Interview with Spain’s Jacqueline Loor

Interviews, Music
Photo credit: Hector Socorro

By Monica Ng

Jacqueline’s Debut Album “Show Them” comes out Friday October 1, 2021!

Pre-save or buy her digital album by clicking here: https://ffm.to/jacquelineloor_showthem

Finding of a gem

I know – this is my third non-Canadian musician interview. What’s going on? Well, my heart was brimming with raw emotion listening to Jacqueline’s music – I just had to share it with you. Social media is a fascinating thing. A bit of backstory how I discovered her – a while back I clicked on The Moon & I’s sponsored Instagram link which led to an interview with Eric Nguyen of The Moon & I, who’s from my hometown Montreal. I’m always looking for new music and curious what others listen to, so I admit that I checked out a few musicians from Eric’s page. And lucky that I did!

Contact

Instagram: @jacquelineloormusic

Facebook: jloormusic

www.jacquelineloor.com

Music  

Alternative pop

Burn it Down – single (2021) – placed in CW’s television show Batwoman

Carry Through – single (2021)

I Broke My Heart – single (2021)

Find Your Way – single (2020) will be on a Christmas Film “Magic in Mount Holly” on November 1st on Pureflix

Just a Memory – single (2020)

If I Could Go Back – single (2020)

Just Let Me Breathe – single (2020)

Don’t You Pretend – Album (2020): Don’t You Pretend, It’s Not on Me, Coming Undone and Coming Undone (Semblance Remix)

Deshacer (Spanish version of Coming Undone) – single (2020)

About

Jacqueline is a singer, songwriter, guitar and piano player from Miami, Florida. According to Jacqueline, she moved to Spain because “That’s where my family is from. My grandfather is from Tenerife, Spain. He moved to Cuba as an adult where my mother was born. My mother had to escape Cuba when she was 4 years old when Fidel Castro took everything away from her family. She went to Tenerife a few years ago on vacation and felt she belonged there. As soon as she said she was moving, I knew I would follow her wherever she would go. The island is really special and it’s where I found the courage to pursue my true passion – songwriting. I didn’t even know I could sing until I happened to bump into a music school here in Tenerife, and decided to take some lessons. I was 36 at the time and even though I’ve always wanted to sing, I thought I couldn’t. As soon as I started to learn what my instrument could do, I worked crazy hard everyday to train my voice, and one door after another started opening up. It was as if the universe was saying, “Yes”! I find peace and inspiration for my music on this island.”

In her spare time, Jacqueline enjoys experimenting with music production. Her enthusiam translates into everything she does, “I am diving more into music production with the help of my incredible female mentor, Kris Bradley. I always thought I couldn’t produce music, but one of the tracks on my album I actually produced, “I Broke My Heart”. It’s just the beginning for my production career!”

Jacqueline Loor
Photo credit: Hector Socorro

Interview

Me: Jacqueline, I’m so happy you agreed to this interview. I’m grateful for this opportunity to chat with you. You’re incredibly multi-talented, open and enthusiastic. I mentioned that your spirit reminds me of Canadian musician AARYS. Your soulful and expressive voice has already made its way into my bones and gives me the chills – in a good way of course.

I’m hooked on If I Could Go Back and Find Your Way. I love the progression of the music in If I Could Go Back leading up to the powerful upbeat chorus – it’s like all of our inner struggles disappear and we are strong and resilient against the odds. Your voice in some of your songs is both haunting and uplifting at the same time. Find Your Way is one of those fun songs where you kick off your shoes, lift your arms up to the sky and dance – and the kind of song you play full blast while hanging out with girlfriends. 

Congratulations – Burn it Down was placed in CW’s television show Batwoman.  Well done – I love it…what a gorgeous dark cinematic song.  You’re on a roll – this is the third song you’ve released this year.  I Broke My Heart and Carry Through are your other two new releases. You are on fire! Since I wrote up this interview, you released even more songs and you’re about to launch your first album. Congratulations on that as well.

You mentioned that I Broke My Heart is your first self-produced song – how long did it take you to produce the song, and can you describe your learning experience along the way? 

Jacqueline: It took me about two months to produce. I took Kris Bradley’s course “Produce Like a Boss – Voice Memo to Demo” and after doing one track that may never see the light of day, I decided to produce a song I wrote, “I Broke My Heart”. My other female mentor, Shelly Mcerlaine who guided me while I was in The Songwriting Academy really pushed me to produce this track. These two female mentors have pushed me out of my own way and made me realize that I CAN produce music if I put my mind to it. 

