I just celebrated 20 years writing this HMN column and 30 years as a radio broadcaster at McMaster University's 93.3 CFMU FM and as such, I'm sensing something in the air. I recently reconnected with my first interviewee for the magazine nearly twenty years to the day for a new article and this week, a co-op student I had a hand in supervising as a co-op student at CFMU some three decades ago reached out about his own music after all this time. This weekend, the Mirror Cull offers a musical showcase and an opportunity to catch up on one artist's three decade journey in music.
"Being a co-op student at CFMU really opened my eyes to music and I think that's actually where my musical career started," says former Bishop Ryan student Daniel Morreale. "I learned so much more new music and independent music and records that I'd never seen before - and I learned how to be on the radio and do interviews and be professional in a fun and casual way. It was really a great experience. After high school, I started writing CD reviews for the Secondary Press and then I became the music editor. I was there for about four or five years so I got to help co-op students myself, teaching them how to be journalists, photographers and editors. I got to interview a whole slew of musicians at that time so that was kind of the second period of my musical journey. I went on to publish my own magazine called The Free Spirit to give artists and writers an opportunity to share their work with the public. We did some benefit shows at the old La Luna and had a whole bunch of people getting involved like comedy troupe, the Imponderables from Stoney Creek doing one of their first shows with us, Warsawpack and some bands from the Sonic Unyon label also came out for our shows as well. It was a really cool time in music in this city and it was great to have the support of my peers even if I wasn't playing myself at the time."
The co-op placement changed Morreale but after slugging it out in the music and media underground in Hamilton, he had an epiphany that would change his philosophical perspective on life and music overall.
"When I was publishing the Free Spirit, there's a lot of things that go into it: getting stories, editing, graphic design, selling advertising, printing and distributing it - and I was doing most of it myself," says Morreale. "I found I was doing so much of everything else, I didn't have any more to write about. I didn't have life experience to write from because I was too busy doing everything else. I loved music but I found I didn't want to talk about other people's music anymore, I wanted to make my own.
"That was probably 18 years ago, I remember I took all of my music and traded it in for a Djembe and started drumming and that lead me to guitar and I took them to travel the world," adds Morreale. "I went to Australia and spent a good time in British Columbia and along the way I experienced a lot of different cultures and styles of music. I lived on Haida Gwaii for three years and that was a life changing experience. It's an isolated, quiet space where your surrounded by nature and that helped me open up that musical part of me that had been shut away for me for so long."
Not unlike re-enacting Henry David Thoreau's "Walden", Morreale became one with nature and focused his life on that between 2003 and 2005.
"I was mesmerized by the island and the people that lived there," says Morreale. "The city has a lot to offer however, nature therapy has something to be said about that. Given my experience in nature and wanting to be self-sufficient, you use parts of your brain that you might not use otherwise. All of this has a part in the creative aspects of doing things. You have a different perspective to create with.
"I came back to Hamilton for a visit with family and friends and I visited one friend in particular that was working at an organic farm here and I ended up staying a few months and getting involved in the local agriculture scene," adds Morreale. "I got a girlfriend here and ended up staying here to farm fourteen of the last fifteen years. Through all that, it was a struggle working in agriculture, whether you own or work on a farm but through that struggle, I wanted to express myself and write some songs. I learned how to work really hard and i transferred that to my music. The old blues masters, a lot of them worked on the farm and I found I really came in touch with that spirit. All the things that took me across Canada and the world, the last fifteen years on the farm - all of that is encompassed in the music I make as the Mirror Cull today."
Originally forming a duo with fellow farmer Rodrigo Venturelli dubbed "Fungal Lore", the pair played the southern ontario organic farm circuit with their brand of psychedelic folk Morreale suggests was like 'Woody Guthrie meets Rage Against the Machine'. But as a solo artist, Morreale would develop the Mirror Cull and recently record and release his debut EP, "Demoralized".
"About ten years ago, I wanted to play live and started going to some open mics and coffee houses," says Morreale. "I'm constantly writing but I'm not like a song factory so I've composed about twenty songs now. I started doing Fungal Lore for fun playing at James Street North Crawls and touring the farms around the area. We started doing everything from Bob Dylan to Men at Work to eventually digging into the American Folk Song Anthology era playing artists that most people have never heard of but offer such great songs. We carry that torch and bring them back to life in our own way. But with that band I play bass but the Mirror Cull is just me on guitar with these other songs that I'd written myself and wanted to get them out. In the last year, I recorded and self-produced a collection of songs with some help from Jaroslav Wasserman, who was in Warsawpack and I've known him since I was four years old. I am so happy he put up with me during the creative process. I've gone out west and out east playing where I can as well I've been playing around Hamilton at a variety of venues. I think my writing and my playing are getting better and better."
Currently working on a rock opera based on the Great Depression, the cerebral and organic penchants Morreale lives with in agriculture and otherwise are all fueling his musical muse and campfire grit of his recordings. With a live local showcase this weekend, The Mirror Cull and some friends offer a night for locals to celebrate their musical locals.
"Demoralized is a play on words with it starting as a demo but it's also from my experience as a self-employed farmer," says Morreale. "I found I'd be trying to produce really healthy food for my community and it wasn't a matter of being a good farmer but the habits of people, maybe I would get paid for some of my efforts. You can be hopeful only for so long before you have to take care of yourself. It's ironic that it's called "Demoralized" in that I'm doing something positive, writing music and sharing my story as its being written and the story isn't over that's for sure.
"I'm super excited to play a real good set of my songs and share a lot of my new songs," adds Morreale. "With Fungal Lore you'll probably hear things you've never heard before with different sounds with different instruments. And then Ellis in Transit is a British Invasion psychedelic pop band with the lead singer reminiscent of a Grace Slick, Janis Joplin vibe. I think it's going to be a great night of music and I doubt that there's anything that even compares going on the same night in Hamilton. I can only hope people will want to start off the New Year with some great local music and support the local scene. If we work together to create space to be heard, I think we'll all be heard."
The Mirror Cull plays Friday January 3 at This Ain't Hollywood with Ellis in Transit and Fungal Lore. Doors open at 9 pm and $10 gets you in. Click on themirrorcull.com