Harmony on Mars

This is Harmony on Mars – a Toronto-born psychedelic punk duo made up of two brothers – Max White and Jack White.   Max plays guitar and sings, while Jack plays the drums.   You may have heard their latest single, Don’t Stand Still in the Starz/Amazon Prime series, ‘American Gods’.  They have also done session work for film and TV.  Their performances have been featured in Netflix’s “Frontier” and “V-Wars” as well as “Trigger Point” and Norwegian thriller “Hevn.”

The band itself has only been around since July 2018, but have already been compared to Joy Division, Dead Meadow, The Stooges and The Velvet Underground.  Their debut at the Horseshoe Tavern with Mute Choir and Madame Psychosis led to a great relationship with Craig Laskey and also made the brothers realize they were on to something.   They continued with several other shows around the Toronto circuit, including the Horseshoe, Cameron House, Duffy’s Tavern, plus 2 Canadian Music Week Shows at Sneaky Dees and Cherry Colas.  But, it was opening for Mattiel at the Drake Hotel, opening for Annunaki (Arlen Thompson from Wolf Parade and Dave Read from Moths & Locusts) and sharing the stage with Cola Wars (keyboardist Gregory MacDonald from Sloan) at the Monarch Tavern that started to make it real for them.  

But in reality, music has always been core to their existence.  Max and Jack come from a long legacy of musicians in Toronto.  Their grandfather was the first flute in the symphony and ran New Music Concerts, contemporary music series that brought some of the most famous composers to Toronto like John Cage, Toru Takemitsu, among others, back in the day.  Their father was the trumpet player with Bruce Cockburn in the 80s, their mother is head of the flute department at the Royal Conservatory of Music and their uncle is a saxophone player who has recorded or played with several local artists, including Dave Young, Holly Cole, the Shuffle Demons and July Talk.   

Drawing influences from Wire, Kurt Vile, Lou Reed, Dan Auerbach, Neil Young, the Doors, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the brothers have been making atmospheric and soundscapes for their filmmaker friends or just jamming in their basement since grade school.  Both Max and Jack deepened their connection with music in their post-secondary education as well.  Max studied marketing, entrepreneurship and composition/sound engineering at Queen’s, while Jack studied composition at Queens and is currently in the Electrioacoustics program at Concordia. 

They released their first EP, Ghosts & Skulls in 2018, The Basement Demos EP followed in 2019, which featured demos of three of the staples of their live set, and their experimental EP, Permanence, which was inspired by Sparklehorse and Fennesz’s In The Fishtank 15 EP and Scandinavian film scores, released in 2020. 

Some day, they hope to open for Death Valley Girls, Night Beats or Courtney Barnett next time any of them are in town.   Until then, you can find their music on bandcamp and all other streaming services here: https://linktr.ee/harmonyonmars 

The High Loves

This is The High Loves.   A band that has only been around since 2018 and like many other bands over the past 18 months, has already gone through a line-up change due to the pandemic.  They lost 2 founding members and midway through 2020 rejuvenated the band with 3 new additions.

The current line-up consists of founding members, Noah Monckton (Lead singer and guitarist) and Marco Stojanovic (lead guitar player) and new members – Jaden Spanier (drummer), Jeremy Ugro (keyboardist) and Jake St Jean (bassist).   Noah and Jeremy are both originally from Victoria, BC and moved to Toronto for the music scene, while the others are originally from here.  They crossed paths at the Humber College Music Program and bonded through immersing themselves in the Toronto music scene.  Constantly catching their friend’s gigs at the Silver Dollar, the Horseshoe Tavern, the Painted Lady and many others.

Noah was especially fond of the Silver Dollar, a proper dive bar, which he had only played once in a previous band.  When the bar was added to the long list of music venues lost in the history of Toronto’s ongoing condo gentrification, The High Loves wrote a tribute to the Silver Dollar, High Rise which won them the John Lennon songwriting award in the rock category.

