Alec O'Hanley can't multitask. One ofTwo Hours Traffic's singer-guitarists tries to give an interview while relaxing in his parents' pool, but decides mid-sentence that cordless phones and chlorinated water don't mix.
"I'm distracted by this pool," he says, water splashing in the background. "I should get out, actually. It's too nice to concentrate."
O'Hanley deserves the break. The band recently returned to Charlottetown after a week's worth of Ontario shows—highlighted with a spot at the prestigious Hillside Festival in Guelph—and a 20-hour drive home that only truck drivers and touring artists ever get used to. With only a few days off before the band is back on the road supporting its latest release Little Jabs, including a Seahorse CD release August 11, the boys need all the rest they can get.
Not that they're complaining. For a band that started when half the members were in high school, Two Hours Traffic is doing surprisingly well, with hundreds of shows under its belt and critics across the country shouting Jabs' praises. It's something most young bands dream of, but only a rare few are good enough to pull off.
"We never expected that when we were an acoustic duo in grade 11 that we'd be playing with Ron Sexsmith," says O'Hanley before correcting himself. "Actually, when you're in high school I guess you do expect it to go this far. It's not that we're anything huge, but it's nice not to work in a cubicle."
Jabs should keep O'Hanley out of a cubicle for a little while longer. Confidently performed and expertly arranged for maximum hook time, Little Jabs is more like one big knockout punch. Kicking off with the frenetic energy of "Nighthawk" and featuring such highlights as "Heroes of the Sidewalk" and "Whenever We Finish," it's one of the best east coast releases of 2007. And considering the string of stellar records to come from the region this year (Jenn Grant, Joel Plaskett, Dog Day, among others), that's no small feat.
O'Hanley attributes some of the band's success to producer Joel Plaskett, who took a liking to the band after hearing its debut EP The April Storm. Plaskett took the quartet under his wing and offered to produce its debut, self-titled full-length. He's been the band's go-to guy ever since.
"Joel is the band's best friend and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet," says O'Hanley. "It's been a real treat to work with him. He has input on pretty much all levels. He gives us his opinions on lyrics, mixing and everything inbetween. He's a really good pop advisor."
They also credit the Norwalk virus. O'Hanley came down with the flu prior to the band's first recording session in Halifax and passed it on to drummer Derek Ellis, effectively cutting their recording time in half.
"He was really laying down the beats but when we got back to the hotel he started power-puking," he recalls. "I called from the toilet at 6:30 in the morning and told them we could record or not infect the entire staff. It was the most disappointing drive back to PEI we ever had.
"It all ended up working out. It was blistering but we knew what we wanted to do and made it sound party-like. The product doesn't reveal the process. It doesn't sound like we were pooping our pants."
The band's biggest selling point could be its ability to take everything in stride. They're serious about their music, but not pretentious about their aspirations. They're willing to work hard, but don't make it out to be a chore. In a field where success often breeds a sense of entitlement, it's a refreshing attitude, and one that will endear them to industry professionals, critics and fans alike.
"We like to feel that we're getting better with each record, and I think that's the case," says O'Hanley. "We just keep listening to music and try to write songs that sound like the music that we like. We don't get hung up on expectations."
Two Hours Traffic CD release w/Museum Pieces and Smothered in Hugs, August 11 at the Seahorse, 1659 Argyle, 10pm.