I just want to thank you for all the support you’ve been giving us, and for your thoughtful questions. You’ve been a joy to speak with!

—End—

Here are some videos of my fav songs

Interview with Canadian band: Phantom Atlantic

canadian music, Interviews
Photo Credit: Kelsi Gayda, 400 LUX Club

By Monica Ng

It’s my lucky day – I get to interview not 1, 2 or 3 – but FOUR handsome and very talented musicians forming one band called Phantom Atlantic. I’m constantly blown away by the high caliber of Canadian music and so proud of all my local Torontonian bands, including this one.

What a find! I must thank my favourite band, Stuck on Planet Earth, for recommending Phantom Atlantic in one of their IG stories.

Contact

IG: @phantomatlantic

FB: Phantom Atlantic

www.phantomatlantic.com

About 

This four-piece band is made up of Kyle Brunet (lead singer/guitar), Ryan Stam (guitar/keys/backing vocals), Jeff Burling (bass) and Ken Grisé (drums/backing vocals). Its members, from different areas of Ontario joined in Toronto with a common desire to create music. This self-defined “cinematic alt rock band” has been part of Toronto’s music scene since 2017 and is now rocking the world with their latest EP, Your View of a Former Me.

Phantom Atlantic
Photo Credit: Kelsi Gayda, 400 LUX Club

Their Music

Your View of a Former Me (EP) -2021:  No Way to Live, Start from Nothing, Chrysalis (Interlude), Man Like You and Heart out of Heaven.

Lessons (single) – 2018

Beneath your Moment (single) – 2018

Interview

Me: How’s it going guys? Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedules for this interview – especially since you guys have day jobs as well. Congratulations on the release of “Your View of a Former Me” EP!  Honestly, I love everything about you guys – your style, music and videos. I can’t get enough of your songs, Start from Nothing, Heart out of Heaven and Beneath your Moment. Kyle, damn…your vocals are…absolutely beautiful. You can sing to me any day. How are you guys feeling after the release of your album and how long did it take you to put it together?

PA: Thank you so much! It’s feeling really good to know that ‘Your View of a Former Me’ is out there in the wild, and even better seeing how well it’s being received by fans, old and new.  In hindsight it probably took us too long to make the thing, just over 9 months, but it was at a point where we all felt a strong desire to step up our songwriting. We actually finished production on it just before the pandemic and at the time we were beginning to plan what the release would look like.  Well, when the masters arrived, the lockdown hit the same week and instead of releasing it we decided to hit the pause button and regroup for a minute…so here we are! 

Me: I can appreciate that choosing a unique, yet descriptive band name would be difficult.  What’s the story behind Phantom Atlantic and can you briefly describe what “cinematic alt rock” is?

PA: Haha, difficult is an understatement.  I think we have an Evernote file somewhere with over 300 names on it, some of them pretty ridiculous.  Phantom Atlantic came about from one of our long winded philosophical conversations that we love having, but beyond that we kind of like to leave it as a blank slate for people.  As for the cinematic angle, we come from a film background so movies are big sources of inspiration for us in a bunch of different ways. In our songwriting specifically, we’re really drawn to blending more traditional alt rock elements with the ambient textures, atmospheres and soundscapes you’d find in a lot of modern film scores. Some people would correctly call that a post-rock influence, but since that term is often associated with instrumental bands and we’re not that, we like to go with “cinematic alt rock.”

Me: Interesting about your name – I like it…a blank slate for one’s imagination. But somehow, I feel compelled to take a stab at it… Atlantic makes sense because in Ontario we are closer to the Atlantic Ocean than the Pacific Ocean. Phantom – maybe it represents the shadow (dark side) hanging over each of us that comes and goes silently throughout our lives. But as much as we may hate our “phantom”, we need to learn to deal with it because it’s really just an extension of ourselves. On another note, I love the dramatic effects that you guys use in your videos – like the floating doors and fire in your video for “Beneath Your Moment”.

I read a write up about you guys on the 94.9 The Rock website. Is it true that there’s a hidden neuroscientist in the group? That caught my interest lol. Apparently, you guys come from diverse backgrounds but came together for the love of music. What is the story behind how you guys hooked up?

