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Juggling Juno 

With so much music going on in town this weekend, how the hell are you supposed to figure out who you should go see? By listening to us, of course!

Halifax on ParadeThursday in Grand Parade, 5:30pm with Garrett Mason, Jimmy Rankin, Joel Plaskett, Matt Mays and El Torpedo and The Trews

Now that you’ve had time to get your Juno fever under control—lots of sleeping, lots of (alcoholic) fluids, lots of headphones—and realized that this giant multi-million dollar national event is mostly pay-to-play, you can put your cynicism away for a few hours on Thursday and watch some music for free.

Though the gates of Grand Parade open at noon—where will councillors park, for one thing, and for another, don’t go down there at noon—the show starts at 5:30 with 2005 Juno winner and prodigal blues son Garrett Mason. He’ll be followed by Jimmy Rankin, who we haven’t seen in the city in awhile, and certainly not outside of a pricey Cohn ticket. Joel Plaskett’s on at 7:40, and his performance of “Love This Town” will be, we predict, the biggest singalong of the whole weekend (unless the Black Eyed Peas do “My Humps”). Matt Mays takes the night off from DJing at Tribeca to incite crowd surfing at 8:55—keep your eyes on the church steps for some real live cocaine cowgirls!—and finally at 10:10 the Trews will set surrounding residents bitching about the noise.

All in all, a rocking, free start to what we hope is a weekend more unpredictable than much of the music to be awarded on Sunday night.

—Tara Thorne

OxFriday at Reflections, 11pm

Influenced by the Velvet Underground, Royal City and Julian Cope, but coming across like a long-lost child of Neil Young, Ox brings a new twist to folk-rock. The Vancouver-based group formed in 2002 is more a rotating band of artists rather than a concrete line-up. The collective, led by songwriter Mark Browning, is joined most of the time by guitarist Ryan Bishops. Current drummer Rose Murphy represents the east coast with roots in Antigonish.

“We’ve lost a few members to drugs, booze, kids and school, but we always seem to get them back,” Browning says. “Right now, the lineup is looking like a three-piece usually, Ryan, Rose and myself. Though for the Juno weekend it’s a White Stripes thing with only myself and Rose on drums.”

The duo heads to Halifax in support of Dust Bowl Revival, a set of rustic roots music that could have easily been recorded in the late-30s rather than 2004. The collective has been busy in the studio the last year recording two discs, American Lo-Fi and Burn Out, the former to be released in September, the latter in March 2007. Meanwhile, Browning says he hopes to enjoy some east coast revelry, something he knows all about. During his last east coast tour, he got kicked out of his hotel after partaking in some late-night shenanigans with a certain Matt Mays.

“Free beer wheeled out at around 2am and Matt and Ox made the most of it,” Browning recalls. “We got sauced and went to play the piano in the lobby. At 5am they kept throwing us out saying the piano needed repairs and shouldn’t be played, which was bullshit.

“So we kept sneaking back to play Young’s ‘’Til The Morning Comes,’” he says. “Finally the cops came and we snuck out and went to his hotel room in another place. His band wouldn’t let any of us into the room, including Matt, so we all went to sleep in their tour van.”

—Johnston Farrow

PilateFriday at the Marquee Club, 1am

The most apparent transformation distinguishing Pilate’s new record from the last is its general tone, a reflection of a simpler process to making music than their debut LP. Sell Control for Life’s Speed—in stores April 25—maintains the marked desperation implicit in 2003’s Caught by the Window, while liberating itself of the languishing effects associated with overworking material in the studio.

“I think, obviously, we learned a lot from previous processes,” says lead vocalist Todd Clark, preparing for a flight to New York City. “I know we wanted to make a record that was more stripped down, less ambient, less layered…just sounding more like four guys just playing their individual instruments.”

