Upside of Maybe
interview and photos by Mindy Gough
Your band, Upside of Maybe, projects a happy vibe. Is that some-thing you work on, or are you naturally a pretty upbeat group of guys?
When we set out to put the band together we were very deliberate in finding members that were not just quality musicians, but more importantly were quality people. So I would say that the “happy vibe” that our band projects is actually quite natural. We are a bunch of guys that genuinely love to hang out together and do what we do. We are a group of friends that share a common passion not only for creating music, but also for life in general. I think that passion and mutual respect for each other spills over into our live shows and recordings.
Are you life-long residents of Stratford? If not, what brought you here?
Ironically, even though my brother and I were both in Kincardine, our music has been tied to the Stratford area right from the start. In fact, our first project (recorded in 1989) was done in Wingham by a “new up and coming” Recording Engineer from Stratford named Jay Riehl. We later worked with Jay again in 1993 to recorded our 3rd project - this time in Stratford as one of the first bands to use his new studio “The Swamp”. While recording this project, we actually spent the week camping out in tents at the old fair grounds. It was a riot and we instantly fell in love with the city. Later, after graduating University both my brother and I returned to Stratford to find jobs in the area and settle down. That was over 18 years ago and we have never once regretted the decision. It’s an amazing place to live!
How has this city helped to shape your music?
This is a great question. One of the most unique things about Stratford is that it oozes with creativity, and more specifically in “creative spaces”. So what do I mean by that? Well if you are to take a walk around Stratford you can’t help but find yourself continually coming into contact with all sorts of experiences that stimulate the senses and set the brain off on some magical journey down the creative rabbit hole. It’s a beautiful thing. I mean, in the summer time we literally have piano’s sitting all around town that you can just sit down and play. How amazing is that? Personally some of the best material that I have ever written for this band has occurred while walking around the river or sitting down for a cup of coffee at Revell Cafe or Against The Grind. The real “magic” of Stratford though is found in it’s people.
Stratford is a community that embraces it’s local musicians and music scene. It is a city that provides ample opportunity for artists (regardless of experience) to perform and hone their skills. As an artist, if you want to play there is a stage somewhere in town that is open to having you. That’s more important than people may think. Artists need a “safe place” that they can call home. Somewhere that they know they can try out new material and flex their creative muscle. The artistic culture in Stratford is that place. It encourages artists to take risks and to colour outside the lines. We are extremely proud to call ourselves a “Stratford” band. It is our home.
What is your favourite local performance venue? Does it feel differently to perform there than anywhere else?
That’s a hard one to answer. Each venue in Stratford has it’s own unique vibe. There is something invigorating about the energy of the late night “bar crowd” at Molly Blooms or the intimacy of the grand piano and candle lit windows at Loreena McKennitt’s Falstaff Centre. There is the beauty of the natural outdoor settings found when performing at the band shell by the river or in Upper Queen’s Park and of course there is always the excitement and pride of being part of the Canada Day entertainment in the downtown square. That is always a favourite… but ironically I think one of the things I love to do most in Stratford is to busk on the street corner by Pazzo’s. It is so raw, so real and so strangely intimate. You can see instantly how people respond to your music as they walk by and there really is an art form to it. So much fun! I should also mention that we are itching to play at the new “Revival House”. That is going to be such a sweet venue. There is something really special happening there for sure.
A uniquely Stratford question for you: If you could choose any Stratford Festival production you’ve ever seen, to represent the feel of Upside of Maybe, which production would it be?
This is a great question. Upside of Maybe unapologetically embraces all that is beautiful about the “Sound Of Music”. We are that feel good, “family friendly” act that everyone wants to join in and sing along with. It doesn’t stop there though… If you dig a little deeper you will find that Upside of Maybe also includes the quirkiness of a “Midsummer’s Night Dream” and the darker, more serious depth of a “Macbeth” (Colm Feore totally rocked this play) - but definitely, at first glance we are “The Sound of Music”.
If you had the opportunity to have any Canadian musician join you on stage for a few songs, who would you choose? Why?
You are asking this question to someone that has over 20-30 artists on his “Top 5 Artists Of All Time” list. So ya… to give you only one would be really hard. I threw this one out to the group and here’s some of the names we threw around… Blue Rodeo (hardest working band out there), Barenaked Ladies (they so copy our vibe!), Jan Arden (LOVE her songwriting chops and she’s so funny live), The Band (Love the Stratford connection), Bryan Adams (how many #1 tunes does this guy have?), Dallas Green, The Trews, La Sloan, Jeremy Fisher (best hair ever), Rush (our bass player is HUGE fan), Loreena McKennitt (the sum of all that is good about Stratford) and Serena Ryder (Stompa is still one of our all time favourite songs to cover). Our ultimate choice though, would be The Guess Who… There just doesn’t seem to be anything more purely Canadian than Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman. To share the stage with those gentlemen either together or individually would truly be a “bucket list” moment for us. They embody so much about what we love as musicians and we can’t think of any better company.
Have you ever suffered the indignity of an embarrassing onstage moment?
There have been far too many and some that I’m not sure I want to share. The first one that comes to mind involves and angry janitor and I believe that someone just recently posted it to youtube. We were playing somewhere down in New York and the janitor at the facility we were playing at was quite concerned about the use of our smoke machine. He insisted that if we were to use the smoke that he would “shut down the concert immediately”. I’m not sure what it was based on, but we agreed to not use our smoke machine for the performance. The problem occurred, however, when we forgot (after having the discussion) to unplug the machine. We did not intentionally use smoke during the show, but as the night went on the pressure built up inside the machine and finally, in the middle of one of our songs it let out a very small burst. I can’t begin to tell you how small the shot of smoke was, but evidently it was enough for an extremely livid janitor to turn on all the lights, march on stage halfway through the song we were playing and start unplugging all of our gear and sound system. My brother, who was playing accordion at the time tried to negotiate with the gentleman while the rest of the band tried to keep our composure and complete the tune as if nothing was happening. The guy then went back stage, threw all our belongings in a room, locked it and went home. My understanding is that he was fired shortly after… but still, that is a hilarious - yet humiliating memory for sure. NOTE: We have learned now to always make sure that our smoke machine is “unplugged” if we are not going to use it.
Please do tell . . . Do you have a favourite track from your latest release, Midway Midway? Or is that like asking if you have a favourite child?
It is definitely like asking me to pick a favourite child. There are things about each track that I love and they each speak to me differently. I think the one tune that I am most fond of at the moment though is “Live It Well”. This track was actually written after the death of a local city counsellor that I admired very much. We had been looking for a final song to sort of thematically just sum up the project and as I sat there reading his obituary it just sort of came to me. Ironically it was probably one of the most difficult tracks on the project to record though. We had just got back from a small tour of Western Canada and my voice was in really rough shape. I had developed pneumonia somewhere along the way home and had broken two ribs from coughing so much. The project needed to get finished though and all that was holding it up was the vocal track for this song. So, I went in one night and just did it… broken ribs, raspy voice and all. It was definitely one of the most painful recording experiences that I have ever gone through, and yet I think that there is something magical about the whole thing that we were able to capture as well.
What’s on for the band in the next couple of months?
We just had a really cool gig called "SUDS & SOUND" - a craft beer tasting night with the good folks from Black Swan Brewery. We also have booked another summer (July) tour with about 9 concert dates in Saskatchewan. We are also kicking off the 14th annual Children's Festival Of Theatre (being held this year in Stratford) with a concert on the steps of City Hall. The most exciting news though is that we are headed back into the studio in late March/early April to work with engineer/producer Duke Foster. Duke just recently completed the new Blue Rodeo project and has worked with such bands as Honeymoon Suite, City in Colour, Billy Talent, Jeremy Fisher, Randy Bachman, and Burton Cummings (among many great names). We are really stoked about this... The band has also just released our own brand of coffee called "Squeezebox" and is using the proceeds from the sales of this coffee to help finance the recording. It is available online, from the band members and in town here at Treasures.