PA: You read correctly, our drummer Ken…well Dr. Ken now, recently completed his PhD and we’re super proud of him. The guy works crazy hard all while holding down a beat.  As for how we all met, it’s kind of a chain reaction. Kyle and Ryan are childhood buddies who have been writing together since high school, Kyle and Jeff met in college, and Jeff and Ken have actually played in 2 bands together previous to Phantom Atlantic.  A couple years after school, Kyle and Ryan were finally putting a band together that needed a bass player, so Jeff literally left his old band and dragged Ken along with him shortly after.

Me: Very impressive Dr. Ken! And nice to learn about how you guys connected.

I love the beautiful summary of the underlying theme of your album on your website: “It’s a sharp, precise, and volatile five-track collection that ends in step with its beginnings: understanding and accepting the futility of stasis, and the inevitability of perpetual change. These two truths are earned over the course of Your View of a Former Me, a project and a title that chart a crooked path towards repair and salvation that never quite ends.” 

I can really relate to your songs and your IG motto “Say what you feel, mean what you do.” As I get older, I tend to express exactly what I feel and say what’s on my mind. I admit that sometimes this gets me into trouble!  What is another valuable piece of advice about life or music that you can pass onto others?

Kyle: Try your hardest every day to give an earnest effort toward being 100% true to yourself and those around you. Even when you’re not exactly sure on everything about yourself. Pro tip: you never are.

Ryan: This may sound nihilistic, but all of the systems of belief that are forced upon us to tell us how to act, how to think, and how to structure our lives are constructs that have no inherent basis in the natural world. So fuck what everybody says; find your passion and chase it relentlessly. At least then, if things don’t go your way, you can take comfort in the fact that you were always true to yourself. If you try to change to satisfy someone else, and still don’t succeed, the failure will hit doubly hard.

Jeff:  I love it, the world can use more straight talking troublemakers such as yourself!  Some of my best friends are the kind of people who say exactly what’s on their mind, and whether it’s right or wrong it almost always leads to wonderful conversation and a greater sense of mutual understanding.   But to answer your question, I guess if I had to offer some form of life advice all I would say is that whether you’ve come to realize this yet or not, there is something deep within you, a place that your mind wanders to more often than not, with a sense of longing.  It is only with the recognition of this deep rooted sense of self that a path towards a life filled with meaning and purpose can emerge.  So live free.  Do you.

Ken: I can philosophically ramble on forever in this light. Instead, I’ll just suggest a philosophy anyone can check out and explore for themselves: Absurdism. My unqualified synopsis of absurdism is that you have complete agency to decide for yourself what is important in life, because there is no inherent meaning or purpose (though I find we have a pervasive tendency to grasp at, or be proselytized to adopt, a prescribed purpose). For some it’s a scary idea, for me it is wonderfully liberating and is a perspective I find works wonders for my mental health.

Me: You guys are deep! I love it. My dad’s life-changing stroke almost 8 years ago made me realize that life is too short. Everything you guys mention resonates with me.  I’ve been living life with no regrets and live like every day is my last. We do have control over our lives and like Ryan says, we should not change ourselves to satisfy others – we will only have regrets.

Back to music, I have no musical talent. Sadly, I can’t sing or play instruments, but I can definitely appreciate amazing music like yours. When and how did you get hit with the “music bug” and what inspires you musically?

Kyle: I don’t really feel like there was an actual decision to pursue music. I know I’ve always wanted to create. I just remember incessantly writing and using this 4-track cassette recorder to make my little demos. Many things interest me, but it was fairly obvious around the end of high school that all I’d accomplished was working on writing music. The verdict felt obvious after that revelation. Music it is!

Jeff: I grew up in a small northern Ontario town where the only exposure to new music came from my slightly older, very much cooler cousins from Sudbury.  They played in a metal band appropriately called Temper! and always had to show me what was inspiring them at the time.  For me, they were the original influencers and I owe everything, from my appreciation for music, to pursuing a life of creativity and expression to them.  These days, my tastes span genres but I am still very much a “metal-head” at heart on the lookout for musicians pushing the envelope in composition and production. 