While Noah usually writes the lyrics and melodies for the main songs, he hit a bit of a rut at the beginning of the pandemic.   It took about 6 months until he fully accepted the ‘new normal’ and started to let go of control over his reality.  As the control loosened, he found his creativity again, writing many of the songs that appear on their recent, Too Much of a Good Thing EP.   With new members came new life to the band and ‘letting go’, provided a fresh start.

The songs are “serious fun” – playful music with personal lyrics and a definite 80’s influence combined with indie rock sensibility.  

By Fall of 2020, the band started to find their rhythm and became increasingly prolific.   They came up with big ideas. Wrote new songs.  Made demos.  Built off each other’s ideas and then finally started to play together IRL in November 2020, pre-extended lockdown.

That first time playing music together was sheer joy for all of them.  They kept jamming, recording on their iphone and refining the songs.  Over and over until they got them to a point where they were ready to record in River Radcliffe’s home studio, where River helped produce a few songs as well.

With the city opening up again, they recently had their first show back at the Supermarket and have another this Friday at Lee’s Palace.  They have also been able to produce 2 music videos from their EP – Call me Back  and Sometime.  And a new video is currently in production for their song, ‘Comes and Goes’.

Watch out for more live shows and another EP, which is written and in final stages of production and will be recording later this month.  

To find out more about the band, visit here  

whereisluna

This is whereisluna (aka Amy Han).  A former business school student turned musician, Han grew up all around the GTA including Hamilton, Pickering, Woodbridge, Aurora, went to school in Guelph and then finally settled in Toronto.  Music has always been a big part of her life, but she has been taking it more seriously over the past 4 years.

When she was still in business school in Guelph, she started attending music related workshops, courses and networking events in Toronto.  She wasn’t able to connect with her business program, but she found herself routinely inspired by learning anything she could from people in the music industry.  She absorbed it like a sponge and it fueled her fire to eventually pursue music over business as something she saw herself loving and doing for the rest of her life.  Through music she saw the opportunity to express herself and speak her mind in ways being an accountant would never have been possible.

At first, Han felt “super awkward” as a newbie outsider attending music events in Toronto, but quickly found them to be extremely friendly.  She would often go to these events by herself, and with a combination of “liquid courage and ladyballs,” she made a goal for herself to meet at least 1 or 2 people at each event to learn about the industry and her experience.

Originally, her band name was “Lunaa”, a recognition of the fact that she does most of her writing at night.  Night is when she feels the most inspired, but it’s also because she had lived in a toxic household.  She would stay up late and write on her balcony as it was the only place she found peace.  To this day, Han finds she still functions best, writing at night.

Unfortunately, there are many other artists with the word Luna in their band name, causing confusion in getting her name out there.  To maintain the intent and to create some uniqueness, she changed the name to “whereisluna”, which reflects where her head is at since so much of her writing comes from “dealing with mental health or just being able to speak her mind the way she wants to.” 

During the first year of the pandemic, mental health was a real struggle for Han.  Her Mom and brother are both nurses.  To stay in a bubble with them, she had to be extremely cautious and responsible.  The isolation and intense alone time put Han in a slump.  For a year, she felt stuck.

As Toronto worked through the longest lockdown in the world, Han started to go outside, take walks, get some fresh air, and scheduling zoom calls with friends and family to see their faces and just talk again.  This edging back to normal helped her writing.  Han also found new meditations and set a goal of reading a book every month.  The goal setting was the one constant she could control outside and inside.  

After taking care of her mental health first, she was able to write a handful of songs, some of which are coming out soon.   Recently released by whereisluna, is “Out my head” with frequent collaborator, Mindy – and another titled – “quarter century pity party” – which she is really excited about.  Expect a fun twist on the existential life crisis.

Also, somewhere in the archives, she has a song written about a specific waterfall in Hamilton near McMaster university, which she may or may not release some day.  This is part of a collection of songs she used to write about Hamilton and her summer adventures there.  For her fans, feel free to ask her about it. 

