In the time since they released their self-titled debut effort four years ago, Moncton country-bluegrass favourites The BackYard Devils have done a lot of growing up, both individually and collectively.
That growth is evident throughout each nuance and note of their latest record, Honky Tonk Heartbreaker.
“These new songs are just plain honest,” BackYard Devils guitarist and vocalist Erik Arsenault begins. “With our first record, I was just getting the band of songwriting, but over the last few years, the writing process has come to me more naturally. I find myself writing about my own experiences rather than imagining scenarios or writing from someone else’s perspective.”
Though some artists see inserting real-life or personal scenarios into their songs as a sort of vulnerability, Arsenault embraced the challenge. He credits his band mate Chris Belliveau as having helped take him outside of his comfort zone.
“When I write, I don’t intentionally write about my experiences, but once I have finished the song and look back at what I’ve done that I realize it is very much about something I am living through or have gone through. When I go back and listen to these songs, whether on record or when we play them live, I feel grateful to have had the experiences to put into song. Growing up, I never dreamed that I would be writing songs and making music with a group of such amazing musicians.”
Recorded in a number of separate sessions last March and April with co-producer George Belliveau, Arsenault says that one of the major differences between their debut effort and Honky Tonk Heartbreaker was the manner in which they approached making the album.
Where their debut was recorded live off the floor, The BackYard Devils opted to track the songs on their new album, affording each of the members the opportunity to truly concentrate on their performances.
“With the making of our first record, we would play any given song four or five times and select the best take of them,” Arsenault says. “The decision to track this record wasn’t necessarily an easy one but it was something that each of us were interested in trying. It was a different approach but I think that it allowed us to focus on refining the material and getting the best performances out of everyone in the band.”
Admitting the group would have ideally released their sophomore effort sooner, Arsenault says that between jobs, families, and of course, the group’s acclaimed live shows, it was difficult to find the time necessary to move the project forward any faster.
“Our first album was really good to us. It kept us far busier than what we could have anticipated.”
In the last few years alone, the group had the opportunity to bring their music to audiences in far flung places like France, England, Scotland, Ireland and Switzerland, while also delighting crowds throughout the Maritimes, Ontario and Maine.
Asked whether he feels The BackYard Devils extensive travels in the time since their debut bore any effect on the group’s newest record, Arsenault believes that touring had an indirect impact on the end result.
“I’m not sure that the travelling so much influenced these songs, but I do think that being so busy over the last few years influenced our sound as a whole. With Honky Tonk Heartbreaker, I find we are leaning more upon a rock and roll kind of attitude. The album sounds closer to our current live show than our first album does. It has a little more growl to it,” he says.
As many fans of The BackYard Devils could happily attest to, this is a band that is best enjoyed live. The energy and enthusiasm with which the group performs and engages their audience are surprisingly rare commodities.
Not surprisingly, the band is planning on working hard to promote Honky Tonk Heartbreaker on virtually any stage that will host them. While there are no overseas trips on the books at the present time, Arsenault says the band is more than happy to be sticking close to home over the next year or so.
“We want to put in a conscious effort to focus more on the Maritimes this year and next,” he says. “There are still so many amazing festivals in our neck of the woods that we haven’t had the opportunity to perform at. Aside from festivals, however, there are great venues and ardent music supporters all over the Maritimes, which suits us well. As an acoustic unit that doesn’t have a drummer, we can really fit into any sort of venue or setting. I feel it has been a key part to helping move our career forward.”
What: The BackYard Devils CD Release Show for Honky Tonk Heartbreaker
When: Saturday Feb. 21, 9:00 p.m.
Where: Tide & Boar Ballroom, 700 Main St., Moncton
Tickets are $13. Advance tickets are available online at www.tideandboar.com/music