Ken: I had one of those families where music was just a big part of life. We always had a piano, but I think when I was about 5 or so, my parents gave me a toy keyboard piano that I loved just fumbling around on. After that gateway, I ended up taking piano lessons from my aunt for a short while. My grandpa was really into big band music and I remember telling him after piano, sax was on my instrument to-learn list (that hasn’t happened… yet!). My parents actually played in a folk band when I was young and for a while, instead of hiring a babysitter, they would bring me and my younger brother along to hang out at their shows. However, it wasn’t until I was about 13 that I went beyond a dabbler and started on the path to really becoming a musician. Some friends and I – sitting around in our small town coming up with ideas to entertain ourselves – decided we should start a band by picking up instruments that none of us even owned yet. I called dibs on the drums and that was that.

Me: Thanks for sharing your musical journeys. I’m a bit nutty when it comes to finding ways to make the world a better place. The world needs more happy people. I always say that smiles, compliments and love are free to give, so give freely. During this pandemic so much has happened to the world and so many lives have changed. Fill in the blank: We can change the world if we ____________________.

Kyle: We can change the world if we enter some hellish symbiotic human singularity where differences of opinion can no longer be tolerated by the almighty veracious optimization machine. Or just don’t be a dick.

Ryan: We can change the world if we have the humility to accept what we don’t know and the desire to learn.

Jeff:  Ah man, that’s a tough one.  I’d say we can change the world if we just realized that the deadline we’ve all placed on our dreams isn’t actually real. 

Ken: We can change the world if we combine empathy and objectivity to design a society that enables everyone to achieve a healthy minimum quality of life. And realize that it only takes an idea to change things — we all have the power to generate ideas, so we all have the power to change things.

Me: Love it! Man, where were you guys when I needed help writing my university papers? I’ve got to ask my usual interview “get to know you” question. I know it’s hard, but I’m going to force you to narrow it down – who are your top 3 favourite musicians?

Kyle: Ruthless question! There’s a thousand. Here’s 3… Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain, Beethoven.

Ryan: I’m gonna go the band route here. Radiohead and Coldplay are the staples that will never leave my top three. The two Jonny’s (Greenwood from Radiohead and Buckland from Coldplay) are the biggest influences on my guitar style. The third slot constantly rotates but for the last few years, I’ve been really into another British alt rock band called Nothing but Thieves, so I’ll give it to them for now.

Jeff: Definitely Misha Mansoor (a.k.a. Bulb) of Periphery who basically ushered in an entire era of DIY producers/musicians/entrepreneurs.  There’s Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders whose debut album still blows my mind to this day.  And I guess I’ll throw in a childhood favourite, from the band 311, their super creative and always tasteful bass player P-Nut.  Beat that thing!  (for those in the know…)

Ken: I’m going to cop out of this one as hard as I can. But I will say, in retrospect I think I spent too much of my youth only really deeply appreciating a very limited scope of music, so these days, I spend much more time exploring the vastness of music via podcasts like Song Exploder and NPR’s All Songs Considered — who also produce the Tiny Desk Concert series — all wonderful sources of musical diversity and discovery.

Me: I’ll take a listen to your favs. I haven’t heard of most of them. LOL, sorry for limiting you, Kyle.

I posted on social media that you guys instantly became part of my top 3 fav bands. Then I posted again after I realized that I only had 2 fav bands (Moist and Stuck on Planet Earth) – turns out that a spot had been saved for you guys to take. It amazes me how much music exists out there. The music industry, like many others is very competitive. Do you guys have any tips for aspiring musicians?

Kyle: Massive persistence and focus. Go all in. Listen to everyone but don’t listen to anyone. 

Ryan: Passion beats perfection, any day. 

Jeff:  Advice salad here we go:

  1. Don’t let all the virtuosos on Youtube and Instagram discourage you from becoming the best you can be.
  2. Remember that great music can be found everywhere along the range of stupid simple to seemingly impossible. 
  3. The first draft is always shit.  Don’t let it discourage you because…
  4. Every hit song ever was once a first draft.

