For the third consecutive year, a hand-picked jury convened shortly before Christmas with a single goodwill goal in mind: To shine a spotlight on the brightest the local musical community has to offer.
The results today make up the third annual Times Colonist Music Awards, a juried list of the top acts currently based in Greater Victoria.
We flipped the format for the third consecutive year, in part to keep things fresh, but the mandate reamins the same. Only the best of the best were up for inclusion.
Last year’s awards were separated into seven genre-specific catgeories, which meant an inordinate amount of work for all involved. We narrowed the criteria this time around, out of respect for the judges. But we didn’t skimp on the attention to detail, out of respect for the bands.
As with previous years, the process was tremendously illuminating. Favourites emerged in each category, and while there was some overlap, it was often a race to the finish as far as vote totals were concerned. In each of the five catgeories this year, roughly 30 artists/bands drew votes from our panel, but with only five spots on each ballot, only the strongest survived.
And now, the results.
JON AND ROY
At the close of 2011, Jon and Roy took a slight step back to obtain a clearer view of the future.
Singer-guitarist Jon Middleton and percussionist Roy Vizer have been writing and recording and performing with regularity for the better part of a decade, so the decision to take a break in advance of an active 2012 was long in coming.
The move worked. By the time they had recharged their batteries, the two friends were more than ready to get back to work.
“We were due for an album,” Middleton said. “We had taken a little bit of a break from touring, so we had a lot of time to re-co-ordinate ourselves with where we were, musically.”
The duo, who employ former Current Swell bassist Louie Sadava for their live performances, toured the U.S. for the first time this year in support of their fourth recording, Let it Go. Middleton and Vizer made every effort to ensure they got the details right on the recording, eventually deeming it fit for release in June. The release was followed by a long run through B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
The real eye-opener, Middleton said, was a five-date swing through the U.S., which included a date at New York’s famed Knitting Factory.
“We didn’t do as much touring as we probably could have if we released [Let it Go] a little earlier in the year.
“But the plan is to work off some of the work we did this year and use the album to propel ourselves into some festival slots in the summertime.”
The winter sessions that birthed Let it Go were extremely relaxed, Middleton said, which is evident on singles like Vibrant Scene, which proved popular with Jon and Roy fans. “It was a very natural thing for us, and that translated into a more cohesive album,” Middleton said of the sessions. “Our vision was a bit more restrained, so we felt freer to do what we wanted to do.”
There will be a focus on expanding further into the U.S. this year. Middleton said another stateside run is planned for March, with hopes they can hook up with an established act.
Coming up with new material is never an issue for Middleton, who writes the lyrics in the group. Middleton even had time to release a solo EP of his own in November, which bodes well for more Jon and Roy material in the not-too-distant future.
“I’m always writing,” he said. “But there’s no rush. If it works out that we have a number of songs we think are ready to be an album, we’ll do it.”
Mike Edel went home for Christmas to Linden, Alta., a small farming community 45 minutes from Calgary.
Full of family and friends, it’s a quiet but likable corner of the world for Edel. He grew up working on his family’s grain farm in Linden and continues to pitch in whenever he can, but realizes now how little his hometown has in common with Victoria, where he has spent the better part of three years.
He moved here to finish his English literature degree at the University of Victoria did last summer. Edel, a gifted singer-songwriter, followed his school sessions with an extremely busy fall, one that saw him take home fifth place in the Peak Performance Project, a Vancouver emerging artist contest that earned him a $5,000 prize.
After such a busy streak, Edel is content to sit still for the next few months.
“I’m very much in a state of transition,” he said. “I’m trying to settle down before I look forward. And that’s musically, too. There’s a lot of playing, and a lot of performing, and a lot of travelling. So I think 2013 will be a more chill year.”
Edel, 27, could hardly be busier. The never-ending tour that began with his 2011 release, The Last of Our Mountains, kept Edel and his bandmates on the road for large chunks of of last year, including a 10-day trek that took him through California and Arizona.
“That’s become pretty regular for me,” Edel said.
He was in San Diego again this summer for a work term with Young Life, a Christian youth organization. “It’s basically a summer camp where high school kids will come for five or six days, and we’ll sing Carly Rae Jepsen and Justin Bieber at the top of our lungs together,” he said. “And then I sing one of my songs at the end.”
Though the experience of playing for teens is a rewarding one, Edel rarely lacks inspiration. He released a two-song EP in October that features a reworked version of The Country Where I Came From, which originally appeared on The Last of Our Mountains.
He was moved to record the new, more upbeat version after hatching an idea for a video, which he shot with Jordan Clarke and Kasey Lum over nine days in various Alberta locations.
“The way that song was portrayed initially, the video gave it a new and interesting little twist,” he said.
“The original is so ‘nice’ — my mom likes that song. But she hates that video. And that’s kind of the point, I think.”
The most popular band in Victoria — on stage or in the studio — is Current Swell.
