By Ryan Pepper
In a city more known for its frenetic punk than groovy soul, soul band Slack Bridges are making their mark and taking their show to one of the biggest stages in the city with a concert at the National Arts Centre on December 7, 2018.
Slack Bridges was originally the soul project of bassist Garett Barr and guitarist Chris Elms. The duo wrote a few songs and looked around for a singer for several months, explained Barr, before moving on to other things. About six months later the two dug out the old tunes, found current singer Matthew Gilmour, and formed Slack Bridges.
To the band, soul is an umbrella term covering quite a few genres, and each member of the band has their own favourite style or approach that they bring to the group’s overall sound.
“Even the term soul, we use carefully, because we’re pretty aware that you can blow that open easily,” said Barr. “It’s kind of a canned word. We have people in the group who are more into jazzy hip-hop, we have people who are more into Motown. I find it neat because you can come from all of these different territories of the soul umbrella and all work together.”
The group embraces influences from classic soul to Motown to contemporary R&B, and Barr especially credited Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories with getting him to work on a soul project in the first place.
“When I approached Chris, at the time Daft Punk had just put out Random Access Memories and I was really blown away by that record and I was surprised that you could put a record like that in 2012 and it would be so effective,” said Barr.
Gilmour also cited Anderson Paak’s records to be seminal influences, suggesting their willingness to fuse the contemporary and classic, and Barr says they’ve been told that they sound like an instrumental hip-hop group.
Although the soul scene in Ottawa might not be as big as the punk or indie scene, Gilmour pointed out that this style of music is sought-after by music fans, so there’s never a shortage of shows. Even a casual listener will enjoy the fun, passionate, and celebratory style that most soul bands play.
There’s so much enthusiasm associated with it, it’s something that a lot of people from diverse backgrounds can get behind.
“One of the great things about this kind of music is that because it’s so celebratory and because there’s so much enthusiasm associated with it, it’s something that a lot of people from diverse backgrounds can get behind,” said Gilmour.
Slack Bridges will be playing songs from their debut album, Joy of Joys, in their best arrangements yet, plus some brand-new, yet-to-be released songs, but Gilmour and Barr both view their upcoming NAC gig as a chance to wrap up the album and move on to the next step in their music.
The show at the NAC came as a bit of a surprise to the band, who had been reaching out to several venues to plan a larger concert but weren’t expecting to hear back from “Canada’s Stage.” One of the bookers for NAC Presents had seen them play and was excited to get the band on stage.
We know who you guys are and we would like to support you in having that concert.
“It was kind of humbling that the NAC got back to us and said, ‘We know who you guys are and we would like to support you in having that concert,’” said Barr.
The band have found themselves at a bit of a crossroads with this NAC show. Gilmour and Barr both viewed the Joy of Joys album as having gone above and beyond their expectations. They made a list of festivals they wanted to play and managed to play them all. With a high-profile NAC show closing the door on their first album, the group must figure out what they want to do next. The group has new music that they are excited about, but what they do with that music—and album, an EP, or a handful of singles—is still up in the air.
“It’s nice being in a place where you exceeded your own hopes,” said Gilmour.
In addition to Barr, Elms, Gilmour, and drummer Matt Godin, the NAC performance will also feature keyboardist Kim Jackson and a powerful brass section of Laurel Ralston on trumpet and Julian Selody—also of Lemon Bucket Orkestra—on saxophone. Also playing that night is Rita Carter and her band, who are stalwarts of the soul scene in Ottawa.
With the addition of Ralston and Jackson full-time, Slack Bridges is no longer an all-male band, something that Barr and Gilmour are happy to see.
In Ottawa, and I think in music in general, that it can be a bit of a boys-club.
“We became aware a year ago that we were an all-male band and … we were aware that it’s a bit of a problem in Ottawa, and I think in music in general, that it can be a bit of a boys-club. So, it’s been really interesting that just recently we went looking for a keyboardist and the number one person for the job was Kim Jackson,” said Barr. “And the same thing with Laurel Ralston … so now we find ourselves one-third female in the group, which is really exciting.”
Slack Bridges play the NAC’s Fourth Stage on December 7, 2018, with support from Rita Carter. The show is currently sold out.