It is easy to understand why it took A Tribe Called Red two years to put together their upcoming third album We Are The Halluci Nation (to be released Sept. 16). The Ottawa-based trio of producer/DJs has earned international acclaim (and a JUNO Award) for their inventive blend of EDM and elements of First Nations music, and they’ve now taken things up another notch.

The group assembled a large and formidable cast of collaborators for the project, then wrote and recorded the tracks in locales around the globe. Group member Tim Hill (a.k.a. 2oolman) tells us that creative collaboration with outside musicians, vocalists and lyricists was the key to the project.

“We wanted to have a conceptual record. That was always the plan, and it began with us working with [Toronto singer/songwriter] Lido Pimienta,” says Hill. “Our first song was ‘The Light,’ and we did that about two years ago. It helped set the tone for the record, and that’s when we decided to turn it into a collaborative project. We sat and wrote things together with Lido and her band in the studio for two days.”

“We’ll always be an indigenous band and we’re happy with that. But we just wanted to grow and mature.” – Tim Hill (a.k.a. 2oolman) of A Tribe Called Red

Direct personal contact helped fuel many of the jointly-written compositions here, Hill explains. “Much of this project was about working together in the studio,” he says, “whereas a lot of the music on the earlier albums was created through sampling of a cappellas and tracks. Having the artists right there in the studio with us rather than having files sent to us, has been awesome.”

The list of collaborators on We Are The Halluci Nation is an impressive and stylistically diverse one. It includes Pimienta, Shad, Tanya Tagaq, Black Bear, Yasiin Bey (a.k.a. hip-hop icon Mos Def) and Narcy, Saul Williams, John Trudell, award-winning Canadian Indigenous author Joseph Boyden, and OKA.

One track that did involve online file-swapping was “Sila,” featuring fellow indigenous musical explorer Tanya Tagaq. “We had always wanted to work with her and she’d been a fan of our work,” recalls Hill. “We sent her beats and she recorded over them. When we got the files back we tried to work with those beats but it wasn’t quite fitting with the sound of the record. We went back to the drawing board and re-worked it. We made it a little darker, and we wanted the song to sound as if we were going back and forth with her. I think we accomplished that, and it’s one of our favourite songs on the record.”

A creative catalyst for the album was noted Native American poet, activist, and musician John Trudell. “We played a show in Santa Fe and John said some beautiful things about us before we got on stage,” says Hill. “That was crazy to us, we were huge fans of his. He suggested we should do something together. What he didn’t know was that we have a wish list of people we’d most like to work with, and he was on it! Here was a real life super-hero of ours wanting to work with us.”

Trudell went into a San Francisco studio to record a poem for use by the group. “He then e-mailed us and said ‘I threw in another poem for you,’” says Hill. “It was ‘We Are The Halluci Nation.’ When we heard it, we looked at each other and went, ‘This is the one.’ That poem helped make the ideas for this record a lot bigger.”

A Tribe Called Red later visited the ailing Trudell, but he passed away last December as the group toured Australia. “It was amazing that our hero could drop so much knowledge and wisdom on us,” praises Hill. “We’re happy we’re able to share his vision with the rest of the world.”

Hill describes the resulting album title as reflecting the record’s concept. “It’s basically about like-minded people that want change, and they band together as a nation, without any cultural affiliations. We want to take it back to human beings as one.”

Befitting that vision is the fact that the album was created on many different continents. “We did the first parts of ‘R.E.D.’ [the collaboration with Bey and Narcy] in a hotel room in France, we worked on songs in a fishing cottage in northern Norway, and did work in L.A., Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, San Francisco, NYC, and Australia,” recalls Hill.

“When we were in these other places, it wasn’t that we had an obligation to get the record done. It was just that we wanted to do the music because there was so much around us that was inspiring. When these inspirations hit, we pulled out the gear and started working. I’m hoping people will get a sense that this is world-shaped.”

The group’s extensive international travels have had a real impact, he observes. “We’ll always be an indigenous band and we’re happy with that,” says Hill. “But we just wanted to grow and mature. That has honestly come from touring and meeting all of these people from all over the world, and having our eyes opened to other indigenous peoples we’ve had a chance to be with.”


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It’s early August and there’s a heatwave in Montréal. The whole music industry is a bit hung over. Why? Because Osheaga. But a who’s who of the scene is at O Patro Vys for a special showcase. The star of this showcase: singer-songwriter Gabrielle Shonk.

The artist invited friends, peers and acquaintances to make sure the room was packed, because otherwise it would’ve seemed a little empty. And on everybody’s lips are the same words: Miss Shonk has got the world at her feet right now.

She only had to sing one song, but what a song!

Some might recall the gorgeous Québec City-based young woman from her brief passage on La Voix [the Québec version of The Voice] – and especially her fragile and honest interpretation of Jean Leloup’s “Sang d’encre” – but to revellers in Québec nightlife, she’s a singer-songwriter who’s been singing on the club circuit for at least a decade. Electro lovers will also remember her voice as the voice on Men I Trust’s first album, whose band members share the gig with Miss Shonk.

