The only thing Canadians love more than Canadian music, is finding out the history of said music. With the 2015 Juno Awards on Sunday, we asked some of this year's nominees to reveal the stories behind their nominated works. While listeners may assume that Canadian artists look to snowy mountain tops and loons for song ideas, a lot of them actually borrow from places beyond the Prairies. From the Arkells' being inspired by a decades past baseball player, to Mother Mother drawing inspiration from a Christmas carol, this year's nominees prove that not only is Canadian music diverse in its themes and stories, but that it's also universal.
Arkells – “Come To Light” – High Noon
JUNO Nomination(s): Rock Album of The Year / Group of The Year
Since releasing their third studio album, High Noon, back in August of 2014 via Universal Music Canada, Hamilton indie rock darlings the Arkells have maintained a heavy presence on Canadian rock radio with their hit “Come To Light.” Though it could easily be confused for a love song, “Come To Light” was actually inspired by the life and times of African American baseball player Buck O’Neil. A prominent figure in the Negro American League during the 1930’s and 40’s, extreme prejudice prevented him from ever playing in the majors. Despite his adversities, Buck remained positive and always preached love.
As frontman Max Kerman explained to Noisey: “Buck had an expression: ‘What you do in the dark, will come to light’. It's a great motto to live by. The song ultimately is about leaning on loved ones, especially in hard times. Getting a phone call with bad news, and then calling your closest friends and feeling safe. It's about acting decently even when you don't have anything going your way. Even under the cover of darkness, even in times of stress and uncertainty, you can't be an asshole. Be decent, always.”
Daniel Lanois – “The End” – Flesh and Machine
JUNO Nomination(s): Instrumental Album of The Year
Off of Lanois’ 6th solo effort, Flesh and Machine, released October 27, 2014 via Anti Records, “The End” is the revered Canadian musician, producer, and sonic visionary’s take on a modern protest song. In a time when most of us only experience the atrocities of war through the filtered glare of a television screen, Lanois sees the powerful and impending instrumental as having both a responsibility and a purpose rather than as form of entertainment. “It’s not meant to be comfortable,” says Lanois. “I don’t want people to be drinking red wine and chitchatting to it. It’s meant to arrest and stop people in their tracks. It’s meant to take the listener on a journey to a place where they have to look in the mirror a little bit and wonder who they are and why they are on this planet. It is the end, it’s enough, and it’s saying we’re not going to take it anymore.”
July Talk – “Guns + Ammunition” – Self-Titled (Deluxe Edition)
JUNO Nomination(s): Alternative Album of The Year
It’s no secret that what makes Toronto’s July Talk so intriguing is the curious yet absolutely magnetic relationship between vocalist/guitarist Peter Dreimanis and frontwoman Leah Fay. Be it on record or live on stage, there is an apparent and palpable tension at play between the duo that is steeped in the sort of sweat, sex, and soul that makes rock and roll a dirty word, but that ultimately makes us human.
Off of their incredible self-titled debut album, which was originally released via Sleepless Records back in 2012, July Talk’s “Guns + Ammunition,” speaks directly to the sort of innate connection Peter and Leah share. “Guns” is kind of about human vulnerability and dependence,” explains Dreimanis. “When I met Leah, I was a pretty fragile dude. I lived in this one room apartment where all of the furniture was kind of made out of milk crates, there were spider webs all over the ceiling, and I was using old band t-shirts as towels; you get the picture. When Leah came along, I guess I sort of clutched on to her because I sensed she would kind of help me figure out whatever was supposed to come next in my life.
“Leah is a pretty astounding person and she kind of hits you right between the eyes, but when you enter into any kind of co-dependent situation that can be really dangerous because you’re leaning on somebody as a crutch and accepting them as that. When you’re in a bad way, sometimes you want to punish yourself and put yourself through those weeklong binges and push yourself down because that’s what feels right as a human; we wouldn’t really be human if we didn’t have the power to do that to ourselves. At the same time, it’s really just about admitting your own weaknesses and allowing somebody to support you. I think that I’ve always been pretty good at identifying when I am in an unhealthy time in my life and so I realized that was coming to an end and that Leah was going to be the person to take me out of it.“
Sam Roberts Band – “We’re All In This Together” – Lo-Fantasy
JUNO Nomination(s): Single of The Year / Rock Album of The Year
Known for his poignant, subtle lyricism and radio-ready rock hooks, Sam Roberts has been a thread in the fabric of Canadian music for well over a decade now. With close to 10 charting singles under his belt, it should come as no surprise that the band’s most recent release, “We’re All In This Together,” off of their 5th studio album Lo-Fantasy (Paper Bag Records/Universal Music Canada), slid right in amongst the rest. Though it took nearly two years for the song to fully take shape, a process Roberts describes as “being more patient than the song wants you to be,” it wasn’t until he found himself in El Salvador on a vacation with his family that the idea struck him clearly. “So often when you find yourself far from home you are confronted with the differences between where you are and where you come from. At the same time, you are also often compelled to try and find similarities. No matter where you go or how far or wide you range in your travels, there will always be something that joins you to the people there––some common thread in human existence. Of course you appreciate the differences, but more often than not, the conclusion you come to is that there is more that binds us together than that pulls us apart. So, there in lines the line from the song. We are all in this together, and the only way for us to make sure that we as species and as members of a much bigger family on this planet forge the kind of future that’s worth living, is with and through each other.”
Mother Mother – “Get Out The Way” – Very Good Bad Thing
JUNO Nomination(s): Group of The Year
As the lead off single from this Vancouver alt-pop outfit’s 5th studio album, Very Good Bad Thing, which was released November 4, 2014 via Universal Music Canada, Mother Mother’s infectious riff-laden hit, “Get Out The Way,” actually owes its origins to an almost 200-year-old Christmas carol. When asked by the CBC to perform a rendition of a holiday classic a few years back, Mother Mother chose “Oh Holy Night.” As frontman and vocalist Ryan Guldemond told Noisey: “We did it in a kind of heavy metal fashion. Everyone was so smitten with the underpinning cyclical riff that it became apparent we ought to write our own song over top of it and that’s just what we did. The riff from that version of “Oh Holy Night” eventually became the riff you now hear on “Get Out The Way.”
Juliette Jagger is a writer living in Toronto - @juliettejagger