Jona Barr aka Old Cabin is a Canadian songwriter who, over the years, has left his home in Whitehorse to tour the country at length—adding up to about three hundred concerts since 2011. Why Barr keeps coming back to Ottawa might have something more to do with Ottawa musicians than Ottawa concert promoters.
Among the dozens who have contributed to an Old Cabin record—or backed up Barr on tour—Ottawa names appear more than most. Names like Théan Slabbert (Bosveld), Pascal Delaquis (Hilotrons), JF Beauchamp (Kalle Mattson), Mika Posen (Merganzer), several members of Pony Girl, as well as Ottawa expats Michael Feuerstack and Jordy Walker.
Above: Old Cabin perform live in a 360° video for CFUR 88.7 FM. In the band: Jona Barr (guitar/vocals), Théan Slabbert (bass), Pascal Delaquis (drums) and Kyle Cashen (keys).
In an interview conducted by email, I ask Barr to explain his affinity for Ottawa talent. We chat Old Cabin’s new album, an upcoming concert at The Record Centre (August 16), plus a bonus round of Arboretum Festival concert picks.
Apt613: There’s a lot of Ottawa on your new record. Tell us how these collaborations came about? Who are they and how did you meet these musicians?
Jona Barr: That’s true, I hadn’t really thought about it before. I had known everyone from playing shows together over the years. It makes perfect sense they are all really rad folks. There are Pony Girl peeps: Yolande Laroche and Jeff Kingsbury. JF Beauchamp and I went over to Dave Draves’s studio in Ottawa to record trumpet and flugelhorn. Michael Feuerstack and Jordy Walker are both Ottawa expats. And last but not least, Mika Posen. Actually, Mika was the only person I had never met face-to-face. We got a chance to play together at Dawson City Music Festival last month and it was a blast, she’s a real nice person.
Old Cabin is a rock band whose one core member is you yourself. Every album and tour seems to involve new combinations of musicians. What do you look for in a bandmate? Where do you find them?
Oh man, that’s a hard question. I’ve had about 30 folks join me on shows or tours or on albums. Looking back I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. Hah. We’re all still buds though. I think that counts for something! I look for the following qualities in people that I play with: sincerity, being a team player, and maybe musicianship?
Chemistry is a big part of it. I’d love to bring my hometown band on the road but they all have kids, houses and jobs that are a little hard to leave for a month to sleep on floors and live in a van. Fingers crossed, we’ll do something when the kids get older.
Above: Live session for Southern Souls. In the band: Jona Barr (guitar/vocals), Jeff Kingsbury (drums), Greggory Clark (bass), Julien Dussault (guitar).
Looking at Old Cabin’s schedule, it seems you’re on tour more often than not. Roughly how many gigs will you play this year?
Not too sure, I’ve got a few small tours coming up within the next twelve months or so. I have my sights on some cool festivals and places that I’d like to play. I think I’d like to start working on the next album this winter, I feel like it’s going to be a good time for it.
How many of those are in a record shop?
Hopefully more than one!
What makes an in-store concert special for you?
I’m a big fan of not playing in a bar, or any conventional venue. Playing in a record store seems like a great spot for live music, especially this one. It seems like John [Thompson] has built a really cool community around the space. I’m a huge fan of building communities.
New album Saturn Return is set for release, August 26. But… is there half a chance listeners at your Ottawa show can get an LP at the merch table?
I won’t have vinyl until October, but I’m bringing some of the new CDs. I’m super excited about the packaging. I was able to get Paul & Seth from Yorodeo in Halifax to make it look really good, and 3D. The music is good too. I’m pretty excited with what we came up with. We didn’t rush it this time.
Will you stay in Ottawa for the Arboretum Festival? What’s good in the line-up? Which artists are you excited about?
Aww man, ARB does a fantastic job at booking cool acts. I’m excited to check out the You’ve Changed BBQ for sure. Looking forward to discovering new bands.
Old Cabin is performing at The Record Centre (1099 Wellington W) at 6pm on Tuesday August 16. All ages welcome and admission is free. For details, see the Facebook event.