In February 2008, the power couple combo of Jacquie Neville and Liam Jaeger took the stage at the sorely missed Zaphod Beeblebrox under the name “The Balconies” for a first time. Originally performing as a three-piece, it was evident to all those at their first shows that The Balconies would be an energetic force to be reckoned with in the Canadian music landscape. The humble Ottawa beginnings set them on a path that included a European tour, meeting their music heroes, and headlining Canadian cities from coast to coast.
Ten years later, The Balconies are returning to the place where their careers took off, as they prepare to play the last two shows of the band’s career. Originally scheduled to play one final show in Ottawa on February 3rd, the tickets for the concert sold out in only a few hours, becoming the fourth-fastest selling concert in promoter Spectrasonic’s history. With such an extraordinary demand for tickets, The Balconies added another night of farewell festivities on February 2nd.
We spoke to Liam Jaeger about the decision to end The Balconies, ten years of highs and lows, and the special place that Ottawa holds in the history of the band.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: I think the biggest question that Balconies fans want to know is, why is the band breaking up?
Liam Jaeger: I think it’s a progression of things. We were probably the busiest between 2012 and 2014 with constant touring, and by the end of that we realized that we needed to write more material. So we took a break to write a new record, and Rhonda was written throughout 2014 and 2015.
Then we started to pick things back up and were set to go on a new tour promoting the album, but we were hit with a really unexpected set-back when Jacquie’s brother, Steve, quit. That really threw a wrench into the gears because now we had to find a new bass player and someone who would be down to do all the tour dates, learn the songs, and live close enough by so that we could work on stuff. So that was definitely a challenge and it sort of led to the beginning of us not being able to maintain ourselves as people trying to live and support ourselves through music.
Why don’t we just blow the roof off of Ottawa and play some crazy final shows?
Just keeping the band afloat required so much time and effort and it really made it impossible to live the kinds of lives we wanted and to be involved artistically in different projects, like producing other artists.
Also, the ten-year mark was kind of a big thing. Our first show ever was in Ottawa in February 2008, and so we saw that date coming up and thought, “why don’t we just blow the roof off of Ottawa and play some crazy final shows?” Right now we’re working really hard on the set lists for these final shows. We’ll be playing a number of older songs, and pretty much a chunk from each record that we’ve done. For the older material we’ll be doing it as a three-piece, the way The Balconies originally started, and then our bass player will join us for the last two thirds of the show. We’re expecting it to be a really long set, probably an hour and a half plus. It’s going to be huge for us.
In the post announcing the band’s breakup, Jacquie wrote that the two of you will “continue to create music together” and that she “can’t wait to share future projects”. Has a lot of other music been recorded already, and what was the thought process behind not releasing new music under “The Balconies” as a two-piece?
It’s tricky because each record we’ve put out has been so different from the last. When you’re a band and you release a new album that sounds different from the previous one, you get messages like “why did you change your sound? I liked your old music.” It’s a weird thing to deal with. Obviously it’s part of the whole experience, but it makes you take a step back and think, “are we letting people down?” When that keeps happening to you, you slowly realize that maybe you’re not the same band anymore.
We just want to have the freedom to kind of start something fresh, and we made a lot of demos that were originally going to be Balconies songs, but we realized it’s not really the same band, despite being the same people. The ten-year mark seemed like a good time for ending the band so that Jacquie and I can sort of represent ourselves through our music without being attached to people’s expectations. She’s just such a good songwriter, sometimes I wonder what she needs me for.
The new songs are progressing from where we got to with Rhonda, where we were using more synthesizers and becoming more 80s throwback sounding. It’s not ready yet, but it’s on the way to sounding like the music we want to be releasing.
At the end of last year you released Show You, which was originally recorded in 2012 but was never released. Why was the album’s release delayed until 2017?
That’s a weird story, the album was all ready to go. We had this record that we made and worked really hard on, but the timing never made sense. In 2012 we were playing a ton of shows and some of our demos were picking up steam, and in the meantime we were shopping Show You and trying to find partners for the album. The process was taking a really long time, and we kept meeting people who weren’t comfortable releasing a record where there were two lead singers. So a lot of people were coming back to us saying “would you consider adding more songs with Jacquie on lead vocals?”
Then two years went by and the record still hadn’t come out yet, so eventually we decided to kind of re-work a couple of the songs (some ended up on the 2014 album Fast Motions), and by that point we had sort of evolved as a band and it just didn’t make sense anymore to release it. But over the years a lot of fans have asked us about songs that we used to play live but never came out, and so we thought, “well we’re ending the band, let’s just put everything we have online and available to everybody.”
What would you say is your favourite memory from ten years with The Balconies?
Liam Jaeger: Probably the European tour we got to do in 2013 when Rival Sons took us out for nine dates over two weeks throughout Europe and Scandinavia. They were these huge sold-out shows playing for 2,000 people each night, while driving around in a ballin’ van with some pretty sweet gear. It was our first time visiting these countries and the support we received was incredible. But honestly the high-points have always been the shows and the interactions with our fans and hearing their stories. Probably the biggest high for me is knowing that we made an impact in people’s lives. That’s really special.
You’ll be playing two shows here in Ottawa. What are you most looking forward to at these last hometown shows?
Jacquie grew up in Ottawa, and I moved there for university in 2003, so Ottawa’s always meant so much to us. The band started there in 2008, and we had a great couple of years where we got to play all over the place. The last show we played in Ottawa for the release of Rhonda was probably the craziest show I’ve ever experienced, so I’m thinking these shows will be all that plus a whole lot more. These are going to be some heavy nights.
The Balconies play the 27 Club (27 York St) on Friday, February 2 and Saturday, February 3 with support from The Love Machine. Tickets are available online as well as at Vertigo Records and both Compact Music locations. Tickets for Saturday, February 3rd are sold out.