Alex Southey

This is Alex Southey.  Born in Vancouver, Alex moved to Toronto when he was 6, growing up in the suburb of Markham.  Like many suburban teens, he grew up on popular music, especially U.S. artists.   But by 25, he had developed his own musical tastes and styles, committed to becoming an artist and learning from bands like the Tragically Hip about how to write songs about Canada, without being “cringey.”

Alex is as prolific as he is vulnerable.  Since 2019, Alex, has released 3 full length albums and 2 EPs, with the most recent LP, “…And the Country Stirred,” released in 2021 received critical acclaim with its cinematic sound and lyrical storytelling.  His upcoming EP, “My Nights On The Island”, set for release on Sept. 17th, opens up about the break-up of a relationship while also addressing the fragmentation we have all been feeling during this ‘inbetween’ period of life.

The second single from the new EP, “The Gods are Fighting” is as much about the pressure a city can put on its population, as the pressure one partner can put on another.” Alex said, “It’s about a frayed relationship coming to a close, acknowledging the perspectives of the people involved, and seeing the malicious behaviour you’re exhibiting.”

The music scene in Toronto has sometimes been called cold and insular by those trying to break in.  While still a self-proclaimed outsider, with each release, Alex has been building his audience and getting closer to feeling part of the scene.   During the pandemic, Alex was compelled to keep creating.  His compulsion to write and create also helped work through challenges with depression, a break-up, feelings of isolation due to the lockdown and mental health.

A big turning point for Alex was connecting with Daniel Monkman aka Zoon, who was recently nominated for a 2021 Polaris Prize for his ‘moccasin gaze’ album, Bleached Wavves.  Alex reached out to Daniel about his album and Daniel was incredibly generous with his time, response and advice to Alex.  Daniel helped Alex better navigate the world of PR & publicity and ultimately increase the exposure his music has been getting.

You can catch Alex every Tuesday at an open mic night he runs at the Imperial Pub at Dundas St East & Yonge St with fellow musician Mitch MacEachern (who goes by the band name ‘understandtrees’) which feels more like musical improv with a tight knit group of musicians jamming with each other creating a truly familial vibe.  You can also catch Alex on Sept. 16th at the Free Times Cafe at 9pm with Gaby Grice opening at 7pm.   

Check out Alex on your streaming platform of choice, and you can follow updates from Alex at:

Instagram

Tik Tok

YouTube

Songkick

The Spiral Theory

Welcome to The Spiral Theory, a local DIY band with strong vocal harmonies, and modern rock sound with a Gin Blossoms meets the Police vibe.  Made up of Sandeep Swaminathan (vocals), Joe Liranzo (Guitars) and Alan Dennis (Drums), they have been perfecting their “clean” sound since 2018.   Like many indie bands during the pandemic, they did lose their bassist due to the lack of shows and lack of income from the past 18 months+ (note: any bass players reading this, auditions are open and they will be auditioning in September).

Lead singer, Sandeep arrived in Canada in 2018 from India.  After a few open mic nights at the Cavern in the King & Church area and being new to the city, Sandeep was encouraged by people he met at the open mic to find other band members through Kijiji.   After finding the current line-up, plus their bass player, who came from a Blue Rodeo tribute band, they practiced and rehearsed for most of 2018 & 2019, and began booking festivals in 2019.  Through their rehearsals, they found their own niche, sometimes performing original music, sometimes performing note-for-note as a tribute band to The Police, U2, R.E.M. and often a mix of both.

They started to build an audience at the Linsmore tavern on the Danforth and were heading into 2020 with strong momentum, including over 25 booked gigs before the pandemic shut everything down.

They were still able to do a few stripped down acoustic sets through 2020, including shows in Ancaster, Burlington and Midtown Toronto, but spent most of their time, like many other bands, amping up their social media with livestreams from home, Instagram reels & IGTV.  

Paid gigs are still difficult these days as the city re-opens and bars have limited capacity.  So, when you have a moment, check out the Spiral Theory debut album, “Turn of the Tide” and their recent single, “Shoreline” on your favorite streaming service.    

And to support the band, you can follow them here: 

YouTube

Instagram

Facebook

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