For more information about whereisluna and her streams, go here:

https://linktr.ee/whereisluna

Michelle Treacy

This is Michelle Treacy and this is her story of resilience, embracing one’s true self and the embodiment of John Lennon’s famous quote “if it’s not ok, it’s not the end”.  

Originally from Ottawa, where she has been making music ‘since the womb’ and identified early on that being an artist was her calling.  There was no other choice.  She was born that way.  Unfortunately, being true to herself as an artist meant she spent most of her high school years being bullied.  

Things started to turn around for her at age 17, after being invited to sing on stage with Lady Gaga for an impromptu duet during the ArtRave tour, and being promptly signed by Sony.  She then moved to Toronto in 2014 and had a Billboard Hot 100 song in Canada with “Armageddon”. Michelle would often go to the Toronto Music garden and sit under the willow trees to write songs.  She had another song, ‘Colours’ and then just as quickly as early success had come, she found herself dropped by Sony and shortly afterwards, also dropped by her manager.

Photographer: Meg Moon
Assistant: https://www.instagram.com/missemilyguitar/

After a devastating break up with a boyfriend, she moved back to Ottawa, where she checked herself into a hospital to deal with her mental health.  It was at this hospital where she met a nurse who told her “Fuck everyone else! And to use this time to restart her life and go get what she wants.”   Along with the nurse’s advice, she had been listening to the “And the writer is…” podcast and Bebe Rexha was the guest.  During the interview Rexha, quoted John Lennon – “In the end it’s going to be ok, if it’s not ok, it’s not the end”.   Both of these thoughts swirled through her head and kept her going.

And it’s a good thing they did.  She ended up winning the 2nd season of “The Launch” in 2019, where, coincidentally, Rexha became her mentor.  Being able to thank Bebe personally for helping get through that rough patch was momentous.  Michelle also had the incredible opportunity to record the song “Emotional” with Nile Rodgers.

However, Michelle had been told her ‘personality was bigger than her music.’  This stuck in her head as she continued to find her sound and voice as an artist.  It was a friendship with music producer Young Spielburg who helped shift her direction.  He kept encouraging exploration in a surf rock sound, which was completely opposite to the moody, darker Lana Del Rey sound she had been exploring.

She came back to Toronto in August 2020, and through the pandemic, she found herself working harder than ever on becoming the artist she wanted to be.   It changed her outlook, her ambitions, her goals and ultimately, her life.  Writing every day and recording in her closet, she had “maximum creative freedom and minimal agenda.”  She also realized she was just tired of feeling sad.  She wanted to dance and make others dance and feel free.  She wanted to write bangers like Miley Cyrus.   When she wasn’t writing and creating, she was often being given flowers by strangers on the streets of Toronto, a city she feels she belongs in now, as she can let her “freak flag fly”.

Halfway through the process, she was recording a song called “It ain’t over”, which didn’t make the final EP, but it was the moment she started to realize the artist she wanted to be and felt most authentic to herself.  Expect the song to be released some time in the future.

The end result was a new EP that feels the most like her – “High Heels in the Moshpit”, which was released on September 9th.   Self-described as Tame Impala meets Austin Powers.  Tracks like “It Feels So Good To Be Back” and “Love Every Minute” highlight Treacy’s spunky care-free lyrics that remind us to not overthink things and enjoy the present moment for what it is. On High Heels in the Moshpit, Treacy’s voice is seamlessly set to slightly left-of-center melodies infused in a variety of genres from punk to new wave–culminating in a delightful concoction for music fans of all genres.”

Photographer: Colin Gaudet
Stylist: Amber Watkins
Hair and makeup: Brittany Sinclair

In addition to being an artist, Michelle has also been giving back to the industry by mentoring up and coming female artists – teaching them singing, songwriting and artist development (and ultimately confidence).  She does this by invite only and has created her own community of students, helping each other out, sharing each other’s music and lifting each other up.  This has given Michelle a renewed sense of purpose and meaning and opened the door to managing some of these artists.

