That new car sound | Music | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

That new car sound

This town has more bands than it knows what to do with. Here are 12 to keep an ear Mark Black, Johnston Farrow and Sean Flinn

The Superfantastics
photo Robin Hart Hiltz

The Apex BeatWay cooler than John and Taupin

The Apex Beat has big ambitions and they’re making sure they hone the skills and develop the knowledge to see their plans through.

The plan is this: Take the time in studio to craft the sound, a rich, orchestral and musical border-crossing sound that harkens back to the late 1960s and ’70s, when the writer/arranger was king and took from R&B, pop/rock, jazz and international influences.

“Me and Omar”—Ashour—“have been pretty obsessive music listeners and record buyers and a lot of music we like comes from the late ’60s and early ’70s,” explains 21-year-old Chuck Blazevic, who writes, arranges and plays guitar.

Blazevic and Ashour continue the tradition of songwriting pairs in pop history. “Most of it is individual,” Blazevic says of the time each takes on his own to write songs, but they always come together to refine and complete them.

The five-member band has gelled nicely as they work on their debut, due out hopefully (no one’s rushing) spring 2007. They’re the “Casio Kids,” as dubbed by producer Andrew Watt, who’s heading the sessions with the band at his Common Grounds Studio. The first letter of each of their names spells Casio —Chuck, Alice (Hansen, singer), Steven (Harris, drummer, who studied with Jerry Granelli), Ian (Mosher, keys) and Omar.

Watt, himself part of a celebrated writing duo with Jason MacIsaac in the Heavy Blinkers, is excited by the challenge and promise of The Apex Beat. He mentions Blazevic and Ashour’s love for late-’60s Brazilian pop and shares a rough mix of a tune that runs on a bossa-based pop rhythm. “Chuck is also huge into classic R&B,” Watts says. “If you listen to his guitar playing, you hear George Benson.”

George Benson from a 21-year-old? This you gotta hear.

Sean Flinn

A Band of OwlsJazz folkers experiment big-time on new LP

Heather Kelday and Paul Cressman traded in life and music made on the shores of Lake Superior—Thunder Bay, Ontario to be exact—for Halifax a few years back. Their reasons for the move were fabled and practical. “The slow-paced lifestyle, welcoming music community and to find a new drummer,” says Kelday.

And they found him. His name is Aaron Mangle and his hinting playing perfectly suits the dreamy jazz-folk vibe created by Kelday, who plays guitar and banjo and sings, and Cressman on acoustic standup and electric bass. “Rushing Love Song,” from the band’s new indie release Of Wood and Water, Stars and Song (official release on December 2 at the BusStop Theatre) demonstrates the trio’s spellbinding powers.

Alongside the dreamy aspect, there’s a healthy get-up to the Owls’ recorded and stage work, rousing the crowd with bluegrass and tapping into their roots. “Our earlier albums”—when the outfit was called Barefoot—“are rooted in indie-rock and jam band styles conducive to dancing,” Kelday explains. “Those albums highlight improvisational jams, ambience.

“Aaron, Paul and I have an affinity for experimental music,” she adds. “We all grew up playing a variety of instruments.”

Lately, Kelday has been writing on banjo and mandolin, along with guitar. The shared spirit of experimentation and acoustic music created a delightful surprise for Kelday and company on Of Wood and Water, Stars and Song. “To go from jazz to rockabilly to cabaret all in one album was pretty fascinating and unexpected,” she says. “But somehow it works.”

As for her songwriting, Kelday sings of the “natural world and social interaction …love, lust, loss—you know, the good ol’ three Ls.”

Once she has her words down, she shares them with Cressman and Mangle. “It is so beautiful when Paul and Aaron add their thoughts and lives to the story in musical instrumentation.”

Beautiful too now that Band of Owls is in Halifax’s musical life.


Be BadPlaying fucked-up music of punk variety

Members of Be Bad have drawn a line in the sand in the local indie music scene. As uncompromising as its frenetic live show, the punk band is one the fiercest acts to hit Halifax stages in the last year, proven by its three Halifax Pop Explosion shows.

“When we started, we sucked and a lot of people were quick to say we sucked,” says singer/bassist Tobias America, who along with his bandmates prefers to use a pseudonym. “And we were like, ‘I don’t care.’ And now people are like, ‘You guys are great and you’re doing all this stuff.’ And it’s like, ‘I don’t care.’”

Be Bad, including guitarists Ebenezer Stooge and Love Machine as well as drummer Pro Chest, formed a year-and-a-half ago after recording a late-night jam session in the CKDU studio. They made and sold out a few hundred copies at their first shows.

The quartet caught the attention of local Divorce Records co-founder Chik White who invited Be Bad to join the label. The band recorded and pressed a split seven-inch with buzz-worthy Gilbert Switzer and headed out on a long and arduous US and Canadian tour.

“It was pretty grueling,” the bearded Love Machine, who also plays percussion and guitar for Gilbert Switzer, says. “I think all of us agreed that none of us had done something like that before. It took us pretty far from home, but I think we played some awesome shows and we met some pretty awesome people along the way.”

Next up is another split seven-inch, then a full-length to be released by summer 2007. There’s no rush, though—the LP will be made on Be Bad’s terms, when they feel they have the material to take them to the next level.

“We’re not pretending we’re going to save anybody’s lives or save rock’n’roll or any of that ridiculous bullshit,” says Machine. “We’re just a band in Halifax, Nova Scotia that’s playing fucked up music and we’re going to go with it, tour hard and carve out our own path.”

Johnston Farrow

Gamma Gamma RaysTeenage pop phenoms lay groundwork for the future

Playing upbeat, keyboard-driven pop, The Gamma Gamma Rays might just be one of the best young bands in Halifax. But most of Halifax just doesn’t know it yet. Some bands may find it flattering to be considered one of the city’s best kept secrets, but sometimes it can be a little frustrating to find yourself playing for the same faces.

Formed late last year, the band features brothers Mark and Scott Grundy, on bass and guitar respectively, along with Carolann Deyoung on keyboard and Jorin Caldwell on drums.

Without a single member over the age of 19, the Gamma Gamma Rays are glued to the all-ages scene for the time being. Aside from a matinee Pop Explosion showcase with Duchess Says at the Seahorse, the Gamma Gamma Rays have been limited venue-wise. Due to the lack of an expansive all-ages scene in Halifax, that means a lot of shows at the Pavilion.

Mark Grundy doesn’t seem at all discouraged by the prospect. “We make the best of what we have,” he says. He isn’t being PollyAnna about it, he just doesn’t see the band’s inability to play bar shows as an obstacle—it’s a challenge that forces the band to be creative.

The Gammas recently released their first EP, The World, Le Monde. Aptly, Grundy sees it as necessary for the band to play outside the city in places like Cape Breton in support of it as well as to “experience different people at our shows.”

The Gamma Gamma Rays might just have one of the best names in town. When they start playing bar shows, the rest of Halifax will have face to put to that name.

Mark Black

GhettosocksAlpha Flight MC puts things in perspective on solo debut

Two years, two consecutive nods to members from hip-hop act Alpha Flight in the New Music issue. Is it because we’re good friends with the boys? Nah. It’s because these talented artists make really good music. Last year featured Y-Rush, who went on to score a gold medal at this year’s DJ Olympics in the hip-hop DJ category. This year it’s his colleague Ghettosocks, AKA Darren Pyper, who is the MC freestyle champ at the same event.

“What was a rhyme that won it?” says the scruffy 24-year-old. “I had one against Quake and it was like, I’m here for the throne/And it’s long overdue/How’s he gonna act hard when his mom’s like/‘Matthew, phone’s for you.’ I did the voice of his mom, so that really sold it.”

Recognizable for his trademark lenses-free glasses, Pyper has been promoting his just-released debut solo LP Get Some Friends. The album, produced largely by himself and featuring guest stars such as Classified and Apt, harkens back to the old school hip-hop of Big Daddy Kane, Rakim and DJ Premier. His tongue-twisting rhymes are often hilarious but pointed, as on the shady corporation boycott tune, “Steal From Wal-Mart,” and ego-driven MC track “Step to a T-Rex.”

