Vancouver musicians livening up Canadian music
Culture / December 8, 2009
By Adam Vincent [Creative Writing Bureau Chief]
Matthew Good, Bif Naked, Nickelback, Hedley, Marianas Trench and Faber Drive are a few bands that have become well known on the national, and international, music radar after getting their start, or their push, in Vancouver. They are however not the only success stories out of Vancouver’s music community.
Art of Dying have been performing in Vancouver for over a decade (with a few name and line-up changes in that time) and, consistently, fans from Vancouver and the Lower Mainland make their way to clubs to see them perform. Founding members, Jonny Hetherington and Greg Bradley, both originally from Alberta, have been creating original rock music relentlessly, and music fans the world over have taken notice. Their live show is a powerful experience, with Hetherington’s lyrics, vocals, and the vibration of the band behind him.
Art of Dying were Fox Seeds finalists in 2005, the same year as Faber Drive (then Faber), and have since gone on to tour North America and parts of the UK with acts the likes of Disturbed and Seether. They took part in the UK’s Download festival in 2006. The headliners that year were Tool, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses. They are an amazing band and are one example of what Vancouver and the surrounding area has to offer.
Art of Dying are currently in LA writing and recording music for an upcoming album, yet the Runner was fortunate enough to interview Jonny Hetherington, lead singer and lyricist of the band.
When asked what his favourite venue to play at in Vancouver as a band, and as a solo artist with his side project, Hethro, Hetherington remarked, “My fav. local venue would have to be the Commodore. It’s so classic and amazing to play. That being said, I love what’s going on at Venue [formally The Plaza] lately, too. They’ve made some really great changes–I love the new stage and sight lines. The Media Club is always fun when I bust out an acoustic guitar or two.”
Vancouver’s live music venues have become less abundant in recent history, and when asked about the changes over the years, Hetherington said, “When I moved to Vancouver in the 90s, it seemed like there was a club on every block in Gastown where you could go to see a band. Literally, I remember at least eight bars in a five block radius that were amazing, dingy, cheap places to stumble into and discover music. That’s probably the biggest change in the local scene.”
Despite changes, Hetherington said that he is “excited about a ton of local artists” and in 2006, this excitement saw Hetherington, Greg Bradley (founders of Art Of Dying) and Brian Thompson forming Thorny Bleeder records to get local music out to music lovers. They work with bands such as Quartered, Burning Borders and TV Heart Attack. Their website www.thornybleeder.com has free music downloads of some amazing local acts.
As far as an international band that he enjoys, Hetherington said, “My favourite international band would have to be Disturbed. We’ve been touring all over North America with them for the last two years. They’re amazing people and incredibly talented musicians.”
Art of Dying is currently working on their music in L.A., and have, as Hetherington said “some exciting announcements to make in the weeks to come.” Music lovers should visit their site at www.artofdyingmusic.com for details.
Another act who is giving music lovers an earful of amazing songs is Incura. Originally from Alberta, the band moved to Vancouver some years ago, and has rapidly become local favourites. In 2008, they won Fox Seeds’ Platinum Award and have continued to wow audiences in Vancouver, Surrey and around Canada, including a recent spot during Toronto Music Week.
Their sound cannot be contained to one genre, but has been called aggressive melodic rock by some. Lead singer and lyricist, Kyle Gruninger’s vocals have a range that must be heard to be appreciated, and his on stage showmanship and charisma has been compared to Queen’s Freddie Mercury. The band fuses heavy guitars, bass lines and drums with, at times, the melodic sounds of piano; a sound that accentuates Gruninger’s lyrics and vocals and has fans clamoring.
The Runner recently spoke to Kyle Gruninger of Incura, and asked him about relocating to Vancouver and the state of local, Vancouver, music.
“The move to Vancouver came about due to the extremely small size of the town we were in. When in Canada, if a band is looking to get more exposure, you move to a city that has a history of great music and music business. Being from Alberta, Vancovuer was the closest city with those credentials. Moving out to T.O was just a bit far and over whelming for five boys from Lethbridge” Gruninger said.
On his favourite place to perform in Vancouver, Gruninger said, “The Commodore Ballroom. We played there three times last year, and each time was better then the last. It’s the perfect live venue.” He went on to say, “but, word up to the Bourbon in Gas Town for keeping live music going hard every night and being a very supportive indie live music venue.”
When asked about the state of the Vancouver music scene, Gruninger said, “Oh, the Vancouver ‘scene.’ The word is thrown around like there is a group of one thousand kids just waiting to attend shows. This however is not the case. I don’t really know how Vancouver’s scene has changed over the years. But, I can tell you my thoughts of the situation. In every city, it is the bands have to create the scene. Bands, venues, promoters–they all blame the fans and the people for not coming to shows or not being supportive enough. I say, ‘that’s bullshit.’ A person is rarely going to walk into a random night club on a Friday just because they ‘want to support the scene.’”