Me: That’s so inspiring! I completely agree that often it’s thinking that we can’t do something that holds us back. Once we set our mind to something, who knows what can be accomplished? When did you learn to play the piano and guitar?

Jacqueline: I learned to play guitar at 18, and piano I just started teaching myself a year ago! I always wrote poetry since I was a little girl chasing after dumb boys! LOL! Reading and writing have been a huge part of my life and that came in handy when it came to songwriting.

Me: Impressive and great visual about a girl chasing boys…haha. I really admire musicians. I can’t play instruments or sing, so my musical career was over before it began. But I’ve always loved listening to music. What was your “defining” moment when you knew that you would become a musician?  

Jacqueline: I was playing one of my songs to my friend here in Tenerife and he said, “Why don’t you have any of these beautiful songs on Spotify?” That’s when I said, “Yeah, why don’t I?” As soon as I had that idea, I was a freight train on a mission and dedicated so much energy and time to music and honing my craft.

Me: I love it – a freight train on a mission. I have those moments too, when I know there’s something I want and I go for it. You sing so beautifully in English and Spanish. What inspires your music?  

Jacqueline: My identical twin has been my Muse. I adore her and so much of who I am is because of her. She has had a tough journey in life and I’ve always tried to help her along the way. Sometimes or often times she doesn’t like to listen to me so I decided to write songs about it! I also realized that I’ve been in similar tough relationships and had to find the strength to get out. I’m hoping my music helps other people find their strength.

Me: A sibling who doesn’t listen? Unheard of, lol. Your songs are very inspirational. If I Could Go Back gave me a lot of strength at the time I needed it. I love the lyrics “lessons I have learned/take them with me/where I go I know I’ll be ok…If I could go back/I would have walked out that door…”

Based on my previous music interviews, I know that musicians have been hit hard during this COVID-19 pandemic. But some of them brought up a few positive things that came out of it – they had a chance to develop their social media presence and more time to produce new music or experiment with music production/styles. What were you doing just before the first lockdown?

Jacqueline: I had just moved back to Miami for a year to help out with some family matters, and in that time I formed a band! I always dreamt of being in a band so when I was playing an open mic one night in South Miami, a guy, Gio, came up to me and said he wanted to be my drummer. I thought he was crazy but I said, “Yes!” Where there is a will there is a way Monica, and we had a band in no time. We were playing all over Miami, and having such a good time doing it! I played at some great local music venues there like Bar Nancy which I truly love, and Churchill’s which is where I used to go to when I was a kid to watch bands play. Las Rosas is also another spot I love, and it was the last show we played right when lockdown happened.

Me: What a great story of the impromtu formation of your band! You must know this question is coming…what is it like to have a twin sister and what’s the most mischievous “swap” that you ever did?

Jacqueline: Lol! Yeah, of course I knew this one was coming! We’ve done a ton of mischievous things growing up. My favorite is the first one. I was in kindergarten and of course I was the more daring one and came up with the idea to switch. My twin definitely did not want to do it but I talked her into it. We were crazy identical at the time, and the teacher had us in assigned seats with our names taped onto the desk, and we even sat on the other side of the room from each other. The teacher asked a question, and I raised my hand at which point she calls on me and calls me Caroline. I am blown away at that moment realizing this all has worked. Then the teacher asked another question and when my twin raises her hand, the teacher says, “Yes Jacqueline,” my twin started crying and says, “I’m not Jacqueline, I’m Caroline!” The teacher infuriated and staring at me screams, “What, that means you’re JACQUELINE?!” I respond calmly, “I don’t know what she’s talking about, I’m not Jacqueline, I’m Caroline.” LOL! 

Me: Too funny, but I feel bad for Caroline. Don’t hold back Jacqueline – tell us more about your song Show Them and new album.

Jacqueline:  Show Them is a song I wrote on my own. It was meant to empower people to be who they are. I feel one of the best things I have learned in life is to be who I truly am, instead of who I’m “supposed to be”. I hope this song empowers people to be true to themselves – a message I always try to give my two girls. I even had them sing on the chorus, which really meant the world to me because so much of what I do is for them. I want the album to leave people inspired. I hope it gives them strength to accept what’s going on, not pretend it’s something it’s not and realize they have the strength to get out of it…and at the end of it, realize that they’re amazing just the way they are.