Pilate’s first single in promotion of the 11-song sophomore effort, titled “Barely Listening,” has already been in national rotation for several weeks. The cut is representative of Sell Control for Life’s Speed’s progression into a more hopeful—or perhaps even positive-sounding—realm than the group’s breakthrough. Clark says the name of the album—which is a reference to surrendering the need to control in order to enjoy life more completely—was fundamental to the band’s raw, sincere songwriting demeanour untarnished by trying to perfect the record.

“It became pretty funny and relevant at the end of the recording process after we actually named the record, like, we’ve been doing this record for a year and worrying about all the little things,” he says. “Going over everything with such a fine-tooth comb you really forget about the music and you really lose perspective.“

Clark and bandmates Chris Greenough, Ruby Bumrah and Bill Keeley plan to hit the road in the rest of Canada in late April or early May—but not before focusing attention on the States. Since Caught by the Window had a long life in Canada, Australia and Japan, which kept the band from starting on new work for a long time, they’ve decided trying its luck with our southern neighbours is worth a shot.

“I think it’s almost exactly the same,” he says of the American release. “The plan is to put it out and follow up in six or eight months with the new one.”

—Chris McCluskey

Luke DoucetFriday at Tribeca, midnight

Haligonians’ biggest lament about their music scene has traditionally been that the local musicians often pick up and move to Toronto. It’s hard to bear any grudge against Luke Doucet, however, who made the move when he was only eight years old. Today he still credits Halifax with having the first impact on his decision to pursue music as a career.

“The capacity that I was involved in musically at that point was my mother playing JJ Cale records and Tom Waits records while living in the north end,” he says from Austin, Texas, where he performed at SxSW. “That’s where I heard music for the first time, and when I go back to Halifax I think of the music from 1975 or ’76. That’s when I became aware I was listening to music.”

Several decades later, Doucet has become one of Canada’s preeminent guitarists, traveling with the likes of Sarah McLachlan and Blue Rodeo in addition to his solo work. Incidentally, McLachlan grew up on the same street as Doucet and they remain close.

“I’ve been working with her on and off for 15 years. I did a couple years for her, then I quit for like a decade and she called me back and said, ‘Well come and do this next tour’,” he says. “And I like her. I consider her a close friend, and she’s always been really good to me. If all of a sudden her career tanked, she was broke and asked me to do a bunch of dates, I would go.”

Doucet’s Broken (And Other Rogue States) received a nod in the Adult Alternative Album of the Year category, and he’ll be up against some familiar company. The accomplished blues/country artist just wrapped up a tour with Kathleen Edwards and has performed with Blue Rodeo.

“We joke about it. But when I joke with Jim Cuddy of Rodeo about that, he’s sold four million records in his career and he’s a rock star…a bona fide rock star,” Doucet says. “And pretty much everyone else in the category has some rock star credentials. For me the best part is just being nominated in the same category as those people. It’s just very flattering. I can’t wait to lose to any of those people.”

—Chris McCluskey

SelfconsciousFriday at Tribeca, 1am

Although it’s a new band, Halifax music fans will recognize the man behind Selfconscious. Longtime east coast music veteran Mike O’Neill formed the duo with Hampton Kelly, AKA Mike Clattenburg, creator of Trailer Park Boys, when asked to open for the Super Friendz at the Grawood earlier this month. The group’s Junofest slot will be just its second performance.

“The reason that we came up with that name was as a reference to when I did a couple of solo shows and I felt very self-conscious, very much so that I decided it wasn’t for me, that playing live stank and I didn’t want to do it anymore,” O’Neill says. “Although I can tell you from our first show and the rehearsals, that playing with another person or some other people is just what I need. I was quite happy about the result.”

O’Neill is part of the original wave of the Halifax pop explosion, half of another power-pop duo, The Inbreds. The band broke up after two Juno nominations, one in 1995 for Kombinator, the other in 1997 for It’s Sydney or the Bush. O’Neill has since pursued a sporadic solo career, releasing a few albums, including the underrated The Owl in 2004. Meanwhile, he has held steady employment as a soundtrack composer on indie films, and as a sound engineer on documentaries and television shows, including Trailer Park Boys.