“It’s basically about putting things in perspective,” Pyper says. “Rappers talk about how they’re hard and just talking about the next level on the food chain, and that’d be a T-Rex. There’s always a bigger fish in the pond.”

Pyper will soon hit the road for a string of east coast dates, and then possibly head to Quebec and Ontario for a tour with the Wordburglar, another upcoming Halifax-based rapper.

“The best case scenario is a lot of people like it, a lot of people reach out, wanna do shows and projects, build and collaborate,” Pyper says about his record. “That would be the best outcome for me. I just want people to be like, ‘I enjoyed it.’”


Ghost BeesTwin experimenters eschew folk for accurate representation

As duo Ghost Bees, twin sisters Romy and Sari Lightman make music snuggled between slumber and waking state—a still, peaceful, little disorienting and slightly strange place.

“Despite the emphasis we place on our lyrics and our use of acoustic instruments, I don’t particularly associate us as folk,” says Romy. They’re listening to and loving Dog Day and experimental and electro-acoustic acts, such as Broken Deer and St. Augustine, these days.

Adds Sari: “Some shows we end up playing with punk bands, and then the audience doesn’t really know what to make of us. I like that.”

Ghost Bees are on a 28-date-in-30-days tour, playing with Guelph artist Richard Laviolette. “I think the Guelph influence is really rubbing off on us—wholesome and crafty and very DIY,” says Sari.

The duo’s playing art colleges and galleries, living rooms and indie record stores. They’re taking in the sights too. “We hung out at the Detroit River yesterday, sat in some goose shit, and breathed some of the worst air in Canada,” says Romy.

Each writes her own songs, editing and collaborating on harmonies. The creative closeness can be trying. “Having one person in so many spheres in your life can create a lot of stress and tension. We’re totally integrated into each other’s lives; it’s like we’re married, or Siamese,” Romy says.

“The advantages are that our mother makes enough cookies for both of us,” Sari’s quick to add. “Also, we’ve got these telepathic powers that pertain to nothing else but harmonies and vampire warnings.”

Recording with Youth Club Records’ Andy March, telepathy may or may not come into play. “We want it to be an accurate representation of where we are right now, which is scared and confused and the sensation that we’re about to pee in our pants,” says Sari. “It’s all very exciting.”


HorsesHonesty is the best policy

Drummer Glenn Barrington doesn’t mince words he explains why he’s in Horses: “Playing honest fucking songs because that’s what we want to do.”

For Mark Gillis, the chemistry he’s felt playing with Barrington and lead singer/guitarist Lachie MacDonald is bit of a surprise, considering that he thought the phone call asking him to join Horses was simply a call to borrow an amp.

Gillis, the band’s bassist and most recent addition, reiterates Barrington’s feelings on the band. “Lachie is just putting himself right on the line,” he says of MacDonald. “I’ve never really played in a band like that before.”

The lyrics that MacDonald writes are informed by the trio’s shared birthplace, industrial Cape Breton.

“In terms of the stuff I write,” says MacDonald, “I feel that there’s a real sense of place and of home as an ideal and that’s definitely a part of being from a place like Cape Breton and not living there and having a weird, sort of conflicted, relationship with it.”

Formed on a trip from Sydney to Halifax, Horses isn’t a band that seems lost when discussion turns to the balance between writing catchy rock songs and writing songs with strong lyrical content. For the band, the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

Macdonald explains, “I like writing really catchy songs and we like playing the easy-to-rock-out-to songs, but I feel like there’s something else there if people want it.”

For MacDonald, the hooks of a song don’t have to necessarily overshadow its lyrics.

“I don’t think the content of the songs necessarily gets through and that’s almost not really the point. There’s the level of the content of the song and there’s the level of the content of the music, they work together, but they can be separate at the same time.”


