Thursday, 29 August 2013

Of Gentlemen and Cowards pt. One- Band Comes Together

     My photographer Victoria pitched an idea a few times but I always put it aside: “Why not interview the band Of Gentlemen and Cowards?” She had contact information for some members of the band and she thought they'd love to chat, but something always kept me from actually agreeing. I was hesitant for two reasons. First, I would be talking to four people--very different from my one-on-one chats. Second, it was my first venture into a music-related interview, and any new genre of interviews has inherent new challenges. However, how could I say I'm meeting all types of Canadians while excluding musicians? I agreed, and Victoria contacted them. I didn't really know much about the guys except for the knowledge that they attend McMaster University, and they recently had the chance to play on the David Letterman show (I'll explain that later). Driving to Hamilton to meet them, I realized I didn't even know their names. That's how blindly I was going in. 
        After pulling up to the house at which we'd agreed to meet, we wondered if we had the address right. It was an older looking house, and saying the lawn could use a trim would definitely be an understatement (no offence to your place, guys). Soon, I would learn that this is primarily the band's practice space. Whoa, a whole house to practice music! Dedication. After sitting and chatting a bit about what I was doing, and waiting for the three out of four band members that would be coming, we sat down in a backroom and made ourselves comfortable. So after a couple of weeks and an hour drive, I finally took Victoria's advice and took the time to meet Josh Dawson, Simon Edwards and Christian Fedele. Sorry fourth band member Jake, maybe we'll meet some other time.
Left to right: Christian Fedele, Josh Dawson and Simon Edward
Photo by Victoria Alexander

        In the words of one of Hugh Hefner's kids (I forget which), “some reporters have a story already written before the interview.” I've experienced that before, but not this time. I had no idea which angle to take, so I decided to start simply with "how did each of you personally get into music," with drastically different answers.
        Simon was thirteen years old when he received his first ever guitar, the day of his Bar Mitzvah. The thing was, musically he didn't have many role models at that point in his life. His mother is deaf, and his father is partially so, leaving only his sisters as family influences. This was the nineties, so their interest was naturally boy bands, boy bands, and more boy bands. These influences didn't speak to him very much, and it took until around university for him to really discover the rock music he would fall in love with. As he told me, he force-fed himself with thousands of songs, CDs and records, learning all he could. All the while, the cheap guitar from that Bar Mitzvah he received five years previous held a special hold on him. It was his first leap into instrumental music, having sung all his life, and it's an instrument he still keeps to this day.
        At around ten years old, Josh was given his first guitar, a Stratocaster, by his parents. Josh's family was a bit more musical, with his grandpa writing songs for the iconic Stompin' Tom Connors, among others. His father taught him a lesson in those early years that he remembers to this day: "you can sell everything in your room, but never your guitar." In about grade nine or ten, he started playing in a punk band that had about seven guitar players. They realized they needed a bass player, so Josh took the role. As soon as he had it in his hands, he loved it. He told me how he could feel the power; it was like holding a gun to the band and saying he could do whatever he wanted. Okay then...anyway, he stuck with it.
        Christian's mother received her Royal Conservatory certification in piano, whereas his father was once in a band called Shining Star. He started off with piano lessons from age 5-7, but he stopped because he told me how "piano sucks as a kid." I wouldn't know, I never took piano, I'll take your word. Then came music in school. He remembers how it was like Harry Potter, with a whole line of mouthpieces set up. Just like "the wand chooses the wizard," the mouthpiece chooses the musician, "it's not always clear why" as Ollivander would say. Christian ended up with the baritone sax, cool enough I'd say. This was mixed in with a brief musical theatre career (a short-lived stint as Kurt in The Sound of Music). One time though, he found his moms classical guitar, and went on YouTube to learn how to tune it. Drawing inspiration from "You Never Give Me Your Money" by the Beatles, Christian started his time as a guitar player. 
Simon and I... am I mid-laugh or something? Probably, hilarious guys.
Photo by Victoria Alexander

        But how did these guys even meet? They seemed like they've known each other forever, but I was far from right. Simon and Jake, I learned, knew each other from high school days. Together, they decided to go to McMaster University, Jake for sociology, and Simon for engineering. Around the second day, another new McMaster student, Christian, was walking down the halls of his residence when he saw some kid doing work, already, at his desk. Christian also noticed the guitar, and decided to introduce himself to the kid, whom he learned was named Simon. Boom, that's three out of four have met. That first year, Simon and Jake were in a few bands that weren't really going anywhere, and decided to try and get a little more serious. So at the end of the year, they left the others and recruited Christian, who by then was a friend who knew all their stuff. They practiced all summer, but realized they needed as bassist. Ads went up in student lounges, and a student a year older than them saw them and became interested. The undergrad halfway through his classical music degree was really just looking for someone to jam with, so he gave him an email saying he was interested. If you hadn't already guessed, that was Josh, and now the four of them all knew each other.
        Josh heard some of their stuff, and wasn't really a big fan of it. In fact, not at all. But he saw how intense Christian was rocking out and realized that was someone he could work with. He decided to give them a shot after all, and after a month, Christian, Simon and Jake told him that they were going to give him a shot.
            Of Gentlemen and Cowards was born.

TOMORROW: Read about their decision to try and become bigger than a university band, their very unsuccessful first tour, their "musical epiphany," and winning the chance to perform in front of millions on the David Letterman show.
Simon, Josh and Christian fooling around.
Photo by Victoria Alexander

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