Selfconscious is primarily a vehicle for O’Neill’s melodically seductive solo material without the added pressure of being the sole performer. It’s also his way to delve back into the live scene, something O’Neill says he wants to do this year on top of recording an album under the Selfconscious name.

“I don’t know what everyone’s experience of that first show was, but for me, it wasn’t a reunion,” O’Neill says of the show at the Grawood. “We did play an Inbreds song and I played some old Mike O’Neill stuff, but it’s a totally new band and a different thing. I hope that’s what came across because that’s how it felt for me. It felt exciting.”

—Johnston Farrow

Hot Hot HeatSaturday at Juno Fan Fare, Pavilion 21, 11am to 4pm

The fact Hot Hot Heat isn’t signed up to play a show this weekend doesn’t make them no-shows. The perpetually touring Vancouver-based rock group will appear at Juno Fan Fare at Pavilion 21 on Saturday, mingling with fans in a city starving for an appearance since the 2002 Halifax Pop Explosion. Singer/pianist Steve Bays says plans to perform in the city last January were nixed to focus on new material.

“I remember that, we were supposed to do a tour and we were going to go there it was not wanting to do it on short notice. The main thing was we wanted to work on our next album,” he says from Vermont. “Most bands tour for one giant period and then they work on their album for like a year. We did that before, but we didn’t want to do that on this album. this album we just wanted to stay on the road permanently and take off little bits of time here and there to write new songs.”

With a third album almost completely ready to record, the quartet (which also includes drummer/guitarist Paul Hawley, bassist Dustin Hawthorne and guitarist Luke Paquin) continues to push 2005’s Elevator to new heights internationally. The group recently finished an arena tour with Foo Fighters and Weezer, whose admirers are admittedly more fanatical than their own.

“There was one fan who managed to get backstage and pretend they were part of the crew, because there was like an 80-person crew,” Bays explains. “So I guess somehow they managed to get on the bus and stay on it for like three days. It was weird.”

Hot Hot Heat has once again been nominated for Alternative Album of the Year, a category where the band came up empty-handed with Make Up the Breakdown in 2003. Bays points out the change in perception of Canadian music since that time.

“I think this has also been one of the biggest years for Canada as far as the indie music scene,” he says. “The reputation of Canada has changed drastically. We’ve been travelling over the world for two years now and it wasn’t until this past year that we started noticing that people’s opinions of Canada have significantly improved.”

—Chris McCluskey

Kardinal OffishallSaturday at Juno Fan Fare, Pavilion 21 at the Seawall, 11am to 4pm and at Rain, midnight

The road to recognition has been a long one for Kardinal Offishall. After years of being the up-and-coming Canadian hip-hop act to watch, he’s finally getting his due. The Toronto-based MC is nominated for Best Rap Recording, a matter of vindication for an artist who faced a multitude of obstacles in order to get there.

Offishall started his career in 1996, releasing “Naughty Dread” on Rap Essentials Volume . His first record, the independent Eye & I , dropped the following year. His next few releases gained the reggae-influenced rapper steady buzz and eventually he landed a deal with MCA. Offishall was set to drop his first “breakthrough” single, The Neptunes-produced “Belly Dancer,” when the label folded. His new label, Geffen, shelved the release of the single and subsequent album Firestarter Vol. 2.

Rather than rest on his laurels, Offishall put out the Jamaican patois-inflected Fire & Glory last year to critical acclaim after years of working with a who’s-who in hip-hop and not having much to show for it: Offishall has guested or worked on tracks by Busta Rhymes, Method Man and fellow dancehall enthusiast Sean Paul. Although Offishall freely admits he was raised in Toronto, it’s his love of Jamaican music that has other hip-hop artists questioning his motives. But if anything, the Juno nomination is proof that there is a place for Offishall’s incendiary music.

