Ottawa RBC Bluesfest -it’s not just about out-of-town acts, but about supporting and celebrating local music. I encourage you to add a local band to your must-see list for the festival and watch for our profiles of different local bands this week. The Haig is one such Ottawa-based group, comprised of Chris Davidson (drums), Dean Morrison (guitars and vocal), Richard Michels (bass) and Treawna Harvey (keys and backup vocals). At their show this Tuesday at 6 p.m., you can expect a heavy sound, with grunge and synth, vocal harmonies, and tight drumming. Their style blends influences from genres across the spectrum, including grunge, metal, folk, electronic and good ol’ rock ‘n’roll. They tell us “Think Queens of the Stone Age and Muse collaborating on the sound. You know, those dreams of a dystopian Muppet society or the Super Mario level you cannot escape.” The group started rocking in 2011 and released their album Template for Disaster in 2013 and in August 2014 released Tales of Wisdom and Might. They are in the process of producing their first full-length album, Ghost of Nuclear Future planned for release this winter. Prior to this, they plan to release a 7” of their first single, along with a video shot at the Escape Manor. Check out this video they filmed on the 29th floor of the Ottawa Marriott Hotel last year.
Anything you think would be important for us to know?
We like to incorporate an element of DIY-ness into our equipment, our sound, our show and all aspects of the band. Dean is something of an electrical/tonal magician. He builds guitar pedals and modified equipment to suit our specific needs. His home-built analogue petals are beautifully crafted and unique, ensuring that copying our sound would be a pretty serious feat. They look cool too. Dean also built the telephone mic we use in our set and has modified his guitar and Richard’s bass to include kill switches and custom wiring. Our project show is wired up to pulse to the beat. Just a little trick.
On top of that, Richard makes custom embroidery creations and has made things like hats, scarves, toques, and a pile of patches, each one just as unique as the last, quite! We plan to release our single with homemade silk screened 7″ vinyl covers. We feel like the custom/DIY touch makes things more interesting and relatable and overall more satisfying and fulfilling to show people and to use ourselves.
What does playing Bluesfest mean to the band?
Being asked to play Bluesfest is a gigantic opportunity for us. The Barney Danson Theatre is quite possibly the best equipped and staffed stage we will have ever played on (no offence to any of our friends!), and it is definitely a step up from our practice space. We can’t wait to get an idea of what we sound like in a more or less perfect environment. Also, the theatre is one of the most accessible spaces we will have played in, so it’s a great environment for a lot of our friends and family who might not have had the opportunity to see us at one of the small local bars that we usually gig at. We’re hoping to see a lot of new faces in the crowd as well, as one of our biggest thrills is getting to play for a chunk oft he general public who may not have heard of us before.
We are truly appreciative of the organizers for giving us this chance and we plan to make the most of it.
This is also a big deal for me personally (Richard typing here). I started attending Bluesfest in 2002 when I was 17 and it changed everything for me. Between 2007 and 2013 I didn’t miss a single day. That part of my summer was officially off limits and reserved. Over the years I’ve tried to keep track of the bands I’ve seen in various places and by my count, going into this year I’ve seen 402 bands at Bluesfest alone. I truly count the festival itself as a major musical influence on me and I’m honoured to be a part of it and count myself as one of the performers among all the great acts that have passed through over the years.
We would argue that the local music scene is very healthy, as can be seen by the large number bands playing Bluesfest in the National Capital Region. With that in mind, what are your thoughts about the local music scene?
We love the local music scene. Every weekend it’s a struggle to choose which shows to go to and which shows to regret missing. Honestly, once you get involved in the Ottawa music scene, it keeps seeming smaller and getting bigger and just when you think you’ve met every wonderful person making (/involved in making) wonderful music, you find a new spectacular gem or group of bands that all blow your mind. Anybody who feels that the Ottawa music scene is dead hasn’t bothered to look into it.
Follow-up: What is the most positive aspect of the local music scene? Conversely, what area do you think can use the most improvement?
The best part of the local music scene is the inclusive and collaborative nature of it. There are so many people working together with different projects that cross genres and push boundaries. On top of that, it never feels like bands are in competition with one another. Everybody wants to play with other bands and nobody is looking to show up anybody else. Bands support one another by attending shows, not just their own. Another favourite part of the music scene for us is that shows aren’t all either metal or reggae or punk or any single genre. A folk band, a rock band, a hip hop act and a metal band can be on the same bill and it’s not just not weird, it turns out awesome. This really works well for us, considering our broad spectrum of influences.
Areas that can use improvement? We really feel that all ages shows need to be available. In high school we all went to shows all the time. It was only recently that we found out that no venues were putting on all ages shows anymore (with a couple exceptions). Pre-drinking age is a huge formative time in the life of a young musician and it’s hard to think of how bands can get started if they’ve never seen live bands before. Some kids’ parents will bring them to see stadium shows, but if that’s what they think it means to be a musician, they are likely to be a little disappointed. It’s true, the venues can’t make money off drinks from kids and they’re more likely to have somebody break something among other problems, but there must be a solution that works for everybody.
Another thing is the lack of mid-size venue. Getting on a bill with a big name act would be a great opportunity for a smaller local act to get their name out there in front of a larger crowd than would fit in your typical downtown bar. However, we’re lucky to have a music community that recognizes these areas of potential for improvement.
In a perfect world, how would you like the next year to work out for the band?
In a perfect world, our upcoming single and video will turn the attention of the world onto our musical pursuits. Our album “Ghost of Nuclear Future” will be released on the physical medium of our choice – to no financial commitment of our own – and every record label will want to get their grubby mitts on it. A perfect world will grant this album glowing critical acclaim and it will be the toast of music rags everywhere, Canadian and otherwise.
Recognizing this up and coming rage, some awesome Canadian band like The Headstones or Black Mountain would ask us to open for them on tour. Our live show would be recognized as an institution and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. We would get a new PA in our jam space that doesn’t feed back so much.
We would get a better drummer.
Slowly, but with a certain grace a tower of exotic animals will then rise into the sky and just when they reach the top (that’s right – the top of the sky), the peacock will open up his wings to reveal The Haig – freshly soundchecked, with tonnes of fancy lights and a frosty keg of local suds, read to entertain the throng of hungry onlookers that is the crowd of Bluesfest 2016. That will be sweet, sweet perfection indeed.
The Haig plays at RBC Royal Bluesfest, at the Barney Danson Theatre at 6 p.m. this Tuesday, July 14. For more information visit, www.ottawabluesfest.ca.