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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
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Craig Silliphant
Published Wednesday October 15, 07:01 pm
Pull out those faded t-shirts, because The Smalls are back on the road

THE SMALLS

Tuesday 21 and Saturday 25

Louis’ Pub

Anyone who was into music in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in Western Canada probably saw Alberta underground heroes The Smalls blast the roof off venues. Now, over a decade after they called it quits, the band is back with a reunion tour.

You’ve probably heard of their bass player, alt-country star Corb Lund, but back in the day, The Smalls were an unsigned band that sold over 40,000 albums. At the height of their legacy, they made national news for being in the centre of a riot in Kamloops.

The promoter had oversold the hall, so the cops and fire marshals came in to stop it,” says drummer Terry Johnson. “Instead of doing it the smart way and getting the promoter to come up and talk to the crowd, [the police] came up on stage and started trying to take our instruments away.

The crowd just went crazy — [they] started throwing beer cans, spitting at them, and they responded by macing the whole crowd. Everybody stampeding out of the place, nearly killing each other, when that was what [the police] were there to prevent.”

The Smalls always defied categorization, delving into metal, jazz, country and beyond — a function of where they came from, says Johnson.

[We] all had somewhat of a rural background — it limited what we listened to,” he says. “We all grew up on old-school metal, but our parents were listening to old-school country, so eventually that seeped in. We didn’t have an agenda to make it sound like this or that, it was just whatever we liked. It probably damaged our chances of getting a record deal back in the day, because we couldn’t be pigeon-holed into one kind of music.”

Near the end of the ‘90s there was talk of the band moving to Austin to pursue the American market, but not everyone wanted to go, so they broke up.

[It] was a question of, were we willing to keep doing it at this level for longer,” says Johnson. “Living in the van as we were, and starving, or [should we] do something else? It was sad, but it was amicable.”

The Smalls recently spent over a month in rehearsal to do some festival dates, and then more time learning more songs for their longer club set. Johnson says he hadn’t even heard some of these songs in years, so it was like starting from scratch.

We used to rehearse those songs so much before we recorded them,” he says. “Then we’d record them and immediately go out on tour and be playing them endlessly, so you’d be so sick of them. I’d even be at friends’ parties and request that they not play The Smalls because I was sick of it. But when I started listening to them again, it brought me back into the headspace I was in back then, and brought back some of the muscle memory and all that.”

The band doesn’t have plans to record new material, although they never say never; for now, it’s just gratifying to see the fans — and the old t-shirts — coming back out.

Mostly at shows, people like to pull them out,” says Johnson. “You know, it’s like they save them up and only wear them for their favourite shows. It’s not as often that I see them when I’m walking down the street in Edmonton the way I used to, because most people’s have worn right out and we haven’t sold merchandise in 14 years.

But no matter where I’m at, I’m always running into someone that knows the band, so that always feels good — feels like you’ve accomplished something, you know?”

 

ELLEN DOTY

Thursday 23

The Bassment

There were more than a few naysayers in Calgary songstress Ellen Doty’s life when she made the decision to leave school to pursue music, rather than finishing her geology degree. But time has proven Doty right: she’s just released her new album Goldto early acclaim, and she’s supporting it with a 30-city Canadian tour.

“It was a hard decision, but I’m so happy that I did it,” says Doty. “I made the jump to go all-in as an artist.”

Influenced by classic artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole, as well as more contemporary singers like Norah Jones, Doty’s music is a laidback cross between traditional jazz and easy-listening pop. She trained in vocal jazz at Carleton University, but it was well-known New York jazz artist Dave Mancini (who’s performed with the likes of Rosemary Clooney and former Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinsen) who gave her a crash course.

“[Mancini] saw me perform at the Fairmont in Calgary,” says Doty. “He asked me if I wanted to come out [to New York]. I spent a week at his studio in Rochester, [and] he drilled me on all things jazz. I even did some lessons at Juilliard.”

When it comes to the title of the new album, Doty says that Goldmeans something precious, which can be different to each person. Doty’s personal gold was the decision to make music her life.

 

“[I called the album] Goldbecause this was a journey,” she says. “[It’s] something that was precious to me.”

 

THE WEATHER STATION

Wednesday 22

Broadway

Known as The Weather Station, folk artist Tamara Lindeman has been steadily growing a name (or two) for herself on the Canadian folk scene, touring with Timber Timbre and Bruce Peninsula and collaborating with artists like Dan Romano. Her literate, introspective songs have been featured in places like Pitchfork, CBC, and NPR, and she’s just released a new EP called What Am I Going to Do with Everything I Know.

Lindeman’s honeysuckle voice is the perfect vehicle for the meditative melancholy heard on the EP. Half-joking, I asked her if it takes a sad person to make such wonderfully sad music.

“I’m not a sad person,” says Lindeman. “I think I’m just a thoughtful person. For better or for worse, I find that what tends to come out in my songwriting are things that I’m uncertain about — or [have] confusion, or cognitive dissonance, you know? I don’t write about things that I know or that I’m sure of. I write about the one question mark in the day.”

Creating an interesting live show with such focused, slow and quiet songs can be a hard thing to pull off. But energy in front of an audience doesn’t have to mean loud guitars and scissor kicks; The Weather Station harnesses more power by not being afraid of a hushed dynamic. Sometimes, quiet really is the new loud.

 

“[You can] allow a room to be quiet when people are interested in having that kind of experience,” she says. “I really like playing my quiet music and allowing people to think and hear the words, hear the subtleties. If you watch a show and something’s happening emotionally, or if an artist is incredibly present as a performer, you can get sucked into that — almost more than with a loud rock band.” 

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