Ken: Be mindful of the reality of taking a passion and making it a profession. At the core, it is about passion and expression. Yet, the actualization requires understanding that music functions like many other industries (but can actually be even more mystifying). If you acknowledge that, it makes it easier to recognize and overcome certain barriers and help you progress towards your goals. e.g.  Who you know matters. Don’t know anyone? Network. Familiar advice for anyone in any industry.

Me: Great advice guys! Jeff, that’s a yummy salad 🙂 I had a blast putting together this interview. You guys are so awesome. I’ll see you in concert real soon.

Everyone, it costs nothing to give this amazing band a follow on their social media accounts. And don’t forget to support Canadian and local musicians. Buy or stream their music on whatever platform(s) you are on and buy tickets to live concerts when the world is back up and running. Guys, is there anything else you would like to share before we wrap things up?

PA: Honestly this has been fantastic, we covered a lot of ground here! Thanks so much for your support Monica, and we can’t wait to get back out there and do what we do best.  Cheers!

—End—

Check out their videos:

No Way to Live

Start from Nothing

Interview with Canadian musician Eric Nguyen of The Moon & I

canadian music
Eric Nguyen
Photo credit: Alex Tran Photography

By Monica Ng

Canadian talent galore!

Canadian musical talent is NOT hard to find.  I recently came across Instagram’s sponsored “The Moon & I” advertising and decided to take a listen.  I was instantly hooked on Eric’s song “Shuffle” and my interest was further piqued when I read that he’s a singer and songwriter based in Montreal. I just had to reach out to him and find out what’s happening musically in my hometown. 

Contact  

IG: @moonimusic 

Facebook: The Moon & I

www.moonimusic.com 

About 

Eric Nguyen is the talent behind “The Moon & I”.  Born and based in Montreal, Eric was trained in classical piano, plays guitar, and produces his own music. According to his web profile info, he experiments with “analog synths, drum loops, and acoustic piano.” 

His Music

Shuffle – EP (2009) includes “Shuffle, Hopscotch Birdie, Rainy Morning Blues, Birthday Waltz, November and Distant Dreams” 

Day In, Day Out – single (2020) 

Moon I – single (2020) 

Photo credit: Alex Tran Photography

Interview 

Me:  Eric, it’s been great chatting with you on Instagram. I feel that we connected instantly – maybe it’s the Montreal blood or simply that you’re very personable. Thanks for being so open to and enthusiastic about this interview.  

You mentioned that you’re just starting out your music career.  According to your website you “isolated [yourself] in [your] apartment for 3 years while working remotely and producing music.”  How interesting…that’s like voluntary pre-COVID isolation!   

So, you were sitting in your apartment on a cold fall evening with a guitar on your lap, looking out of a small window.  The sky was perfectly clear that night and the full moon was demanding your attention. You sat there pensively, fingers gently touching your guitar strings, staring at the moon while pondering the meaning of life – and that’s how you decided that “The Moon & I “ was the perfect name.  Ok, that’s my story!  Now your turn.  What’s the real story behind your name? And how did you make the decision to commit yourself to isolation for producing your music?  

Eric:  When people hear the name, they often ask me if I’m into astrology. Or if it’s related to Barbara Streisand’s song with the same name. Long story short, I had posted my song “Moon I” on Bandcamp a few years ago to test the platform. Unintentionally, the song went viral when a popular music blog picked it up and was then shared by other bloggers from Hype Machine. It was the first time I ever received recognition for my music outside of friends and family. So the name is a nod to that song and how it helped give me the confidence to push out more music. Lastly, I just think it has a nice ring to it and is evocative of the mood I’m trying to create in my music.

Isolating yourself to focus on art is sometimes necessary to get things done, in my opinion. It’s so easy nowadays to get distracted. I was living in Vancouver, amidst majestic mountains, forests, and water views. But I had all this music in my head that was bouncing around and wouldn’t leave me alone. So I decided to move back to Montreal to get closer to its music scene, and finally record all of these songs. I think if you’re a painter, you paint. If you’re a musician, you make music. Sometimes, you don’t have a choice in the matter.  

