Susto – & I’m Fine Today

SUSTOOriginally Published in Stylus Magazine, Volume 28, Issue 4

By Matt Harrison

Standing in the thirtieth row of a partially filled MTS Centre, dressed to the nines (or at least the sixes), on a narcotic propelled rocket hurtling my mind through some forgotten corridor of the cosmos is when I was first introduced to Susto. It was as though my experience was tethered to an otherworldly elastic that, at the moment of its choice, pulled me back down to earth and into my mortal self while the chorus of Susto’s Waves roared through the arena. The lights danced in unison as though they themselves were drowning waves. “It comes in waves” sang front man Justin Osborne, reminding a select few of every time they ever felt the ‘waves’ come on at the outset of what will surely be a good trip.

Waves is the third track on Susto’s newest album & I’m Fine Today, released in early 2017 by Dine Alone Records. As a whole the album is mind bendingly passionate and profound. The instrumental pieces carry a deceptively cheery tone while the lyrics are unabashedly authentic. Take, for example, the playful piano intro in the song “Hard Drugs”  which includes such lines as “I don’t care who’s askin’ I’ll tell ‘em the truth/ I’ve had a long time struggle with substance abuse…I’m just glad that I found you/ and sorry that I couldn’t keep you around.” The contrast of musical vibes and lyrics, often times teetering into the realm of psychedelic, is what creates the sound that can best be described as simply being Susto.

There is no shortage of other phenomenal songs on this album, ‘Mystery Man,’ ‘Cosmic Cowboy,’ ‘Wasted Mind’, ‘Diamonds Icaro’, and ‘Jah Werx’ to name a few, but none are as heart wrenching as “Gay In the South.” As the title undoubtedly implies, the songs tells of the struggles faced by gay individuals living in the southern United States who were close to the songwriter. The first chorus paints a telling picture of the turmoil many are forced to deal with, saying “They promised us/ You were going straight to hell when you die/ I don’t even think it’s a real place.” The contrast of up-tempo music paired with deep, often times thought provoking lyrics is what will lead Susto to success in the future.

Listening to & I’m Fine Today is good for the mind, good for the soul. In a hectic, unpredictable world of unknown horizons, Susto is a sturdy reminder that, in some crevices in the world, there is still good to be found. If more songs were written with this sort of exemplary honesty and depth, surely the world could be a better place. Until then, Susto will lie in wait for the cosmic surfers who, in spite of increasingly hazy global climate, feel fine today.

Check out more from Susto:

Sustoisreal.com/

Twitter.com/SustoIsReal

Facebook.com/sustoisreal

Teen Daze

Originally published in Stylus Magazine, Volume 28, Issue 3

By Matt Harrison

On a sunny May morning, warm enough to enjoy but still too cold to be called summer, I received a long awaited Skype call from Jamison Isaak, the creative mind of the alternative electronic project Teen Daze. While it was barely 8:00 AM in my living room, it was already nearing 11:00 PM for Jamison who was, at the time, enjoying a post-tour vacation with his wife in one of their favourite spots on the coast of Australia.

Prior to our conversation, Jamison had wrapped up a tour that spanned seven shows across Asia, ending in Singapore. Exciting as this tour was, it was not Jamison’s first time taking his music across the world as he had been to Asia on tour twice before visiting Japan, Thailand, China, and South Korea. The touring life is nothing new to Jamison despite the humble roots of Teen Daze.

It was in 2010, the final year of his undergrad, that he began pursuing this project by making homemade recordings and sharing it for free online. I had no expectations at all,” Jamison told me with a laugh. “I never would have expected that seven years later I would be referencing that time in my life.”

The name Teen Daze is inspired by a final day of teenage antics enjoyed on the eve of his friend’s 20th birthday. The name was originally for a song that failed to make the cut for the first EP Jamison released. The project was, in essence, to be a sort of nostalgic time capsule. “I wanted to make a document that when I listened to would remind me of that last year of school, that group of friends, and that specific time of life.”

