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Haunted Hearts II

Talking Bands
by Fraser MacCallum

Thomas Webb, Mark Geddes, Dennis Ellsworth, Johnny Ross, Mike MacDougallHaunted Hearts have made quick work of their goals list. Since beginning in 2008, the Charlottetown alt-country outfit have released two acclaimed albums, picked up a boatload of Music PEI trophies, logged thousands of kilometres in touring, and all the while continue to develop great new songs with a striking frequency.

Led by Sherwood-raised Dennis Ellsworth, the band now consists of Mike MacDougall, Johnny Ross, Mark Geddes and Thomas Webb. Webb and Geddes (also members of Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys) joined last fall, bringing a new sound (pedal steel, upright bass) to an already stacked cast of players.

“The vibe is maybe a little more country by way of the instrumentation, but the writing style is essentially the same,” says lead singer Ellsworth. “The live energy is quite a lot better now, and overall, I think we are in a better place as a band because of the changes we made to the line-up. The natural evolution of Haunted Hearts has been a trip worth taking.”

“The contributions are different but the process remains untouched” Ellsworth emphasizes. “It’s exciting to be writing with this line-up. We are challenging ourselves a little more than before, not necessarily with the sound of the music, but more so with the length of time we let something develop before we perform it live. We’re just really enjoying being a band and figuring out what works and what doesn’t before we reveal it.”

After a busy winter (including 3,000 kilometres burned during a successful ‘Home Routes’ tour across Saskatchewan) the Hearts are looking at a summer of regional festivals and planning more serious touring for the fall season. Ellsworth also points out that he’s looking to tinker with the type of show the Hearts bring and which stages they go after.

“We are looking to be less of a bar band and more of a traveling spectacle…but not all the way. We will still play bars. It’s good fun, but we have a soft side to our music that gets shoved aside in an effort to keep a bar crowd engaged. Some of our mellow stuff is my favorite and it kind of stifles things a little when we have to appear one dimensional when we clearly are not.”

The Haunted Hearts have connected with all sorts of fans though, picking up four 2011 Music PEI Awards and playing the ECMA Gala during Charlottetown’s wild week in April. Along with their albums, this turned the head of Jeff Liberty (management for Matt Andersen, Mike Biggar) who recently signed the quintet to JL Artists.

“It is a great move,” affirms Ellsworth. “It means we can grow our sound, stop managing ourselves, and give the business side of this over to someone who truly understands it; while we concentrate on making the best music we can—making it easier for him to get us in the door.”

“For the first time, we see a road we can travel as a band, and we know that Jeff has every confidence in us, and he shares our desire to see us succeed.”

Gordie & The Boys

Talking Bands
by Fraser McCallum

Gordie MacKeeman (right) and His Rhythm Boys (from left): Peter Cann, Thomas Webb, Mark GeddesWhile watching Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm boys jam out a high-octane live show, one can’t help but grin. It feels like, through a haze of home brew and hand-rolled cigarettes, you’ve stumbled into some late night kitchen session between the fiddler and his gifted bandmates. The attention to the craft is first-class and the on-stage synergy is the best.

During the recent Music PEI week, pride in the budding local music scene seemed to be at all time high. Many spoke of a “critical mass” of talent brewing here. Within this development, Roots music has hit its own growth spurt and Charlottetown’s Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm boys are smack dab in the middle. “Roots music certainly has taken off in recent years,” says Rhythm Boys drummer Mark Geddes. “It feels like the right time to be doing this type of act.”

Geddes (a one-time member of both Nudie & The Turks and The Grass Mountain Hobos, along with MacKeeman) has been an instrumental cog in this growth in the roots scene. Last winter he began developing a small recording studio in downtown Charlottetown, engineering for Katie McGarry, Ward MacDonald and co-producing the Rhythm Boys album with MacKeeman.

MacKeeman, originally from New Glasgow, NS, has been playing Down East music (i.e.: Don Messer, Ivan Hicks) since he was just a grasshopper and is still a key member of The Hobos. “I’ve always played a lot of these tunes, myself, but it was great, when recording the album, for them to be arranged for a band. Mark, with his extensive music knowledge, made the arranging easy.”

When they began the project Geddes was new to Down East music but the partnership with MacKeeman made for a graceful transition. “Gordie’s been really great in helping me identify stylistic differences within this genre. He’s got a whack of Down-East fiddle records by Ned Landry, Al Cherny, Graham Townsend, etc, which were in heavy rotation when choosing tunes for our record. The selection process went really fast though, partly because there were tunes that we already played together and were comfortable with, and partly because we like a lot of the same stuff.”

The finished product, Gordie MacKeeman & His Rhythm Boys, picked up a pair of Music PEI Awards recently (for Roots/Traditional Group Recording and Instrumental Recording of the Year) and an ECMA nomination in the Roots/Traditional Group category.

For MacKeeman, it’s a change of hats moving from lead instrument (with the Hobos, Turks, Meaghan Blanchard) to frontman with his new project. “I have enjoyed it, but I don’t know how much of a frontman I truly am. The rest of the boys are such talented musicians that it makes it an easier role to take on.”

Geddes too is quick to share any praise with the other Rhythm boys (Thomas Webb on bass, Peter Cann on guitar, other guests). “We work on everything together, from song selection to set lists. It’s a real collaborative process. If there’s singing Tom and Peter do the majority of it for the group so they bring most of the vocal numbers to the table. Gordie is always introducing us to old Down East tunes that are logged somewhere way in the back of his brain. Me, I just play train beats.”

Gordie MacKeeman & His Rhythm Boys will be in full-gear during the 2011 ECMAs.

Tim Chaisson and Morning Fold

Talking Bands
by Fraser McCallum

Tian Wigmore, Nat Lamoreux, Tim Chaisson. Missing: Brien McCarthyTim Chaisson is an unlikely young star in pop music. Quiet, humble, and known for many years as a gifted instrumentalist, it would seem that a long and fruitful career as a sideman was a likely future for the Souris native. Chaisson has shaken those expectations, however, and these days enjoys an immensely busy schedule as the frontman of Tim Chaisson & Morning Fold, a pop band who’s 2010 year of accomplishments would be the envy of any Canadian act.

Morning Fold (named after the morning act of laundry folding) is comprised of Chaisson, Tian Wigmore on lead guitar, Nat Lamoreux on drums, and Brien McCarthy on bass. 2010 was a banner year for the group and included multiple Music PEI awards, ECMA nominations, showcases at both JunoFest and Atlantic Canada House, and two music videos cracking Much More Music’s Top 10 charts.

Canadian pop-rock veterans The Trews took a great liking to Morning Fold and after many shared shows in PEI and Nova Scotia, asked Chaisson and Wigmore to join them on an extensive acoustic tour in the late fall. According to Chaisson the collaboration has been eye opening, to say the least.

“We’ve learned a lot from the Trews boys but I’d say their work ethic and respect for the audience would be the most important” he says from the road. “They’re great guys with no ego, which is sometimes hard to find in the music business. Just being surrounded by them and their crew is awesome. You’re out to put on a great show, meet fans, and make sure everyone is having a good time.”

The tour, a sprawling 30 dates from coast to coast, has been an enriching experience for the two bandmates. Wigmore was hired on additionally as the guitar tech for The Trews’ nightly set, a role he’s really embraced. Chaisson, meanwhile, has enjoyed the chance to play in more intimate settings than some other tours.

“Doing the 35 minute acoustic thing every night kinda brings me back to before Morning Fold. In my ‘early’ days, I was pretty much always acoustic with Tian or one of my cousins. 90 percent of the venues we’ve been playing have been theatres, which make it so much easier to connect with the audience. We get to talk about the songs, play a fiddle set and everyone is paying attention. Tian and I have learned a lot.”

In addition to the abundant successes with Morning Fold, Chaisson still embraces his Souris roots and is turning heads as a fiddle player, recently sessioning for Gordie Johnson and The Trews’ recordings, amongst others.

“I used to take that type of music for granted,” recalls Chaisson. “And when I first started songwriting I shied away from the fiddle because everyone knew me as a fiddler. Now I definitely embrace it. It adds a cool touch to our songs and to other bands as well. Being able to play fiddle on Highway of Heroes by The Trews and to get to play on the new Big Sugar record is pretty neat.”

As for new plans for Morning Fold in 2011, fans can expect more touring and likely another music video. “I’ve also been writing while on tour so I plan on taking some time to crack down on new material at the beginning of the year,” writes Chaisson. “We plan on being flat out in 2011—work hard while we can!”

John Connolly

Talking Bands (Guys)
by Fraser McCallum

John ConnollyFew PEI artists have kept a calendar as packed and professionally diverse as Charlottetown’s John Connolly. The past three years have been non-stop for the accomplished singer-songwriter, actor, producer, and upright citizen. Now, with a new album, a new car, and a few thousand kilometres to trek, Connolly is crossing the country on his first major tour.

