Five Questions With Bent Roads Tavern

Calgary, AB-based folk-roots-jazz collective, Bent Roads Tavern are revisiting their iconic campus days with the issuance of completely remastered and restored works in the form of The Legend of Bent Roads Tavern Volume 3 & 4, and stand-out single, “Steeples And Turntables III”.

“Our sound is unapologetic,” frontman Collen Middleton offers of the seven-piece. “There’s flashes of protest punk mixed in with modern jazz, folk and roots.

“We got together in 2001 and now we’re catching new listeners up on the history of what we think is one of the most elusive corners of the Canadian music and cultural landscape.”

Check out “Steeples And Turntables III” below and find out more about Bent Roads Tavern in our Five Questions With segment.

Care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Bent Roads Tavern is an indie folk-rock collective based in Calgary, AB. We started initially as a college jam band on UBC Campus in 2001. After our initial run in Vancouver through 2004, we went through long periods with minimal activity and under various other projects but always continued to write and perform as a core of musicians and life-long friends in western Canada. To give an idea of what we are all about, check out our four-volume EP series, “The Legend of Bent Roads Tavern”, and it’s companion solo singer-songwriter EP, “Hard Reset”. As the title suggests, we are turning our focus to rebooting our music – we are feverishly writing and recording for our next release within the next 6 to 8 months, and are reuniting with a producer who frontman singer-songwriter, Collen worked with many years ago, Bryant Didier of B. Musique Productions, in Toronto.

Tell us a bit about your music and writing style.

The BRT sound was born out of experimenting with popular rock songs and playing them with an instrumentation like the Dave Matthews Band, including piano, violin, and saxophone. Lis, Brad and Graham were classically trained (violin, upright bass and piano, respectively), Brian (percussion) is more of a punk/rock drummer, Anthony (saxophone) is a jazz wizard, and Christian was more of a traditional folk songwriter. Songs like Sweet Mirona give you an idea of the traditional folk influences Christian brought. Frontman, Collen, is trained in blues guitar, and his songwriting influences were much more in the blues/rock/punk genres. When you put these influences into the blender of semi-orchestral folk instrumentation, we got blues-based songs like Backwards and The Lean. This is how we believe the fusion of traditional and modern folk/indie rock comes through on The Legend of Bent Roads Tavern.

As far as our writing style, at the beginning it was usually a jam free-for-all during our late night rehearsals (when we were supposed to be studying I guess), and each band member would write their own parts – as we continued to play the songs, each member would settle into parts that complimented each other on melodies and countermelodies, particularly between piano, violin and saxophone. As for lyrics and song structures, we tried to take a popular music style approach, but some of the songs feature the lyrical story-telling of Christian Stokkmo who often wrote four or more verses, all of which were crucial to the story of the song – we did have some longer tunes, for sure!

Do you have any upcoming shows? For someone who has yet to see you live, how would you explain your live performance?

We don’t have any shows announced at the moment – unfortunately, we are like many bands in the wait-and-see mode to see what is safe and following the guidance of provincial health authorities regarding live music in the age of COVID-19. We have seen some very creative approaches to solving the health concerns locally in Calgary though. The King Eddy, Mikey’s on 12th, and others seem to have a good handle on how to create interesting and memorable live music shows for audiences and abide strictly to the guidance of the experts. I live for live music, so I am definitely itching to perform again. We performed at the Badlands Boogie 6 festival, an open-air, public health authority-approved show overlooking the magnificent Picture Coulee outside of Drumheller, which was the album release show for The Legend of Bent Roads Tavern Volume 3 & 4.  In our live performances, we try to couple a lively party atmosphere with an ethereal music experience – we love to engage with the audience and have fun on stage, and we will experiment live with rhythms, jams and melodies.

If you were asked to suggest only one of your songs for someone to hear, which would it be?

A good introduction to Bent Roads Tavern would be one of our fan favourite oldies, Let’s Go To Newfoundland – in that two and a half minute tune, you will hear the lyrical tricks, the Canadian cultural references, and even a little political nuance. You will also get a feel for the crafty musicianship in the instrumental sections.

Canadian Beats is all about Canadian music, so who are your current favourite Canadian bands/ artists?

I’d love to rattle off a long list of my favourite Canadian music – too many to count! I will mention though that I’m super into Half Moon Run, Said the Whale, Hey Rosetta! (and of course Tim Baker), Dan Mangan, and local Calgary artists Erwin Vesper, up-and-coming alt-pop act Taken by Sanity, and local hip-hop heroes, Dragon Fli Empire.  I’m also a long-time listener of Tegan & Sara, Matthew Good, Sloan, The Tragically Hip, Metric, and The Crash Test Dummies – of course, I will always have a soft-spot for Marianas Trench!

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