There’s no simple formula for turning your band into a success. If there was, everyone would do it. You need to have great songs. A coherent image. You need “a story,” a nebulous, industry-insider term that is essentially meaningless. You need to get put on the right shows. Your music needs to reach that one set of ears, the guy who knows a guy. And even if you have all those things, you still need luck. The exact right set of circumstances aligning all at once like a planetary eclipse. Some bands achieve commercial triumph while only really nailing one, or even none, of these factors. Some manage to do everything right and still toil in obscurity for years, never more than a slight blip on the pop culture radar. Add all these things up, and your chances at legitimate music industry success are essentially the same as winning the lottery.
Yet it’s also often said that the harder you work, the luckier you get, and for almost 10 years now, Toronto’s Bravestation have been building themselves up piece by piece, releasing music, playing showcases, networking, and putting themselves in a position to succeed. All they needed was that spark, the tipping point where that first domino starts to fall. For brothers Derek (guitar) and Devin Wilson (bass/vocals), along with drummer Jeremy Rossetti, who all grew up in a riverside Eastern Ontario enclave far from the lights of the big city, it’s starting to feel like that moment has finally arrived.
Since signing with indie label Culvert Music last year, the band has released a new EP, V, along with a single, “Actors,” that they are hoping will bring them some much-needed exposure. We talked with Derek and Devin about this crucial moment, how they got there, and where they’re hoping to go from here. (Also, the similarities and differences between playing in a band and playing on a successful rec-league hockey team.)
AUX: You just released this new EP, you’ve got a single out, it’s getting some traction. How’s it going?
DEVIN: Things are good. Definitely feels like things are starting to actually happen, which is nice. The Indie88 add has probably been our staple moment this year.
DEREK: It’s been a lead up to that though, you have to look at why it all happened in building our team over the last year, it’s been just over a year now since the label came on board. Getting a full time manager was huge.
AUX: The impression that I got leading up to this EP was that you were on a bit of a hiatus. Was there a sense at all that this was your last shot at making this thing work?
DEVIN: I think the hiatus was really due to lack of resources—we didn’t really have the time or money to create anything that we could be proud of. Getting Culvert, the label, on board definitely put some wind behind our backs again, and gave us the resources and a reason to just pound something out.
AUX: How did the whole Culvert connection come together?
DEREK: The last EP we self-financed and recorded, I guess it was IV, we played a showcase called Steam Whistle Unsigned that holds a regular showcase for artists on the come up. And the label manager there was looking at the most recent billing, we were the headlining act on the poster, and he listened to the song “All We Have Is Us” and they got in touch shortly thereafter. It was pretty exciting for us because it was the first time we had ever had an offer on the table and it was pretty reinvigorating and definitely motivated us to start taking music seriously again and pushing ourselves to create. We’re still having fun with it but when there’s people putting their energy and resources behind you, it definitely motivates you to work a little harder.
AUX: What was the recording process like for this EP? Where did you go, what was the mood like?
DEVIN: The recording process was a lot of fun. Initially we had demos and sketches that we had done by ourselves…
DEREK: At Charleston Lake.
DEVIN: At Charleston Lake, that is where we developed at least three of them. And from there we rented an AirBnb for a week.
DEREK: In Bloordale Village in Toronto.
DEVIN: And that was probably the most fun I’ve ever had recording with our band. We had friends coming over, we did it very loosely, recording guitar parts with the speakers playing, that would bleed (into the tracks). We weren’t thinking that we would use any of it but we actually ended up using a lot of the recording from the AirBnb. Definitely the songs were shaped mostly there.
DEREK: We titled those sessions The Ping Pong Sessions because there was a ping pong table that overlooked where we were recording. It was pretty cool, we were just at the time developing a relationship with the label guys, they’d drop by and play ping pong with us, we’d have friends come by. It helps to relieve the tension, and you don’t have to focus solely on recording.
AUX: That stressful vibe can kind of infect everything and makes it difficult to do what you have to do.