Teen Daze began picking up traction fairly quickly. As Jamison recalls, it was around three months after he had self-released his EP that he began drawing attention from labels and venues from across the United States. What helped this along was his ability to share a few tracks with some friends of his who had been involved in more earnest projects. It was after he attracted this attention that Jamison was given the “opportunity to pursue these projects in a more serious way.”

When looking for musical inspirations, Jamison sites the talents of creators such as Daft Punk, Brian Eno, Jonny Nash, and Suzzane Kraft. When creating a new song, Jamison is a fan of open experimentation with keyboards, synthesizers, and guitar pedals. He explained to me that during the creative process he enjoys playing around until he finds a sound he enjoys. Once he has found something he can expand on it’s about “going down that rabbit hole.” From there, he likes to fill in “the gaps with vocals. Let the vibe and the feel of the instrumental lend itself to lyrics that feel they fit that kind of vibe.”

In February of this year, Jamison released his fifth LP Themes for Dying Earth through his own record label, FLORA. What charged the melancholy title of the album were the personal anxieties that Jamison had regarding the condition of the world. Among these anxieties for the British Columbia born musician was the reality of climate change. “Climate change is something that’s really relevant in our day to day lives. It’s an issue that I’m particularly concerned about.”

When making this record, Jamison wanted to channel many of these fears and anxieties and use that energy to create something positive. After explaining his motivation he assuredly added “it’s by no means a dark record.”

Looking back at Themes for Dying Earth, there is a particular track called ‘Lost’ that stands out in Jamison’s mind as being among his favourite collaborations. When making the LP, he wanted there to be a “stronger female presence than other albums” he had released. After a friend introduced hum to Nadia Hulett, the two began emailing back and forth, sharing bits of recordings and unreleased tracks while also discussing some of the profundities of life. Jamison was clear he wanted Nadia to write her own lyrics and use the emotion she felt from the instrumentals he sent her to fuel her vocals. Nadia’s vocals were received and added to the final mix of ‘Lost’ at the very last moment, thus finishing the track. “She totally knocked it out of the park” Jamison said of his working partner.

For the future of Teen Daze, Jamison envisions much more experimenting with new and different sounds. There is no set date for when his next album will be released but he assures listeners it will be unique and experimental.

Check out more from Teen Daze:

Twitter.com/teendaze

Teendaze.bandcamp.com

Facebook.com/teendaze

Haitia

Originally published in Stylus Magazine, Volume 28, Issue 2

By Matt Harrison

On the first day of this calendar year that felt remotely like springtime, I met with the folk singing duo, Haitia. Comprised of the beautiful and talented voices of Dana Waldie and Avery Penner, Haitia blends the harmonious charm of traditional folk music with a timeless depth of lyrics. With both singers coming from homes of music teachers, Dana and Avery each found ways to express their musical prowess from young ages. Learning instruments from the harp to the piano, these two performers have had an ear and passion for music for as long as either can recall

Before forming Haitia, the namesake of which pays homage to Dana’s Haitian background, both have experience performing on stage and in front of crowds, albeit in entirely different styles. At 17 years old, Dana found herself on stage singing for the first time in front of a crowd in a church. From there, she went on to form the original rendition of Haitia, a project that later fell through and created a vacancy that led to what the band currently is. Avery, on the other hand, has spent a majority of her performing time on the stage of musical theatre. Coming together from entirely different realms of musical experience, Haitia combines the strengths of each singer to create a soothing aura of tranquillity.

As the band currently stands, all their songs have been written by Dana as the project was originally her own. In the future, the tandem plans to work cohesively to write songs and together develop a clear identity for their group. Avery has written songs in the past, however the two choose to perform the songs written by Dana. As the two perform together more, the band becomes less of Dana’s own music project and becomes a band shared by friends. When explaining the songwriting process, Dana and Avery vehemently agreed the calm nature of folk music can at times make song writing an intimidating task. Without the volume instruments lend in many other genres the two agreed the lyrics of their songs are more exposed than in other genres. “It’s a little more vulnerable,” Dana explained to me, “when it’s your songs and you and your guitar.”