The quartet has held the mantle for years, from its days as a learning-on-the-fly indie act to its status as a group with international appeal. The group’s popularity rose even further in 2012, thanks to some key concerts and the continued success of their 2011 recording, Long Time Ago.
The best part? Current Swell hasn’t stopped its pursuit of being one of the best live bands in this or any other country.
“They are honestly playing for fun, and it’s evident in their music,” Current Swell manager Stephen Franke said.
“There is no posing going on. They are a sincere band, and that comes across in their show. There’s no BS. That’s the best way of putting it. They love performing live, and put 100 per cent into everything they do.”
The group, which rang in the new year alongside the John Butler Trio and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings at a festival in Australia, also toured Brazil for the first time in 2012. The band was aware of its fans there, but not until this maiden voyage did bandmates discover the depths of their South American audience.
“It turns out the band can headline 2,000 people a show in six or eight cities,” Franke said.
Singer-guitarists Scott Stanton and Dave Lang, drummer Chris Petersen and bassist Ghosty plan to return in 2013. Up first, however, is another Australian run in March that will see the group play alongside Wilco, Ben Harper and Santana at the Byron Bay Bluesfest.
Current Swell had a spectacular 2011, during which they won $100,500 and top spot at Vancouver’s Peak Performance Project. Backed by a tour schedule that topped 60 dates, the vibe in 2012 was even more positive, Franke said.
They encountered successes in Toronto, including a “killer” show at the Horseshoe Tavern, and sold out shows throughout Quebec and Ontario, he said.
“This was a great year for realizing what’s in store for the future. A big thing was watching audiences grow internationally and seeing it really take hold outside of British Columbia, both nationally and internationally, for the first time.”
Current Swell also played on two separate concert bills with the Tragically Hip this year. Another highlight was signing a contract with Vancouver’s Nettwerk Records, which re-released Long Time Ago in October and marked the group’s debut on U.S. record store shelves.
After a hyper-productive 2011 — a year that saw the Archers win B.C.’s Best Teen Band contest and release their debut EP, Much More Than Merry Men — the five-member Sidney group had itself another banner year in 2012.
“We had some bigger gigs and also matured as a band, musically and through the business side,” said multi-instrumentalist Liam McLaren, 18.
“We are on our feet and have a general idea of what we’re doing. Before, we were taking whatever we could get, really. Now, we have more of an idea of what we want.”
Touring was their primary focus this year, McLaren said. The Archers followed some Alberta dates in April and May with a mainstage Canada Day performance in Victoria before 30,000 people at the legislature. An impressive summer run, including dates at Coombs’s Kulth Festival, peaked with the band’s Royal Athletic Park set at the Rifflandia Festival, its second consecutive appearance at the popular event.
Not bad for a group only two years into its career.
The Archers, who also include singer-guitarists Sandy Hughes and Ethan Henthorn, drummer Liam Moes and bassist Robert McMullen, formed while its members were students at Stelly’s Secondary School.
By the time they had graduated, things were already underway for the group. Regular gigs and the success of Much More Than Merry Men led to a nomination for young performer of the year at the 2012 Canadian Folk Music Awards, one in a series of accolades bestowed upon the group.
The only issue on their plate currently is finding the time to record their full-length debut, McLaren said.
“We play all this new music, and we drastically need a new record. We don’t play anything from our old EP. The new record will be quite different, for sure. Our music is a lot more innovative and exciting now, compared to the EP. ”
The group is planning to record in March with Said the Whale and We Are the City producer Tom Dobrzanski. The Archers expect to head out on tour in support of the record in early summer, with plans to make it as far as Montreal.
McLaren, who was 16 when Merry Men was recorded, likes the collaborative style in which Archers songs are written. He shares main songwriting duties with Hughes and Henthorn, but all five members have their say, he added.
“I feel like I’m lying when I say I write some of the music. Whenever we bring a song to the band, it drastically changes by the time it’s finished. It never turns out the way you think it’s going to turn out.”
MEET THE JURORS
Whittling down the list of great Victoria performers was a daunting task. Here are the judges behind the work:
• Dave Bain, director, Rock of the Woods Music Festival
• Jeremy Baker, on-air host, The Zone @ 91.3 FM
• Kris Barnes, promotions manager, Strathcona Hotel
• Bryan Capistrano, music director/assistant program director, The Zone @ 91.3 FM
• Mike Devlin, arts reporter, Times Colonist
• James Kasper, executive director, Vancouver Island Music Awards
• David Lennam, host, The Seen TV
• Adam Lee, blogger-videographer, Magmazing Music
• Matt Morrison, night manager, Sugar nightclub
• Joey MacDonald, director, Olio Artists & Workers Cooperative
• Daniel Pender, producer, The Seen TV
• Dane Roberts, executive director, Victoria BC Ska Society
• Mike Roma, co-founder, Radio Contact Productions
• Amy Smart, arts reporter, Times Colonist
• Dave Wallace, videographer/producer, Innovate Imageworks
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