DEREK: And it’s sort of reassuring to know that we recorded a song on our own that was able to reach commercial radio. It kind of debunks a lot of the myths and thoughts that we had previously about needing an A list producer or a professional recording studio to record a song that would have the capability of reaching the radio format. So that was really a cool process to go through that, and to realise at the end of it all that we essentially produced and recorded a radio track. Mind you, we outsourced for mixing, and that was obviously a huge part of the song coming to life, but it speaks to the power of that new sort of bedroom producer, DIY ethic.
AUX: Did you have an engineer with you, or was it really more of a by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation?
DEREK: We did it the same way we had done our previous independent DIY release, we rented some recording gear and a few vintage keyboards from Long & McQuade, and the three of us along with our live sound engineer, who does help us during the sessions, pretty much just engineered it ourselves.
DEVIN: We always sort of had this idea that we couldn’t transcend whatever technology we were using to record, I remember Derek you mentioned Motown, those recordings are so raw and so… The drums, if you listen back, they sound like they’re playing on cardboard boxes, but they’re just good songs. They have soul and they have heart, and those kind of things can transcend any limitations you have in terms of what technology you’re recording with.
AUX: You guys are brothers. Do you think that helps things when it comes to writing songs or does it make things more difficult sometimes?
DEVIN: I think it’s a little bit of both, for sure. It’s nice that we’re able to be completely honest with each other, we’re not afraid to step on each other’s toes, and I think if we weren’t brothers we might be a little more reluctant to say what’s on our minds. We definitely disagree sometimes, but a lot of the time our intuition is similar. Usually we come to the same unanimous decision on most things.
DEREK: We’ve been doing this together since the mid-2000s, so I think there is a mutual respect and understanding how each of us works creatively. We’re mindful of each other’s desire to contribute ideas and songwriting and always make sure to accommodate that. Having such a close relationship makes communication a lot more up front and honest to make sure everyone’s voice is being heard.
AUX: So what comes next? Any shows coming up? Touring plans? Is going back to the UK a possibility? Shows in the US?
DEREK: Now that we have full-time management on Canadian soil, our plan is to continue building the team and looking for an agent that believes in the band. We’re looking to explore touring opportunities abroad in the next year for sure but want to make sure it’s a worthwhile support opportunity with a band that has name recognition and can fill venues since we’re relatively unknown outside of Ontario. I really don’t believe that the only way to build an audience is by touring across the country and playing to a handful of people each night at dive venues in the mid-Western Canada, for example. The timing has to be right. But the UK and US are definitely on our long-term radar.
DEVIN: To be honest, I don’t really think about the logistics too much because Derek, our manager, and our label have that covered completely (laughs). I really have nothing to offer there. I think we just want to keep writing better songs that resonate with more people while retaining the artistic intent and integrity that inspired us to make music in the first place. I want to make really big songs and play in front of really big audiences, but if that never happens, and it most likely won’t, there’s nothing we’d rather be chasing. Making music in itself is very fulfilling.
AUX: You’ve made yourself known on the Toronto and GTA music scene, but people might be surprised to know you’ve also made a name for yourself in the Toronto rec-league hockey circuit as well.
DEREK: (laughs) Devin and I have enjoyed playing sports since we were kids. We’ve always had that split personality of being athlete and artist. Devin and Jeremy were both sponsored skateboarders and Devin and I both played hockey competitively at the Jr. level. I quit hockey for a few years when we first moved to Toronto when I enrolled at Harris Institute for the Arts in their audio engineering and music management program.
I missed playing and decided to start my own team with a group of friends who were eager to lace up the skates in the big city. I think playing in a band and playing on a sports team are very similar in a lot of ways, they both require teamwork and commitment. Exercise keeps me mentally and physically healthy, and I think having that balance is key. Devin designed the logo for our 1000 Islands Rivermen Hockey Club and we have fun with social media too, so there’s definitely still creativity involved in the way we approach sports.
DEVIN: I was into sports before I was into art so I never really thought about it that much (laughs). I’ve always been friends with both jocks and artists. To me there is no reason why they can’t co-exist but I’m definitely aware of the social barrier that seems to exist. To me, they’re both just fun outlets. And Derek is a great GM and deserves all credit for our men’s league success.