When she’s not involved in music, you can find her enjoying the food of Toronto (another one of her favourite topics), either a pizza at Via Mercanti or sushi at CJ Lunchbox.  

You can find out more about Michelle at:

Howlin’ Circus

When I was thinking about the idea of starting an art project that captured the stories of indie-minded musicians born in and/or living in Toronto and their relationship with the city, Jafar Sandouk and Howlin’ Circus was at the top of my list to feature first.  

A London UK-born Iraqi, Jafar came to Toronto in 2016 amidst the turmoil and political upheaval of Brexit.  While many people he grew up with in his Iraqi community of Wembley, UK aspired to be doctors and lawyers, Jafar found inspiration and support from his father who had always wanted to be a musician back in Baghdad.  But Jafar’s father often had to sneak out to perform to avoid his own family’s disapproval and was never able to live that dream.  One day as a bored teenager, Jafar picked up his sister’s discarded guitar from storage, went on his dial-up Internet, found some guitar chord websites, taught himself to play and never looked back.   His father, who was living in Morocco at the time, would eventually schedule his visits to London whenever Jafar was performing. 

Howlin’ Circus has oscillated between being a solo acoustic to having a rotating cast of band members with raucous guitars, thumping bass and energetic drums, but it has always remained a travelling circus going through towns writing music “for the outcasts [who have] been pushed aside, gaslit and had [their] futures sold to protect a dying ruling class.”  His first full-length album, Run the Wrong Way, was released in March 2019 and was “a moment to reflect on the horror, the beauty, and the sadness of breaking up with your country”.

Jafar at the Dakota Tavern

Since coming to Toronto, the competition has forced Jafar to get better at his craft, but being part of the community hasn’t been easy.  One of the first places he felt a real sense of belonging was Communist’s Daughter at Dundas and Ossington (which is why we conducted our interview there).   Communist’s Daughter ran a “Decide on the B-side” night where people could bring in their own vinyl, the DJ would select an album to play, and at the end of the A-side, the bartender would tell everyone to shut up and vote on whether or not to play the B-side or play a new album.   Not only was it a great place to indulge in music with other musicians and music lovers, but it was also the first place Jafar was able to get the test pressing of his record played (as he had not even listened to it yet).  He was able to revel in the night with the vocal patrons while secretly watching people’s reactions to the music as they had no idea it was his record.  Jafar said this is the Toronto he would love to see more of – funny, candid, open to new things.

Another special moment where he felt a spirit of generosity and community was a show he was playing at the Smiling BuddhaTafari Anthony was playing downstairs and was bringing in so many people for his show.  While Tafari’s fans kept accidentally walking into the Howlin’ Circus show, Tafari himself was quite humble about it, talking to Jafar after the show about Howlin’ Circus and his own familiarity with their music.  Tafari went home and bought the Howlin’ Circus album off of bandcamp afterwards as a show of support, invited Jafar out for a drink to talk about the music industry and even helped book him for another show.

While these moments have been rarer for Jafar than he had hoped for, he still believes there is an opportunity for the live music scene to come together more as a community.  Currently, many interactions between bands revolve around sharing gear, or sharing costs on a designer or a photographer for a show.  But now that we need to rebuild the live music industry in this city, it would be great for musicians to be there for each other, go to each other’s shows and just generally show up however possible.

One such thing that Jafar is doing for the community is curating a “Discover Toronto” Spotify playlist, which he updates regularly with unsigned or indie label bands.  It has helped him get to know other local artists as well and hopefully drive some streaming numbers their way.  

These days, with a lack of live shows, Jafar has relied on his email list and creating his own social media content to keep fan engagement up.   As you can see from the photo below, he even personally dropped off a signed copy of his debut album for the vinyl collection I have been building for my niece. 

Howlin’ Circus are playing this Saturday at the Horseshoe Tavern with the Mooks and another show coming up in Oshawa with Cigar Club on September 4th.  Check out their latest single, “Only For a Night” or grab tickets to one of their shows at https://howlincircus.com/.  #supportlocal