Littles the GeneralMix-tape mogul keeps it real, wants more

To say that Littles the General thinks big would be trite, terribly cliched and lazy. In order to move 13,000 copies of your second mixed tape without distribution, a lot more than contemplation is required.

“Even to me that’s still small,” says Littles in reference to his first two mixtapes selling almost 20,000 units combined. “I think bigger than that.”

It isn’t that Littles consider himself different than most rappers, it’s that he doesn’t really consider himself a rapper at all—he refers to himself as “a hustler that raps good.” But what exactly does that mean?

“Right now the music industry is like WWF…when I say I’m not a rapper, I look at it like I’m not a Mr. Potatohead, nobody put me together,” he says. “What I rap about in the songs, the type of music that I represent, it’s not fake.”

Littles doesn’t underestimate his fans—he knows that if he was a fake, they’d smell it. To that end, he raps about what he knows, the situations that he’s been in and the community he’s a part of. That sort of transparency is what Littles is banking on when it comes to being successful. However he chooses to get his music to a larger audience, it’s important for him to dictate the tactics.

“I just felt that if I did it independent, even I failed at the end of the day,” he says, “that I couldn’t say, ‘Well, I failed because he never helped me.’ I’d rather succeed and say, ‘I worked hard, I did all this by myself’ or ‘I failed by myself.’”

November sees Littles in Toronto collaborating with his supergroup, the Offense, on a new album, while January has him releasing a followup to I’ll Make You Famous.


Matt MyerBusy trumpeter blows up via approx. one million bands

Matt Myer defines the journeyman. Studying, and having grown up with, jazz, the trumpeter blows his horn for several groups in town, from sit-ins with the likes of Gypsophilia and Afro Musica to full-time membership in roots-reggae band Verbal Warnin, the 12-piece Scott and the Rocks and ukulele-led soul band Mackarel Jack. He also plays organ in the hip-hop/jazz/R&B/blues combo of the Synchronics.

Rarely does Myer have to “sub out” to another player. He makes the gigs and he does more than just show. He comes to play, and play well.

“Being around and answering the phone,” Myer intones with a deep voice on the reason he’s so busy. He’s a casual, friendly conversationalist but he’s serious about being reliable and keeping up his chops.

A love of playing—passion—helps too. “I’m just enjoying making music,” Myer says. The love of the gig is apparent in his voice when he talks about, for example, being part of the horn section, a roots-reggae classic ingredient, in Verbal Warnin. “It’s definitely heavy, man,” he says with a laugh.

Regarding Evan Kovloord, the singer and ukulele player who fronts Mackarel Jack, Myer’s respect comes clear. “He’s got some serious Southern soul to him,” Myer says of the transplanted Texan, whom Myer says spurs him to lay soulful grooves over top.

Journeymen know the value of collaboration—that even if you’re not writing the song, your input makes a big difference to the end result. “I’m very happy collaborating right now. Even if you do write your own tunes, you got to hear other people out on them.”

Myer has led bands through compositions and gigs before, but leading and fronting a band, he says, are two different things. When and if he decides to front his own group, he’ll have plenty of experience to draw from.


The SuperfantasticsTwo-piece popsters keep possibilities superopen

Maybe is an important word to the Superfantastics. It’s key to the origin of the two-piece outfit, comprised of Stephanie d’Entrement on drums and harmonies and Matt MacDonald on vocals, guitars and keys.

“We were like ‘Maybe we should start a band, maybe we should call ourselves this name,’” d’Entremont recalls of the band’s birth a little more than a year ago.

The two met on the Common via a weekly get-together of several friends to play Frisbee. “We didn’t really know each other very well,” d’Entremont says. But she wanted to learn drums and someone in the Frisbee group mentioned it. MacDonald heard and took her up on it.

Drum lessons turned into a band and gigs. The lessons continue. “Most of the writing would start out with me teaching Stephanie a new drum beat, then building a song around it, or fitting a song to it,” MacDonald says.

