While many musicians and songwriters make their way from the garage to the stage without getting a sense of the work that people do behind the scenes – building that stage, putting up the infrastructure for festivals, even cooking for the bands and crew – there’s something to be said for having that experience.

That’s exactly what the Ontario College of Trade’s (OCT’s) “Tune In, Trade Up” campaign provides, by giving participants “a hammer, a wrench, and a backstage pass,” as well as an opportunity to earn while they learn one of a variety of skilled trades – including heavy equipment operator, general carpenter, electrician, truck/coach technician, cook, or hairstylist. These working people are “the stars behind the stars,” says Director of Communications and Marketing at OCT, Sherri Haigh, and without whom, as the Road Hammers’ Jason McCoy says in a video on the organization’s site, “we literally do not have a stage to stand on.”

The idea for the program came about during a conversation between Haigh and Music Canada President Graham Henderson. “I ran into Graham in 2014,” Haigh explains. “I approached him and said we’re trying to get kids interested in the trades, and we also see the important role that music plays in supporting the trades through hiring them to do all the things behind the scenes.” That led to OCT getting involved in the 2015 Boots and Hearts and Way Home festivals, and to shooting a video aimed at attracting potential participants.

First launched in the Fall of 2015, the program is expected to expand for the 2016 festival season. This year, OCT is also sponsoring Canadian Music Week. “We’ll have a booth there and we’ll talk about the trades behind the scenes,” says Haigh, adding that more segments of the music industry, labels among them, are expressing interest in the program.

Bluntly, for musicians to get a sense of how important the trades are to making anything from an indoor concert, to festivals, to club shows happen is a valuable experience, regardless of what segment of the industry they’d like to work in. The more a performer knows about the challenges the tradespeople behind a show face, the more they’re likely to recognize that you’re in it together – making for a unified effort to ensure that the audience has the best experience they possibly can.

There are benefits to anyone who might see a future for themselves in such trades – musicians or not – but also to the industry overall, Haigh says. She cites a prediction by The Conference Board of Canada that the country will experience a shortage of more than 360,000 skilled tradespeople by 2025, and in excess of half a million by 2030. Given that the Ontario music industry is a substantial economic engine – generating hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis – the program clearly provides benefits beyond those cited earlier by Jason McCoy. Frankly, without the tradespeople who do this work, festivals and large-scale concerts simply couldn’t happen.

“It’s not just about the music industry,” Haigh continues, “and not just for young people, but also for those looking at, perhaps, taking on a second career in life.” And Haigh also sees a direct correlation between what SOCAN and OCT do. “SOCAN is protecting the integrity and success of artists and their craft,” she says, “and for us, it’s protecting the integrity of people who go through apprenticeships and training and making sure the people working [in the industry] are legitimately certified, respected and protected. So we have common goals.”

“We’re a rock band with an identity crisis.”

That’s how Jimmy Vallance describes Bob Moses, his music project with fellow Vancouverite Tom Howie.  (There is no actual Bob in the group.) It’s true, the duo straddles the line between being electronic producers and a rock band, making icy electronic pop wrapped in warm vocals and shimmering guitars, that plays equally well in the café and the club, but is especially great on big stages. But if there’s any crisis within, from the outside it seems to be paying off pretty well:  Their debut record, Days Gone By, hit the Top 10 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart, they’ve appeared on Ellen, and are gearing up for Coachella.

The two first met at St. George’s, an all-boys prep school in Vancouver. Jimmy, son of famed producer-songwriter Jim Vallance, was listening to Radiohead and Rancid, drumming in a metal band, and had recently fallen in love with electronic music. “I liked that fact that one guy could do it all,” he says. “When I heard Moby’s Play and found out he didn’t have a whole band, that was exciting.”

“We recorded it all ourselves, but one thing we were quite adamant about was, let’s get someone really awesome to mix it.” – Jimmy Vallance of Bob Moses

Meanwhile, his classmate Tom was transforming from punk rocker into a more serious singer-songwriter.  “I saw his punk band play,” says Jimmy Vallance. “They were awful. But one day there was some school assembly, with him on an acoustic guitar playing these Jack Johnson-style songs he’d written himself. And it was incredible.”

Yet it would be a few more years before the two would become Bob Moses. They’d both de-camped to New York to pursue music, and after a chance encounter in a parking lot, decided to try writing songs together. After several releases on Brooklyn’s Scissors & Thread label, the duo signed to Domino, the prestigious indie label that’s also home to Canadians Caribou and Junior Boys. The Domino connection helped Bob Moses secure two ace mixers to work on their debut – Mike Stet (Madonna, Depeche Mode, Massive Attack’s downtempo masterpiece Mezzanine) and David Wrench (fka Twigs, Jamie XX).

“We recorded it all ourselves, but one thing we were quite adamant about was, let’s get someone really awesome to mix it,” says Vallance. “We didn’t need the hottest person working right now, but someone whose music we really like. When it comes to electronic music, the mix can be such a big part of the end product.  It also really helped us fall in love with our own music again after working on it for a year straight.”

The result is a sound perfectly timed for the come-down from EDM. Is Bob Moses’ relatively swift success sign that the generation raised on club bangers is ready to chill-out?

“Kids are starting to realize there’s only so much hectic noise you can listen to,” says Vallance. “Don’t get me wrong, I think EDM has been an amazing thing for electronic music, but at a certain point people are going to be looking for something a bit deeper. I kind of joke that we’re the ‘90s grunge to ‘80s hair metal. They’re both rock, but one’s just more grassroots, the other is a big machine. And then they switch places. That’s where we are right now.”

When John MacPhee was 10, his older brother taught him to play Nirvana’s 1991 hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the electric guitar. Neither had any idea that more than two decades later, the younger MacPhee would be fronting the pop-rock band Paper Lions, backed by his brother Rob on bass, their childhood neighbour Colin Buchanan on guitar, and high school pal David Cyrus MacDonald on drums.

“We’ve been jamming with the same four guys for quite a long time,” says McPhee, now 33. “We’re really like family – we’ve shared so many experiences, good and bad, together. There’s a foundation there that’s far more unshakable than friendship.”

MacPhee credits that foundation for supporting their evolution since they first began performing together 12 years ago in their native Prince Edward Island, where Paper Lions is still based.

“I feel we’ve upped our game on every level.” – John MacPhee of Paper Lions

That familiarity that has also allowed the band, who have opened for CAKE, Tokyo Police Club and Hollerado, among others, to push their own musical boundaries –  most recently with their third full-length album, Full Colour, which includes the catchy, synth-heavy single “Believer.”

“I feel we’ve upped our game on every level,” says MacPhee of the album, due out this spring. “From the songwriting, lyrics, melody, production… the whole thing. We feel really proud of it.”

To create the album, the band spent hours in a Charlottetown studio that they were able to rent regularly for a few days every week. “So songwriting and recording became more like a nine-to-five for us,” he says. “It was a different process than with past albums, but really rewarding.”

MacPhee says that having regular, uninterrupted time to work together on trying out new sounds, coupled with band member Colin Buchanan’s in-house engineering and production skills, allowed the band more room to experiment. “I think we had 25 demos coming into the recording,” he laughs. “Because of that, the sound and mood is more diverse than on previous records.”

Already boasting a roster of quirky videos, the foursome has since finessed a re-imagined live show, which includes a catwalk and projections to complement the new album’s energy. “It’s so much fun,” says MacPhee. “We’ll look back, both at this record and this new live show, as a turning point in our careers.”

If a recent performance at Toronto’s Mod Club is any indication of things to come, MacPhee is right. He recalls walking out onto the catwalk before a packed house and hearing the audience singing along with him. When he hit a bridge in the song, MacPhee says he took a backseat and let the audience take over. “It was the first time that’s ever happened,” he laughs. “I had no control at that moment. It was a real highlight for me, as a performer and as a songwriter, to see a song being embraced that way.”

But no matter what the future brings, MacPhee says that the band plans to stay rooted in its home province. “It’s just a matter of going for a long drive, which isn’t something we shy away from. And the advantages of being here outweigh the cons,” he says, describing his recent purchase of a 2,600 square foot Gothic Revival Catholic manse for $80,000. “You just can’t do that in the city.”

Ultimately, MacPhee says it’s also about staying close to the friends, fans and family members who keep them going on a daily basis.  “There’s a security that comes with that,” he says. “And it’s probably what has allowed us to do this for so long.”

Track Record

  • Paper Lions’ video for “Travelling” has been viewed 7.65 million times on YouTube.
  • In its earlier incarnation as Chucky Danger, the band won the 2006 East Coast Music Award for Pop Recording of the Year for their EP 6-pack.
  • In late 2015, when they spotted talented 12-year-old busker Braydon Gautreau in their native Charlottetown, they invited him to sing “Travelling” onstage with them at their show that week.

Two Brothers, a Major, and a Minor (2003), 6-pack (EP, 2004), Colour (2006), Chucky Danger (2007), Trophies (2010), At Long Creek (2012), My Friends (2013), Full Colour (2016)