This past winter, in between spending time in writer’s residency at the Banff Centre and performing with his band at Atlantic Canada House for the 2010 Olympics, Connolly journeyed south to Nashville, Tennessee to record and co-produce his third studio release, The Wind. The songwriter had boldly approached legendary Canadian producer Brian Ahern (Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs) on a 2009 trip to Nashville and a few months later was able to collaborate with Ahern and engineer Donivan Cowart on six new songs.

“It was a learning experience working with Brian and Donivan. They’ve been working together since 1971 so there is a lot that goes unsaid between them,” says Connolly, in between tour stops in British Columbia. “Brian gave me space to do what I wanted. When he’d feel strongly about something he’d offer his input. The guy is brilliant in the studio so everything he has to say carries a lot of weight.   I look at this album as another step forward. I hope people get to hear it.”

The Wind shows a move towards a more folksy, porch-sittin’ sound than Connolly’s 2008 self-titled album with songs stripped down to band, voice and featured lead lines on fiddle. “I wanted to make a very natural recording,” he says. “I’ve been writing songs that depend less on the arrangement and more on the bone structure of the song. I like it when a song works just singing it with an acoustic guitar. At the same time, I’ve learned a lot about my voice since my last album so I knew I wanted to build around those two elements.”

The six-song album, although a quick listen, flows effortlessly from track to track and instantly sets the listener at ease with superb production and memorable ballads of new love, longing, and the passing of a close friend.

At press time Connolly is wrapping up more than a month of touring, mostly as part of Home Routes, a national network of house concerts where the musician lodges and dines at the home of those hosting the show.

“Home Routes is amazing” Connolly praises. ”The reception has been overwhelmingly positive and it’s nice to play and stay in homes because you’re immediately a part of the community. Every show is cozy, the people are fantastic and the scenery beyond compare.“

Connolly’s tour does demand some intense driving, crisscrossing between, among many others, Grand Prairie, Prince George, Vernon, Prince Rupert and eventually back east to Montreal. “By the time I get home I’ll have logged 16,000 kilometres and two months on the road so I’m really looking forward to some time on the Island.” However, with his usual poise, Connolly is quick to dismiss any dislike for all the to-ing and fro-ing. “I really love the road though. It’s always a privilege to go out and play for new people.”

Connolly will be covering more tour ground in 2011 but in the mean time can be seen in Charlottetown on the 19th and 20th at Baba’s Lounge and the 22nd at the Globe.

Paper Lions Roar

Talking Bands
by Fraser McCallum

Rob MacPhee, John MacPhee, Colin Buchanan, Dave MacDonaldYou might not know it but Paper Lions are one of the busiest and most thriving bands on PEI right now and their success stands toe-to-toe with that of some of the best names in the Island’s music history.

The Charlottetown pop-rock group, known formerly as The Chucky Danger Band, consists of brothers John and Rob MacPhee (lead vocals and bass guitar, respectively), lead guitarist Colin Buchanan, and drummer Dave MacDonald.

The foursome has been together since 2005 selling over 12,000 records in that time, winning numerous awards, and playing across the continent with acts like Cake, Joel Plaskett, and The Golden Dogs. With all of these bragging rights to their name, Paper Lions are most proud of their October 2010 release, Trophies, a six-song album they are busy touring across this vast country.

Following several intense months of writing, demoing and rewriting Paper Lions (all originally from Belfast, PEI) knew they wanted to record an album bursting with big energy and quick dynamic changes. “We really wanted to work with someone who could capture our live sound,” says front man, John. “We found that with an independent producer, Dan Weston (Blackbox Music), and in seven quick days up in Hamilton, recording live off the floor, we had some of our best material to date.”

The new album is a quick one, clocking it at less than twenty minutes but is undeniably tight, hitting you on first listen with catchy hooks, blistering guitar work and short, punchy songs that stick in your head for hours. “It feels great to finally reveal what we’ve been up to for the last year and a half,” writes Buchanan, from the road.

At press time the Lions were halfway through their coast-to-coast, Trophies tour. “This tour has been incredible for us,” says Buchanan. “The musical pairing between us, Library Voices (Regina), and Bend Sinister (Vancouver) is like a match made in heaven. It’s a nice chance to have so many other people on the road with us. It makes for so many more personalities to bounce off.”

After five years of serious gigging, recording and traveling back and forth, the band approaches touring differently these days. “I think when I was touring the country at 18 or so I never really had time to process what was going on,” Buchanan reflects. “Now we take a lot more responsibility for where we want the band to go and are more strategic with the gigs we are taking and the bands we are playing with.”

Once their Canadian tour wraps, the lads will enjoy some time off; however, they plan on digging into to several new songs before more touring this winter.

With their new album making national waves, a distribution deal through EMI, and a video for single “We Lost the War” charting on Itunes and Muchmusic, it would appear PEI’s Paper Lions are back in a big way.

Devin Casario

Talking Bands
by Fraser McCallum

Devin CasarioIt goes without saying that music is a beautiful, universal language. However, many dedicated musicians will tell you that it’s a slog to make a living at it and survive the industry’s countless pitfalls. When asked the simple question, “why,” Devin Casario responds quickly, “I love music. I love creation. I’m not a solo artist—I’m a collaborator. I love what others bring to a project, and on this one we have a great team. I moved home to make this album.”

Casario is the front man of Devin Casario and the Illusion, a new musical entity in Charlottetown set to release their debut record, Rooftops and Alleyways. The two-disc album combines elements of pop, folk, reggae, jazz, waltz and hip hop into a signature sound unlike anything else you’ve heard. Except for maybe, Mars Hill, the successful band Casario led for five years, but this is certainly new musical terrain for the established artist. This project has more focus on pure songwriting and melody and features Casario singing and less rap or spoken word.

Mars Hill conquered the local scene picking up Music PEI awards, an ECMA nomination, and a few hundred shows from PEI to Ontario. Parting ways in 2008 after a year together in Montreal, Casario flirted with a move to Hong Kong before an injury and a yearning to make another studio creation brought him back to Charlottetown. “I moved home in May of 08. The only place I could do my album is on PEI. I wasn’t gonna hunt around Craigslist for a Montreal backing band. So this album really was percolating for two years.”

This new record is full of concept and theme. “Rooftops and Alleyways is a resistance statement. You’re either taking care of things on the upper business levels or you’re being chased in the alleyways.” Casario enlisted local engineer/producer Adam Gallant (Well Oiled, Racoon Bandit, Haunted Hearts) and long time musician Jon King as fellow producers and a two-year creative process began. Tackling two albums (twenty-two songs in total) with very different approaches, Casario divided his songs into Disc 1: Rooftops and Disc 2: Alleyways. “It’s a Montreal theme as it’s a very militant city. Even when that city wins they riot. We’re all on the front lines in this era of economic collapse yet I tried to tame that political stuff with an all-encompassing theme—enslavement versus resistance. We all face that with relationships, with family…with my old band.”

Casario is quick to differentiate the sound of the two companion pieces. “Rooftops is in stereo and it’s a pure studio album…12 tracks that are slick as shit with a bit of rawness.

“Alleyways is a sloppy, beautiful mess. It’s made of almost entirely live recordings and is mixed in mono.”

Long-time collaborator Darren Gallup provided additional mixing through analog equipment and mastered the album. Musicians featured on the project include Sean Butler, Roger Carter, Chloe Cork, Chris Corrigan, Chris Coupland, Dean Dunsford, Laurie Forsyth, Gallant, King, and Davey Weale.

Rooftops and Alleyways will have its official launch October 1 at the Y Lofts at 252 Prince St. “We’re gonna show the kids how to put on a night. You’ve got to practice what you preach.” Casario says, smiling. “We’ll have all the bells and whistles but it will really be about the sound and performance. I like a good rock show—our show is gonna be a circus.”

Doors open at 8:30 pm and the night will open with performances from poet Sean Kelly as well as local musician Cory Doucette. B.Y.O.B. For more illusions and allusions:

Solid Gold Workout

Talking Bands
by Fraser McCallum

Solid Gold WorkoutPEI’s music scene is well represented in indie-rock, folk and traditional genres, but that depth drops off if you’re looking for live dance music. Enter Solid Gold Workout, a band that has been making a local name for itself with a balls-to-the-walls live show. “The music scene kicks ass here but there is very little electronic or dance stuff,” says keyboardist Bruce Rooney. “There’s definitely a gap we aim to fill and the crowds really get into it.”

The group has been playing for under a year but has gained a steady local fan club and is now finishing work on their debut EP. Their lineup includes lead singer and guitarist Josh Carter, bassist Evan McCosham, guitarist Matt Mackinnon, drummer Kevin MacKay, and Rooney on keys and synth.

“Four of the five of us are from down East,” says Carter, over a coffee at Timothy’s. “Down there it’s all jam music. We wanted to maintain that spirit but bring more structure and song-writing to the table.”

True to form, Solid Gold Workout was born out of inspired jams at the apartment of McCosham, Carter and Rooney. Mackinnon (who had played with Rooney in electro-rock group, the Mystery System) was recruited for lead guitar and after a few ‘Spinal Tap-esque’ drummer rotations, MacKay came on board to round out the troupe.