“Habit,” Shonk’s first original song, was launched on various digital platforms in late May of 2016. The grandiose, soulful ballad is fuelled with anger, directed at some dude with really nasty habits. It turned out to be a calling card for Shonk.

Just a few weeks later, Buzzfeed included it in its “Songs You Need In Your Life” list. Noisey, the music publication under Vice magazine’s umbrella, said of her voice that it’s “too big for small towns.” It’s easy to understand why offers began pouring forth from every corner after that. First, there were e-mails from Roc Nation, the production and management company run by Jay-Z, which greatly surprised the artist.

So it’s no surprise that the album on which “Habit” was to be released officially in September – a bilingual, self-produced affair Shonk had been working on with friends for the past two years – was put on hold so that Shonk and her management team can take time to carefully consider the numerous offers received over the past few weeks.

But no matter what’s decided, you can bet that Gabrielle Shonk’s star will keep on shining brighter and brighter.

 


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Al Tuck was at a party in 2012 when a friend suggested he write a song about Stompin’ Tom Connors.  For Prince Edward Island native Tuck, who’d already written a tribute song for legendary PEI songwriter Gene MacLellan (Tuck was married for a time to his daughter, fellow singer-songwriter Catherine), the timing was right: his young daughter had recently discovered Connors’ music, and the two were enjoying listening to it together. “Sometimes it just takes a little encouragement,” says Tuck.

The song, “StompinTomConnors.com,” is the second track on his latest album, Fair Country, which also kicks off with a cover of Connors’ 1973 hit “To It and At It.” Because while Tuck may be known for his genre-straddling, this album, his ninth, plants him firmly in old-school country with a mix of originals, co-writes (a number of them with Alex Rettie) and covers, including “Fly Right on By” by Rita McNeil and “Always on My Mind,” made famous by Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson, among others.

“My other albums have had drastic mixtures of styles,” says Tuck, admitting that he wanted to do something that would be more accessible to a broader audience, who would know what to anticipate from start to finish. “And it seems to be going up the charts finally out there,” he laughs. “So maybe I was on to something?”

Tuck, who’s been performing across the country for more than two decades, first came to music singing in a boys’ choir. When he was 15, he picked up a guitar and taught himself to cover tunes by Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. “It took me a while to find my voice,” he says, describing early experiences trying to channel the blue”. “I realized I didn’t know how to present that, being a skinny white boy,” he says. “I found my voice by easing off the contrived style I was working off of, and trying to be more myself.”

It was in Halifax, where Tuck was based from the mid-1980s until he moved back to PEI in 2004 to be closer to family, that he first formed Al Tuck and No Action, a band with a rotating cast of musicians (in St. John’s, Tuck says, it’s referred to as “Al Tuck and No Filter”). He released his early albums through murderecords, the label formed by the members of Sloan, later earning gigs opening for bands like Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, among others.

“I didn’t know how it was going to go, exactly. But this is exactly what I always wanted to do.”

And yet, for many Canadians, Tuck still flies largely under the radar. “I live anonymously, largely,” he says, “but every now and then, there are moments of glory or gratification.” Among them must surely be the fact that he remains beloved among higher-profile singer-songwriters, many of whom cite him as one of the very best. For example, Broken Social Scene’s Jason Collett has dubbed Tuck “the greatest songwriter of his generation.” Feist calls him “a living legend in our midst.”

While he shies away from defining himself as a mentor, Tuck, who’s been nominated for an impressive array of awards – including a spot on the 2013 Polaris Music Prize long list – treasures what he calls his “eye for talent” and enjoys supporting artists as they find their feet. He counts himself lucky, for example, for having been among the first to hear Old Man Luedecke’s early songs. Nor has he ruled out the idea of moving into the role of producer down the road. “I suppose I’m open to it, if it was for the right person,” he says.

But Tuck admits that he hasn’t necessarily oriented his own career on getting ahead in the industry. “I’ve never been happy with the status quo, exactly, but I guess I haven’t had the kind of driving ambition you need to break out,” he admits. Even Fair Country, risked not getting the attention it deserved after Tuck, intrigued by an idea, released it in June 2015 as a red wooden match box featuring a download code. It was released again more recently on CD, and Tuck remains hopeful there will be a vinyl pressing. “I’m just grateful for giving it this second wind,” he says.

Miraculously for such a non-careerist as Tuck, Fair Country reached No. 1 on the Earshot National Folk/Roots/Blues Chart, thanks to the campaign work of award-winning promotions and publicity firm SpinCount, who also handle Joel Plaskett, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Amelia Curran and Donovan Woods.

For Tuck, the goal these days (beyond the playful fantasy of having a band that could double as a baseball team) is simple: to keep writing and to keep playing – though he admits that writing has taken a backseat in recent years, simply because of the backlog of songs he’s already amassed. “Every so often there’s an urge, you know, or an itch [to write], but it would have to really get under my skin for me to want to pursue it – but that’s how I can tell that it’s really going to have some value.”

No matter how his path may have meandered, Tuck says he’s never doubted his decision to pursue a life in music. “I didn’t know how it was going to go, exactly,” he says, “but this is exactly what I always wanted to do.”


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