When asked which artists they each look up to most, the singers described themselves to be inspired by both local artists as well as some unforgettable duos on the large scale. Among local inspirations, Dana and Avery counted Begonia and Royal Canoe, referring to the latter as simply “amazing.” Among comparatively mainstream acts, the two confess the Staves, First Aid Kit, and Simon and Garfunkel to be among their greatest inspirations. “Their harmonies were so simple but still so beautiful” Dana told me, referring to Simon and Garfunkel. “They’re a group my dad played all the time as a kid.”

Coming off a busy month of performing live, which followed an equally hectic few months of performing, Avery and Dana plan to take their first moment to breathe since they became band mates. “When Avery came in,” Dana said with a small laugh, “it was already go-go-go.”

The two agree they have yet to fully have an opportunity to sit down together and work on a song as a duo. To this point, Haitia has been booked to play so many shows the two have yet to find the time to relax together and enjoy any other aspects of their friendship. Dana told me how the group hasn’t “had the chance to go slow” like most bands do at the start of a project. Since forming a group together, Dana and Avery have been in constant work mode a mentality each of them looks forward to taking a break from this spring.

The near future is set to be slower than the last five months have been for Haitia. Their immediate goals, after their brief break from performing live, include establishing a fanbase in order to have a market to cater an EP to. There is currently no set date for the release however the two are optimistic that once they see a strong enough base of fans for their songs they’ll be more encouraged to take on such a project.

While talks of recording and releasing remain in the infancy stage, Dana and Avery plan to spend the spring sitting down to write songs and hone their performances to be as sharp as possible by the time summer rolls around. The powerful duo plan to begin applying for festivals such as Winnipeg Folk Festival and Real Love as soon as the time arrives to do so.

This spring will be spent preparing Haitia for their next series of concerts. Check music festival listings this summer for Haitia and allow their music to soulfully move you the way oftentimes only folk music can.

Ferraro – Losing Sleep

Ferraro

Originally published in The Uniter, Volume 71, Issue 24

By Matt Harrison

Rating: 7.0/10

Released in 2017 by Cadence Music

In their debut album Losing Sleep, released under Cadence Music, brotherly rock trio Ferraro came onto the scene with a unique and authentic sound that reminds listeners of what makes music from the era of five-cent bottles of Coca-Cola worth loving.

With the tone of this album revolving heavily around the snap and innocent charm of rock n’ roll from the early 1960’s, Ferraro unearths the undeniably resonance of the first rock bands to challenge, what was then, a tame normalcy.

Losing Sleep is a sustained display of the impact early rock had in the construction of the band’s sound and identity. By pouring their artistic ability into the timeless mould of 60’s pop-rock, Ferraro effortlessly embodies the value of a well-placed harmony, guitar solo, and instrumental breakdown.

Treading in the waters of emulating the exceptionalism of the hip-shaking rock of yesteryear, Ferraro’s own stylistic ability still finds a way to shine through this audible montage of their inspirations.

In what can best be described as a tactful hybrid of Buddy Holly and The Hollies, Ferraro brings to light the genius of pure, original rock n’ roll. The best tracks on this album for my ears were “On the Ropes”, “Old Hollywood”, and “On the Road.” What this album reminds listeners is that the snappy licks of 60’s rock are timeless.

With an average track time coming in a hair over three minutes, Ferraro arms their songs with the brevity many artists from the era of their inspiration adhered to. No song overstays its welcome; every song leaves the audience wanting more.

Losing Sleep should be in the collection of anyone who claims to have an affinity for real rock. Its original rock n’ roll inspirations combined with its modern (but not overwhelming) guitar licks and solos make it the sort of rock album appreciated by avid enthusiasts of all generations.

This appreciation for the roots of rock n’ roll provides the audience with a trip down memory lane to a time they themselves have never seen. Ferraro offers a dose of nostalgic rock flavour that makes a listener wish they had the gall to run a shameless handful of pomade through their hair and dawn a leather jacket, if only for the 30 minutes this album keeps them company.