Me: Girl power and self-empowerment are definitely conveyed in your music. Self-love is so important and I think that too many people have self-doubt and don’t love themselves enough. I really look forward to more music from you. The world needs to “feel” and release raw emotion rather than keep feelings bottled up. I have your album pre-saved already. Everyone – add Jacqueline’s music to your music collection and let her voice and lyrics propel you into believing in yourself and loving yourself first. And as usual, remember…following people on socials is FREE! Give Jacqueline a follow. Jacqueline, is there anything else that you wish to add?

Jacqueline: I just filmed the music video for “Show Them” in the forest here in Tenerife. I’m super excited about it because the song is a female empowerment track and I had both my daughters in it along with their closest girlfriends. It was definitely a day I think all of us will never forget 🙂

—End—

Here are some videos:

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 Ben Vezina

Interviews
Photo credit: Rick Arbuckle

By Monica Ng

If you ever wonder why I spend my free time interviewing Canadian musicians and others, the answer is simple: I LOVE music, writing and sharing. I’m also very inspired by these people and enjoy learning about what drives them on their paths.  If you have a chance, check out my interviews with Canadian musicians, Eric Nguyen of The Moon & I, Al Capo of Stuck on Planet Earth, AARYS, Neon Dreams, Craig Stickland, King Khan and Jeff Fero of jFEROcious; and writers, C. Fong Hsiung, Kelly Ann Charleson, Tony Wong and Sharon Rampersad.

A quick note about new music: Neon Dreams recently released their new album, “The Happiness of Tomorrow” and Craig Stickland has released a couple of new songs for an upcoming album. The Moon & I, Stuck on Planet Earth and AARYS are getting ready to release new music soon!

Follow your dreams

The world can be a gloomy place. But there are many people like Ben Vezina and those mentioned above who inspire others to be their best, persevere and follow their dreams.

Ben and I went to the same elementary and high school. Yup, stuck in the same jails for 8 years! Ben has always been a genuinely nice person. Back in high school, I knew that he drummed, but that was pretty much all I knew about him. Though you may have known the personality of your classmates, you didn’t always get a chance to know them well or find out what they did outside of school. 

Flashback to my (night) clubbing days. It just happened that the club where I was at had a live performance that evening. It was Ben drumming with his band.  I was shocked to see him there and for sure, had to communicate a hello in the partially dark and noisy place. Ben’s band was playing some wild catchy tribal music.  Being at the same place at the same time gave me a chance to re-connect with him.

Ben was low-profile with his talent, but another classmate was an underwear model – so news of that guy’s “talent” spread quickly lol.

Contact

Facebook: Ben Vezina

www.musicircleschool.com

About

Ben lives in Montreal with his family. He currently plays in a couple of bands – Hi-Fins and the Janis Joplin tribute band and teaches drums at Musicircle School of Music.

Photo credit: Frederic Serre

Interview

Me:  Ben, it’s always great catching up. It’s awesome to have a chance to interview you. I think it’s the coolest that you’ve followed your passion for drumming all these years.

Someone told me that parents with kids who are learning to play drums and violin have it the worst. And I can imagine why! When did you pick up your first drumsticks and how did your parents deal? And do you play other instruments?

Ben: I’m not sure I would call them drumsticks because they were homemade, as was the Styrofoam drum set. I made them for a lip-sync talent show in grade 5. I was playing the part of the drummer in a fake band doing a Bryan Adams song. I had almost no experience with musical instruments, aside from being forced to take piano lessons as a 7-year-old. I was SO happy to quit because we were moving, but mostly because I couldn’t pick up the reading part of it. My family is a dance family. More specifically a ballroom dance family. My sisters were nationally ranked, my parents were 2nd in the province and I had begrudgingly begun in that world as well. So this grade 5 talent show was my chance to get out – or so I thought. I went “full-on” with that, that I then decided I would be a drummer. It was the one instrument I could teach myself without having to read. I later found out I am dyslexic. But I would have to wait until high school for the chance to play drums. That’s actually where I picked up my first set of sticks. On the first day of music class, we were told to select the instrument that we wanted to play with two alternates. We were told if we chose drums we would have to play the xylophone first. So I picked the xylophone to ensure that I got the chance at drums second. Miss Walsh figured out my scheme. As a result, she decided to take a chance on someone with zero experience or previous drum lessons and put me on drums right away. I never looked back or touched a xylophone!!! My Dad liked that I had found drums but had no interest in hearing them in the house. He was very against me getting or even bringing a drum set into the house. But my mom was cool with it and actually borrowed a drum set from a co-worker for me over the summer, which became my first drum set after 1.5 years of only playing the school kit. As far as other instruments that I “pretend” to be able to play, I would say the bass guitar is the one that I’m the most proficient on. But proficiency is a bit of a stretch… I don’t have a melodic brain, it’s 100% rhythmic. Although being in bands for 30 years and more specifically 16 years in the Freddie James Project, I’ve been able to develop the melodic side more.

