Anyone remotely acquainted with Cape Breton jam rock band Slowcoaster is more than likely already familiar with the fact that the band spends a lot of time on tour and playing music.
By their own estimates, the band figures that it is typical for them to perform upwards of 200 shows a year. For understandably practical reasons, this hectic schedule is not sustainable by all bands from the Atlantic region yet playing live is exactly how Slowcoaster has cultivated their devoted following over the past decade.
Slowcoaster’s high-energy live show is arguably the stuff of legend in the jam-band scene here on the East Coast and beyond. The group will be performing next Thursday night here in Metro Moncton as a part of the Cut Throat Pizza / Oxygen Complex Christmas Party.
When he checked in with The Times & Transcript late last week, it is not all that surprising that Slowcoaster vocalist-guitarist Steve MacDougall is on the road somewhere. Travelling between his current Halifax home and his native Cape Breton, MacDougall is getting reacquainted with Atlantic Canada after having recently completed tours of Japan and Western Canada. Slowcoaster’s recent Japanese adventures marked the first time the band had the opportunity to play for Asian audiences. Performing as a part of an international music conference, the buzz of the band’s trip is still audible in his voice:
“We were in Japan for one week and played a total of eight shows in Tokyo,” MacDougall says. As one of 300 bands invited from right across the globe, MacDougall said that neither he nor his band mates Brian Talbot and Mike LeLievre will forget their time spent in Japan anytime soon:
“You take the population of Canada as a whole and jam them into a city that is maybe a little bigger than Calgary and that’s Tokyo,” he continues. “But even with such a huge population, they are so efficient with the way the city is laid out; there is not one inch of wasted space. For instance, an alley in Tokyo is not just an alley – they have shops and bars in them.”
According to MacDougall, much of the “wow” factor of their trip was seeing how efficient and peaceful Japanese residents co-existed with one another.
“Canadians could definitely learn a lesson in politeness from the Japanese. There is a never-ending chain of respect amongst all levels of society there – people are like that because they have no choice but to be kind to each other; it is engrained in their culture.
“If anything, our trip to Japan helped me realize how individualized Canadians are in general. The Japanese people exist as a whole; it is the total opposite of Western society. Going to Tokyo really was a life changing experience.”
As culturally different as Tokyo might have been for the trio, MacDougall is quick to reinforce that, as cliché as it is, music is a universal language and saw the band’s music welcome by Japanese audiences with open arms. He is optimistic the band will be returning to Japan next summer.
Slowcoaster’s latest record, The Darkest of Discos, was released this past September and is a darker outing than what their fans may be accustomed to hearing. MacDougall says that their previous effort, 2007’s Future Radio was a fairly keyboard-heavy album however the trio opted to bring things back to basics for their newest record.
“At the point we made The Darkest of Discos, we had been on the road virtually non-stop for almost five years. We wanted to capture a poetic reflection of what our lives represented at that time. A lot of bands take breaks or write their record while they are in the studio but we tour all the time so the strangeness and darkness of being on the road crept in to the recording.
“These newest songs are still very dancey but I am pretty confident that people will feel be able to sense the poetic strangeness in these songs,” MacDougall says.
MacDougall and his band mates are calling Halifax home these days but are doing so more out of convenience, rather then choosing to shun their Cape Breton roots.
Asked if he would consider the band to be a part of the Halifax music scene, MacDougall says that the band has never really sat still long enough to consider themselves a part of any specific music scene whether it be Halifax’s or Cape Breton’s.
“We travel so much, it feels good to fly into Halifax and be at home 30 minutes later rather than having to worry about driving back to Cape Breton. Halifax is a great conduit to the world.”
The conduit comparison that MacDougall brings up seems to be an appropriate one as Slowcoaster have been seeing some of the great success at radio that they have received in their career. The fact that radio is now embracing the band’s middle ground between “freakiness and acceptability” has blown them away.
“We have had some luck with radio in the past but nothing on this scale. It is nice to see ten years of hard work come to fruition. When we first played places like Moncton and Saint John, we built our fan base two people at a time it seems.
“We have looked at playing music the same way any artist would look at their art form – the harder you work, the better the payoff stands to be.”
Article published in December 17, 2010 edition of the Times & Transcript