Not to insult any friends, fans, solo artists, or members of bands mentioned in this blog post, but I’m writing from Ireland, so from an Irish perspective, most of these bands are not well known. I am sure there are some Irish who have come across them online, or after a stint in Canada, or through friends. Some of them played in Ireland over the years. Others have not yet played here.
Some of these bands could well be quite popular in Canada, but may not have the same profile over in Europe or at least in Britain or Ireland, which is why I would like to try and spread the word .
I’m also not going to cover any folk or traditional Canadian music, of which there are many fine groups, especially along the eastern side of the country.
If you talk about Canadian music over these parts, every music fan will be familiar with, or will have heard of Arcade Fire, Nickelback, Sum 41, Bryan Adams, Alanis Morissette, Rush, Neil Young, The Band or Billy Talent amongst many others.
The more alternative music fan will surely have heard of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Alexisonfire, Death Cab for Cutie and Broken Social Scene. They wouldn’t be very big, but would be critically acclaimed and be able to play decent sized venues on this side of the pond.
I’m going to write about bands I discovered over the last few years. They’re not obscure bands. I’m not sure if they would be considered “big” though. They’re certainly not arena bands. I’d imagine the fact they are able to tour at all in Europe means they must be doing alright. (more of that later)
Canada Council for the Arts also provides grants for musicians to help with recording, production, and most importantly, with touring. So, you can apply for a grant to help fund a tour in Canada, the US, or international tours. A lot of the bands mentioned here have taken advantage of the Canadian Arts grants.
The Arts Council in Ireland has something similar, but I don’t think they would specifically offer grants to fund touring bands. If anyone would like to correct me on that, feel free to do so!
Enough of the boring stuff. Let’s get straight to the bands. I will say that, as far as I know, most of the bands I will mention have availed of the Canadian music grants, which may or may not have helped fund tours over in Europe or further afield.
My interest in lesser known Canadian bands was piqued while I was watching the Trailer Park Boys, which is set in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was reading about the actors and the crew and some of them had been involved in the local music scene, or had been in bands that enjoyed minor success on Canadian radio.
I then started to read about the music scene in Halifax. It’s on the east coast, well away from the main centres of Toronto and Montreal. While the isolation can often be considered a bad thing, sometimes it helps to create healthy local scenes. A similar trend developed in Perth in Western Australia.
Halifax developed a reputation in the 1990s for its local scene. A character in Trailer Park Boys called “Bubbles”, real name Mike Smith, was in one of these bands. The band was called Sandbox.
When the band went by the wayside, Mike ended up playing Bubbles in Trailer Park Boys and looked like this.
Mike O’Neill also appeared in several episodes of the show,and was in a band based in Halifax called The Inbreds.
Just bass and drums. Before duo bands were really hip! These guys are no more unfortunately,and I don’t think they ever made it over to these parts.
Another Halifax band are Wintersleep (http://wintersleep.com/). They have toured over in Europe, and are mighty fine too.
They can get pretty experimental and heavy so the above link wouldn’t be what everything sounds like. For example:
Yet another band from Halifax are In-Flight Safety. They have toured Europe, and had a song in Lost as well. Check them out at www.inflightsafety.ca
Malajube are a band from Montreal, Quebec. They sing in French, but don’t let that put you off. They’re great. I came across these purely by chance.
Check them out at their bandcamp page for more info. If I were to recommend an album, it would be Labyrinthes, but check some of their stuff out for yourself and make up your own mind.
Want some alternative country type rock? Then check out NQ Arbuckle
They are from Toronto. Or at least are based there, and you can hear more at Six Shooter Records.
Big Wreck are one of the heavier bands mentioned. They’ve been around since the 90s, but broke up in the early 00s and got back together again about three years ago. Ian Thornley released some solo records in between. He definitely has one of the nicest touches on a guitar I’ve ever heard. I am pretty sure Big Wreck have never played in Europe. Not since they got back together. They seem to tour a lot in Canada, and are starting to tour again in the US. Maybe those two markets are enough for them? Who knows. But if they did make it over this side of the pond, I’d be in the front row.
They remind me a little bit of Soundgarden, or maybe a more straight ahead version of Soundgarden. Great musicians too. Here’s a song off their last album “Albatross”. It’s a very good rock album if that’s your bag. I’ll include two clips, so you can get an idea of their melodic hooks and Ian’s exceptional guitar playing.
Be sure to check out some of the early Big Wreck stuff as well as Ian’s solo albums. Well worth a punt, especially if you’re into guitar licks. You can check out some songs off Big Wreck’s new album called “Ghosts” here: www.bigwreckmusic.com
Looking at other cities in Canada, I was reading about bands that came out of Vancouver and came across the excellent In Medias Res. They wouldn’t be a million miles away sound wise from Wintersleep.
I am fairly sure these guys haven’t been to Europe that much. A pity. They released two albums, which are definitely worth checking out. They can be bought on their bandcamp page.
I am not sure if In Medias Res plan on releasing any more albums, but in the meantime, their singer Andrew Lee is involved in a project called Holy Hum, which is very “soundscapeesque”. Hopefully Holy Hum will release an album. They sound like this:
The Tragically Hip? You may have heard of this band. Huge in Canada. They even had their own stamp issued in 2013 by Canada Post.
Check out The Hip here: www.thehip.com
Do Make Say Think. These guys have toured in Europe, but just don’t tour enough over here! Or only play a handful of dates in countries I don’t happen to be near! Very very good experimental band. Two drummers. Guitars. Brass. Strings.
They’re in the process of recording a new album, and you can find out all you need to know about them here. But it’s probably best to monitor their Facebook page, as they seem to update that more than their website.
I mentioned Alexisonfire at the beginning of the article. They were a post hardcore band, and would have had a reasonable following outside of Canada as well as in Canada. Dallas Green was in Alexisonfire, and had a side project going called “City and Colour”. City and Colour have now gone on to build up a fairly big fan base of their own. it started out as Dallas. I’m not sure whether it’s classed as just him or a band these days. Anyhow:
Check them out here: www.cityandcolour.com.
And finally. Feist. Is she well known? She appeared on Jools Holland, so I’ll take that as a yes or maybe. She also covered Mastodon, which is a winner. Listen to Feist.
I could well have missed out on bands from the Toronto scene, or the Vancouver scene, or the maritime Atlantic scene. There could be bands in Barrie and Calgary I haven’t yet heard of. But I am always open to finding out about new bands.