For only the third time this century, the East Coast Music Association is taking their 5-day East Coast Music Week and ECMA awards gala to Newfoundland in April. The last time they were in St. John’s was a whopping 11 years ago in 2004 – the year hometown hero Ron Hynes beat out the likes of Sloan and Matt Mays for album of the year.
THE TUNES THEY ARE A CHANGIN’
Back in 2004, the last time the ECMAs rolled through town, we were still seen as a city of trad music, or trad-pop spin off, despite a healthy, genre-spanning music scene. 2004 was, afterall, the year all five acts shortlisted for Trad Group of the Year were local bands. 2004 was also the year Ron Hynes won album (and country album) of the year, and the year of Damhnait Doyle’s 3 wins with two shortlistings to boot. Point being there were few if any local bands on ECMA shortlists outside of trad music or trad-tinged music.
Cut to 10 years later, and there are local artists on shortlists for nearly every genre of music. We’ve always had great bands in all genres, but the representation of local artists on the 2014 shortlists relative to the 2004 shortlists speaks volumes on how “Newfoundland music” is perceived now, ten years later. We’ve got representation on shortlists as eclectic as Electronic Recording of the Year (Rozalind MacPhail), Soul and R&B (Baytown), and even World Music (See our piece on Dr. Randal Arsenault on Page 21).
This year’s spectrum of local music legitimately covers classical to loud. Classical music innovator Rob Power is up for both Classical Recording and Classical Composition of the Year. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, become familiar: the man makes his own instruments, what more is there to say? On the other end of the musical genre spectrum, 2 of 5 bands shortlisted this year in the Loud Recording of the Year category are local – representing this city’s storied history of a solid heavy music scene. Both The Combine and Monsterbator are nominees; The Combine for nailing their genre almost flawlessly and Monsterbator for taking their genre in great new directions.
Amidst this sea change in recognizing what “Newfoundland music” is, there’s still a tidal-sized wave of trad music here. Duane Andrews and Craig Young are nominated for Roots/Trad Group Recording of the Year (this duo won an ECMA last year, and it’s not the first bit of ECMA recognition Duane Andrews has received for his otherworldly ability to make every other guitarist on the East Coast look like an amateur). Matt Byrne’s sophomore solo effort Hearts & Heroes has secured him the likely title of Best New Solo Trad Musician in Newfoundland … as well as an ECMA shortlisting for Solo Trad Recording of the year. The Secrets, another local band, are up for Country Album of the Year, and are quite likely to win it given the rarity of their perfect Nashville country harmonies. They’re certainly meant to be singing together.
OUR RISING STAR STATUS IS UNPRECEDENTED
Three of five nominees in this year’s Rising Star category are locals – an unprecedented representation of locals in this category. Pop-rocking radio stars Rocket Rocket Ship, Corner Brook singer-songwriter Kim Harris, and Steve Maloney and the Wandering Kind are the three artists. Neither Rocket Rocket Ship nor Kim Harris are strangers to award recognition, having earned multiple nods from Music NL and MusicNS respectively, and to call 2014 the Year of Maloney is an understatement. In August he received a whopping dose of love in the form of The Overcast’s public “Best of St. John’s” polls (6 wins and 2 runners-up). He earned multiple MusicNL award nominations, and won their Rising Star award, and was runner-up for the Borealis Music Prize. In short, if there was a shortlist or public poll he was eligible for this year, he was on it. Not bad for a debut; whether he wins or not he’s gone from rising to risen star. Maloney, along with Heavyweather for shooting it, are also nominated for the Fan’s Choice Video of the Year. (See!) Another local band, The Thymes, are also nominees for Music Video of the Year for their rather original and catchy song, and its catching video, “Lobotomy.”
It’s perhaps no surprise the two local bands with the most award nominations this year are the internationally praised veterans Hey Rosetta and The Once, and with three shortlistings apiece, it’s safe to say they’ll go home with at least one trophy each this year. They’re both up for the Fan’s Choice Entertainer of the Year award. Hey Rosetta are also up for Song of the Year for “Kintsukuroi,” and for their work on that same song, frontman Tim Baker and guitar god Adam Hogan are up for Songwriter of the Year. The Once’s other two awards are for Folk Recording of the Year and Group Recording of the Year. They’ve won that latter award before, in 2011, and the only thing better than winning once is winning twice – win once and feel lucky, win twice and you’re doing something right. Their ECMA nominations are just one more blast of recognition in a year that’s seen them land a serious record label deal, embark on an international tour, and receive Juno nominations.
