There was a time not all that long ago that Emerson Drive vocalist Brad Mates thought the notion of a band celebrating their 20th anniversary was mind boggling.
But now, the tables have turned, and he is, somewhat amusingly, at a loss for words.
“When I was growing up, my father was a huge country music fan. We listened to Alabama, The Desert Rose Band, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,” Mates begins. “I remember seeing Twenty Years of Dirt from the latter group and thinking ‘Wow. These guys have been around forever.’ And now, here is Emerson Drive celebrating our 20th year. It’s kind of crazy to think that we’ve been around that long. It definitely makes me shake my head a little bit.”
Formed in Alberta in 1995, Mates says that Emerson Drive started off innocently enough: Friends getting together for the sake of playing music. As they continued to perform in front of audiences, however, they began to wonder just how far music could take them.
“We wondered amongst ourselves if music was something that could take us down the road. We started playing shows through Alberta and began travelling into B.C. and Saskatchewan to play shows. I don’t think any of us could have reasonably expected where music would lead us, though.”
In their early days, music led Emerson Drive from Canada to Nashville, where they secured an American recording contract with Dreamworks, a record label owned by media magnates Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. It was enough to make their heads spin.
“Here we were, some guys from Alberta, Canada, that were suddenly labelmates with the likes of Toby Keith and Jessica Andrews. It was a little surreal,” he says.
Emerson Drive subsequently became quite familiar with being travelling musicians, performing what Mates estimates to be upwards of 300 shows per year for the first six years of their career. Their hard work certainly paid off for the band.
In addition to touring in support of country superstar Shania Twain in 2004 and 2005, the group has secured a number of Top 5 and Top 20 hits over the last two decades, thanks to songs like “Believe,” “The Extra Mile,” “I Should Be Sleeping,” “Fall Into Me” and “Last One Standing.”
Throughout the course of their five full-length studio albums – 2002’s self-titled effort, What If? (2004), 2006’s Countrified, Believe (2009) and 2012’s Roll – the group has also racked up numerous award nominations in both the United States and here at home in Canada. Emerson Drive would go on to become the first Canadian country music band to score a number one single in the United States with their 2007 track “Moments.” The track would also go on to earn them a Grammy Award nomination.
For all of their success, however, Mates expresses a deep sense of gratitude for their fans having helped sustain them for the last two decades. He notes that Emerson Drive were fortunate enough to have made a name for themselves prior to the iTunes-dominated world that we live in today.
“I look back on having lived through one of the biggest changes that the music industry has encountered with the advent of Napster and iTunes and can’t help but feel lucky that we are still standing. The music business changed pretty drastically from 2001 through 2005. As a band, we believed that if we were able to fight through that, we stood a good chance at being in it for the long haul,” Mates says.
“I always believed that even if people were downloading your music for free but in turn enjoy what they are hearing, they are going to pay to come see a show and maybe pick up a piece of merchandise before the night is out. All these industry changes have meant we have had to take a different approach to the way we do business, but even that has been refreshing in itself.”
Part of Emerson Drive’s revised approach to business includes the recent release of a new EP of music, Tilt A Whirl. Mates says the EP serves as an experiment of sorts both for the band as well as their fans.
He says that while they thoroughly enjoy making and releasing full-length albums, they also see a certain merit in more frequent releases consisting of fewer songs.
“This is our first go-round with an EP instead of making a full album. We are pretty excited about it because it allows us and our listeners to rotate through new music a little faster. We’ll see how the release of the EP goes over the next year, and if everyone is happy on all ends, including the people we work with, we will probably release another EP. If the red flags start popping up though, it will be back to full-length records for us,” Mates laughs.
What: Emerson Drive with special guests Jordan McIntosh & Heather Longstaffe
When: Friday Apr. 24, 8:00 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Tickets start at $29.99 (plus taxes and service charges). Advance tickets are available at the Casino Gift Shop, by phone at 1-866-943-8849 and online at casinonb.ca