The Divorcees – Moncton ‘honky-tonkers’ hoping for national prominence after new release and tour

After criss-crossing Canada a whopping four times over 18 months starting in 2006, Moncton honky-tonkers The Divorcees are all set to launch their stellar new record Last Of The Free Men on May 5.

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The group has their CD release party scheduled for May 1 at the Oxygen Club in Moncton as well shows planned on May 8 in Fredericton at the Capital Bar and a May 21 show in Saint John at 3 Mile’s Club Monte Carlo.

The group “” singer guitarist Alex Madsen, guitarists Danny Roy and J Byrd, bassist Denis “Turtle” Arsenault and drummer Brock Gallant “” won the 2008 East Coast Music Award for Country Album Of The Year.

This was no small feat for the group, considering they were up against East Coast heavyweights like George Canyon and Jimmy Rankin, among others.

Gallant said that the band started pre-production for their new record in Moncton.

Producer Josh Finlayson (The Skydiggers) flew in to the city to help them fine-tune their songs prior to hitting the studio.

“The demo sessions with Josh went extremely well; we ended up only having to do two second-takes on all of the demos,” Gallant says.

Once the band got into The Tragically Hip’s Bathouse Studios to make the actual record, the group was faced with a case of the ‘red-light scaries.’

Things started getting a little tense when the group found they were having trouble translating the easy-going nature of their demos to the final product.

By day two, though, it was a much more relaxed situation with Gallant giving credit to Finlayson for bringing the group together.

“Josh had an incredible calming effect on us,” Gallant admits.

“He kept us focused through the duration of recording and what was cool is that he made one-on-one time with each band member to discuss their roles and parts. He was truly the perfect producer to keep us from tripping over our own feet.”

With their sleeping accommodations located just upstairs from where they recorded, the group pulled their new record together in a mere 14 days.

According to Gallant, getting away to Kingston, Ontario allowed the band to focus solely on the task of making a new record.

“We had discussed recording in Halifax and traveling back and forth to Moncton every once in awhile for breaks but we ultimately decided that getting out of the Maritimes was a must so that we could be totally immersed in the record and not have those outside distractions.”

And according to Gallant, Paul Langlois, one of the guitarists from the Hip, was very accommodating in helping make sure the band had the right instruments to suit the recording.

“He totally didn’t hesitate about going into his band’s collection of guitars and basses and having us try all kinds of different instruments until we found the right sound, depending on what suited the song. He was fantastic!”

So it’s safe to say that the band had a pleasurable experience making their latest record.

But one area that Gallant admits the band is currently struggling with is the ‘country’ label bestowed upon them.

“As a band, we believe what we are playing is country music but to others, it’s almost as though we exist amongst the underbelly of country,” he starts.

“It’s one big reason why we tend to label ourselves as ‘hardcore honky-tonk’. There are such negative connotations with the country genre outside of the genre itself; we don’t know how comfortable we are being labeled as country music.

“At many of our shows, we get approached by someone who says that they don’t like country music but that they like us, which we take as a compliment.

“In our live show, we try to build that relationship with the audience and sometimes the show ends up being more of a rock show than anything else. The country tag ends up being kind of a dirty word.”

Tying directly into the band’s feeling alienated from the country music genre is one unusual instance the group found themselves in on a recent tour stop in Calgary.

The bar the group played that was steeped in country history and even included a saddle from Gene Autry amongst the memorabilia.

Over two nights, the band played to more than 2,000 people but when it came time to book a return visit, the club told them that they wouldn’t be able to have them back.

“Some members of the club management felt that the group’s brand of country wasn’t accessible enough for their crowd,” says Gallant.

“Where we didn’t fall back on modern country and cover some modern ‘hits’, they decided it was in their best interests to cut ties with the band for the future.”

As I picked my jaw up off the floor after him having shared that story, Brock and I discussed how modern country radio and TV ignores those responsible for the genre itself.

I’ve long lamented that true country talent like Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson couldn’t get arrested by country media outlets these days.

This perhaps explains the fact that these artists are finding homes among non-typical country music labels and are more likely to receive airplay from Americana radio than anywhere else. It is a fact that is not lost on Gallant.

“Joel Stewart at CMT Canada has been a great help to the band although he makes no qualms in stating that he doesn’t know where The Divorcees fit in among other CMT artists,” he says.

If you were to sit down and watch CMT for a solid hour during the run of the day, chances are you would see very little of what I would consider to be true country music, at least in the same vein as The Divorcees.

Modern country music is more akin to light rock than anything else, although there are some obvious exceptions, as singer Alex Madsen notes.

“Here in Canada I would say artists like Tim Hus and Corb Lund set a great standard,” he says, “as does Romi Mayes, Ryan Cook, and others involved with the grassroots Canadiana movement. In the United States, there are artists like Dale Watson, who are simply fantastic, as is Hayes Carll.

“Jamey Johnson has made a huge impact in the US country business, being an outlaw who has managed to cross over into the mainstream market. Marty Stuart is a great preserver of all things country, too; I hold him in high regard.”

The best that the band can hope for at this point in their careers is to keep fighting the good fight and to win fans over one at a time.

“Is it gratifying that Trace Adkins stood up in front of 60,000 people and said ‘I like what The Divorcees are about’? Incredibly so,” Gallant notes with pride.

“Does it help that a few writers from The Times & Transcript felt that we had one of the best performances of the day at the 2007 Tim Mcgraw-Faith Hill show at Magnetic Hill? Of course it does. It helps to validate what we are doing as a band and there is no one prouder than ourselves, no matter what the future may bring.”

On Friday May 1, The Divorcees will officially launch their new album Last Of The Free Men at Oxygen Nightclub, Westmorland St in Moncton.

Their special guest for the show is Samantha Robichaud.

Advance tickets are $10 and are available at The Manhattan Bar and Grill. Tickets will also be available at the door at a cost of $12.50.

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