The Vaudevillian’s Salty Dog
Wherever they go, the Vaudevillian turn heads with their style. Brendan J. Stephens (vocals, guitar, carzoobamaphone) had been making music since he was 14 years old but it’s his penchant for a musical style of a bygone era that immediately made him a stand out as a busker. Stephens sounds and looks like a 1920s medicine show performer and when he met up with Willow Walker (vocals, washboard, percussion), the two set upon a journey that took them travel across North America. The duo has since made Hamilton home for the last six months and continue to shake things up with the release of their newest CD, Salty Dog.
“I started making music at the St. Jacobs Market in Waterloo about six years ago,” recalls Stephens. “I was into traditional folk music like Led Belly and Woody Guthrie, so I learned songs like that and wrote tunes like that. I just heard it one day and fell in love with it. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Old jug band tunes, jazz and blues just made me want to get up and dance – it was like the dance music of another time. I connected with it really well and no one else was doing it so it’d be cool if I took a twist at it and it worked out.
“I met Willow two years ago when I was busking in Victoria Park in Kitchener,” he adds. “She introduced herself, I gave her a copy of my CD and we started hanging out. We started dating and it was pretty boring for her to come to gig after gig and not do anything so I gave her a washboard I had and she picked it up. I realized I could only do so much in Kitchener so we decided to try some new waters. We wanted a thriving arts scene and it’s better than Toronto so we came to Hamilton.”
With three discs already under their belt, including Live at Cafe Pyrus just released in February, the Vaudevillian release their new CD, Salty Dog, this weekend. Recorded at the Duke of Erb in Waterloo, Salty Dog is a tour de force with songs about partying and debaucheries. Violin, mandolin, the musical saw and even Stephen’s 1915 car horn kazoo dubbed the Carzoobamaphone intermingle into a strange, high octane, unhinged presentation.
“It’s mostly original songs but “Let’s Get Drunk Again” was written by Beau Carter, “Lazy River” is an old travelling string band tune recorded in the ’30s by the Mississippi Sheeps and “I Once Loved a Sailor” is a traditional folk song,” notes Stephens. “We were going for a 1920’s dirty Appalachian string band kind of sound. Willow and I live the lifestyle of the 1930’s travelling musician. Last summer we hitchhiked all over North America to get to all of our shows. We spent a lot of time in the south with people who really gravitated to our kind of music. We generally researched our passion of pre–war jazz and blues so I guess we live it and breathe it.”
Perhaps some can look at the century old musical style with a certain nostalgia and rose coloured naiveté but the truth is those simpler times has as much a need for a lack of innocence. The Vaudevillian see their hybrid folk, blues and jazz as a party music of an era that has a lot of relevance in today’s society. The Vaudevillian are musically and visually different from almost everything going on but they are looking for the same end result — a dance party of a different ilk.
“I write songs about things in my life and make sense to me and put them in an era that makes a lot of sense to me,” offers Stephens. “I feel like I connect with that time. The depression era and the modern world are pretty similar really. We write songs about living life and having a good time and not giving a shit about all of the other shitty things that happen. It’s simple dance music that can be played anywhere and everywhere.
“We came to Hamilton six months ago and didn’t know what to expect,” continues Stephens. “We haven’t been here that long but we’ve never been treated so well in any other city we’ve played in North America. We feel as artists, painters or musicians we can make a living and people appreciate what we do. It’s an old blue–collar town and people really appreciate hard work.
“As a travelling band, we play a lot of shows — live music is great but I like the idea of adding a lot more to the shows,” concludes Stephens. “I want to do something that’s a little out of the ordinary just to remind people that it’s all about having a good time. I don’t want people to just come and see us play songs off the album and but a CD. I want people to come and remember that one time they saw us play and got a CD and there was a sideshow act and a crazy arm wrestling competition. We’d like to get people drinking, stomping and dancing around. I want a show – a spectacle.”
