It’s official, after 10 fast and furious Februaries, the NL RPM Challenge has produced more than 1000 local albums. This year, about 130 local albums were written and recorded in the month of February, and every weekday for the rest of the month the Editor of the Overcast will haphazardly select and feature one, which will merely skim the surface of what was released. See the full list here. feel free to fire along some fun facts about yours to firstname.lastname@example.org (with the understanding this series can only cover 17-18% of albums released).
Day 1: C Don Don’s Somewhat unfinished Business
Sample Track: “Julie”
This one’s a surprise from a start. A surprise that one of the city’s best, best-known drummers (Chris Donnelly) made a solo album, with a surprisingly original sound, and a surprise opener that bursts from something meek and mellow into a real, bad-ass rocker.
There’s a lot to like here, and if we’re lucky he’ll keep at this solo material. The songs are shot through with ache, mood, and a broad palette of sounds from the last 20 years of music in Atlantic Canada. Taken altogether, Mike O’Neill would be an apt comparison.
“I’ve always played a little guitar,” the drummer says, “and thought it’d be fun to write some songs of my own for an RPM, or something else sometime, but I’ve always made excuses as to why I couldn’t or wanted to wait for a ‘better time.'”
But it was the feeling of taking time for granted and putting too much on the backburner that give him the kick he needed. “Also, I figured it would be a way to not only challenge myself, but to also get out of my own comfort zone of being a solely a drummer* and to create something that was my own and done mostly by myself.”
*Fun fact: On the note of being a drummer, writing and recording my own songs for the first time I actually ended up barely playing a drum fill on this whole thing. I tried to take a less is more approach to my drumming on these songs, even to the point of trying to sound purposefully messy at times. In hindsight I think I should have been relying on my strengths a little more. So I’ve decided that my next RPM will be only drums!
A lot of first time RPM-ers find comfort in the spirit of the RPM, when it comes to releasing music, and Chris is no exception. “If it wasn’t for that sense of community that comes with the RPM challenge I may not have shared it at all. I actually had some reservations about sharing it right up until the day of honestly, but it was knowing that hundreds of other people were doing the same thing and likely feeling the same way that pushed me to share it.”
Donnelly had a little help from friends along the way, including Sandy May and Ian Cornelissen (The Domestics) lending him the very instruments he needed to write and record with, and Gavin Simms and Ashton Whitt helped with song arrangements.
The album has a great, broad, distinct sound. But that wasn’t necessarily the plan. “For the most part,” he says, “the music just came out, nothing was too thought or planned out and I tried not to second guess myself too much about the structure or parts. Which turned out to be fun and felt like it was a part of the spirit of the challenge itself.”
Donnelly says one of the more challenging aspects of the challenge for him was the melodies and lyrics, hence some of the album’s tracks not having vocal tracks. “I guess you could say that many of the songs were written with some ‘heavier’ things in mind, about things that happened over the passed year, so getting the lyrics right, and to say exactly what I intended, was important for me. That proved to be very difficult though, and I guess when I go at this RPM business again I might try to find a theme a little less serious or just be plain silly with it. Maybe I’ll do theme songs for all of my favourite foods?”
While some locals were surprised by Donnelly’s emergence as a solo artist on this album, it’s likely his many bandmates in town weren’t. He’s written songs before that he brought to bands he plays drums in.
“I’ve written a song or two for Sonny Tripp, and others here and there over the years, but the amount of songs I wrote for this RPM likely doubles the songs that I have written previously.”
Luckily for us, he says he intends to do more of it. And that’ the great thing about the RPM Challenge, it’s launched so many solo efforts and new band in its 10 years in town, and many of those artists credit the spirit of the RPM for making it happen.
“I jumped into the RPM partially as a challenge to myself, and I knew that the music and lyrics weren’t going to be exactly as I wanted them to be for my first time doing it. It’s knowing that this could be a starting point and that I could look back on it some day and see how far I (hopefully) have come and grown when I do another,” he says.
“You can only get better and improve the more you do something, but you have to actually start it first, and do it while you know you have the opportunity to do it. The only thing that’s stopping you is you.”