A TIMELY NOMINATION FOR SHERMAN DOWNEY AND THE BAND
Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case have had a good run these last five years, including notable recognition from the ECMAs. They were up for both Group of the Year and Rising Star awards in 2011, for their debut, and this year they find themselves shortlisted for Group of the Year once again. A win would be particularly meaningful for Downey this year, as a fond memory of his time with the band. As of this winter’s solo tour with Matt Byrne, he has decided to break away from the band and carry on as a solo artist for the financial and logistical practicality of touring, and to explore the options available to solo artists. Of the nomination coming on the heels of this decision, he says “it’s a great tribute to what we managed to accomplish in the five or six years we were together, and I love that we have the nomination to acknowledge the work we put into getting the music out there.”
AND WE’RE UP FOR 10 INDUSTRY AWARDS TO BOOT
The ECMAs also have a suite of industry awards, for which the following locals have been nominated; Wallace Hammond for Live Sound Engineer, Kilbride Music for Management, Tom Power for Media Person of the Year, Fred’s Records for Music Merchant, Chris Kirby for Producer, Scott Hammond for Studio Engineer, The Blue Room for Studio of the Year, The Ship Pub for Venue of the Year, and 2 of 5 shortlistees in the area of Graphic design are non-surprising locals Jud Haynes and DC Design House.
Album of the Year Nominees
Despite more than 50 notable local releases in the last year, there are no local bands up for Album of the Year at the ECMAs. In fact, there hasn’t been since 2012 (Hey Rosetta’s Seeds and Ron Hynes’ Stealing Genius). Below are some thoughts on this year’s nominees for Atlantic Canada’s Album of the Year. Best Guess: If Rich Aucoin doesn’t win it, In-flight Safety will. Aucoin actually leads this year’s nominations with a total of six.
IN-FLIGHT SAFETY’S CONVERSATIONALIST (NOVA SCOTIA)
These Juno nominees and 5-time ECMA winners could easily be dubbed the Arkells of the East Coast, but that’s unfair for two reasons: they’ve been around longer, and they imbue the genre with a few more layers of sonic depth. While in university, these guys self-recorded a demo that David Bowie caught wind of, and story goes Bowie sent them an encouraging email which made them take the band more seriously than their academic careers. A choice that’s paid off well. Conversationalist is a solid, pop-peppered indie rock album they can hang their hats on with pride.
JIMMY RANKIN’S BACK ROAD PARADISE (NOVA SCOTIA)
The trouble here is that it all feels manufactured to the point of lacking the sincerity and originality the other 4 shortlistees have, but that’s more opinion than criticism, because if written-for-radio hooks and pop-leaning “country” are what he was shooting for, he hit the bullseye. Rankin fans certainly know all these words and love all these songs, so, a successful album indeed.
OLYMPIC SYMPHONIUM’S CHANCE TO FATE (NEW BRUNSWICK)
It’s a quiet, moody album, kept fresh track to track as the band members swap instruments and take turns singing. Their sound feels a bit like someone put Great Lake Swimmers & Michael Feuerstack in a blender, and one clear strength is the atmospheric mood and production value courtesy of a man up for his own ECMA this year (Joshua Van Tassel; Electronic Album of the Year). Ultimately it’s a strong album they can feel good about, but some listeners will say there are better examples of the genre in Atlantic Canada not on this shortlist.
RICH AUCOIN’S EPHEMERAL (NOVA SCOTIA)
Rich is up for more awards than anyone this year, and normally that speaks to some flaw in the adjudication process, like not enough submissions in certain categories, but that’s not the case here. An album this original, calculated, and bursting with life deserves its excess of accolades at this year’s ECMAs.
SOHO GHETTO’S THOU OR I OR BOTH (NOVA SCOTIA)
A young group of rock balladeers who wear so many influences on their sleeve they meld into a distinct sound that plays out like a panoply of everything that’s happened in North American music since the year 2000, though some tracks are marked by throwbacks to yesteryears, particularly the yearning of 80’s ballads. In short it’s the one album on here you need to hear for yourself to decide on.
This year’s East Coast Music Week takes place April 8th – 12th with the big gala on April 9th at the Jacky Byrne Arena.