Keep up with Ferraro:

Youtube.com/Ferraro

Ferraromusic.com/

Kakagi

Originally published in Stylus Magazine, Volume 28, Issue 1

By Matt Harrison

“Caw-Caw-Gee?” imitated frontman Jacob Brodovsky as he gave me an idea of how some people pronounce the name of his band, Kakagi. The correct way, he assures me, is “Ke-Ka-Gi.”

The group is made up of four lifelong friends, two of which, drummer Max Brodovsky and the aforementioned singer/guitarist, Jacob, are siblings. Jesse Popeski and Jonathan Corobow make up the other half of this four piece folk-rock group from Winnipeg.

For the sake of answering the one question most fans of the band have asked, or been asked, Pronounced Ke-Ka-Gi is the name of the group’s first EP, released in November 2016.

The band admits to having gotten the idea from Lynyrd Skynyrd who, in 1973, released an album called Pronounced Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd in order to get ahead of any prospective mispronunciations. This commonality is the last point at which Kakagi draws similarity, or inspiration, from the Florida rock mob of yesteryear.

The seeds of Kakagi are sewn deep within the rich culture of Canadian music. With inspiration coming from Toronto’s The Band and Winnipeg’s own Neil Young, Del Barber and The Weakerthans.

When asked for less formal inspirations, each member of the group turned to their father. Jacob even went so far as to say “[Mine and Max’s] dad was a real music nut.”

Being exposed to scores of varying music at a young age will unquestionably allow an individual the opportunity to aim their life’s trajectory in that very direction. However none of the members of Kakagi I spoke to can attribute their desire to create music to any one person they knew growing up. They can all agree they began playing instruments at fairly young ages but there wasn’t a lot of music at home, save for what came through the stereo.

Still, Jacob says he’s wanted to play in a band since he was two years-old, “in diapers with a little toy guitar.”

Despite their roots being deeply furrowed in Winnipeg, the namesake of the band comes from elsewhere.

“We used to go to summer camp,” Jacob told me prior to a show at the Handsome Daughter. “We’d do canoe trips through the back lakes of North-Western Ontario. Kakagi was one of the lakes and I have a big map of that area on my wall.”

When Jacob recieved the call offering his band their first show the group still didn’t have a name. “I was just staring at the map when I got the call so I went with Kakagi.”

The choice to assemble Kakagi was born almost as quickly as the very name of the band. After spending time playing with a group in Toronto, Jacob came home to Winnipeg with a plan already in mind.

“Basically the idea was to come home and make a band as soon as possible.”

Having his brother Max come home from Guelph around the same time and already having been in a band called Radiation with his brother and Popeski, the pieces of the new project fell together. “It all came together pretty quick,” Jacob explained. “We started playing together last fall [2015] and our first show was in January [2016].”

When asked who does the songwriting for the group all eyes turned to Jacob. When decoding his process Brodovsky told me he likes to sit down for a couple hours at a time and just “put words on paper.”

“Sometimes it’s not very good,” he went on to say, “but I find that’s the most effective exercise. I find, also, listening to music that I like helps.”

With 10-12 originals written and two or three waiting to be released, the band is hopeful they’ll be able to release an EP by next fall [2017]. In the meantime, Kakagi is happy with where they’re at and where they’re headed. They agree that they’ve become better with every show and find themselves becoming more comfortable on stage as they become attuned to playing with one another.

What Kakagi brings to the Winnipeg scene is an informal folk-rock flavour that’s explicitly Canadian in audible fluidity and melodic harmony. Kakagi symphonically weaves personal poetic lyricism into a wreath of familiar vibes that can be understood from multiple perspectives.

This writer has no personal connections to Spadina Avenue -the star location of the song “Spadina Streetcar”, but I have my own Spadina with my own memories. Anyone can say the same about some place that once meant nothing to them but, with the right amount of good times and good people, wound up being the place they come back to when the merciless ropes of nostalgia synch tight around one’s heart. We all have our Spadina Avenue.

This song, which is my own particular favourite of Kakagi, brings on the familiarity of home and the people in it. This is an exemplary showing of the depth and profundity of Canadian music. This is Kakagi.

Keep up with Kakagi:

Facebook.com/kakagimusic/

Kakagi.bandcamp.com/releases

Kakagimusic.com/