Me: I don’t remember you playing on the styrofoam drums back in elementary school lol. I think that I phased out elementary school altogether. In high school I was forced to play the keyboard but spent most of my time in the “washroom” because I hated it. It’s great that you were able to by-pass the xylophones in music class. I’m impressed that you were able to pick up drums and guitar.

I like your nickname “BreakNeckBen”. What’s the story behind it?

Ben: After people would see me play, one of two things would almost always get brought up: 1. “you make me think of Animal from the Muppets” and/or 2. “doesn’t your neck get sore during the show?” My objective was to try and create the feeling I’d had as a competitive dancer. I always moved a fair bit when I would play, but this was me turning drums into dancing, and I thought “BreakNeckBen” explained everything, plus I didn’t really want “animal” to be my only moniker even though I am a bit of a crazy man!

Me: That’s awesome! I love that you’re inspiring people through your music and teaching drums. How did you decide to become a teacher?

Ben: It’s funny because I never actually made that decision, it was made for me by my music teacher Brenda Walsh. She took a chance on me with the drums. I was instructed by her during my music class, to give some “inner-circle” students drum lessons to keep them occupied so they wouldn’t continue vandalizing the theater during their spares. I didn’t like doing it but it came naturally to me. So I graduated high school with some extra credits for teaching. That in turn led to me running a lunch hour program at Cedar Park Elementary School where Miss Walsh was transferred to. She needed me to occupy a bunch of hyperactive kids with drum lessons during their lunch hour. How I would have loved to have gone to that school!!! I even ended up teaching some of those kids all the way through their high school years. So it just became something I was always asked to do. In the end, teaching chose me and I’m a more enriched person for it.

Me: Wow, teaching drums in high school must have been a great experience for you. Also, I haven’t thought about the “inner-circle” until you brought it up. Wonder what became of those kids. Are there projects that you are currently working on and any other passions that you are pursuing?

Ben: I spent a decade and a half focusing on being “BreakNeckBen” and I’m finally back to working on myself. My main group is The Hi-Fins and I’m currently playing in several other groups and do some subbing for other drummers from time to time. I had been trying to work on a new project with an old student and some other friends, but as of March 2019, everything is on hold…which brings me to my many interests!!! I’ll try and make this concise. I was an auto mechanic for a while and then I studied engineering before music got the better of me. In the last two years, I’ve taken a deep dive back into my world of mechanics. I have two project cars I’m currently fixing. One is a long-term full restoration and the other was a quick restoration that took place during the lockdown this summer. I also spent the better part of twenty years deep into the world of triathlon. I was even trying to get to the pro level but due to injuries, ambulances and cancer, I’ve been forced to focus my efforts mostly on running and getting my body working properly. Post bone marrow transplant, I’m also a bit of a bike hoarder, which allows me to fix my kids’ and their friends’ bikes and anyone else that swings by my place and needs a hand. If it’s not obvious, I LOVE fixing things!!!

Me: That’s quite a portfolio. I’ll be sure to bring my bike over if I need it fixed.

I love the cover you did for Brittany Spear’s Toxic (on YouTube). Though I love the sound of drums, I don’t know much about them. I also love the sound of the guitar and bought myself one recently.  I figured that I would learn how to play on my own.  The guitar I bought was not a huge cost investment, so it was easy to commit. What are some tips that you can offer about learning drums, including whether or not one should invest in a drum set? And what are your thoughts on electric drum set pads or similar products?

Ben: Hmm…I gave a good solid effort in trying to love electronic drums in the early 2000s but I ultimately found them to be problematic and unreliable on stage. That has since changed for the better. Unfortunately, their latency issues and bad tactile feel make them bad-habit forming for learning. The best bet, in my opinion, would be studio and rehearsing work. Practice pads are very useful for working on some technical things (i.e. rudiments/wrist and finger techniques etc.). But in the end, one needs a platform to learn how to correctly use the drumming technique in the language of music. So if possible, I always recommend an acoustic set of drums. Even a really cheap crappy set will properly reinforce correct habits.   

Me: I watched your YouTube video where you were bringing a worn-out drum skin back to life.  Very interesting! I had no idea that the skin could be restored to new. Your video is a must-watch for those thinking of replacing the skin altogether. Any other tips for the general maintenance of a drum set?

