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Philip MacIsaac

A Different Drummer
by Jaclyn Killins

Philip MacIsaac

Philip MacIsaac is calm as he sits on the carpet in his apartment, leaning up against the cracked wall, a strangely bright March sun lighting up his face, leaving the other half in shadow. Skis and poles and hockey sticks are stacked like a teepee in the corner by the door, an F C Twin Yobo game-system is hooked to the TV. There are stacks of movies beside the table, a lone chair in the middle of the room.

MacIsaac smokes a cigarette and talks about how he ended up playing drums for The Danks and The Robots. He was originally a guitar player but he knew how to play drums, so when his friends were forming bands he offered his services

When he sits at the kit his play is primal, up-tempo, and intense. Yet, his fierce play is leveled by a serenity he describes as solemn. “I find if you think about it too much you become inhibited,” MacIsaac says, commenting on his creative process.

He gets up from the floor and goes through a few doors out to a rooftop. The basilica looms gothic overhead. The spires are colossal and quiet. In tribute to Nordic Black Metal, MacIsaac crosses his arms over his chest. He places a coin on each eye as if to pay the fare to the ferryman at the river Styx.

Back inside, MacIsaac sits down and talks about the future. With a few months left in a degree in religious studies at UPEI, MacIsaac knows a lot about the world but wants to learn more. He hopes to study urban planning, specifically to learn how cities can be made to be more sustainable. There are no limits to the possibilities for MacIsaac, the youngest of five boys. Education is a vast library at his fingertips, just like the PEI library across the street from his apartment, a place he frequents to scour the film section.

In the past month, apart from his studies, MacIsaac has had plenty of time to watch movies. His two bands, The Danks and The Robots, are on indefinite hiatus. However, he has a new band in the works called Millennium Falcon that is geared towards playing “aggressive, big sounding, punk-ish rock” similar to the Dead Kennedys or Sonic Youth. The band has “bare skeletons” of songs, but nothing concrete, MacIsaac says. After playing drums for four years, MacIsaac will put the sticks down and pick up a guitar. “I’ve sort of neglected my guitar skills, which is why I’m excited to be playing in the new band,” he says.

MacIsaac has been listening to a lot of music lately, specifically The Liars, The Jesus Lizard, and Health. He enjoys techno music (Justice, Sebastian, Vitalic) and the simplicity it offers with its 4 to the floor style beats. “Simplicity overall in music is what I’m partial to,” he says.

His gets up from the floor and puts an acoustic guitar on over his plaid shirt. He paces as he gently plays.

The Barnkats

Talking Bands

by Jaclyn Killins

The Barnkats
 - Gillian and Katie

The summer after Grade 9 Gillian Arsenault got a guitar. That’s when she and her best friend Katie Rankin decided to start a band. “Gill knew three chords so we were like, ‘let’s write a song,’” Katie said.

Their first attempts at vocals were high pitched howls, so they called themselves The BarnKats. A recording exists to this day of a makeshift music session. With a tape recorder shielded from the wind between two garbage cans, the teens set down a track. Despite their efforts you can still hear the wind howling in the background.

This summer will mark the sixth year since the screech and howl of their beginning as a band. And now the two Hunter River girls have clawed their way into the Island music scene. People describe their music as electro-cute, but the sound is a mixture of genres from country to rap, with an overall pop/rock appeal.

The two unlikely friends, Gillian, a sporty spit-fire with a mischievous smile and Katie, an elegant, wide-eyed self-professed nerd, have the humble confidence on stage. It is clear they enjoy playing music. “The only time we are together is when we’re playing music,” Gillian said. “Or we end up playing music,” Katie added.

Gillian used to play the acoustic guitar but has recently taken up the electric to power-up their delivery, Katie said. “We had to be louder in the bars or nobody would listen to us.”

Katie plays the keyboard and both girls provide vocals. The BarnKats are sometimes joined by Mira Dahn on violin and Andy Woods on drums.

If you listen to the lyrics you will discover the unique sense of humour the girls share. They gather inspiration from the funny things people do and say around them and write them down in a book to use for songs, Gillian said. “Sometimes we’ll overhear people in public and think it’s the funniest thing we’ve ever heard.”

The girls even have their own lingo including the saying, straight freakin’ which Katie’s mom has even put into use. It translates to mean “freaking out.”

As for being two girls in a scene full of talented male acts, it can be intimidating, Katie said. “They know so much more about music.” Katie must not be too intimidated because she is starting to think of herself as one of the boys.

It’s rewarding to be around such great musicians, Gillian adds. “People are willing to help.”

Aaron Crane

Different Drummer
by Jaclyn Killins

Aaron Crane

Aaron Crane was not supposed to be the drummer of Smothered In Hugs. When they were putting the band together Aaron bought a guitar and an amp, and his friend Mark Jackson bought a drum kit. “I wouldn’t change it now, but at first I didn’t want to play the drums. Mark was going to play.”

But one day Aaron, who plays classical piano, sat at the drums and began to play, despite that they were set up for Mark, a lefty. From this day it was clear Aaron was to be the drummer.

One thing though, the drums were never switched over to suit the right-handed Aaron and his unique style was formed. “Because of the way I have the drums set up I can play the high-hat faster,” Aaron said.

If he had a dollar for every drummer that takes notice of his set up and comments on how weird it is, Aaron said he wouldn’t have to work. “They’re all pretty fascinated,” Aaron said, adding that his set up drives local drummer Shane Coady crazy because he thinks there is a lot of stuff Aaron won’t be able to do with the drums as they are.

But it isn’t Aaron’s goal to be a versatile drummer. He plays specific, hard and steady beats. “I’m just a piece of the puzzle.” His play may not be flashy but “there’s a lot of cool beats that really sit, he said.”

Aaron, 24, has been playing the piano for 19 years and is an accomplished fiddle player. He teaches music five days a week to children and some adults. “To them I’m just their piano or their fiddle teacher. They don’t think of me as a drummer.”

Aaron’s multi-instrumental talent means understands everyone else’s job in the band. “I know what everyone’s doing at any given moment,” Aaron said. “My favourite thing about being a drummer is that I have all the control,” Aaron said. This brings out a snicker from Aaron’s older brother Ryan Crane, the lead singer and guitar player of Smothered In Hugs. Together the brothers write, produce and make all of the decisions about the music and it isn’t always peaceful, but because they are brothers it never causes a rift, Aaron said. “We can yell at each other and then be fine in a manner of seconds.”

For someone who was reluctant to be the drummer he sure sings its praises. The piano may have given Aaron his teaching career, but the drums bring him the most enjoyment. “As far as hands-on fun goes, it’s the drums,” Aaron said.

The Meds

Talking Bands

by Jaclyn Killins

The Meds

Nothing makes The Meds happier than playing a show and the new band has been playing a lot these days. When the music starts the euphoria rubs off on the audience, faces turn up like smiling flowers to the sun and bodies sway in the breeze of the melodies.

Listening to The Meds may be like popping a happy-pill, but they’re not drug addicts. “It’s just a name,” said lead singer and guitar player, Kyle Drake.

The band is made up of Drake, Brendan Hansen on bass, Andy Keith on lead guitar and vocals, and Danny Miles on drums and vocals. Their unique brand of feel-good indie rock fits well into the Charlottetown music scene without being redundant.

“I’ve heard from others that it sounds like nothing they could actually put their finger on,” Drake said.

Hansen attributes the originality of the band to Drake who crafts abstract lyrics and songs up to the interpretation of the listener. “[Drake] has a weird source of inspiration I don’t think a lot of people have. It gives a kind of authenticity to his music,” Hansen said.

What Drake looks for in good music is its ability to make him feel good, and that is what he tries for when he is writing, he hopes others feel the same way, he said. “I write for goose-bumps.”

Miles is as much a music fan as he is a musician and he has a keen sense of what sounds good, Hansen said. “He’ll have a lot of creative input into the ebb and flow of the songs.”

Keith is a mellow guy with a fierce ability to play the guitar, Drake said. “A lot of the second guitar parts, I couldn’t have found really anybody else to play the parts more perfectly.”

Other bands like Pat Deighan and the Orb Weavers, Smothered in Hugs and Battery Point took notice of The Meds early and have been quick to add them to the lineup at their shows. “That in itself is a compliment,” Hansen said.

With a demo out, The Meds hope to venture off the Island to play around the Maritimes, but for now they are enjoying rocking and strengthening their roots on the Island.

Jonathan Holmes

A Different Drummer
by Jaclyn Killins

Jonathan Holmes

When Fugato is playing a show, drummer Jonathan Holmes thinks he has the best seat in the house. Holmes loves to look out from his stool and see the obvious and subtle ways the audience becomes involved in the music. “If I can see moving people…say they’re at the back of the bar or whatever, and maybe their foot’s tapping or their head’s shaking, they’re doin’ something, but they’re not really paying attention to me, but I’m gettin’ through all the same, I just love that,” said Holmes.

When the high school jazz band came to his elementary school Holmes couldn’t take his eyes off the drums. He’s been hooked ever since.

In Grade 7 he played percussion in the school band and in Grade 8 he was in the jazz band. He was kicked out of both for goofing off, but that was okay with Holmes because he had other plans and would find a way to play music on his terms.

His first band was in Grade 10. His drum-kit consisted of a lead pipe and a borrowed snare. It was a punk rock band and they played their instruments as fast and as loud as they could, Holmes said. “We started our own band and did originals because none of us were talented enough to do covers.”

Holmes was lucky to have grown up in the country because he always had the freedom to play his drums without worry of neighbor complaints. His mother would slip out for a walk and Holmes would let loose, honing his skill. “Something that separates me from other drummers is playing the high-hat a lot, open and closed,” Holmes said.

His play is a great incentive for head bobbing and hip swaying in the audience.

Fugato bassist Pete MacDonald has played with Holmes “since the get go” which is almost 15 years, he said. “He’s my right hand man. That’s what you have to do as a drummer, really lock in with your bass player.”

Before Fugato, the duo played together in the bands Supercar and Port Citizen, and with Scott Parsons.

Former Fugato percussionist Mike MacDougall, who sold Holmes his first set of drums, has nothing but good things to say about his fellow pot-banger. “During rehearsals with Fugato, he was always open to my suggestions. Trying to lay-back a bit in the verse, trying different types of sticks to get a different sound on the ride, things like that,” said MacDougall over email.

Holmes love what he does, MacDougall said. “I think he’s the bee’s knees. Sweats a bit too much though.”

Catch Holmes playing live around Charlottetown with Fugato, a funk/reggae/rock band or hear him on Fugato’s new CD, The Stash.

Battery Point

Talking Bands

by Jaclyn KillinsBattery Point
 - Dennis, Bruce, Brady and Craig playing tunes for tots at Hunter’s Ale House

A few months ago Island musician Dennis Ellsworth was living in Toronto frustrated because he wasn’t playing enough music. Fast-forward to the present and Ellsworth is home in PEI swathed in music, practicing and performing regularly with his band Battery Point.

Ellsworth broke up his band in Toronto and re-formed it in PEI with all new people, he said. “It’s probably one of the smartest things that I’ve ever done.”

Bruce White joins Ellsworth, playing guitar and singing back up, along with Island brothers Brady MacDonald on drums and Craig MacDonald on bass.

Ellsworth was sick of the amount of money and time it took just to live and work, let alone rehearse and play in a band in Toronto, he said. “I wanted it to be a more serious thing and put more time and effort into it because that’s the only way that you’re going to get good enough to be what you want, to have success.”

Spend some time with the band and it seems they are never serious; there is an eager hilarity to the four when they are together. Grins all around demonstrate the excitement they feel in finding themselves in such a fulfilling musical situation.

The laughter doesn’t set them back because they are all game to spend time on the details of songs. “A week of rehearsal turned into 12 new songs,” Craig said.

Ellsworth and White, both songwriters, live together so they can wake up, go down to the basement and work on songs anytime. The MacDonald brothers, who played in the rock band Chamberlane, live five minutes away so rehearsals and after show beer guzzling gatherings are frequent and convenient.

“When you consider how hard it is to find people who understand the music that you’re writing and can play it with you and they’re right at your fingertips it doesn’t make sense to change that. Not one bit,” Ellsworth said.

Battery point, nominated this year for three PEI music awards, preformed their second show with the new line-up at the awards gala. They have a self-titled CD out with more to come in the near future. Their music is written in a folk style but delivered with a powerful rock sound.

Ellsworth, who led up Island group The Rude Mechanicals, plays electric guitar in Battery Point instead of his usual acoustic, but softer songs are on the horizon, he said. As an Ellsworth song in process goes “It’s good to be back with a purpose and a plan,” and now he’s back he doesn’t plan on going anywhere, he’s going to make the music work from home, he said.

“I believe you can live here and have what you want out there.”

