Slowcoaster's Fast Track

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Story & Photography: Andrew Herygers
Publisher: Muzik Etc. Magazine

A quick catch-up with Slowcoaster front man Steven MacDougall reveals that things are far from slow-moving for the Nova Scotian power trio. The proudly Cape Breton based band, now in its tenth year, continues to evolve in its assimilation of ska, funk, pop, hip-hop, disco, jazz, and blues. Slowcoaster is comprised of founder Steven MacDougall on guitar and vocals, Mike LeLievre on bass, and Brian Talbot (formerly of the band Slainte Mhath) on drums. Talbot,who has been a part of the Slowco beat for as far back as 2002, officially became a charter member in 2006.

I managed to track them down in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, home of the Evolve Festival (evolvefestival.com), their first stop on a mini Atlantic Canadian tour before jet-setting back out west. At the time of interview they hadn’t seen each other since a performance weeks back in Calgary. Talbot rolls in from an all-night DJ gig in Halifax. He’s also been busy with the Rankins and doing sessions for Cape Breton heavyweights Gord Sampson and Jimmy Rankin. MacDougall joined us, replenished from a songwriting retreat in Nashville, while LeLievre emerged from the family island homestead.

Slowco has become a banner waver for the next generation of Cape Breton bands, not necessarily traditional or Celtic, but brimming with energy and spirit. I witnessed their magnetism on their first tour outing: The crowd begins buzzing like bees around a hive the moment they hear the first chord. They hang in for a crazy ride, up and down in tempo, meter, dynamics, and they’re captivated by the carnival of on stage antics. Fans know all the lyrics and sing along with MacDougall, pulsate to Talbot’s compelling beats, and groove to LeLievre’s cool melodic bass lines. The repertoire draws from current past favourites, from funk to pop with the Celtic kitchen sink thrown in for good measure. It’s like this, and it’s different, each Slowco show. Audiences experience a mix of songs and styles. “We think of music as much as a twisted sport as we do music,” says MacDougall. “Every night is different. Crowds seem to respond very well to our new songs.” LeLievre adds, “When we write those songs, Steve is the wordsmith and I’m the melody weirdo. Brian’s the backbeat. It’s about three intricate human beings being ourselves, producing sounds that people can dance to, and it’s about fun. When that stops, so does the world!”

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Slowcoaster finds ample inspiration and time to write new material. “We write in the van, with other people, and by ourselves. Sometimes we’ll jam on stage in front of people because inspiration is one of those things that can come at any time from anywhere. We create the song as it happens. The idea dictates the style and we embrace whatever genre the song happens to fall into at the time. Sometimes we’ll mess with it a bit, such as taking a country song and trying it out as a reggae song, or maybe getting into disco — whatever cheeky little idea we’re feeling that day. Usually, though, a song flows from the get go and stays in the same genre.”

Currently signed to Cape Breton based Company House Records, Slowcoaster works well at the customary island pace. Explains LeLievre, “Company House is a label formed by percussionist Darren Gallop and New York producer Warren Bruleigh and it employs all Cape Breton staff in promotional, distribution, and recording positions. In Cape Breton you have to do things for yourself and often by yourself. People who grow up together and work together fuel the music community in Cape Breton. This helps us export our artists and import other great bands to our little island, building lasting relationships around the world.”

Last October, Slowcoaster commenced work on a self-funded and self-produced album. They’re recording under the attentive gaze of engineer Mike Shepherd at Lakewind Sound studio in Point Aconi on the beautiful and inspiring Bras D’Or Lakes. (Ed: Muzik Etc readers will recognize Lakewind from our interview with Juno Award winner Gordie Sampson, who is part-owner of the acclaimed Lakewood studio). The album will feature the usual mix of styles and the dance factor. Adds Talbot, “The lyrics will make you want to sing out loud! So far, the process is moving swiftly. We’re having a really easy time hammering it out and putting our arrangements together. We’re tracking mostly live off-the-floor so there’s a nice, authentic feel. There are sections where we let the music wander freely and others where the arrangements are sharp and to the point. Since Mike Shepherd has worked with the band in many different scenarios over the years and is a great friend, he knows what we like to hear and how we like to work."

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The band’s discography includes Jody’s Garden (2000), Volume II (2001), Leaves (2002), Accidents & Excuses (2003), Where Are They Going? (2004), and Future Radio (2007). Slowcoaster’s repertoire is all over the map. “We have always straddled the line between what is mainstream and what is totally insane,” MacDougall quips. “Our plan of world domination seems to be working out.” You may succumb to their grand designs. Give their album a listen one i-Tunes, then wait for their tour to hit your town or nearby urban center. 

Slow Co Gear
LeLievre plays a Fender Precision bass, the four-string unadulterated standard of stage and recording worlds. MacDougall’s arsenal includes a doubleneck Gibson SG, Fender Strats and Jaguars, and a prized Vox AC30 amplifier, a retro/classic stalwart amp back in the spot lights. Talbot plays live gigs and sessions on Yamaha Absolute series drums, choosing the maple shell version (as opposed to birch or beech). He says, “You can’t beat the tone and consistency of Yamaha drums. And for cymbals I prefer Sabian HH and HHX lines. I’ve always liked big, dark, and colorful cymbals."