Me: I totally agree that you’ve got to go with the flow until you find what you’re meant to do. Growing up, I was forced to learn how to play the piano. When my mom found out that I sucked and wasted all of her money, she made me try the accordion. Of course, that has keys like a piano lol. I only taught myself to play one song on the piano – which is Dust in the Wind, because I love it. Playing piano and the accordion was not my calling, but I’ve always loved the sound of guitar. I decided to buy myself a guitar to self-learn. With no clue what to do with it, I just stared at it for a long time. Sadly, playing music is not something that comes naturally to me. Other than piano and guitar, do you play any other instruments? And when you first learned piano, do you feel that it was forced, or did you have a natural talent?

Eric: Oh nooo! I hope you’ll get back into guitar. It’s an easier instrument to pick-up than the piano. I recommend getting a good intro book and just going through it. You’ll be able to play Wonderwall in no time.

I was forced to play piano when I was a kid too. But when you’re young you don’t really think about the why’s of what you’re doing…you kind of just do it. I think, in that sense, it frees us from a lot of the baggage and expectations. 

Luckily, I did have a knack for piano. When I was 8, I placed first nationally in the Canadian Music Competition for my age group. After that, my parents took things more seriously – for better and for worse. I had to practice daily to prepare for competitions. I got really good, but overall, things also got less enjoyable. But no pain, no gain! I’m grateful to have acquired the skills I have now and am able to do my own thing.

Aside from piano and guitar, I’m just getting more into synths, programming beats, and music production. I wouldn’t say I’m a drummer, but I can play decently enough to record a loop that I can then edit and fine-tune in my production. I’m also just learning to explore my own voice as an instrument. What’s cool is that everyone’s voice is unique. We’re all walking around carrying a musical instrument shaped by the unique physical properties of our throat, head, and chest. 

Me: About my guitar playing – I haven’t mastered Hot Cross Buns yet, but I have written a song for myself. And I do love Oasis’ Wonderwall! That’s amazing that you got into music competitions at an early age and learned to hone your skills. I was just thinking about voices as an instrument too – without it, there’s just melody.

Your music is described as Indie rock, but it’s not the first thing that comes to my mind. Actually, I’m not sure how to categorize your music, but I absolutely love how you rock the piano! Especially in your song “Shuffle” – you add drums and a guitar riff. Pretty wild!  I’m not really a fan of classical music so I really appreciate your modern twist of the piano.  Where does your “vision” for your music come from?  

Eric: Thank you! It’s something I tried to do deliberately: playing the piano in an unexpected way. In my head, I’m using the piano to mimic other instruments and imageries: whether it be the crashing of drum cymbals like in “Shuffle”, or a swirl of falling raindrops like in “Day In, Day Out”. 

Like most artists, I think the majority of my music is a form of self-therapy. There’s usually an emotional core. It might come from my own life experiences, a friend’s life experiences or a story that I heard. That emotional core then gets amplified and expressed as a melody. I’ll then try to find the right words to convey it, and wrap it in sounds and textures that belong to that world.

Me:  I love how you put the last part – your sounds and textures really come through in your songs.

I’m sure there are a lot of other budding musicians out there who are trying to learn as much as they can from others in the industry. With social media, digital music and so many music platforms (ex. Spotify, iTunes, etc.), there must be so much to figure out. Can you describe some of the major hurdles that you’ve encountered along the way or that you are currently experiencing? 

Eric: I think the first major hurdle is just: how do I find people that will enjoy my music? There are a lot of artists out there that put out amazing work, but they’re not actively promoting it or don’t know how to. With live shows on hold, Facebook & Instagram Ads are one of the main ways I’ve been able to find my audience (much like how you found me!).

The current hurdle I’m working on now is time management with respect to music production and promotion. On one hand, you have to be active on social media so people don’t forget about you in our fast-moving world. I used to not use social media. I had a chrome extension that would block my FB Newsfeed, and I wouldn’t have apps like Instagram and TikTok on my phone. But now I have to use them to respond to comments, messages, and connect with fans. Then on the other hand, I need long bouts of uninterrupted time to get in the flow and produce new music. So it’s a balancing act I’m still getting used to.

