Entertainment and Sports

Independent Hits

The internet has made it easy to check out and support independent musicians, so why not do it?

By Kevin Somers
Published May 18, 2007

Two new discs have found regular rotation in our top 40 recently. A Northern Chorus's "The Millions Too Many" and Tripping West's "Scenes From our Lives" are affirmations that big labels and their sponging suits should be on their way to redundancy. Both CDs are great independent offerings from hard-working Canadian bands who do it all themselves.

Technology, talent, and tenacity have enabled the musicians from A Northern Chorus and Tripping West to autonomously write, record, and share what they obviously love to do; a commitment to craft flows from both discs.

Tripping West

Vancouver-based Tripping West is a hard-charging group fronted by Tricia Kelly, who sings with best of them; Natalie Merchant and Blondie come to mind through the ears at the sound of her voice.

The band, smooth, solid and sound, plays a wide and interesting mix of styles; jazz, rock, blues, pop, Gaelic drinking ... On "Scenes From our Lives" and Kelly's distinctive sound ties it all together nicely.

The group has been together for 3 years and this is their first CD. The work ethic that comes through in the music is evidenced in real life; three members work in the airline industry where the hours are exhausting, erratic, and unpredictable in the not-always friendly skies. Still, the band plays live regularly and they have developed a devoted following in the Vancouver area.

I contacted the band through their website and e-chatted with Orlando Kutic, the bass player. When asked about their motivation and the sacrifices required of an independent band, he replied:

We are all motivated by the music that we make, the response we get to our live shows and most of all, by one another. In a little over three years, we have managed to finance, write, record and release a full length CD. We have also managed to build a fairly devoted following.

In terms of sacrifice, we have had to make some in order to get to where we are. Some of us sacrificed a career in law, some sacrificed a higher position at work and some just sacrificed their free time. But in the end, we are all very happy with where we've ended up and we also know that more sacrifices await us further down the road.

"Scenes From Our Lives" is a collection of 11 bouncy, catchy songs that insist you join the fun and sing along. I was reading about them recently and came across this response to what's next for the band from Tricia, "You know, a lot of crying, and napping, and drinking out of bottles." Funny.

She continued, "But seriously, I am really looking forward to playing more. Not just shows, but rehearsals, jamming, composing, getting back to why we were doing this in the first place. It's easy as an independent band to get caught up in all the other aspects of the music industry ... recording, promoting, managing all the other little details that require your attention if you want to be serious about it. But we're really doing this because we love playing music," and the love shines through.

A Northern Chorus

A Northern Chorus is a more local ensemble and "The Millions Too Many," their fourth CD, was made by Hamilton's Sonic Unyon. A Northern Chorus definitely isn't a pop band and their album took more getting used to. Unexpected arrangements and changes of pace have quiet moments filled in with an unpredictable swelling of sounds.

Affection for the music grows with each listen, however, and their layered, lush album grows and grows on you, which explains their devoted fan base. As one aptly said recently, "You have to learn the music to truly appreciate it."

The members of A Northern Chorus also work hard to play music and have traveled extensively to support their CDs. I recently emailed Stuart Livingstone from the band with a few questions.

Kevin Somers, Raise the Hammer: How long you have you been playing together?

Stuart Livingstone, A Northern Chorus: Well, the history of A Northern Chorus is a long long story. Basically, Pete and I have been playing together for 10 years. We started A Northern Chorus back in 2001. As a testament to the perils of being a touring independent band, we've had a number of lineup changes. This has been both a blessing and a curse, as songs can be re-invented with new players, but it slows down the writing process a little bit. We released our 4th album last month, and just returned from a month long US/Canadian tour.

KS: Where did you meet?

SL: Pete and I met through a mutual friend back in high school. We've met everyone else through the local Toronto and Hamilton music scenes.

KS: What is life on the road like? (The best and worst)

SL: Touring can be very mentally exhausting. It would be a different story if we had an ‘overnight driver' and bunks on a tour bus, but the current schedule is really taxing. You wouldn't think that sitting in a Van for an average of 6 hours a day could take so much energy out of you. On this past trip we had to drive through the night twice and still only made it to the gigs with an hour to spare.

But all this being said, it feels like it's worth it when a crowd gets into the music. It feels like we're making some headway in expanding our fan base. It's still really small, but it's spread out all over the continent. And the people that are into the music are REALLY into the music.

Support Indie Music

Again, the emphasis is on music, which survives and thrives despite Simon Cowell, those like him, and those who like him. The internet has made it easy to check out and support independent musicians, so why not?

Kevin Somers is a Hamilton writer.

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