The Plain Steel’s Folk and Roll
Ross Lizotte was born in Toronto and moved to Jerseyville with his parents when he was 14. For a teen coming of age, there was nothing to do out there in the country except play music. By the time, Lizotte graduated high school; he’d move to downtown Hamilton to continue on a musical journey. The Plain Steel would gestate over a decade but this weekend offers their genre defining vinyl release, Folk and Roll.
“Whatever recording equipment I could piece together, I’d run one tape deck into another so I could overdub and stuff and then by the time I got a little older I got a little more serious about recording,” recalls Lizotte. “I released some demos, a CD that I’d give to my friends or to people that liked what I did at an open mic night. I didn’t know anybody or have any connections so it was my way of saying ‘hello, here’s what I’m doing’. I was playing in some metal bands back then not really doing my own thing, the Plain Steel was my recording project at home for the most part. People outside my house didn’t know about it. The bands I’d play in were the kind of bands that would get together play a couple of shows and then disappear.
“It took me a long time to find the right people who were serious and really wanted to get something together,” adds Lizotte. “The band kind of started in 1999 with me recording at home and a couple of people heard the music and said, ‘let’s make something more with it’.”
Lizotte (guitar, vocals) would enlist Caroline Olsen (viola, vocals), Jay Lees (bass, vocals), Vince Waters (drums), Geoff Ball (cello), and Eric Hanenberg (drums, guitar) to form the Plain Steel. The band vision was to build on an acoustic foundation; take Lizotte’s more esoteric recording history, and metal gig experience with the end goal of creating some interesting stories in song. In the end, Folk and Roll was born.
“When I was playing metal, everything was about as fast and as crazy as you could be but there’s nowhere to go with that,” offers Lizotte. “Once you’ve reached the pinnacle of speed you’ve got to stop everything and bring it back to the beginning. That’s what I decided to do and started making music on acoustic guitar.
“We started putting more of a rock and roll influence into the band and the biggest change for that was playing electric instruments,” adds Lizotte on the development of the Plain Steel as a band. “I was always frustrated with trying to get a live acoustic guitar sound and Caroline was excited about playing electric violin. It was always the intention to grow the band out of the acoustic folk sound but lyrically we tell stories. I’ve always liked that kind of writing. There was another album called Folk and Roll in 1965 by Jan and Dean but I was hoping to reinvent a new genre like Venom did for death metal in 1981. The title describes the sound of the music within.”
True to its name, the Plain Steel offer souped up folk and some thinking man’s rock and present it in a colourful package on Folk and Roll. The actual vinyl release underscores the band’s commitment and as long as the fans come along, Lizotte and company think this will only be the beginning.
“I’ve been a vinyl collector since I was three years old and it’s been a lifelong ambition to release my own music on vinyl,” smiles Lizotte. “I wanted to do it before it became trendy but now, it’s a glorious time for a record collector. With this record, maybe I can bridge the gap between the folk purists and the metal guys and meet somewhere in the middle but really, all I’m hoping is for enough record sales so that we can press the next one. We’ve already written the next one. I just want to keep making records.
“And new music is exciting – I love discovering great new music just like everybody else does and that enough is good reason to come to the show,” adds Lizotte. “I might be biased but this is a really good record and we love playing this stuff live. If you want to discover some new music come to the show and if the fans are into it, I’m always soaked by the end of a show. I move around a lot and if I’m not completely soaked I haven’t given you enough of a show.”
The Plain Steel plays this Friday September 28 at the Casbah with Plains and Trains and Stone River. Doors are at 9pm and $10 gets you in. Click on facebook.com/theplainsteel
As a university town, Hamilton gets an influx of new blood, ideas and art with every new school year. The members of Slender Loris — Kevin Fraser (guitar and vocals), Michael Stec (bass and vocals), and Brent Hocking (drums) — are originally from the Cambridge area but are now unofficial Hamiltonians as they pursue their post secondary education while making their artistic mark on our local stages. This weekend, Slender Loris offers their newest collection of songs recorded at one of those local live stage venues that have helped developed their musical career.
“This is our first band since coming to Hamilton,” admits Fraser. “Mike and I met in the Cambridge scene in the mid 2000's. We played in different bands at the time, but started jamming together in the slums of Preston, Ontario. We started with computer speakers hooked up to a four track; we never looked back from there.
“We are the kind of people that have to make music otherwise we turn into crazy people,” adds Fraser. “We are influenced by a lot of underground musicians because we literally grew up around – a strong crop in the Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo area. We are super inspired by punk rock but also intrigued by the avant-garde. There is a band that was from Cambridge called Tugnut that totally changed our lives and showed us what it takes to be in a band. We also love what’s happening here in Hamilton as well. In Cambridge, the type of music
that was at local shows and what was ‘in’ was very streamlined. In Hamilton, it feels like everyone is doing their own little art project. We're not trying to start any sort of movement or anything like that, we just write music the way it comes out naturally and it's super cool to be around a bunch of people doing their own thing.”