Ben: Drums usually don’t wear out. Only the skins, more specifically the snare drum skin. They usually get replaced 99% of the time. But even then, it can be brought back pretty easily if it’s not broken. Maybe if there is water damage to the shells, the wood might warp but usually, drums can last decades without failure. As long as one plays within the tolerances of the metal components, even the cheap ones today are pretty strong. But the three things that I deal with on a somewhat regular basis, due to my forceful playing are bent rims (incorrect tuning), broken cymbals (nicks on the edge) and broken bass drum pedals. You can’t really do anything for the rims or cymbals once they’re bent or cracked. I used to go through a couple of crashes a year. But a good cymbal case would help tremendously with saving one’s cymbals. As far as the kick pedal goes, I have a particularly strong bass drum foot so I think broken pedals are a “me” thing. I’ve had to customize my pedals in the past. But it shouldn’t happen, it’s an instrument that is designed to be hit.

Me: Some time ago, we were chatting on Facebook. I hope you don’t mind me bringing this up, but I find your story so inspirational. You mentioned your battle with cancer. I watched a YouTube news clip video about a fundraising run for cancer.  The kids that you coached in soccer for many years participated in the event and talked about how you were always there for them and not only trained them but trained with them.  That video brought tears to my eyes.  What kept you strong and fighting? And from what you went through, what kind of perspective/insight did you gain about life?

Ben: Wow, these are big questions to answer. Let me start by saying that I think most people are built with a very strong survival instinct. I definitely am. Luckily I was also born with a clear and very calm mind under extreme duress too. This was strengthened through years of beating up my body and callusing my mind by playing drums for my “day job” (i.e. late-night job for The Freddie James Project), often playing 3-5 sets a night six nights a week for months at a time and still training hard for triathlons and running races. All the while trying to be the best parent/husband possible. I also saw what cancer had done to my dad a year and a half earlier and was three months into my chemo when my sister also passed away from cancer. Thankfully I was in fantastic shape and mentally ready for the insanity – being cancer. I went into it like an endurance race or a never-ending set on stage. I even had my kids smuggle my racing bike and trainer into my hospital room during my first five-week stay so I could maintain a “good fighting” feeling about my situation while being attached to my chemo machines. That was definitely the easier of the two hospital stays. The second one was the bone marrow transplant. More of a “second half” of the race type of deal, where you either quit or don’t give yourself the option to quit. For the transplant to take, all the healing parts of the blood (white/red cells & hemoglobin) need to be dropped to almost zero. Being isolated in a room for six weeks not being able to eat, talk or leave the room gave me a glimpse into what it might be like to be very old and weak. So the first of many perspective shifts on life was getting a second chance at midlife. After not being able to do anything except listen to music all day in a room by yourself, you become thankful for ALL of the little things. Moving forward with love and purpose becomes the endgame. 

Me: I’m so sorry for your losses and happy that cancer did not beat you. It must have been really tough for you to be isolated from everyone for so long. On the topic of isolation, no doubt that COVID has hit a lot of people in a bad way. How has it affected your day-to-day life and your music?

Ben: Post cancer I had a couple of lifelines in the music community. These allowed me to let people know that I was still around and planned to continue being active. So I dug my heels in and started saying yes to everything. Focus and hard work have always been my “modus operandi“. The lockdown flipped everything upside down, to say the least. But the longer we’re in this lockdown, the more I feel things are now right-side-up for me. When you’re a gigging musician you must always keep your foot on the gas. Covid has allowed me to look inward – something I haven’t done since high school. My day-to-day life is now focused on neglected hobbies and personal goals. Rebirth of my love and passion for drumming has come out of this. I think I’ll be a better and happier teacher and when we do get out of this. I think my own inner musician/drummer will have evolved to something better than it was.

Me: What are you plans in the near future – life, music and career?

Ben: Hmmm, as a family we lean on each other more now and we’ve become very tight. I’m an optimist, so hopefully more of the same on that front. And because I’m not someone that gets derailed easily, I will definitely continue teaching, as that’s the mainstay. I look forward to getting back on stage soon, and back into “fighting shape”. Being on stage is still the one puzzle piece that’s missing….

Me: I appreciate your insight about life and sharing your passions. I look forward to seeing you perform live again. Is there anything else that you wish to share?

Ben: Love.

Thanks Monica 🙂

Me: Thanks again for taking the time for this interview.  Stay safe my friend!

—End—

Here are a couple of Hi-Fins performances: