Five Questions With Dali Van Gogh

Halifax, NS-based rockers Dali Van Gogh have released their new single, “Boneyard” which is produced by JUNO-nominated songwriter Rob Laidlaw.

The song is the latest installment into The Testimony, a story being delivered through both music and a digitally-issued tie-in novel unveiled in parts every Friday by the Halifax-based band — Isaac Kent, John Scotto, Johnny Moore, Rachelle Moreau, and Lance Hicks — as part of their intricate and innovative concept release.

“‘Boneyard’ is a special song for us,” Kent considers. “It was created entirely during the pandemic; from sitting at home and mucking about with the first guitar riff during the shutdown, through to the finished product and video. It’s very reflective of where the band is emotionally during such a strange time.”

“The song is heavily inspired by the world and times we live in,” Scotto agrees. “That, and music that came from other times of turmoil in our history.”

“The interior of the building we shot in was dark and foreboding, and conveyed this deep sense of history and tragedy that perfectly fit the tone of the song,” he adds of the video’s location — an abandoned cold-war era radar base in Beaverbank, Nova Scotia. In it, Scotto resurrects a character from Dali Van Gogh’s previous album — a sermon-conducting preacher who’s plot line very much evolves through The Testimony.

Featuring a lone survivor and mysterious stranger from times past, The Testimony delivers accounts of those who have come into contact with ‘The Preacher’ — an enigmatic figure whose very presence alters the world around him. At 30+ pages so far, the novel-in-progress, delivered as a first-person journal of sorts, ventures to ask who the authors are and what happened to the world they live in, all through weekly page releases and intermittent singles that piece it all together.

“Sure, there have been lots of concept records over the years, but what we’ve created with The Testimony is fairly unique,” Hicks explains. “We are building the story across various media; songs, the novel and art, videos, even cryptic posts on our website and social media. We’re engaging people every way that we can.”

“It’s definitely something a bit different for us,” Scotto adds. “It’s challenging in some ways because we didn’t go into this saying, ‘hey, let’s make a graphic novel, concept album,’ or anything like that, but one of the great things about working on a creative endeavour of any kind is that it sometimes takes you places you aren’t expecting to go.”

“The story is unfolding slowly, which gives people something to look forward to, as well as eventually to look back on as a finished project when we eventually reach the end,” says Moore. “You could compare it to long-form art similar to a regular YouTube series.”

“You don’t stand out from the pack unless you do things differently than everyone around you,” Kent squares up. “I get that from my grandmother, a champion 100 meter runner in her youth who trained with all the boys during a time when that was incredibly frowned upon. I’ve always taken a lot of inspiration from her story, right from the day I started the band 10 years ago.

“She always broke with the norm, and I think that’s what we’re doing here.”

“We were determined to not let COVID-19 put us at a standstill,” Moreau shares. “I think, if anything, it motivated us even more to put something super special out once our other opportunities had to be cancelled or rescheduled due to the circumstances.”

Check out the video for “Boneyard” below and find out more about the band via our Five Questions With segment.

Care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Hello! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. My name is Isaac Kent, I’m the guitarist and founder of Dali Van Gogh. We’re a hard rock band from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I started the band over ten years ago originally, but this incarnation came together in 2016 following a fire that destroyed my then home and recording studio.

The current lineup features of course myself, John Scotto on lead vocals, Lance Hicks on Bass, Rachelle Moreau on Keyboards, and Johnny Moore on Drums. The whole band sings though the only person who really takes the lead for the most part besides John is Rachelle. John has a rough, raw, in your face vocal. Very reminiscent of the 90s rock sound. Rachelle is a classically trained vocalist with a background in musical theatre. So we lean into the dichotomy of the two sounds as much as we can. It creates some really interesting dynamics.

Tell us a bit about your music and writing style.

Well, we’re a hard rock band, more or less. We’ve been described through the years as high-octane rock n roll. The music is often raw and aggressive, though we have tender moments as well. The songs are usually guitar-driven, meaning typically the songs feature big guitar riffs that the rest of the song is usually built around. We almost always have deeply layered, vocally harmonized sections of the songs. There’s often an instrumental solo of some kind. That being said, the calibre of musicians we have had in recent years has started to change all that somewhat. We’ve always tried to be real with our music, let the songs go where they want to. So if the song calls for a piano line to lead the way, or a sparse mix that’s mostly vocal and drums, then we’re all very open to that.