Taking their name from a ridiculous Youtube exercise video (search ‘Solid Gold Fitness’ for a hearty laugh) the reference is both tongue-in-cheek and true to the irrefutable dance party their music creates. SGW’s sound is now defined by punchy keys and synth riffs, Carter’s lyrical hooks and rock-solid drumming (think Phoenix or Passion Pit). Rooney, who with McCosham does most of the music writing, tries to avoid pattern, however. “Our songs are complex and we try to build them up with lots of harmonies, breakdowns, and timing changes.”

When asked of their musical roots, the four Kings County band-members thank music teachers like Bob Kromer and Kirk White, and rave of their musical upbringing. “Montague was bleeding bands left and right,” recalls Rooney. “Music was way bigger than gym class. And if you didn’t go on to play in bar bands, you went into music education.”

Today, SGW is excited to release their first album, which they recorded over a winter weekend with Adam Gallant (Haunted Hearts, English Words). The yet-to-be-titled album will include four new songs along with the track “Downtown,” an electro-pop single they recorded with John Matthews last fall. Aiming for a mid-summer release, the boys are in no rush for fame and fortune.

“We want to do lots of playing and keep developing,” says bassist McCosham. “Right now we’re enjoying working on everything and practicing a ton. We’re really constructive at rehearsal and always accomplish something.”

The whole band speaks with this same earnest positivity and they’re excited to see the live show progressing. “The life force of this band is about taking everyone’s ideas and ambition and putting on these huge nights,” says Rooney. “We love doing this. What people will see at our gigs is a sweaty, crazy time but a fun, eventful show you will dance to.”

Get your gold on. SGW are at Baba’s July 22. Check local listings for more upcoming dates.

The Meds

Talking Bands
by Fraser McCallum

The Meds (photo: Fraser McCallum)When the Meds’ bass player Brendan Hansen handed his band’s demo to Matt Mays he hoped the Canadian rocker would react. He hoped Mays, a multi-ECMA winner and touring artist, would pass it along to the powers that be, and that just maybe some good fortune would come back the Meds’ way. Well it took eight months, but Mays reacted in a serious way to the sound of the Charlottetown group.

“Apparently he found the demo in the bottom of a suitcase while traveling in the States,” says a thrilled Hansen. “He was really impressed and got a hold of us a week later. He had been looking to produce something and liked the edginess of our stuff.” After a few beers with the full band on Victoria Row, Mays and the lads came up with a plan to record an album together in Nova Scotia and San Francisco.

The Meds began in 2006 and play a melody-first style of guitar rock, with three-part harmonies and big energy. Today, along with Hansen, their lineup includes Kyle Drake (lead vocals, guitar), Iain McCarvill (piano, backing vocals), Pat MacDonald (lead guitar), and Danny Miles (drums).

They had recorded before, at Sonic Temple in Halifax, but were understandably on cloud nine following the news of an album with Mays. After some hearty celebration, they hit their jam space for a few weeks of rehearsal. In early winter, The Meds, along with their new producer, and a rack of 17 guitars, went about recording an album, relocating to a beach-house in East Berlin (no, not that East Berlin), found in southern Nova Scotia.

“We collectively wrote some new parts,” explains lead singer Drake. “Matt helped trim the fat and tailor the songs for a more mainstream crowd. We all brought the songs to a new level.”

Lead guitarist Pat MacDonald, a St. FX jazz graduate, collaborated with Mays on a lot of the ideas for the bed tracks. MacDonald and company worked nighthawk hours for ten days yielding eleven songs and some good-natured cabin fever. From there, Drake and McCarvill flew the coop to record the vocals, joining Mays for an unforgettable week at a studio in San Francisco.

“We had a few days to mess around and explore the city…which is incredible,” recalls Drake. “The recording was the most intense vocal session I had ever done. Matt pushed me to try different approaches. He is an extremely knowledgeable, professional person. That said, he’s still a laid back guy from Dartmouth and acts no different.”

The Meds are now aiming for a summer release of their full-length, which is in post-production at Sonic. They have plans to tour across Canada with Mays, who is set to release his own album around the same time.

“Its awesome to have this kind of momentum,” asserts Hansen. “We know if we keep putting in the work, we can push this a lot further.”

Drake agrees, “We’re passionate but our feet are still on the ground. We would love to do it all full-time and know what kind of commitment it will need.”

The Meds will be playing regularly at local venues this summer. Check them out on online at or

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