Brave is the soul accusing Hamilton folk-pop duo Ash & Bloom of being underachievers. Comprised of Matt McKenna and James Bloemendal, Ash & Bloom – performing at Moncton’s Plan b Lounge on Wednesday Apr. 15 – had amassed more than 400 songs prior to hitting the recording studio to create their debut album, Let The Storm Come.
As could be expected, it was a long road to get to the point of having their debut record ready for mass consumption. The friendship between McKenna and Bloemendal dates back to the time they were both students in their school’s choir.
“James and I quickly bonded over the fact we were both baritones in the choir, but also because we were also the guys making smart-ass comments in the back,” McKenna laughs.
McKenna says their musical friendship outside of the school choir was forged when he began playing with Bloemendal’s jazz band.
“The keyboard player from James’ band had moved on, and since I was learning how to play, I began jamming with them on a weekly basis,” he says.
Although that group, and several others along the way, would eventually part ways, McKenna says that he and Bloemendal recognized the chemistry between them, and instinctively knew that they had stumbled onto something special.
“When the last group that James and I were a part of dissolved, we sat down and agreed that we weren’t going to rush into a new group or anything of the such,” McKenna says. “We decided it was the right time to develop something around just the two of us. We wanted to make something really special, and went into hiding in order to make that happen.”
After having vetted a number of different producers, the duo settled on working with Marc Rogers, whose credits include work with the Philosopher Kings, Nelly Furtado, and others. McKenna says it was Rogers that helped guide him and Bloemendal onto the musical path they currently walk.
“James and I are musicians and music-lovers first and foremost, and felt compelled to try different styles of music to see where we best fit,” McKenna says. “After having met Marc, he encouraged us to go and write as many songs as we could.
“That is how we ended up with upwards of 400 songs going into the making of Let The Storm Come – we had an initial batch of 50 songs that we were putting through various genres. It was like we were in a wandering period trying to find ourselves and our sound via the songs that we had written.”
McKenna says that by the time they headed to a remote cottage in Northern Ontario to make Let The Storm Come, they felt confident they were going to be able to put their best foot forward.
“It was a benefit to be able to draw from such a large amount of songs, but it also inspired a lot of confidence. Having so many songs to choose from meant that we became a lot less precious about each song by the time recording came around. We had already said goodbye to so many tracks, there was no emotional attachment to the tracks that didn’t end up getting used. It was very much a matter of everyone on the team feeling 100 per cent sure about the song or it didn’t make the cut. Simple as that,” McKenna says.
The many songs that didn’t make the final cut of Ash & Bloom’s album found life with other artists: Montreal jazz musician Julie Crochetiere recorded the band’s track, “You Need More Than Love,” and included the song on her 2015 Juno Award nominated album Counting Dreams.
Having other artists breathe life into songs which they felt didn’t necessarily have a home on Let The Storm Come is a source of pride for McKenna and Bloemendal.
“It is so great to see these some of our songs live on in other ways. In our hearts, I think both James and I feel as though we are songwriters, first and foremost. Having the power to write something that could touch people’s lives and impact others is just such a thrill to each of us at the end of the day.”
What: Ash & Bloom
When: Wednesday Apr. 15, 9 p.m.
Where: Plan b Lounge, 212 St. George St., Moncton