Friday 9 July 2010

Cruise with Emerson Drive

It's summer and the Cavendish Beach Music Festival under way.

The annual country music festival presents top-notch acts each year and the 2010 edition is no exception.

Continuing today through Sunday, a wide variety of artists will take the stage.

Among them are Maritime artists who have had hits in the past, like Terry Kelly and Ashley MacIsaac, and headliners like Keith Urban last night, Taylor Swift tomorrow and Lady Antebellum Sunday.

Also on the playbill is Canadian group Emerson Drive.

The group, led by vocalist Brad Mates, began its career in Grand Prairie, Alberta in 1995. At the time, the band was known as 12 Gauge. As time passed by and the members adopted a new name, they began to see returns on their investment of effort and energy, paying off in an American record deal.

Not counting their previous successes as 12 Gauge, Emerson Drive have continuously achieved levels of success on both sides of the border in many ways, including music sales and recognition at industry award ceremonies.

Its most recent album, last year's Believe, was named Country Album of the Year at this year's Juno Awards.

During a recent interview while commuting to a writing session, Mates indicated that the band still appreciated being recognized by the music industry for their efforts.

"(The Juno Awards are) one of those times throughout the year where, obviously, a nomination gets you excited and I guess it goes to show the work you put into recording an album. When people recognize that work, it makes you feel good, makes you feel like you're doing something right.

"We've (won) a couple (of Junos) before and it's nice to know you can look back and see (them) and, obviously, we're moving forward to get another nomination. Hopefully it shows that there's still growth within the band and people are still excited, obviously, to hear the music."

Mates points out that, because the music industry in Canada is relatively small, the Juno Awards is an annual reunion of sorts with friends.

"It's kind of a small network of musicians across Canada. We've been playing almost 16 years, so earlier on, in the days when we were playing bars and clubs before we ever had a record deal, (we would) meet some of these people along the way. You stay fairly close to them through the years because it seems like you're playing shows with them every once in awhile with groups you kind of came up through the ranks with.

"Like I said, it's kind of a nice small-knit community of people that always shares stories with one another on the road."

In almost any industry, people usually need to displace themselves and move for their jobs. In country music, that usually means a move to Nashville, Tennessee is imminent. As such, Mates lives there, which directly influences some decisions relating to the tours of Emerson Drive.

"I've been living in Nashville for about 10 years and, you know, all of our parents, sisters, and brothers are still all back home in Canada, so whenever we do get back (to Canada), it's always a special time for us - playing on the road where we see fans that we haven't seen in awhile and we see family and friends that we don't get an opportunity to see as much as we'd like."

Even if Emerson Drive most recently toured through the Maritimes earlier this year, with a stop in Moncton, they're already planning to return next year as part of a larger nationwide tour.

"We've actually been sitting down in the last few weeks and kind of putting together a tour via 2011 - probably start in February, tour across Canada. Definitely the Maritimes are going to be in that mix. It's always nice to get over to that side of the country, too, because, in a lot of the "Beginning Years," for starters, it was such a long ways to travel and the band started out in Alberta, so to be able to play shows straight across the country... And, obviously, the Maritimes is great. There's a great fan base of people there that love country music."

Although the band is already planning to visit us next year, they will play some "one-off" Canadian dates this summer. The Cavendish Beach Music Festival is one of them.

"We don't get a chance to get over to the Maritimes too often," Mates says. "To be on the bill with Jason McCoy (The Road Hammers), who's been a friend of ours for quite a few years, it's obviously going to make for a great show between us. When you don't get an opportunity to get up in certain parts of the country where you love to play, that's when it gets exciting for us.

"We've got a few ("one-off" shows), this summer that we're doing but, other than that, we kind of just leave (Canadian dates) for a whole month-and-a-half tour where we can go from one end of the country to the other and kind of get it all done in one shot."

Mates offers advice to musicians who have yet to be affiliated with major record labels and other yet unattained music industry rites of passage: "This band has always been built on just work and work and work... and taking good constructive criticism all the time and, also, learning (the answers to the questions) "What's our niche?", "What do people like about Emerson Drive?" and "Why do fans keep wanting to see live shows and buy CDs?'

"You have to find that spot and you have to be a little bit unique. As a band, I think you always have that initially but, for any artist starting out, the goal is just to keep working at it. When you feel like all doors have closed, you have to just kick away at it until you've been exhausted to the point where, you know, you feel deep inside like it's not happening," he said. "We've done it and we came from a small town in Alberta and now we're able to have a career in both (Canada and the U.S.), so it can happen. If you feel like you have something special and you work at it, good things will come around."

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. © Bernard C. Cormier 2010