Thom James (guitar/vocals) performing with Milk at Nite Owl, Calgary on the first night of the 2017 Sled Island music and arts festival.
© J. Ashley Nixon
Nite Owl, in Calgary, was one of over 30 venues for musical talents across Canada (and beyond) that got going last night with the annual Sled Island music and arts festival.
First up was Brunch Club, a trio from Edmonton, featuring Ellen Reade on bass and vocals with Patrick Earles on guitar and new drummer, Owen, laying down a good groove. Their set included songs from the latest Brunch Club EP such as Dandelion Dreams, Pasghetti and Bed Bugs.
Walrus, the headlining act from Halifax, NS only just made it to their gig after a 1,400 km long and hot haul up from Idaho’s capital, Boise. They played a good set of songs from Family Hangover (Walrus Music/Madic Records), their debut LP released earlier this month, which the band, categorize as “fuzzed-out electric blanket of soul with unrepentant strands of authentic heaviosity”. A rich literary description for sure, to complement the shelves of books surrounding the stage of the Library downstairs at Nite Owl. Soul was there, and it was heavy, amongst the three guitars, bass and drums although, disappointingly, a 12 string Rickenbacker was not in performance this evening.
Milk, performing at Sled Island for the first time, played songs from their Late Bloomer EP. I caught up with front-man Thom James (guitar & vocals) and drummer, Akanée Rose before they went on stage to talk about band names and their music style.
“We used to be together in a band called Water Melon but we decided that we needed time for a change, and we’re now called Milk.” explained Akanée. Thom James wanted the name change to get away from the label of surf-rock. “There was a big surf rock thing at the time and people would always talk about a Bee Gee-sun-kissed reverb sound”. He no longer uses reverb on his Fender Stratocaster that comes from his Dad who used to work at the famous Tom Lee Music store in Vancouver. “It’s like a country band now, almost”, he added, although, for sure, not the cross between Shaina Twain and Bonnie Rait that he suggested on his website. That was a jovial comment in response to the Sled Island festival guide that described his band as a cross between Jeff Tweedy and Mac Demarco (who James used to play with).
In truth, he has tried to avoid genre as much as possible as he finds it pretty limiting. He did, however, concede that he has lately been getting into bands like Steely Dan and the Grateful Dead, what he calls “Dad Rock” He was alluding, I think to guitarists like Walter Becker, with a good pop sensibility but prepared (and very capable) to get into “ridiculously elaborate music” that is “underrated”. James himself, noodled through a short elegant classical piece (was it Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies?) while retuning his guitar on stage.
He was clear about his interest in music where the personality comes to the front, “a single voice where you are communicating with people directly”. Milk did just that last night. Sled Island runs in Calgary until Sunday, June 25, 2017. More information on venues, performers and tickets can be found at Sled Island.
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