The opening of the U.S. border to Canadians on Monday couldn’t come at a better time for Winnipeg jazz group Apollo Suns.
The two-time Western Canadian Music Award winners have been busy rebooking dates south of the 49th parallel that were shelved in 2020 and 2021 by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The result is 150 new concert dates in the U.S. and Canada starting March 31, 2022 that run until the end of next year.
"We went from no rehearsals to now we’re rehearsing three days a week, getting our heads down and working heavily," guitarist Ed Durocher says. "We’re coming out of the gate now, and after this involuntary break, to be world-class or to get to that point. That’s been our benchmark."
The 10-piece group will have a new EP, A Relationship of Force, out Nov. 26, and have already released two singles, Lake Country and Rosie, to share with fans.
Apollo Suns — which includes Ed Durocher, Dave Guenette, Glenn Radley, Erika Einarson, Niall Cade, Bryn Herperger, Garrett Malenko, Benjamin James Hill, Aaron Bartel and Anatol Rennie — will headline a concert to launch the record at the Park Theatre, also on Nov. 26, with Manitoba groups the Bloodshots and El Leon also on the bill.
That’s the old-school approach to building buzz.
The new school has led the group, known for its instrumental music that ranges from modern jazz to psychedelia and prog-rock, to instead use everyone’s voices to get the word out about the band, its new music and touring plans.
"It’s been pretty nuts juggling everything," Durocher says. "Setting up tours, getting all the artwork together, getting all the releases, making sure the team is doing their job and posting on social media, setting up email blasts.
"It’s kind of a nice opportunity because now you have to really get creative with the content you’re sharing. We have to share of the story of day-to-day. Our social media content is more like how are we writing these songs, what kind of coffee are we drinking. I feel like to stay connected with our audience, we have to allow them behind the scenes."
Apollo Suns have posted videos from recording sessions and even asked their fans whether certain guitar tones work for them or not, Durocher says.
"That’s kind of the love-hate (relationship)," he says. "It’s really nice to communicate and connect with our audience that way, but I don’t want to worry about that while we’re in a 12-hour recording session.
"There’s a million things going on with Apollo Suns and we’re only going to get busier and busier."
Touring has taken Apollo Suns around the world — they got stuck in Omaha, Neb., in March 2020 when the pandemic began — and a visit to the Okanagan region of British Columbia in 2018 is the inspiration of the first of their new songs, Lake Country.
Another touring pitfall, a concert cancellation, led to musical seeds that sprouted into the new track three years later.
"We were headed to Lake Country, just outside of Kelowna, to our former drummer’s house, who has this beautiful lakefront property with a studio. Let’s have a barbecue and just jam," Durocher recalled. "I had this four-note phrase I’d been sitting on and I didn’t think it was much… Out of that came the first kind of drafts for Lake Country.
"We built the song around our feelings and vision of B.C."
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A couple of new videos that emerged on YouTube in the last week showcased two of Manitoba’s hottest artists.
The first has Faouzia performing the hit song Minefields live with John Legend at a promotional event for the fashion house Chanel in Dubai on Nov. 3.
The Carman singer-songwriter and Legend, the entertainment giant whose judging job on NBC’s The Voice is only a small part of his musical enpire, released the duet late in 2020 and were able to perform the song together on NBC’s Today show early in 2021 from separate locations.
They perform the song together on the video (http://wfp.to/Hyy), and while it is recorded with a cellphone camera, it adds hope the two will perform the song in front of a much larger audience in the future.
Legend, at the piano, accompanies Faouzia in the video, and prove Minefields has staying power even without the lush trappings of the original recording.
On another video, William Prince of Peguis First Nation and Winnipeg is the latest guest on Tiny Desk Concerts (http://wfp.to/HyC), the online music performance series that has more than 800 YouTube episodes and 2 billion views since its inception in 2008.
Prince sings his songs Lighthouse, Wasted and Breathless in the 14-minute, 43-second video that emerged Monday morning.
The intimate show used to be filmed in NPR’s offices in Washington, D.C., in an area about the size of a employee’s workspace, but since the COVID-19 pandemic’s arrival, it’s been recorded at artists’ homes or studios.
Prince joins an illustrious list of guests to appear on the program since it began in 2008, including pop stars Adele, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran but also Korean boy band BTS, cellist extraordinaire Yo-Yo Ma and 1960s legend Tom Jones.
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.