“People say, ‘Why does he do the reggae ting and hip-hop ting?’” Offishall told Exclaim! last November. “You know why I do it? Because when I listen to reggae music, it seems like it’s the only music that can still have a positive message and people look at it as a cool ting. We need music that when you hear it, it changes the way that you feel.”

—Johnston Farrow

Julie DoironSaturday at Stage Nine, midnight

Julie Doiron is a two-time Juno nominee—once for Best Alternative Album with her former band Eric’s Trip and once as a solo artist. But when she actually won for Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars in 2000, she was nowhere to be found.

“I would have gone to the Junos, but I was on tour with the Brothers Creeggan at the time, who feature Jim Creeggan of the Barenaked Ladies, and were playing on the night that my category was being awarded,” she recalls over the phone from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. “My category was part of the non-televised night. We were playing in Michigan and in a tour bus, so we left after the show to make the televised ceremony so Jim could be there because the Barenaked Ladies were playing.

“The only reason I missed it was because I was on a two-month tour with them and it was the last night,” she adds. “There was no point in going to the televised version because my award had already been given out the night before. So I just went home.”

Surely fans of the soft-spoken singer-songwriter excused her absence. Although Doiron has kept a fairly low profile over the past couple years, she has remained busy, working with the New Brunswick outfit Shotgun and Jaybird, recording a new album that will be released in September and making plans to resurrect her indie label, Sappy Records. The critically acclaimed artist heads off on a cross-country tour with her latest bandmates soon after her Junofest appearance.

“I don’t know how I feel about awards in general but I think it’s good to have something to recognize Canadian performers, because otherwise we’re bombarded by international acts,” Doiron says. “I think it will be good for fans as there are always showcases to see lesser known acts. The Junofest idea is sort of what it does —have a lot of shows leading up the awards ceremony.”

—Johnston Farrow

Tanya TagaqSaturday at Tribeca, 1am

During her final year at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design—where she earned a degree in Fine Arts—Nunavut native Tanya Tagaq began imitating throat singing tapes sent to her by her mother. It was while getting back in touch with her roots she became inspired to express what she describes on her website as an art form capturing “instinctual and emotional capacity” on a world stage.

Customarily a two-person voice game between women, Tagaq’s evolutionary brand of throat singing found its solo beginnings on the basis of a shortage of fellow Inuit females to practice with in Halifax, well over 6,000 kilometres from home. That she would later be asked to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman to convey her unique artistry, or perform with Björk, were only fantasies at that point.

Now living in Spain with her husband and daughter, Tagaq is hailed as being at the forefront of a style of music with unlimited reverence and potential. Fresh off winning no fewer than three Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards for her 2005 effort Sinaa (including a collaboration with Björk on the single “Ancestors”), Tagaq is returning to Halifax for her first show since beginning to tour, and is a nominee for the Juno for Best Aboriginal Recording.

—Chris McCluskey

MSTRKRFTSaturday at Reflections, 1am

Electronic and indie music fans get a chance to check out the early case for the 2007 Juno for Best Dance Recording when MSTRKFRT hits town during Junos weekend.

MSTRKRFT—pronounced master craft—formed just over two years ago as a beat-driven project by Jesse Keeler of Death From Above 1979 fame and his cohort Al-P. The duo took on several high-profile remix projects for up-and-coming indie acts after building a studio in Toronto last July.

“At the end of the tour, Sebastien”—Grainger, Keeler’s Death From Above 1979 bandmate—“was like, ‘I need a break,’” Keeler, a DJ well before he formed DFA 1979, says. “And it was like, ‘Hey, it’s not like I don’t have stuff to do.’ Then, suddenly, MSTRKRFT got a record deal, so there was no rush on the Death From Above record, but there was a rush on the MSTRKRFT record. I headed into it full bore.”

