The Halifax Urban Folk Festival (HUFF) kicks off on August 28 and one of Nova Scotia’s hottest emerging musical acts will be leading off the 13th annual event’s festivities with a showcase at The Carleton.
Alt-country swing band Horsebath has only been on the Halifax scene for about a year and already the talented duo of Daniel Connolly and Keast Mutter have created waves with music fans across the Maritimes.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate in some ways,” says Mutter about growing a fanbase during the pandemic, when live opportunities to perform have been scarce. “We have tried to make the most of all the downtime I guess.”
Although the rising local stars have seemed to come out of nowhere, Connolly and Mutter’s long musical connection stretches back at least four years to when the then-strangers serendipitously stumbled into each other in a Montreal parking lot.
“We were both heading to Toronto from Montreal and just randomly found like a ride share carpool. We were waiting in the same parking lot and I don’t know, I guess we just kept looking over at each other and both of us knew we were waiting for something,” recalls Connolly, who original hails from Guysborough County.
“We struck up a conversation (and) we sort of had the four or five hour drive, and we just realized how much we had in common as far as music and travelling and moving around, having big families and coming from the countryside.”
While the two bonded over music and a similar rural upbringing (Mutter grew up in a small town about 20 kilometres outside of London, Ontario), collaborating to form a band didn’t come up right away.
In fact, the pair would go on to travel together and join up as filmmakers on a documentary project that would take them across the country meeting and interviewing more than 200 grass roots musicians.
“On that trip, it sparked something in us that we knew existed and that we wanted to do but didn’t really have the time to do it,” notes Mutter. “And so through that trip we started writing music, and a lot of the music we were surrounded by was a lot of folk and country music.”
Soon, the pair began sharing and co-writing as they eventually landed back — first in Montreal, then working with horses on a farm in Margaree Forks on Cape Breton.
“Through the mornings we would work. and in the afternoons we would write, so a lot of the music was kind of inspired by our surroundings and the countryside,” notes Mutter.
“I don’t think we had an immediate goal at the beginning,” adds Connolly. “It was just kind of finding a sound. We both loved similar artists and just as you play more together and write more together, you just find a kind of common ground that you both get excited about.”
Eventually, the pair would launch Horsebath and find a unique sound that blends elements of country and folk, buoyed by distinctive harmonies that are reminiscent of such music icons as The Everly Brothers.
“That’s something that pops up for sure,” says Mutter of the comparison to rock n’ roll pioneers behind such hits as “All I Have To Do Is Dream” and “Wake up Little Susie”.
“When we started, it wasn’t like a plan to sing most of the music with harmonies. We didn’t discuss it that much, it just kind of naturally picked it up that way,” continues Mutter. “Through practice, we both just started singing (and) on any song, we both would take the lead part so it just became a harmonic thing.”
Last summer, Connolly and Mutter — intent on testing their musical aspirations — moved to Halifax and began playing with a full band. Since, they have been spotlighted at such festivals as the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, Newport Landing’s Full Circle Festival and will appear at the Blueberry Jam Outdoor Concerts running August 19 to 21 in Mabou.
In the meantime, the duo are excited and honoured to open the 2022 edition of HUFF, thanks in part to Mike Campbell. The festival’s founder and the programmer at The Carleton invited Connolly and Mutter to participate in HUFF shortly after meeting the pair — another serendipitous step for the duo that met by chance in a parking lot.
“The more you work and bring your music and bring a good vibe to places, the more opportunities present themselves and you just got to keep going,” says Connolly. “You give and then people give — it goes back and forth.”
For more information about Horsebath at HUFF, visit the website.