"I've been slightly intoxicated and requested 'Barrett's Privateers' before," says Cape Breton-born Fort McMurray transplant Carman MacDonald. "What can I say? It happens."
That's not to say it happens often. For MacDonald, waves of homesickness aren't as common as you'd think. An amateur bodybuilder, metal vocalist for the band Montauk and plumber who has made a life for himself in Fort McMurray proper, MacDonald is happy with his adopted life. He says the difference is that he doesn't live on a camp, travelling to and from the east coast several times a year—he tried that once and hated it. Instead, he's done what few east coasters working out west do, he's put down roots.
One of the ways he's done so is through music. "The scene out here is extremely small, there's no real no music scene out here to speak of," says MacDonald. "There are a few bar bands, some acoustic nights. I'm not a narrow-minded individual, we're metal players that listen to fiddle music, we like a broad spectrum of music. Me and my friends look out of place at an open mic acoustic night where people are reading poetry and playing Creed songs, but we're still there. We always support local music."
In MacDonald's experience, the metal scene—though tiny—is burgeoning, producing a greater number of bands playing originals than any other local genre.
"There's quite the rave culture out here too," he says, though he admits that most EDM fans would rather make the trek to Edmonton to go to a 1,000-person-strong dance night on any given weekend. He acknowledges the stereotype of Fort McMurray being a haven of drugs and/or alcohol, but he doesn't agree with it: "Halifax is 100 times worse than Fort Mac for drinking and drugs."
But for most workers, Fort McMurray isn't where you go to party, it's where you go to work. MacDonald decided to make the most of his days instead of living in limbo while he completes a contract.
"Camp is like living in jail for half the year. You can't leave. You stay in one room, it's pretty horrible," he says. "The only incentive is money."
For MacDonald, making the choice to live in town was easy, and the difference in quality of life was like night and day. With the exception of the bass player, Alex Scott, Montauk lives together—MacDonald, guitarist Jordan Stevens and drummer Zack Pittman—practicing, working out, playing video games, cooking and cleaning together. "I mean plumbing is a pretty shitty job—no pun intended—but I like it," he says. "I'm having the time of my life, Fort McMurray is the best place I've ever lived. I'm making a good life and a music career here. Why would I want to go back home and make minimum wage or live on EI or welfare? Why would I want to be addicted to drugs again or be an alcoholic again?"
Armed with this outlook, MacDonald set to work coaxing his childhood friend and musical collaborator Stevens to come join him. "I flew him out here. I bought him a seven-string guitar and a Mesa stack. I think he's one of the top 10 guitarists in Canada."
An upcoming show with Unearth and a debut album that's been five years in the making promise to show off Montauk's signature sound. "We play fast as possible while maintaining technical proficiency, in the vein of bands like Archspire or Necrophagist," says MacDonald. "The whole point of metal is to do something no one else haS ever done."
In many ways, MacDonald is doing just that by bucking the trend of on-again-off-again work out west. "We're forced to work every day or we die," he says. "The only way to have a happy life is to do what you want to do."
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