The Vaudevillian play this Friday August 29 at Homegrown Hamilton with JoJo Worthington, Royal Seas, This Mad Desire, Murray the Human Freak, arm wrestling and more. Doors are at 9pm and $12 gets you in with a CD or $6 without. Click on brendanjstephens.bandcamp.com
Moonlight Desires’ Frankie Goes To Hamilton
Trevor Ziebarth grew up in the local all ages scene but would graduate into the world of musical comedy — finding his greatest national success with the Teletoon adult themed cartoon, Sons of Butcher. With that project running its course, Ziebarth turned back to the studio to follow his original serious music career path a few years ago but found that serious originals leading to a bunch of fun covers in an entirely different project.
“Sons of Butcher is still my main claim to fame still and that fateful song, “F the S”,” says Ziebarth with the expletives deleted from the song title. “MuchMusic played it a lot on their Video on Demand show after 9pm where people voted on what video they wanted to see. “F the S” got on there over and over and over. By 2007 it was cancelled, despite us touring Canada as the Sons of Butcher in order to promote it. It just wasn’t enough to keep it alive.”
The SOB show lives on in syndication with a diehard worldwide fanbase and while he is exploring options for a live action version of the show, Ziebarth has been focusing on other musical ventures
“Of the North was basically the guys from SOB minus one that I started back in 2012,” recalls Ziebarth. “Of the North was straight ahead rock without anything fancy. All the extra riffs and ideas I had that didn’t quite fit the SOB mould. The challenge of that was trying to write regular lyrics after writing weird, jokey lyrics most of my life. Writing serious lyrics was super challenging and I didn’t really enjoy it.
“But back in 2008, I recorded Steve Perry’s song, “Oh, Sherry” just as a joke but I never finished it,” he adds. “In 2012, when I got sick and frustrated writing serious lyrics, I wanted a break I ended up finishing “Oh, Sherry”. When I was done, I was showing people the songs I had from Of the North and I’d let them hear “Oh, Sherry” as well and everyone always gravitated to the cover. They really liked it and thought it was a great version of it. That kind of gave me the idea to do a whole album of these ‘80s covers because that is clearly what people want to hear from me.”
Choosing a list of solid hits, Ziebarth crafts a loving tribute to the likes of Dan Hartman, Steve Perry, Paul Young, Naked Eyes, Thompson Twins and more with the band Moonlight Desires featuring Ziebarth (vocals, guitar), Jay Ziebarth (bass), Marco Bressette (lead guitar), Nicholas K. Daleo (lead guitar), and Chris Bell (drums).
Recording with producer Mitch Bowden at Mechanical Noise, Moonlight Desires album Frankie Goes to Hamilton is amazingly great — retaining the essence of the original pieces with a powerful hard rock punch. It’s a defining moment for Ziebarth mixing the music he grew up on in the city that grew up in.
“It’s definitely a loving tribute,” confirms Ziebarth. “I don’t mess with the lyrics and keep the songs in tact but I’m also adding my own thing so that it almost sounds like it’s a Moonlight Desires song and not a cover because that would be cool — to have my own sound when I’m doing other people’s songs. As long as I could speed them up, make them heavier, change the structure without losing the groove and what’s cool about it in the first place I think I’ve done my job.
“And I always think of Hamilton as having a great rock scene and that helped in spire the album title,” adds Ziebarth on Frankie Goes To Hamilton. “Growing up, I think of bands in every bar and that Hamilton just breathes rock. Frankie Goes To Hollywood is a classic ’80s band. Frankie Goes To Hamilton is the hybrid combination of ’80s meeting true rock. I just thought all of these songs should be updated and made a little heavier for the current ears of the youth. If some young people hear these covers, they wouldn’t even know they’re ’80s songs.”
With the album released, he could continue on exploring options with Sons of Butcher or Of The North but for now, Ziebarth is content to explore what he might do with these Moonlight Desires with a CD release party this weekend.
