For a band that had no designs on being one, Newfoundland’s The Once have accidentally stumbled upon some impressive acclaim.
The trio – lead singer Geraldine Hollett and multi-instrumentalists Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale, who also contribute vocally to the band’s much-lauded three-part harmonies – formed after working at a theatre festival in St. John’s about nine years ago. They played traditional maritime folk tunes, and eventually began incorporating those sounds into original music.
In 2010, they signed to Borealis Records and won the Canadian Folk Music Awards’ Emerging Artist of the Year title. In 2012, the band was nominated for a Juno.
The Once are currently touring Western Canada to promote their new album Row Upon Row of the People They Know. They will perform at the North Peace Cultural Centre this Thursday. Churchill spoke with the Dawson Creek Daily News before the concert.
Dawson Creek Daily News: You are travelling to big cities like Vancouver and Calgary, as well as small towns like Fort St. John and Fort Nelson. What are some differences between the audiences in smaller places versus larger ones?
Phil Churchill: It’s not as different as I would have thought it would be. Sometimes the towns we go to have like 30 people living in them and everyone comes from the surrounding areas. We find people in the smaller areas will usually travel longer distances, for the most part. But the people are basically the same.
DCDN: Are there any characteristics that unify the people who come to your shows?
PC: No. We’re almost always pleasantly surprised.
I had one gentleman come up to me at a festival last summer and say he had bought our album for his eight-year-old daughter and his 80-year-old mom ... So that was kind of neat in terms of being able to unify anything. When you’re looking at a difference of 72 years, it’s difficult to figure out what that thing is.
But ultimately I think it comes down to that even though we’re a band from Newfoundland, ultimately I think people see us as Canadian. And I think because the Canadian music scene has gotten so good in the last little while. There was that whole CanCon thing where people were forced to play Canadian music, and now people choose to hear Canadian music.
DCDN: What new things might you want to try musically in future?
PC: It’s a real delicate balance, what we do, because we’ve managed to get our fans with this traditional old Newfoundland, English, Irish kind of stuff, but we never really saw this band coming for us with this career.
Having that opportunity now, making a lot more of our own music, we’re writing a lot more voraciously now.
We get lots of letters from people about our music affecting their lives in a really positive way or getting them through something and I don’t know, I guess sometimes we feel a little unworthy of that.
We just want to make that record that makes us feel we deserved all the good fortune that’s coming to us. And I think that record is still in us. Getting a Juno nomination for the last one at least let us know we’re moving in the right direction.
DCDN: Does The Once have a strategy for the zombie apocalypse?
PC: Yeah. We’re an incredibly well-oiled and self-contained machine. And being zombie-obsessed like I am, I would just say when the zombie apocalypse comes, just stay as close to me as you can.
DCDN: Anything else you want to say ahead of your show in Fort St. John?
PC: I would like to say thank you so much for whoever want to talk to us and anybody who takes enough time to listen to what we’re doing and give us an invite to your town.
We don’t take that stuff for granted, we don’t take it lightly and we don’t expect it, so whenever it happens we are incredibly thrilled and we will work our asses off for you, I promise.
The Once perform at the North Peace Cultural Centre in Fort St. John on Thursday, Feb 28.