Gruninger went on to say, “Music gives people a reason to go out and be a part of something. Maybe it’s not the fans not being supportive, but the music not being good enough to support.”
He qualified his strong response, “I know it sounds harsh, but I will say that I have almost never walked into a random club and found that amazing underground band that I could fall in love with. What I do find, is another band trying to find their place in a sea of mind-numbing, ‘lets all sound the same and sell records’ bullshit. Let’s face it, why am I paying $15 to see a band that I don’t like…just to support music? …In reality, we’re not going to put money into a product we’re not happy with.”
Gruninger’s suggestion: “Create a reason to get people out to shows. The bands that are ground-breakingly different, have a live show like no other; have music thattake your eyes away from the stage. These are the shows people are supporting. I personally went to two shows this month that were packed. Why? Because everyone is sick of paying all this money to see shit they have seen before… you don’t buy cookies you won’t eat, so why buy music you won’t listen to? To support just to support is not the answer. The scene dead? Not at all…. People just need to find a reason again to be excited about the acts that they are paying to see.”
When asked who his favourite local and international acts are to see, Gruninger said “Local acts include Callahan, Ninjaspy, and Tenant. Favourite international acts: Protest the Hero, The Used, and Cannibal Corpse.”
Incura will be hitting the road promoting their new recording “The Lost EP,” and will be going cross-Canada starting Oct 31. Gruninger added that the band will “be back for the Olympics, [followed by] more touring, more recording, more music…MORE MADNESS!!!” Incura’s website is www.incura.net
A band that is now well known around Canada, who are from/got their start in Vancouver are Marianas Trench. Formally Ramsay Fiction, with lead singer Josh Ramsay and guitarist Matt Webb, Marianas Trench came to be in 2003, after being signed onto local record label 604 Records. They played small venues around Vancouver such as The Royal, The Backstage Lounge and the Media Club, and opened for acts such as Matthew Good at the Commodore. They are a platinum selling band whose debut album “Fix Me” released in October of 2006 on 604 and Universal records helped to propel them into the national spotlight. Their latest album, “Masterpiece Theater,” released in February of 2009, continues to sell beyond platinum status. The band is currently touring across Canada. Check out their website www.marianastrench.net for details.
The Runner was able to contact Mike Ayley, bassist of Marianas Trench, during some of his down time during the tour, for his views on the importance of fan and media support for local bands.
Ayley believes that supporting local bands is vital in keeping the band going, but that local media also have to be willing to support local talent.
He said, “I remember before we were a touring band we were just doing everything we could to get a buzz going in our home town of Vancouver. You can do all the hand billing you want and recruit all the people from your work, but eventually you need to have your music introduced to new people. Radio and videos are ideal for that, but it’s WAY harder to get your stuff played in those formats than you would think.”
He said that a great way for bands to gain exposure is to land gigs as opening acts, “The one other way to go as a local band is to open up for bigger touring acts coming through your town. We got to open up for Matthew Good and Edwin at the Commodore and that got our stuff out there to well over 1000 new people. I still hear from some fans that the first time they saw us was at one of those shows.”
Ayley believes that local support is essential in music. “If people don’t head out to see the bands in their city, how do the bands build a buzz? How do you get noticed by record labels or radio stations? I think people need to check out the bands that their friends or coworkers play in at least once. Maybe they end up being not very good or maybe you find out they’re amazing. You might just find your own new favourite band that you can see in your town four or five times a year for under $10! You never know, but it means so much to bands just to have a chance to play to new people.”
On many venues moving away from live music and into dance bars, Ayley said, “I fear that if the small local music scenes die that we’ll be left with nothing but manufactured projects, most of whom don’t actually have the talent or chops to recreate their music live because they started off in a studio.”
When asked about his personal thoughts on attending live music, Ayley commented, “I remember before I was in Marianas Trench, in the very early years, I used to check them out at The Backstage Lounge, The Pic Pub, The Brickyard, etcetera. They were my favourite band and I loved that I could go to a show and share the experience with fifty people or so. I loved that I could be as close as I wanted. I probably saw them a dozen times and it didn’t even cost me $100. It’s so cool to catch a band on the way up. You get to grow with them and you get to see them bust their asses-hopefully climbing up the industry ladder-and know that you helped them make it to where they are.”
Live music in Vancouver and all of the Lower Mainland is happening as you read this.
The combination of incredible talent, an amazing live show, willing venues, and radio support could turn your favourite local acts into internationally recognized, arena playing bands, as it did for Marianas Trench. Your support keeps fantastic bands like Art of Dying and Incura touring around the province and the country, while creating new music as they look at the option of distribution deals and the like.
The music of Art of Dying, Incura and Marianas Trench can be found on iTunes. Also, Art of Dying and Incura’s albums can be bought via their websites and at their shows. Marianas Trench’s new album can be found via their website and at your favourite retail outlets. All of the bands mentioned in this article can also be found via Myspace and have groups on Facebook.
Check out local talent before they’re selling out GM place and you end up with seats in the nosebleeds.