The band members we have now come from so many different backgrounds and have such varied influences that we’re starting to come up with some very unique stuff, while still sounding like a cohesive band. That’s something people have always said about Dali Van Gogh, we have our “sound” figured out. Everything we put out, be it a country-western ballad or a borderline metal piece, always sounds like US. Everyone brings their own unique perspective to any individual song, even on a given night or with a given performance, but at the end of the day, we can’t help but sound like Dali Van Gogh.

We’re very much a live band. We live for the little experiments and differences in our songs when we are on stage. I’ve always looked at recording as more of a snapshot of a song, than the final word on any composition. Even material we released just last year has changed somewhat in our live show. It’s all part of what’s fun about being musicians. There are no rules.

How are you keeping creative without shows? What are you spending your time on?

We’re lucky enough to be located firmly within the Atlantic Bubble, so we’ve had the opportunity to start performing again. We’re even playing the first music festival in the region since Covid hit; the Alexander Keith’s Socially Distanced Music Festival. I know it’s a mouthful hahahaha. That will be taking place in mid-November.

In an odd way the pandemic has even helped turnout. The general community here in the Maritimes has a bad habit of taking things for granted, becoming complacent. We’ve always had a very strong and committed fan base, especially in the last couple of years, but this summer it’s been literally nothing but sold-out shows. Even for us that’s a pleasant change of pace, and it’s helping the venues as well. I think it’s really easy for the situation between venues and bands to become “us versus them”. But we’re all in this together. If you can fill a venue, then they make more money on drinks and food, and subsequently can take better care of you, be it rider or pay or what have you. So the fact that there’s this feeling of urgency has really helped everyone involved. We have no idea when we’ll be shut down again.

And we were for a while there. We had something like 20 Atlantic Shows, and 2 tours outside of the region got canceled when we got shut down in March. Things began to open back up in June, and by July we performed the first full band, plugged in show in Halifax at the Carleton Bar. So big shout out to Mike Campbell for helping make that a reality. That show was really a test run for the city. If a big, rowdy rock crowd will stay seated and safe, then it’s a good bet that most shows will be fine. So in a funny way we helped to open things back up. We’re pretty proud of that.

We spent the lockdown writing primarily. I think you’ll find that’s the case with most bands right now. Creative people can’t stop being creative. So we wrote most of an album, and dreamed up the concept and tie-in novel, “The Testimony”, that has become the focal point for all our marketing.

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

Right now the answer is definitely “Boneyard”, our latest single and the first from this whole concept record thing we are doing. “Boneyard” is produced by Rob Laidlaw of Platinum Blonde. Definitely a unique experience there working with a producer remotely. Rob is based out of Toronto, and with the rules we have set in the province we’d have to quarantine for two weeks after coming home if we were to go to him, which was the original plan. We ended up having to dial that back, and chose to approach the problem one single at a time. “Boneyard” became that first single, which we recorded with input from Rob at my recording studio in Dartmouth, HouseFire Studio One. We then sent all the stems off to Rob as well as Adam Newcomb to mix and master. Again it was a different process but I think the final result is spectacular.

“Boneyard” is heavily influenced by the doom and gloom of day to day life right now. You can’t turn on your phone or TV without being bombarded by the Pandemic, Riots, The US Election. It feels very chaotic and tumultuous out there and we wanted to reflect that in the music. Lyrically, John hit the nail on the head and we were off to the races.  From there everything kind of evolved. As a band we found ourselves asking, as I’m sure many people are, what’s next? What will next year look like? The next 5 years? We don’t have the answers obviously, but the songs and story we are telling in “The Testimony” are one way it could go.

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

We’re all music junkies in the band, so it’s pretty varied. Monster Truck, Three Days Grace, of course, classics like Rush, April Wine, and The Tragically Hip on the rock side of things. Personally, and partially because of my work with my Label, I’m very attuned to “local” music. Canada is rich with fantastic musicians who don’t often get the spotlight, so I’ll ramble off some here for you guys to check out:

Uforia – Proggy hard rock band from Ontario. Good friends of ours, we played their tour in the Atlantic Provinces a few years back.

Alert the Medic – Killer band. Look ’em up, from Nova Scotia.

The Motorleague – The kings of post-punk in New Brunswick. I think you guys even did a feature on them not too long ago.

Summer Rabbit – They’re kind of a 60’s throwback band from right here in Halifax.

Jessie Brown – RnB infused rock act, originally from here as well, though she moved to Ontario recently.

The Funky Baked Potatoes – Crazy name but these guys are a rad 2 piece from PEI. Singer has a ludicrously good voice.

That will get you started. The point is for anyone reading, we ALL love the big bands, but the up and comers need your support more. So take some time to look at your local scene and see what’s happening. You might discover the next big Canadian act.

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