Knowing that the trio adopted their name from the small creature indigenous to Sri Lanka that was once reportedly hunted by voodoo tribesmen for its tears, might suggest a mindset to where the music is coming from. Intense, overwhelming and totally heartfelt – Sonic Youth, Mr. Bungle or the aforementioned Tugnut can offer a primer fo the post-hardcore sounds available on Slender Loris’s new disc, Live @ Doors Pub (recorded and mixed by Fraser at Doors Pub on May 24) and for the CD release, expect a loud frenetic show.
“We've done all our albums DIY and plan to keep it the same in the future,” notes Fraser. “Live at the Doors Pub kind of happened by accident because the sound guy who was working that night cost less money if we brought our own gear.
“We are all in school right now so we're just focusing on creating new material, playing locally every so often,” adds Fraser. “We are presently sitting on some new material for a short LP, a few splits and a pirate themed concept album involving Satan. We don’t really like to think of songs are good or bad, more as whether they are emotionally relevant to us. One of our band's core values is to commit 100 per cent physically and emotionally to every song, and every performance. We kind of like to just plow through our set with as much feeling as possible when we perform. We put out a lot of energy into what we do and get a lot of therapy from it.”
Slender Loris plays this Friday September 28 at the Casbah Lounge with At What Cost, Endow and the Kettle Black. Doors are at 9pm and $7 gets you in or $5 with canned food items.
Click on slenderloris.bandcamp.com
Matthew Barber’s Haunted Hillbilly
It’s hard to believe it’s been over a decade since Matthew Barber graced the cover of View as a McMaster University philosophy student offering his debut recordings. The Port Credit born musician would self-admittedly learn his craft on the Hamilton stages over those few short years and then get lured back to Toronto and beyond to bring his music to a much larger audience. Over the years, Barber has honed his craft and most recently, pushed himself as a songwriter by creating a theatrical soundtrack for his sixth album, The Haunted Hillbilly.
“The play Haunted Hillbilly is something I've been involved with for a few years now,” explains Barber. “We've produced it three times in Montreal and did one run in Toronto at the Summerworks Theatre festival. It's based on a book of the same name by a Toronto author named Derek McCormack. It's set in Hank Williams-era Nashville and it really plays up the weird, campy, creepy, carnival-esque side of old-time country music and the fashion of Hillbilly culture. The main characters are over-the-top caricatures of Hank Williams and the famous tailor Nudie Cohn who made elaborate sequin-encrusted suits for the country stars of the day. It was a great opportunity for me to indulge my love of country music, and I found it to be a great challenge to write songs for other characters to sing that helped move the story along.
What could have been a wistful experiment has turned into an engaging romp that had to be recorded and while the play isn’t touring, Barber is taking the music on the road.
“I do really believe in these songs,” confides Barber. “I wanted to present them in a way that would give them a life outside of the limited runs of the play. I know people won't fully get the context of the songs if they haven't seen the show, but I hope it can be appreciated as a sort of country-music concept album. And the band from the show was so good I really wanted to capture them on record.
“I really want to play these songs front to back as a distinct piece because I think they work best that way,” he adds on the show he returns to his old stomping grounds this week. “Then we'll shift gears a bit and play some of my other songs but with a bit more of a country-tinge than they've had in the past. It's not like we're doing a Rutles-like tribute to Hank Williams, but the spirit of that kind of music will be there on the night. And probably a cover or two. There will be pedal steel and fiddle. Ultimately, it's still going to be a Matthew Barber show.
Ten plus years of making music — as a solo singer and songwriter, or with a band, as a drummer in folk and in country [notably Barber has shown up as drummer for Doug Paisley], and even as a theatrical tunesmith now — Matthew Barber has done so much, but there is still a lot more to come.
“I'm never fully satisfied with what I've accomplished, although it does feel good to be able to scrape out a living doing what I love — it's taken me to many interesting places and I have no regrets about the path I've chosen,” says Barber. “After six albums and hundreds of shows, I really feel like a being a songwriter and singer is what I do and has defined who I am. So if people are interested in seeing someone who is dedicated to this calling, pushing the boundaries of his style with this latest batch of songs, they should come to this show. I'm still amazed and humbled that people take time out of their busy lives to come to my shows and it means a lot to me. We'll make it worth your while.
“As for Hamilton, it's always a pleasure to play there,” adds Barber. “Of course I have fond memories of the place — I cut my teeth at [now defunct club called] the Raven in the early 2000s. I haven't played This Ain't Hollywood yet but I hear it's a cool place. It's the first
show of this Haunted Hillbilly tour so we'll be nervous and excited.”
Matt Barber plays this Tuesday October 2 at This Ain’t Hollywood with Ben Wilkins opening. Doors are at 9pm.
Click on matthewbarber.com. V