Me: I figured that what you described is the reality…the demands from all directions. While we were chatting, you mentioned that you were a Moist and David Usher fan as well.  That was music to my ears as I don’t personally know too many Moist and David Usher fans.  When you said that you became a fan of theirs because your older brother played his Moist cassette tapes while you were growing up, I got a really nice visual in my mind.  It’s really nice because I can picture two brothers just hanging out together listening to music. Your story transports me back to my bedroom that I shared with one of my sisters, back in the days. I used to just sit on my bed and play my cassettes while singing along with the lyrics written on the cover insert. I guess the point of this nostalgia is that I’ve loved music since I was a kid and music has been with me my whole life. Having artists like you creating beautiful music for me to enjoy means a lot to me. 

Other than Moist and David Usher, name a few musicians who have influenced your life? 

Eric: You just described my childhood as well! What a nostalgia trip. I think some of my influences would include Radiohead (I love everything about them), The White Stripes (for their powerful minimalist sound), James Blake (for his vocals and production), and Billie Eilish/Finneas (for their bedroom production and songwriting). 

Me: My younger sister was a huge Radiohead fan, but not me so much. I have only recently discovered Finneas’ music and like it. I’m so happy that your music is out there for the world to enjoy. For myself, growing up in Montreal was hard because I was a visible minority and often made fun of.  I always thought that Asians were underrepresented in the music industry in general (Asia aside) and wished that more Asians would become mainstream. I love that you’re representing the Asian community through your music.  I feel so much pride. Do you find it hard to “put yourself out there”? 

Eric: I do! I used to not show my face and would prefer people just listen to the music. It was a deliberate decision to put myself out there to help with Asian representation. I was thinking of my kid nephew and how there aren’t many male Asian artists in the indie music scene or mainstream media. I wanted for him to see himself represented in if he wanted to pursue arts. If I can help move the needle ever so slightly in the right direction by doing something simple like putting my face on things, then I should do it. 

Me: What an inspiring uncle you are! I feel that with your presence, the needle has been shifted already. Other than music, what other things are you into? 

Eric: Not much these days, haha. With COVID lockdowns, I pretty much have no life. I’ve been reading more about mindfulness and meditation. And I also just started reading Harry Potter for the first time. I’m looking forward to watching the movies for the first time too.

When I have more free time, I’ll probably get back into drawing and painting more. I used to study Architecture where we’d sketch almost every day. So I’ll probably explore the visual artistic side of my brain more in the near future.

Me: COVID-related lockdowns have been good for some things. I agree with “brain-flexing”, I’ve recently picked up my sketch pencils again in hopes of letting the creativity flow. There’s also something therapeutic about “pencil on paper”. I’m actually thinking of doing some graphic illustrations inspired by my outdoor adventures. Lockdown has me digging through my old photos and I’m totally itching to drive off (with my music blasting) to a faraway place for a hike. I now have new songs to add to my “long drive” playlist 🙂

I would love to see you perform live. Have you considered an online concert? And after COVID is done, do you have any plans to perform live on stage? 

Eric: Yes! It’s something I’m still figuring out how to do because I mainly play all the parts on the recordings. So I’ll probably have to adapt them for a solo performance in a way to make it interesting and less like a glorified karaoke session. 

Me: Karoake lol. I’m sure you’re great at that! I’ve never picked up a mike for the purpose of singing into it. I read that you’re working toward an album. What are your plans for 2021?  

Eric: Yes! I’m hoping to complete the album this year and will be releasing singles leading up to its release. I’m also trying to connect with more like minded-artists and find my “tribe” of sorts. 

Me: Thank you so much for your song “Shuffle”. It has hit a soft spot and been on repeat since I first heard it. I enjoyed this interview and getting to know you. Everyone – check out Eric’s beautiful piano playing and amazing music!  

Before wrapping up this interview, do you have anything else that you wish to share? 

Eric: Thank you so much for everything, Monica! These thoughtful questions really allowed me to pause and reflect on my artistic journey so far. I really appreciate it! 

I think I’ll close with a shoutout to my friend Maryse Daniel, the artist that worked on all the artwork for my latest singles, and a quote I have displayed in my music studio: “One day, you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”

—End—

Here are a few of my favourite songs