They Might be Giants: Island musician surprised popularity

Dave Cormier thought his passion for music had vanished forever. He was over the moon when he realized it was merely stashed away for use at a later date.

Three years ago, Cormier began revisiting what was once a profound passion, something that ate up much of his personal time.

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Perhaps that was the problem to begin with. The native of Sydney, N.S., spent much of his 20s gigging in various acts around Calgary and Winnipeg, which kept Cormier and his bandmates on the road consistently for the better part of a decade. One of those bands, Black on White, even recorded an album with Greg Leskiw (of the Guess Who) for Duke Street Records, but wound up scrapping both the band and its subsequent contract shortly after recording was completed.

Cormier, not yet 30, was happy to call a timeout.

“By that time I’d had enough of the music industry,” he said this week from his North Saanich home. “I was at a crossroads.”

He moved back to Nova Scotia for a few years, but he didn’t see a future for himself on the East Coast. It was with a fresh start in mind that he ventured to Vancouver Island in the early ’90s.

Between raising a family, dabbling in car racing and growing his business (he owns all of the V.I. Fitness Centres on Vancouver Island), Cormier continued to play guitar, mostly on a part-time basis. “I wasn’t playing with anybody,” he said. “I was just doing it as a hobby.”

At the urging of friends and family, he decided to make a record, simply for fun. His wife was sure studios would line up to work with her husband. Cormier, who had been down this road, knew differently. “I said to my wife, ‘Look, there’s not a chance. They’ll get one look at me and that’ll be that.’ ”

He eventually aligned with producer Zak Cohen at The Woodshop Recording Studio in Duncan, enlisting an all-star roster to help bring his Springsteen-esque rock songs to life.

The result is Cor-Me-Eh, an accomplished album of working-class rock ’n’ roll featuring drummer Pat Steward and bassist Doug Elliott (both of the Odds) and keyboardist Darcy Phillips, who plays with Jann Arden, among others. A second album will be out in the fall.

“It has been unexpected,” Cormier said of the second stage of his career. “But it has all been very cool.”

 

What prompted your move to Victoria?

I couldn’t see building a solid future back on Cape Breton Island. It was very depressing, almost 35 per cent unemployment. By comparison, Vancouver Island at that time was six or seven per cent. There seemed to be a lot more opportunity.

 

What was the audience reaction to your new music?

I was only going to get a few copies made. When it went to manufacturing, I started getting phone calls asking why I wasn’t going to release it commercially. University radio picked it up, and they have been playing the album coast to coast, a couple hundred times a week, since September. And then CBC Radio picked it up.

 

I gather that the reception to the record caught you off-guard.

The only reason I decided to make the record is that my wife and my friends were really pressing me to do something with the music. I had started playing again in earnest, when all of these songs came about in earnest. It’s just one of those things where I just felt I had to do it.

 

How many songs have you written?

In the last couple of years I wrote a couple hundred songs, and they just keep coming. All that creative energy that was pent up, to be able to release that feels really amazing.

 

It appears that you average at least a handful of concerts per month, and have been for quite some time. Is this what you would consider a full-time project?

We’ve been playing pretty much every week, and are booked into September. They are not huge gigs or anything like that, but it’s an opportunity to get out and play.

 

How did it feel getting back in the studio after all those years?

I played my songs for these producers, which was a really hard thing to do. To stand in front of these people, I thought I was going to get laughed out of every recording studio I went into. But they all seemed excited about it. The first thing I thought, “They must really need the business.” I was still pretty convinced my music wasn’t very good.

 

Would you have imagined when you turned down your Duke Street contract that you could have gotten further doing it on your own?

I have zero regret there. I didn’t feel we had the songs, quite frankly, and I was tried of being on the road, to be quite honest. It is a very hard life.

 

Interestingly, you are currently playing with Will Peters, who played guitar in your former band, Black on White. It’s ironic how things work out in the end.

He heard the album and called me, and said, “I’m in Winnipeg but I’m good to go if you need somebody. I’ll come play with you,” and that’s what he did.

 

Where do you go from here?

I have very low expectations for it. I’m just having some fun and enjoying the music, and enjoying playing the music.

 

Dave Cormier is performing tonight at the Dinghy Dock Pub in Nanaimo and Friday in Victoria at the Solstice Café, 529 Pandora Ave. For more information, go to davecormiermusic.com.

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