Since its inception, MSTRKRFT has remixed cutting edge artists such as Bloc Party, Buck 65, Metric, The Kills and Annie. It’s endeared the duo to a mass audience that includes dance crowds as well as alternative rock fans, especially in the UK and Europe where the lines between the two genres blur more than in North America, though Canada has embraced the group much quicker than it took for DFA 1979 to gain a foothold. MSTRKRFT will release its debut LP The Looks in the next few months.

“Maybe the reason people like MSTRKRFT is because if a DJ likes it, they play it out,” Keeler says. “They don’t have to check with the radio programmer, they don’t have to worry about video play. Canada has been responsive to us. I’m not sure why, but I’m not complaining.

—Johnston Farrow

SilversteinSaturday at the Marquee Club, 1am

One look at their bio and touring schedule and it’s hard not to ask how Burlington, Ontario, band Silverstein deals with life on the road. Tours in the UK, Europe, Australia and North America in the last year have brought this five-piece to the attention of emorock audiences as well as the Juno nomination committee, who awarded the band a spot in the final five acts in the Best New Artist category.

“Most Silverstein interviews kinda start like that these days,” says drummer Paul Koehler about Silverstein’s full schedule from a tour stop in Anaheim, California. “I usually don’t even realize it until I start doing an interview, then it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re always on tour.’”

Silverstein plays the Billy Talent role this year, representing the Canadian youth movement at the Junos. The all-ages scene has been a successful demographic for the group, with sales of over 200,000 units for each of their discs, including Discovering the Waterfront and When Broken is Easily Fixed. Currently, the group is part of the Take Action tour with other all-ages faves Matchbook Romance and Early November, and they join the decidedly teen-centric Warped Tour this summer.

“That’s the majority of our fanbase,” Koehler says. “That’s the people we relate to the most, that relate to our music the most as well. The all-ages shows are the most fun—the most energetic kids, the most chaotic. That’s what we really thrive on.”

As for the group taking home a trophy, Koehler says the band isn’t holding their breath, pinning the best chance to win on friends Bedouin Soundclash. That’s not to say the members of Silverstein aren’t thankful to be a part of a bumper crop of new bands.

“They’re much further along in their Canadian career than we are,” Koehler says of Bedouin. “I think they might win it. Hedley is a good band too. It just shows you the kind of great music Canada has produced over the last year.”

—Johnston Farrow

Divine Brownsaturday at juno fanfare, 11am and Sunday on the Juno Awards show, 8pm

Divine Brown is in need of a bigger fireplace mantle for the awards she’s picked up in the last year, garnering mass acclaim for her soulful, Motown-influenced self-titled disc. Brown recently won best R&B artist at the Canadian Independent Music Awards, picked up a Canadian Radio Music Award for best new urban artist, and now she’s up for a Juno for best R&B/Soul Album.

“It feels good, but I wouldn’t give up everything that has happened for the world,” says Brown, who has been performing in some capacity for 18 years. “There’s no price tag that you can put on experience. And experience now has given me some leverage as opposed to being a 17-year-old who never had performed in front of anybody, but had this dream to want to sing. From that perspective, I’m really enjoying being here and feeling really ready.”

Brown spent the past year touring and doing promo for her record, hitting the road with the likes of recent Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Bryan Adams, even gaining notice from one of the world’s most famous Vegas performers, Elton John.

“I guess he picked up the CD or something, heard it and loved it and called people inquiring about me,” she says. “It totally threw me for a loop. I was like, ‘What? Are you serious?’ And people were like, ‘You didn’t hear about it?’”

Next up is a high-profile performance during the Junos telecast and a rumoured slot next to Ron Sexsmith during the Junos-sponsored songwriting circle.

“The funny thing is, I’m more excited about performing than I am about winning any award,” she says. “I’ve watched the Junos on TV forever, saying, ‘Aw, man. I totally want to be there. I want to perform.’ Now that’s a dream being realized that I’ll actually have the opportunity to perform. That’s the most exciting thing for me.”

—Johnston Farrow


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