Lee Harvey Osmond’s The Folk Sinner
Hamilton’s Tom Wilson is a musician synonymous with the city he grew up in — tough and rough-hewn on the exterior but with a strong thoughtful bent and a heart just looking to share. With Lee Harvey Osmond, Wilson gathered up a group of friends and created a music he dubbed acid folk and with their debut release, A Quiet Evil, Lee Harvey Osmond offered a striking debut. This weekend, Lee Harvey Osmond returns to Hamilton with a new album to ponder, The Folk Sinner.
“When this started, I joked that Lee Harvey Osmond was the Osmond brother that didn’t get the nurturing during childhood but really it’s where I was growing up in the sixties,” explains Wilson. “To me, Lee Harvey Osmond is more than a joke name but it has a lot more depth.”My dad was blind and he used to listen to the radio at dinner time and I’d hear about the Viet Cong guerrillas and about riots in the streets and political figures and religious leaders being killed and society was changing all around me and yet the homogenized, milk dud world of Walt Disney and commercial culture was still raging. A thread of mediocrity reared its head through all of those changes going on in the world and it was an interesting place to be growing up.”
Like Hamilton, Lee Harvey Osmond’s The Folk Sinner cuts through the crap. It’s a gritty, atmospheric, inspiring collection of new songs that runs deep with soul. It’s about the groove for Wilson and for the story and usually both of those elements are as seedy as salacious. It’s a music that has allowed Wilson to take his show on the road for the better part of the last year but success for Wilson isn’t determined by accountants.
“There is no reason to be making records for anybody unless they have to,” reasons Wilson. “I go universities and I talk about artistic vision and drive and how to survive in this business and my one line that rings true is, don’t do this if you don’t have to. If you don’t have to wake up every day and write it down, or paint it or express it in some way to the world, then don’t do it because it’s not worth it. As artists, we get our hearts broken every day of our lives so unless you’re ready to strap on that heart and wear it proudly, you’re just kind of fucked, aren’t you?”
Wilson wears his heart on his sleeve on the Folk Sinner. As an accomplished songwriter for Billy Ray Cyrus, Murray McLauchlan, Colin James, and Mavis Staples, his own career arc has always been based on making music he truly loves and the Folk Sinner kicks off with a cover song to accentuate the point.
“I got Gordon Lightfoot’s first album when I was eight years old. It scared the shit out of me,” recalls Wilson. “I’d never heard a voice so honest and true and cold in a way that the actual climate of Canada actually surrounded me when I heard his voice. I mean cold like it was already a part of the fibre of my being. I tried to record, “Oh Linda” with the Daniel Lanois and Malcolm Burn back in the late eighties at Grant Avenue. It wasn’t until Sean [Dean] from the Sadies showed up that we were actually able to pull it off. It took the patience and demeanour of [producer] Michael Timmins to open up the space in the studio to be able to perform that the way I did. To me, I nailed it. I’m not capable of walking in Gordon Lightfoot’s shoes but for me, I tried to make a benchmark performance for my own.
“It’s like the Trinity Sessions by the Cowboy Junkies or Kind of Blue by Miles Davis with these beautiful melodies interweaving with these tones,” adds Wilson. “Writing Lee Harvey Osmond songs, you have to have a really strong melody that has to ride over one or two chords. It’s all about groove, it’s all about bottom end. And on top of that you have to tell a story that will keep the listener in there. “Break Your Body Down” has a strong lyric. “Easy Living” is about the tobacco fields in Port Dover and the mystic Highway 6 that runs between Hamilton and Port Dover. These are all big parts of growing up in the sixties and they’re all images that we can all identify with. Art shouldn’t be something we should struggle to understand it should be simple to enjoy.”
Guests including Margot Timmins, Hawksley Workman, Colin Linden, Oh Suzanna, Andy Maize, Astrid Young, Paul Reddick and more, the Lee Harvey Osmond live show maintains an ever changing group of performers but for their hometown return this weekend, Wilson promises to keep his artistic bent.
“We’re a band that has been on the road for a better part of a year so we’re shutting down the circus with this Hamilton show and we’re looking forward to playing,” says Wilson. “I love Hamilton and I tell everyone I meet everywhere around the world. We have a very vibrant art community in music, film, literature and the visual arts and it’s always been there. It’s just that the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail decided to write about it so now people are paying attention. As Hamiltonians, we should be proud of what we’ve been doing for the last fifty years in terms of music, film, art and writing. It doesn’t have to start with some Toronto newspaper. We don’t have to be defined by anyone else, we should stand tall as Hamiltonians. We have a greatness that we are insecure about. Just like any child, we need to be told that we’re okay. Hamilton is like a microcosmic example of Canada. You can’t be a great artist or thinker until someone in Cleveland, Ohio tells you that you are and sadly that’s the lack of substance that we walk around with as Canadians, it’s the lack of belief in ourselves. Toronto Maple Leaf captains and Canadian rock stars all live the same short life and it’s because we as a country don’t believe in ourselves.
“But I believe in myself and when I don’t I know I have kids and grandkids that love the fuck out of me so I think I’m doing okay,” adds Wilson. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life. Success is love. The love you have around you is the benchmark of your success.”
Lee Harvey Osmond plays this Friday December 6 at Hamilton Place Studio Theatre. Click on latentrecordings.com/leeharveyosmond
Varga’s Enter The Metal
Hamilton has always had a reputation for liking its rock hard and back in the ‘80s when metal took off, Hamilton had Varga. After leaving the sleazy local cover gigs the band graduated quickly with their molten riffs to the majors but after a decade of success simply faded away with the advent of grunge. Although there was no break up, for nearly fifteen years the band remained dormant but back in 2010, the time was right for Joe Varga (bass and vocals), Dan Fila (drums), Adam Alex (guitar) and Sean Williamson (guitar) to reunite and they’ve spent the last three years recording their magnificent return. It’s time for Varga to show the world just how the boys from Steeltown make metal.
