Emerson Drive: From Grande Prairie to the Grand Ol’ Opry

Although there have been some obvious exceptions to the rule including Terri Clark and Shania Twain, Canadian country music artists aren’t always able to catch a break in the United States as easily they do in their homeland.

It’s not for a lack of talent: Canada’s country music artists easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the big American stars. But when it comes to being competitive in a country that boasts 10 times the population of Canada (and speculatively 10 times more musicians also trying to catch a break) persistence, patience and good fortune are needed in equal amounts.

In the case of Grande Prairie, Alberta natives Emerson Drive, breaking into the lucrative American market probably had much to do with the fact that they relocated from their frozen north home to the heart of American country music, Nashville.

From the band’s tour stop in North Bay, Ontario, Emerson Drive vocalist Brad Mates says that the group’s relocation to Nashville 10 years ago was a necessary thing.

“It was a goal for us since the very beginning,” Brad says. “At the time we moved, we had gotten to know Canada well and had realized that it would be hard to constantly travel across the country with so few cities to perform in. And really, we truly wanted to try opening doors in the south so it made sense for us to move there to be immersed in the scene.”

As far as Brad is concerned, the group has the best of both worlds right now, being able to tour to significant support in both Canada and the U.S., the latter of which he admits can be a tough market to break.

“I think Americans don’t typically look to Canada for country music because of the sheer amount of talent that they are pumping out themselves. It is not to say that Canadian country artists cannot compete with this though. But if you have two artists, one American and one Canadian, both working hard to build a fan base and make friends with radio, I think the mentality among radio programmers is that they are inclined to support the American band first. That is just the way it is.”

To help commemorate 10 years of making music, the band released Decade Of Drive: The Hits, last month. The album is a retrospective compilation focusing on some of the group’s biggest hits like “Moments” and “I Should Be Sleeping” while also showcasing new material like “When I See You Again”, the band’s tribute to former Emerson Drive bass player Patrick Bourque who passed away in 2007.

Indeed there has been much change in Emerson Drive’s world over the course of the past decade. In addition to a few personnel changes, gone are the frantic days of more than 200 live shows each year. Instead, the band has tamed down their live schedule to a consistent 120 to 130 shows annually.

With such an active tour schedule keeping them occupied, Brad attributes the relative harmony within the band to the fact that they are friends first and foremost. He believes that without the friendship, the musical connection would not be able to sustain itself.

“I think a big secret to success for just about any band is from within,” he says. “If you can’t get along with one another on a primal level, I think you are going to quickly discover that being in a band together will not work.

“I think the fact we are able to get along so well and continue playing is the fact that we have never had any big blowups or confrontations. I am certain that it is one of the biggest sources of pride within the band.”

Though the fellas in Emerson Drive would love to call Canada home on a full-time basis, Brad doesn’t foresee him or his bandmates moving back to Canada from Nashville anytime soon. He does go so far to admit that they will eventually move “home” at some point down the road but says there is no firm timeline in place for that to happen.

“The first four or five years we lived in Nashville, it was a huge change for us, especially being from Canada,” he says. “But today, we are all fairly settled in Nashville with families and what not and are putting down roots of our own there, so it is definitely our home for now and I think it will continue to be that way for the immediate future. As long as things continue to go well in the States, it makes sense for us to continue living there.”

Article published in March 28, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript