Cape Breton music legends Slowcoaster are thrilled to finally be able to get back to playing in front of live audiences again.
“The last two years has been like a weird dream. Does anyone even remember 2021 at all?” laughs the band’s lead singer and guitarist, Steven MacDougall about the on-again, off-again drought of opportunities to perform during the pandemic.
“Musicians kind of all rode the waves — there would be this wave where your phone would ring all day and then it would all get shut down and disappear.”
While the longtime band did take advantage of rare opportunities to play, the past two and a half years may be the sluggish in Slowcoaster’s 22-year existence. After all, the trio (which also includes bass player Mike Lelievre and Jordan Bruleigh on drums) have only taken short breaks since 2000 — and those were when he and Lelievre each had their children.
“I heard a quote one time that said, 'show business is a never ending series of comebacks' and I kind of take that to heart,” says MacDougall. “(But) in a weird way, I kind of like the shake up that COVID caused. It kind of took the status quo and it took everything and turned it upside down.”
For Slowcoaster, the pandemic flipped two decades of routine on its head. A band with a reputation for relentless touring and playing live around the Maritimes and across the globe, the trio were now forced to work from home. As a result, their process had to adapt.
“Like a lot of acts, we took this opportunity to kind of channel this energy that was going on (and put it) into writing a new album,” says MacDougall, adding he anticipates the full-album release to be launched in August. “Our track record has been playing songs to death live and then we’ll go record them. But we are doing the opposite this time.”
MacDougall says technology has certainly made the process of recording an album a lot more practical in the age of pandemic lockdowns as well.
“The technology is light years ahead of what it was even ten years ago,” adds MacDougall, who also performs with Lelievre in the traditional Cape Breton Celtic band, Hauler. “So being able to write and pass files around when we weren’t able to cross borders was awesome.”
Now with COVID-19 restrictions lifted and live entertainment seeing a resurgence all across Canada, Slowcoaster is excited about their busy summer ahead — starting with a much-anticipated headline show at Halifax’s The Carleton on June 24.
“The Carleton has just been a fixture for so long. Mike Campbell has been a fixture in our lives for 22 years as well — he was our first big interview,” says MacDougall about the former MuchMusic host and the Argyle Street venue’s current program director. “The Carleton’s there for the music (and) I’ve had great nights at the Carleton!”
Forming more than two decades ago, Slowcoaster merged after MacDougall returned home to Cape Breton after playing music around the Vancouver scene during the post-grunge era. Once back on the East Coast, he was set on starting a new act utilizing the groove and funk styles he adopted in the west but was in need of a drummer and bass player.
“(I had read) an interview with Jimi Hendrix and he said if you ever want to find the best bass player, just call up the best guitar player you know,” admits MacDougall, who quickly contacted and convinced Lelievre to trade in his six-string for a bass.
Since that time, the band has continued to build a dedicated following of fans with their unique style of East Coast danceable rock reggae. With addictive hooks, Slowcoaster has produced such hit songs as "Fortuneteller's Heart" and “The Darkest of Discos” — which climbed its way up the Canadian radio charts.
In addition, the ECMA-winning band continues to be featured in high profile showcases at such festivals as Canadian Music Week and the closer-to-home Stan Rogers Folk Festival.
“It never ceases to amaze us how you can always have such a good time,” says MacDougall about performing for audiences for more than 20 years.
“We never really planned to be Top 40 or to constantly be facing the radio dragon. The plan was to grow old and get big grey beards and play jam band circuits until we keel over — and here we are (except) not quite keeling over.”
Slowcoaster plays at The Carleton on June 24. For more information visit the website.