Shane Coady

Different Drummer
by Jaclyn Killins

Shane CoadyWhen Shane Coady was seven-years-old he played the drums in his garage and children in the neighborhood would gather and watch. This was before the time of Much Music and the children were drawn, naturally to the drums, Coady said.

He recalls this time with some melancholy because he now believes Much Music has brainwashed people into paying more attention to the images of the superstar than the music. “People don’t appreciate musicianship.”

But years, and a lot more hair, later people are still gathering to watch him play, to marvel at the power and intensity he brings to the music. His stage is no longer the garage, but bars and venues across Charlottetown and the Maritimes.

Coady, who plays with Pat Deighan and the Orb Weavers, has performed with numerous bands over the past thirty years such as Out From Under, Lugnuts, Spare Parts, Slide, Downtime, Rock Island Blues Band among others. He also fills in for bands needing a drummer in a pinch.

His first gigs were with his father, drummer Jimmy Coady’s band The Downtowners, a popular Maritime swing band. They would get Coady up to play for a few songs during reunion gigs when he was as young as 11, and eventually he was playing a third of the night with these veteran musicians.

While Jimmy never really gave his son hands-on lessons, he did share with him the philosophies of being a drummer, Coady said. “He just would say, the attitude, you know, that you’re driving the band.”

Coady sees the drummer as the leader of a band musically, he said. “Note for note I am telling them when to play their notes, if they play them with me then they’re doing them right, if they don’t they’re not.” The responsibility the drummer has is like a goaltender’s responsibility to the success of his team except “the defensemen are taking shots on you,” Coady said.

Coady has his father to thank for opening him up to the intricacies of the acoustics of a room, how the surfaces of the walls and floor, how the size and shape of a room can produce subtle, but different nuances of sound. “I hadn’t imagined that it would make much of a difference at all as a kid,” Coady said.

Jimmy’s influence on his son endures in the traditional grip Coady uses, holding his left drumstick sideways instead of the typical matchstick grip of holding both sticks straight in each hand. This grip gives powerful momentum to the left hand.

Picture being asked to walk a straight line and your best friends are pushing and pulling at you, Coady said. “You’ve got to lean this way and that way and guess you’re leaning, you’re pushing back and pulling back the right amount, and you don’t know for sure if you are, and also there’s no line to follow.”

Coady, who had drumsticks in his hands when he was as young as three years old, is still working hard to walk this imaginary line and get his bands in the groove.


Talking Bands

by Jaclyn Killins

Tepid - Jubes, Kylie, Steve and ChrisWhen asked when Tepid played its first gig, guitar player Steve Allain is quick to recall it was March 3, 2007.

“I feel like I’m in a relationship with you, Steve,” bassist Stephen Jakubiak says, flattered Allain remembers such an important date.

Thus begins Tepid’s comparison of the band as a relationship. When they start doling out affection in the form of insults, it is clear Tepid’s relationship is more a four-way sibling rivalry than a hot and steamy romantic foursome.

And anyway, a young man in love would probably be reluctant to share a story about soiling himself on stage with his beloveds, and that is just the story guitar player and vocalist Chris Gallant chose to tell.

Gallant was sick during a gig and in the middle of a song he really needed to fart. His faced was screwed up as he sang but he didn’t want to offend his band so he tried to hold it in. His efforts failed and he released what he thought would be a fart.

“Apparently it wasn’t a fart,” Gallant admits, followed by an eruption of laughter from his band mates.

“It was a shart?” Bursts drummer and vocalist Kylie Muio.

“I went and checked afterwards and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was,” Gallant informs.

Skid marks aside, if the band were siblings it would be quite the diverse family. Muio, a UPEI biology grad hopes to go to vet school, Jakubiak, known by everyone as Jubes, works for a software company involved with non-profit organizations, Allain is a plumbing apprentice and Gallant…let’s just say he hopes one day to follow his mother’s footsteps and become a circus carnie.

The music they play is also diverse. They describe it as heavy, percussive guitars, contrasted by light vocals. Tepid is comfortable between extremes, mixing in genres as they see fit. Anything that sounds good goes with Tepid, so they find it hard to label their music.

Tepid says they can’t compare their music to other Island bands and invite music fans to come out to a show and experience something different from the usual folk rock typical of PEI music.

From foreign UPEI professors who hop on stage and become impromptu back up dancers to cougars who yell requests for AC/DC to anyone interested in the local music scene in PEI. Tepid just wants to play music for people.

And the free beer doesn’t hurt, Jakubiak points out.

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