“Matt has the patience of a saint,” d’Entremont says, laughing. But if that’s true, it’s proving beneficial. The duo’s Like Letters EP offers a little over 11 minutes of melodic, simple pop mastery. It’s no surprise to hear, then, that the Superfantastics have played with The Just Barelys and Mike O’Neill and Mike Clattenburg’s collaboration The Beginners. The Superfantastics shared a Halifax Pop Explosion stage with the latter.

“We didn’t expect to get in at all,” d’Entremont says of the HPX show.

Adds MacDonald: “It was very rewarding and I feel it validated us more as an actual band and not just two people writing songs about jokes they made—although we still do that,” he says. He recalls the sight of d’Entremont playing behind Clattenburg’s drums. “Behind those, Stephanie looked like an elf driving an A1 tank,” he says. “Straight for the kill!”


VKNGSmusicians and roommates take their all-caps on stage

It was only a matter of time before VKNGS (pronounced Vikings) formed. Three of the members, guitarist/vocalist Jim MacAlpine, guitarist Dave Kaufman and bassist/vocalist Mark Gillis, are seasoned Halifax musicians who also happen to be roommates.

“We all have similar interests and we were all sitting around one night and we said, ‘It would be pretty awesome to start a band,’” says Gillis. “One day Jim was like, ‘Do you want to jam? My friend Nick”—Wombolt, the drummer—“who used to play in Colour TV said he’d be into it.’ It pretty much started like that.”

The quartet adds to the esteemed east coast pedigree of complex, loud music full on riffs and featuring an eye-popping live show. The aggressive, energetic quartet includes members from other revered Halifax bands of past and present such as Sharp Like Knives, the Jimmy Swift Band and the Holy Shroud. VKNGS provided an outlet for the players, against the type of music being written and performed in their other projects.

“I’ve always been interested in playing in a band like this, but never got the chance,” Gillis says over coffee. “It’s closer to the Holy Shroud than anything. Jim was playing and writing riffs in that band. You would hear similarities just as far as the guitar style.”

After a few months of writing, the four-piece headed to the studio and recorded a six-song EP. They’re in the process of mastering the disc and then plan to release and tour behind it in 2007, bringing their explosive sound to stages everywhere, if only they can arrange it around everyone’s busy schedules.

“We really haven’t talked about it a lot,” Gillis admits. “We’re just trying to nail down a time. We’re definitely taking our time with it. We want to make sure we’re comfortable and get everything prepared.”


The Whiskey KissesSeptet supergroup fills the old country space

Hand it to the Whiskey Kisses. The seven-piece found a void in the current Halifax musical landscape and filled the niche for down-home, good-time, old-school country music.

“I don’t think we really thought about it until we got together and started looking for people to play shows with,” says acoustic guitarist Fabian O’Brien. “There are lots of folk acts and there are lots of country influenced stuff, but there are no country bands, unless you count George Canyon’s cyborg country artist thing.”

The Kisses—including singers Jodi McLaughlin and Krista MacDonald, guitarists Brad Conrad and Craig Hamlin, bassist Peter MacMillan, and drummer Mike Bartlett—formed last summer. Already a familiar veteran of the local music scene as a guitarist for punk rock act Dead Red, O’Brien had a hankering to play the music his father liked to listen to when he was younger. He gathered several local musician friends and held auditions for a female vocalist. He settled on both McLaughlin and MacDonald when he heard the two sing together.

“I wanted to start a country band for years, I talked about it drunk, but never got around to it,” O’Brien says. “My cousin and I would come home from shows and quietly listen to country music and drink until 4am. I quit , took the summer off and figured, well, if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.”

The Kisses wrote a small set list of originals, but demand to see them was so great, they incorporated covers of their favourite artists: Patsy Cline, Gram Parsons and Leroy Van Dyke. The Kisses plans to record a debut record of originals that is to be released in the New Year.

“For me personally, since I’m from Texas, it’s a bit of a reminder of home,” McLaughlin says. “I grew up on old country music and to be able to sing it is a bit of a privilege because there’s really no one else doing it. I’m surprised at the response because country is popular here but you never really hear about it.”


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