“It didn’t work out because of the major label powers that be and we just went away from it for a while and that turned into almost fifteen years,” remarks Joe Varga on the band’s rise and fall. “But when we decided to get back together, it was like we’d never left. It feels like no time has passed at all. It’s been good getting together with the fellas again and cranking out some metal.
“The ‘90s were a weird time for metal with some veering to industrial and others to rap,” adds Varga. “We went astray for a while but prior to that we were a progressive metal band so we just went back to what we do best. We learned to stick to your gut instinct and not to follow trends so now there are no contracts and no rules, we’re just doing what we want to do.”
Now doing things on their own terms, they’ve fashioned not one but two releases with producer Julius Butty at Jukasa Studios and the first release this weekend announces Varga’s official return. Rush, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden remain strong influences, but the 2013 Varga is like Rush on acid with the volume ramped up to 12.
“That would be a compliment,” laughs Varga. “Oh yeah, we stuck to the classics but there’s also some European stuff like Merciful Fate — even King Crimson were a heavy on our stuff, progressively. We’re progressive metal with a bit of a thrash edge. We want to keep the groove but we wanted to have a mind-blowing speed progressiveness as well. We do get straightforward with the metal but it’s progressive metal at its finest. Most of our lyrics are light-hearted but we do get into society, destruction, and things gone wrong — the fun stuff that people sing about in metal. We don’t try to take ourselves too seriously; we’re just a fun metal band with four friends that love to crank metal.”
With a wealth of new experiences, Varga is older and wiser and have not lost any of their chops. Enter The Metal is overwhelming and metal heads around the world will be delighted that Varga is back to reclaim their metal throne.
“There is a second part coming out in May, Return Of The Metal,” says Varga. “After the second CD comes out we hope to do a double vinyl release of both records. We’re just excited about the whole thing. We all have other lives but we still have a great love for the music that we do. There is a little more clear thinking these days but we definitely like to have a beer every once in awhile and have some fun. We hope to see a lot of people we haven’t seen in a long time and I think the CD release party this weekend should be a good night. As for the future, obviously, we want some sort of success with this. We’ve put in a whole lot of time, effort and money into this. We want to do some touring this summer, in Europe and the US and who knows but we just want to get our music out there and show people that we’re still a force to be reckoned with.”
Varga plays Club Absinthe this Saturday December 7. Click on Vargahq.com
Canadian Winter’s The Snowball Effect
Overcome by the Canadian climate, UK immigrant Kobi Annobil fashioned a collection of songs with a group of musicians that helped document his personal perspective on the start of a cold life in Hamilton. Just Wait Til February became the habitual warning in response to Annobil’s complaints on Canada’s bitter cold and became the touchstone of the music on their debut CD. Critics and fans lapped up the very honest and often humorous hip hop of Annobil and company and since racked up a slew of accolades and attention, a surprise particularly to Annobil. As a result, the band has continued and with their sophomore release, The Snowball Effect (Urbnet Records) document just how the CW has snowballed into a much larger movement than ever expected.
“I guess I struck a chord with many people who came from overseas and ended up making a home here,” offers Annobil who with Kojo B. Chintoh (percussion), Jay Baggett (guitars) and DJ Close make up the latest incarnation of Canadian Winter. “Just as we were starting this, I was dealing with the idea of deciding to quit music. We didn’t really expect what has happened to us so far and that’s where the idea of the snowball effect came from. A few people seemed to dig what we were doing and so we ran with it. Things went further than I had anticipated so it’s snowballed out of control but you try to adjust. I don’t complain about the snow or the weather on this album so that’s definitely an adjustment.
“Regardless of whether you’re making music or opening a business - there’s the same cycle where you pour your blood, sweat and tears into it and you have friends who you start out with, and in some cases everyone walks into the sunset but it doesn’t always work out like that,” he adds. “For this record, we really wanted to get that spirit of everyone working together towards a common goal and that common goal is something that they all love.”
The snowball effect here documents a growing community of artists, musicians, fans and friends that have rallied around the music of Canadian Winter. It’s modern folk music with a heavy beat and some horn flourishes and to be blunt, there isn’t much talk of blunts or broads but serious universal truths.
“We’ve all grown up but it was important for me not to just remake the first album and do something different,” notes Annobil. “All the producers we’ve worked with have all evolved in their own ways and we wanted to show that growth on the new album. With guest appearances from Tarek Funk, Bonnie Hamilton, Sara London, Haolin Munk, and more, Canadian Winter underscores the community with the extended version of the band called the Snow Beach Players for the official release party.
“We were lucky to have all of these people lend their extreme talents to this record and to have all of the fans that we do,” adds Annobil. “I poured bits and pieces of my life into this, so it’s important to me obviously. All we can do is put out the best that we can and not let everybody else down. I’m interested in seeing how this new record will be received and we’ll see how it goes. For now, we have this show. We’re going to run through the album and have a few surprise guests so I should hope this is going to be a good one.”
Canadian Winter and the Snow Beach Players play this Friday December 6 at This Ain’t Hollywood with Haolin Munk, Motem, Supa83, Ka$hkaval and more. $10 gets you in $15 with a CD. Click on facebook.com/ CanadianWinteryou.