“This CD release party is going to be a show full of high energy rock, ’80s covers drenched in a bit of metal and you might even hear a Sons Of Butcher song,” says Ziebarth. “The CD sound so much better than the digital download so I highly recommend everyone come on out and pick one up. CDs are only $5. If you don’t want to pay that, you can go to our bandcamp.com website and get it all for free. With this cover band, I don’t know if we’ll get to Sons of Butcher status, but I would just like to play some bars, maybe play around Southern Ontario because I think the bar crowd would dig it. They’ll know all of the songs, but they won’t know them right away so it might be a fun thing to drink to.”
Moonlight Desires play this Friday August 29 at the Casbah with the Crimson Permanent. Click on moonlightdesires.bandcamp.com
Brett Klassen presents Les Czars’ Hope’s Hotel
Over the last decade, the world has been taking note of Hamilton’s vibrant culture attracting a slew of artists and musicians to make home base Hamilton.
“A friend of mine told me about some people and things happening in Hamilton and I was really interested in it,” remarks hip hop emcee Brett Klassen on his migration from Altona, Manitoba to Hamilton. “Now I’m going to be going to school here but initially it was just an interest in the area that brought me here. I quickly got involved with Living Rock Ministries and their Free Style Fridays program so I’ve been hosting and running that for almost three years now.”
Refining his approach to music in Hamilton, Klassen has written a new CD documenting life in this city that he officially releases this weekend.
“I’d been living in a really interesting area downtown in an apartment complex,” offers Klassen on living in Hamilton’s Beasley neighbourhood. “I’ve been getting to know my neighbours and the management and there have been many stories that have come from my experiences. I want to write those and present them to Hamilton. I called my new album Hope’s Hotel in the sense that I was seeing people get hope and then it would leave. Like a hotel, people are always checking in and out and so in a sense I felt hope was checking in and out of different people’s lives. Those stories are presented in the album.”
Klassen wrote and recorded the brunt of the songs before connecting with a live band but has since formed Les Czars to recreate the album in a live setting. Featuring Klassen (vocals), Sam Kamminga (drums), Danielle Wong (keyboards), Nimal Agalawatte (upright bass), Seth Veenstra (guitar), and Kristen Prince (saxophone) Brett Klassen presents Les Czars call themselves a post hip hop group.
“There were a bunch of writers talking how after the civil rights movement and the generation that came after that was called the post civil rights generation,” says Klassen. “A bunch of people said we want to label it the hip hop generation and so there were books written about the hip hop generation. That went up until the ‘90s and now M.K. Asante wrote a book [It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop] about the post hip hop generation talking about this whole area of hip hop that was very Americanized and when hip hop went global, a lot of it changed. It became associated with spoken word, bands, street art or all of these different kinds of things that weren’t necessarily part of what hip hop was in the beginning but there was a culture that formed and he called it the post hip hop generation. Even though post doesn’t really describe much, it does note we are in a transition and we just don’t know what to name it yet. I would name my music post hip hop in that it is very much in reverence, respect and love of hip hop and hip hop culture and yet I would see it a bit different.”
With Hope’s Hotel ready for release, Klassen and company have invited friends from Hamilton, Toronto and Milton to perform in a special night that many different kinds of music, art or poetry fans could appreciate.
“Hip hop fans should check this out or people who like select artists but don’t consider themselves hip hop fans,” says Klassen. “If people like Feist or Young Galaxy, K–os — those are Canadian artists that have had a huge influence on me. I would personally say everybody should give this show a shot but more specifically if people like jazz or spoken word they can find things to connect with in our music as well.”V
Brett Klassen presents Les Czars’ play this Saturday August 30 at Homegrown Hamilton with Thad, the Gospel of Barn Owl, Hamilton Youth Poetry Slam, Scribe and Creo, the Runaway, Strat–Zed and more. Doors are at 8pm and it’s a pay–what–you–can event with a suggested donation of $5. Click on brettklassen.com