And we’re off!
Day 1 of Ottawa Bluesfest kicks off today, with a solid lineup. If you need to pick up your passes, make sure you get there early so you can beat the rush (FYI: Will call booth opens at 3pm, and Box Office opens at 4pm). Luckily, unlike last year when Bryan Adams opened the festival, this year’s opening day lineup shouldn’t draw quite as much of a late crowd, so you should have plenty of opportunity to walk around and get familiar with the festival grounds.
City Stage: Nao (6pm), Eagle River Singers (7:30pm), CHVRCHES (7:45pm), alt-J (9:30pm)
Bluesville Stage: Steve Poltz (6pm), Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar (7:30pm), Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul (9pm)
Spin Stage: DJ Rise Ashen (6:30pm)
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Kelly Sloan of Almonte will be closing out the Barney Danson Theatre with selections off her four albums of dreamy folk-pop. If Day 1 is wearing you out and you aren’t sure you can handle the onslaught of energy from Little Steven over in the Bluesville tent, head indoors and enjoy the Theatre’s cool air and Sloan’s mellow sound.
On the Spin stage, DJ Rise Ashen will be manning the turntables for the first of two nights.
The Bluesville tent should be rocking with Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul. Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band’s founding member brings with him a full cast of performers, including a complete horns section, to bring to life a setlist infused with rock, soul and even Motown, which will have the crowd dancing all night.
Best described as a quirky troubadour, Steve Poltz will be marking his return to Bluesfest as the first act in the Bluesfest tent. Better known as the co-writer for Jewel’s hit “You Were Meant For Me”, Poltz has amassed a huge catalog with a dozen albums, encompassing everything from folk songs like “Silver Lining” to a remake of TLC’s “Waterfalls”. You never know what kind of set you’ll get with Poltz, but no matter what, it’s bound to be entertaining.
In conversation with… CHVRCHES
The Scottish synth-pop group is making their first appearance in Ottawa since Bluesfest 2015, and we had a lot of catching up to do with the trio, so we had a chat with Martin Doherty to find out what they’ve been up to in the last four years since we’ve seen them, what else we can expect from them, and his memories of that watershed show in 2015 (which included the live debuts of hits “Clearest Blue” and “Leave A Trace”).
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
APT613: The three of you got together in 2011, and almost immediately burst out on the scene. You and Ian (Cook) had been in a band together already, and Lauren (Mayberry) had had her own band, but as a trio, how was it having to form ‘on the go’?
Martin Doherty: I haven’t thought about it much, but when I look back, I realize just how intense that first four years was. I don’t feel like we stopped. We basically made one record, and then we took six weeks off, and then we made the second record. The entire time we were on the road. I guess that’s just the way of it when you get the chance.
When you had [previous band] Aerogramme going, and Lauren had hers, neither sounded like CHVRCHES. What took you on this new direction?
Interestingly, I had a part to play in that, because with Aerogramme, I hadn’t been writing in that band. The kind of music we’re making with CHVRCHES is music we all love, and ultimately is more of a representation of what we all enjoy. I’ve always enjoyed the electronic sound, and classic synthesizers, but we just never had had a chance to show that. To me, it never really felt like a departure, even though if it seemed like it on the face of it.
The influences in your sound come from a variety of genres, from 80’s synth pop to early alternative, and clearly it hit a nerve since you took off so quickly.
That’s the thing. We grew up on alternative records, listening to bands like the Smashing Pumpkins or Radiohead, the late 90’s when we were very young and just discovering music for the first time. Speaking from my experience, I carried all of that into my writing.
Having crossed over between alternative and pop, your band is one of the very few who’ve been able to straddle that line successfully, and not be pigeon-holed into one or the other.
I don’t want it to sound like it was preordained, or designed in the way that we came together, but I would definitely say it was a goal of mine to try and straddle both of those worlds. I’ve always had that base level response to pop music just because it’s so extreme and I’ve always just enjoyed it. So it was always our goal to marry those two worlds, and to be respected or relevant, but also be satisfied from the commercial aspect, much like my favourite acts of the 80’s, such as The Cure, or Depeche Mode.
“It was always our goal to marry those two worlds, and to be respected or relevant, but also be satisfied from the commercial aspect, much like my favourite acts of the 80’s, such as The Cure, or Depeche Mode.”
Not many have been able to do it since those two examples, and especially in the last 10-15 years, but you’ve managed to really strike that balance.
That’s nice of you to say. I don’t really have that kind of awareness of it from the outside. Maybe that’s healthy, or I’d just be sitting around congratulating myself all the time instead of working! Whether or not we’ve been successful at it is for others to decide, but I’d say that aim was definitely at the core of everything we’ve done.
You just celebrated the one-year anniversary of your Love Is Dead album, but I have to ask: is the next album underway?
Right now, we have about 21 songs that we’re going to work on and demo, and turn into a record, or an EP, or just singles—whatever feels like the right way to distribute, and when. Generally speaking though, I’m always writing, and CHVRCHES is always my priority, so that side comes pretty easy to me. As to when we turn that into a proper schedule for recording, that depends on when we get off the road. We’ll be back in the studio soon enough. I have sessions with Ian this week. We’re always writing, and I’m excited to get new stuff out, and we may well do it sooner than you think!
You just had that collaboration with Marshmello, so I’m very curious to see what you have coming next.
The next thing we do is going to be a special project, and I’m really excited about it. But that’s all I can say right now.
“Bluesfest was one of our first big North American gigs, and we were genuinely in absolute terror and fear.”
Last time you were in Ottawa was Bluesfest in 2015, so the fan base is quite anxious to get you back on stage and hear all the new music.
If I remember right, Bluesfest was one of our first big North American gigs, and we were genuinely in absolute terror and fear. Now, we’re very relaxed and very comfortable on stage and can put on a good show.
If it’s anything like the 2015 show, it should be a terrific one. People still talk about that set.
Well, next time you talk to them, you can let them know we were absolutely shitting ourselves! It was also the day we put out “Leave A Trace”, so it was like a make or break moment for us. You just never know if you’re going to be that hot band for a minute, or if your new record can be better than your first. I’m so grateful to be in a position to say now that it seems to have been the latter.
RBC Bluesfest is at LeBreton Flats (Canadian War Museum) from July 4–14, 2019. Visit ottawabluesfest.ca for tickets, the complete schedule and lineup. Check back for more on Bluesfest 2019, including our Day 2 preview.