Self-portrait by the artist with his pet bird Pickles.
The tenth edition of SappyFest, Canada’s cutest indie-rock music fest, goes down this weekend in the quaint town of Sackville, New Brunswick. Over the last decade, Julie Doiron’s Sappy Records’ summer party grew from a modest art gallery parking lot to giant tents on Main Street, and all the venues and cafes in between.
With past performances from the Arcade Fire, Constantines, Charles Bradley, and Eric’s Trip, intimate shows from affiliates of Sappy Records and You’ve Changed Records, and some of the most cutting-edge acts just on the cusp of much larger cultural recognition, it’s gotta be the sweetest little festival in the east.
In the end, there are few artists who embody SappyFest more than charming rock and roller Shotgun Jimmie (a.k.a. Jim Kilpatrick). He hasn’t missed a single Fest, either playing with the duo of Shotgun & Jaybird, his one-man-band, or with a parade of pals like Ian Kehoe and Chad VanGaalen. The long-time Sackville staple moved to Manitoba right before his 2013 release of the album Everything, Everything. This year, he’s making the drive home while on tour with Winnipeg’s Human Music and Vancouver’s Adrian Teacher and the Subs (the latest guise from members of Apollo Ghosts and COOL).
Last week, Jimmie called me from a London, ON burrito joint where he was sitting down with Human Music, his back-up band for Sappy and his upcoming record, The Field of Trampolines. There are very few artists I love more than Jimmie; he turns playful lyrics and heartfelt melodies into rock ‘n’ roll experiences with the intimacy of a basement show.
AUX: Jimmie! How are you? How’s the new album coming along?
Shotgun Jimmie: It’s great! We’re playing the whole thing tonight, with Human Music as my back-up band, which is the first time I’ve ever had a real back-up band. Then after Sappy, we’re going right to the studio to record it.
Well that rules. When does it come out? What are your new songs like?
It’ll be out in March 2016. And my gut instinct to describe the album, because I haven’t actually answered this question before… I’d say it’s lighthearted and upbeat and fun and sort of summery. For the last few years, I’ve been touring Western Canada with Cole [Woods] and he is just the coolest guy in the world. Then we added Jory [Hassleman] and Marie-France [Hollier], also from Human Music. It still sounds like me, but being friends with them and liking their stuff has informed the way I wrote the record, and they’ve contributed by being a big part of my life in general. They’re the sweetest.
That sounds inspiring. Who are you looking forward to seeing at SappyFest this year?
Human Music! I’m excited to see them destroy Sappy with their coolness. And Adrian Teacher. Every night I just think, oh my gosh, this is gonna be crazy when this happens in Sackville. People are gonna lose it. They’re top performers. This tour is just top-shelf entertainment. I’m so pleased to be part of it. Also excited for Jennifer Castle, and Construction and Destruction. Plus all the usuals. And I’m also excited to play. They gave me the most amazing slot this year, the Sunday night main stage. I’m the luckiest guy. Even my parents and my father-in-law are flying in. I think this is a career highlight.
You’re also doing a Guided by Voices Sing A Long. You’re literally guiding by voices!
Ha! Yeah, that was something Cole and I had already wanted to do, but then we were like, ‘Let’s do this at Sappy.’ Cole is gonna play the electric and I’m going to sing and lead the vocals. So this is the inaugural flight of the Guided by Voices Sing A Long and man, they’re all anthems. I’m so pumped.
Shotgun Jimmie – “North!” (Director: Colin Medley)
You know, Jimmie, I find it really hard to describe exactly what makes SappyFest so special.
Yeah, I know. I think early on, the organizers had the idea that Sappy would immerse artists in the crowd. They wanted everyone to feel like they’re there together. So the fact that the guy from Sloan was in line with you or whatever, it puts everyone in a good headspace and creates an atmosphere of being together. And the music is always exceptional and unique, so it’s a combo of smart programming and good bands. It feels like summer camp with all your favourite people. Many people met each other at Sappy romantically and non-romantically, too. You’ve Changed Records started on the drive home one year.
It’s also impressive such a small festival could last 10 years, even with financial challenges. Plus, Sackville the town is also such a special place. One weekend a year and you belong to it somehow.
Yes! I think at first, Sappy had the driving force of Jon [Claytor] and Paul [Henderson], but then the town of Sackville made the festival stable. Now SappyFest is like, the spirit of Sackville… and the humans who live there, and the plants and the animals, too. And it’s a really big part of me. I was thinking about this the other day. I have a bunch of songs about SappyFest and Sackville [“Bridge Street Stage”, “Too Many Flowers”] and it’s almost too… on the nose to play them this year, but I’m going to [laughs].
Sackville by Shotgun Jimmie.
So I know you just finished the first year of a Bachelor of Fine Arts, eh? How was that?
I loved it! I got so much out of it, in terms of comparing the creative process of making visual art with performing and songwriting and stuff. The volume of creativity you have to deal with in the first year of a BFA is amazing. And I loved all of it: Painting, writing research essays, and then writing songs, too.
You haven’t been playing as many shows as a result, though.
Yeah, it’s been a real change. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the album comes out. I was so used to playing shows for so many years, so I’ll just have to hammer through the semesters and then as soon as class gets out, I’ll have all my shows lined up and go on tour until I get a PhD in rock ‘n’ roll.