Canadian band the Elwins break up as COVID-19 ravages concert schedule
'The consensus was: We don't know how much longer we could hold out for,' says drummer Travis Stokl
Canadian pop-rock band the Elwins say they've decided to break up as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge the future of touring life.
The Newmarket, Ont.-founded quartet announced the news on social media saying it "feels like the right way forward" after more than a decade of making music together.
Drummer Travis Stokl told The Canadian Press the call was made after band members agreed they faced an "unforeseeable future" with the pandemic dragging on and venues across the country facing ever-changing provincial restrictions.
"The consensus was: We don't know how much longer we could hold out for," he explained in a phone interview from his hometown on Wednesday. "It's just tough to make a living if you're not touring."
The Elwins rose to prominence in 2012 with their full-length debut And I Thank You, and followed it up with radio indie-rock favourites Hey! Ya You and So Down Low.
Their success led to a 2016 Juno Awards nomination for breakthrough group of the year. Touring became their bread and butter as they fostered a loyal fan base across Canada. All of that came to a grinding halt when the world went into lockdown in March 2020.
Around that time, the band was preparing to unleash their fourth studio album IV, but decided to delay the release for more than half a year in hopes of touring with the new music.
Once 2021 rolled around, the prospects of touring didn't seem to be getting much better. Plans for a small run of North American shows were quashed and the band's streaming revenues didn't come close to making up for the income shortfall.
"Last year was really rough, like we played one show, technically," Stokl said.
Live music in peril
Whether the live music scene can rebound in 2022 is equally uncertain for Canadian musicians.
Leaders in the country's live music industry have complained about inconsistent provincial guidelines which they say are unclear and will throw the touring industry into a costly disarray, leaving artists, promoters and venues on the hook for various expenses, including ticket refunds.
Some international stars have dodged the complications of touring in Canada by pushing their dates. Pop singer Dua Lipa bumped upcoming Toronto and Montreal shows into the summer and Billie Eilish postponed her stops in the same cities to an undetermined future date.
Some acts, including New York band Interpol, have planned multi-country tours that skip Canada altogether. Over the past two years, the Elwins stayed afloat financially by relying on income earned before the pandemic, some government support, and the generosity of their family members.
"There was definitely some money in the bank to coast on, as it were," Stokl said. "But I personally, don't think we could have survived another year and a bit on what we have."
Several members of the Elwins, including Stokl, aren't giving up on music. They have plans to release material separate from the band in the near future and hinted that — if one day the stars align — the Elwins could reunite for another tour.
"Maybe some years pass and then we get back together," Stokl said. "If something like this could happen, that I would have never guessed, maybe we could."
In the meantime, he said he's certain other Canadian acts are facing their own dismal financial prospects and wondering if it's time to "pull the trigger" on their own breakup announcements.
"I think music has to sit on the back burner for a lot of people," he said of fellow Canadian musicians. "Entertainment is a huge part of our country and it's sad to see it be so dormant."