Inspired by a wave of Indigenous creativity, Evan Redsky left punk music to tell his own stories

After gaining success as part of the band Single Mothers, Redsky is stepping out solo and reconnecting with his roots.

After gaining success as part of Single Mothers, Redsky is stepping out solo and reconnecting with his roots

Evan James Redsky. (Graham Isador)

Evan James Redsky played in the Juno-nominated band Single Mothers from the time he was 19 years old. While the punk outfit always had their ups and downs — the band has a rotating lineup and to date has boasted over 20 members — they've achieved a tremendous amount of success.

Almost immediately, the band became darlings of the London, Ont. music scene and started to gain traction nationally for their fast-paced melodic hardcore and poetic lyrical styling. By the time they released their debut album Negative Qualities, Single Mothers were being championed by mainstream music critics and playing festival shows in front of thousands of audience members across the world. But the day after their largest concert to date — a career-defining performance to a sold out Chicago crowd at the Pitchfork Music Fest — Redsky decided to leave his band. The decision was twofold: he was having trouble navigating the internal tensions that came with Single Mothers' success, but more importantly, he felt like there were other stories he needed to tell.

The Danny Wolfe EP. (Evan James Redsky)

"You would think after playing these festivals it would only get better, but it was really becoming a negative thing for me," he tells CBC Arts. "Two weeks after leaving the band, I went to Montreal and began doing the solo thing...When I started out I had tried to write tracks about being in a band or about girls. It wasn't really working — I don't think I was fully into it thematically. It wasn't until I started writing about Indigenous stories that it started to connect."

Redsky grew up in a single-parent household in Blind River, Ont. Born and raised Mississauga First Nations, he grew up with a love of storytelling that manifested itself through both music and performance. From a young age he was constantly writing songs and appearing in plays. While Redsky left home as a teenager to pursue classical acting at Fanshawe College, he still maintained ties with his community, appreciative of his Indigenous roots and the deep history behind them.

It was those roots that Redsky drew from while writing the songs that would become his first solo release, the EP Danny Wolfe. After spending time playing and writing as a part of a band, he wanted his first foray as a singer-songwriter to be reflective of his Indigenous voice. He was writing about experiences unique to the fabric of Canada, but often overlooked in the country's eclectic music landscape.

The EP is named after Danny Wolfe, the leader of the Winnipeg based Indian Posse — Canada's first and largest Indigenous street gang. The title track deals with the complicated legacy of the controversial figure and was inspired by the book The Ballad of Danny Wolfe by Joe Friesen, with the EP's other two songs see Redsky flex his songwriting prowess. Dealing with the effects of poverty in Indigenous circles, "Kala-Ann" and "The Kid" are sung with a soulful and honest voice and accompanied by simple and effective guitar chords, using a beautifully blunt storytelling to accent the very real struggles faced within his community.  

"When I started looking into my own background, it liberated me to write dozens of songs," he says. "The story of Danny Wolfe seemed right for an outlaw kind of tune. The other tracks were written after spending some time in the Northwest Territories...which is just such a unique perspective — not just for Indigenous people but for any Canadian. When you live in the most remote areas, if you're not a government official, you've got to live off the land to make ends meet. And what happens when you're pushed to do that? What would you do to get by?"

There has been a wave of Indigenous creativity not just in Toronto but across Canada. It's inspired me to tell my stories. - Evan James  Redsky

Though the songs' content is rooted in Redsky's Indigenous heritage, the sound is pure Americana, equal parts Springsteen and Petty. While the mashup of First Nation stories and heartland rock might not seem like an obvious pairing, the combination is also a throwback to the singer's upbringing.

"Growing up in a single-parent household, I was at my grandparents' a lot. They would constantly be playing Hank Williams or Patsy Cline. My mom would rock Blue Rodeo or Petty in the car. That stuff is as much a part of my childhood as anything else. When it came time to make my music, it seemed like an obvious influence to draw from. "

Evan James Redsky. (Graham Isador)

With the release of Danny Wolfe earlier this year and a second EP titled Everything's The Same due in November, Redsky is finding his place as a part of the Indigenous renaissance happening within the country's art. These are his stories, and they're worth telling.

"There has been a wave of Indigenous creativity not just in Toronto but across Canada. It's inspired me to tell my stories. At first I was worried I might not have the vocabulary or lexicon to talk about this stuff, but I just tried to approach it as honestly as I could. I looked at the genre and I looked at the community and found no one was telling these tales — so it seemed like a great time to try and tell it myself."

More on Evan James Redsky at his website.

About the Author

Graham Isador is a writer and theatre creator based out of Toronto. He trained as a part of the playwright unit at Soulpepper Theatre. Isador's work has appeared at VICE, The Risk Podcast, and the punk rock satire site The Hard Times, among other places.