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