Wed, Mar 20, 2013.
It's always humbling when you make a mistake, and I've made the occasional one along the way covering music. Usually it's due to a faulty memory, forgetting which band did what song, that sort of thing. This particular one was an error of omission, and I'm actually glad I did make it, because it turned out to be an interesting story, and introduced me to a New Brunswick musician I didn't know about.
It all came about when, a few weeks back, I listed the New Brunswick musicians who had been nominated for a Juno award this year, a small group of three. Lisa LeBlanc for Francophone album, Joel Miller for Jazz, and David Myles gets a nod for his collaboration with hip-hop artist Classified on the track Inner Ninja, which is up for Rap Recording of the Year. But then I got a phone call, from a guy who told me I'd missed one. He was from Fredericton, and told me that he was nominated, too.
Joel Violette is a guitar player and recording artist, and really wasn't going to say anything about his nomination, but friends told him he should. It's actually not a surprise I missed him, as the band he's part of is listed as from Ontario by the Juno website. But as he explained, there's no one else in the band now, except him. The group is called Woods of Ypres, after that World War 1 battlefield. The category is Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year. So, how did this all come about?
Woods of Ypres is a long-standing band started in 2002 by a guy named David Gold, based in Sault-St. Marie. Fan Violette was buying the group's albums, on mail order from the independent label Gold ran. Along with the cheque, Violette sent a note, and the two struck up a friendship by email and mail. He told Gold he was a guitar player, and sent some of his demos along, which Gold liked. Then came an offer Violette couldn't believe: "He said, hey would you like me to do some drums for you on an album? We did it as Thrawsunblat, in 2009. I was a student at the time, didn't have the funds, and we just put it out as a free demo on-line. We had 14-thousand downloads in a year. It was a massive perk of David asking to be part of the album, he had this fan base already."
Then, another offer: "The next year, their guitar player left, and they needed somebody to replace him. They asked me to be lead guitarist, and we did a 35-date North American tour. I remember David telling me something about selling tens of thousands of records already. We played some pretty big heavy metal festivals. They were definitely one of the bigger heavy metal independent bands in Canada." Violette was by this time, a full member of the group. "When we got back, we did a little 4 song EP that I got to play lead guitar on. Then in 2011, we did a tour in March, and another 40-day North American tour later. We'd been signed to Earache Records in the U.K., but we had some musical differences with the bassist and drummer, and they left. But we were contractually required to record an album, so luckily I play bass and he plays drums, and that summer I went up to Sault-St-Marie and we wrote the songs, and then went into the studio."
Called Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light, Gold finished up the album and handed over to the British label. But, Violette says, tragedy struck: "A month before the release date, on Dec. 21, 2011, he passed away in a traffic accident near Toronto. There was a transport truck involved. The album was at a point where everything was done and approved, so there was nothing left to do but put it out. The album did really well. David did all the lyrics, and a lot of them were about death, and how we deal with it these days, very philosophical. Then anybody who listened to it, heard this guy singing about death, who is now dead, and it had a really big effect on people. We had been really pleased about the album before. David had said, if we ever made a ten-out-of ten album, this is it." Released in Canada by E1, obviously the Juno jury agrees with the fans and the band.
Violette says there are no more plans for Woods of Ypres, it was really Gold's band. He's continuing to make music from Fredericton, with a new Thrawsunblat album now out. As for the Juno Awards, they are in Regina on April 21st, and Violette will be there: "Sure am, I wouldn't miss that."
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).