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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

May 4, 2006
AN OPEN ACT On stage, New Brunswick band Shotgun and Jaybird build a relationship with their audience that is both intimate and honest, a relationship that can never exceed seven or eight songs, approximately forty-five minutes. As an opener the band has precious little time to connect with a crowd, but since setting out on their musical odyssey over four years ago, they have not been wasting any.

Hailing from Sackville, a small town five minutes from the Nova Scotia border, Shotgun and Jaybird began as the duo of Shotgun Jimmie and Fred Morello. The pair began by hustling gigs in southern Ontario, and have traveled long hours on dark highways in their trusty "Road King", a '92 luxury sedan that has seen them through wipe-outs and wintry conditions over the years. The two have shown up at the most obscure venues in the smallest towns and nowhere cities, only to be informed that live music was not permitted. Some nights, the hotel lobby was the only gig in town.

"Those crowds were pretty small, but really receptive," recalls Jimmie of the group's early years. "We got this really nice complement at the Walton Hotel in Port Hope, Ontario, where one guy said after the show [that we were] the best band to play there since Doug and the Slugs. That was totally when it all made sense, like, yeah, we're totally doing the right thing right now, because that guy really appreciated having us there."

Touring the country and playing material that was both earnest and formative quickly converted others who caught Shotgun and Jaybird's to fans as well. However, gigs were not abundant, and touring Canada wasn't cheap. As a result, in the spring of 2002, Morello, as so many had done before him, headed west to the Yukon in hopes of making money. But it wasn't gold that Morello sought; he headed west to take up a job working as a grocery clerk. The next summer, band mate Jimmie accompanied Morello to Dawson City and together they managed to hustle, yet again, shows at another hotel - this time a weekly gig at the local Westminster Hotel.

The two lived at the hotel and were scheduled to play on Monday nights; a frightening nine hours after some of the toughest crowds they had ever seen downed their first drink. By the time the band opened at 10pm, the crowd bellowed requests for Hank Williams and nothing else. Eventually, the duo coaxed their audience into Johnny Cash tunes and steadily moved towards Neil Young. After appealing to some guests, they would ask politely, "how about a little Shotgun and Jaybird," to which the already satisfied and well-oiled crowd shouted, "yeah Shotgun and Jaybird, man!"

It was those shows that helped the band realize how to get their audience to listen.

"Since we had been playing opening slots at indie rock concerts and stuff we never had to do anything like that," explains Jimmie, "but [then] we started in that place, where we would have to win over people that really wanted to have a good time, but who sort of had something in mind, you know?"

Shotgun and Jaybird's 2003 album Dawson Towne Recordings celebrates their time spent in Canada's true north, while 2004's follow-up release Sackville Classics For Simple Ukulele is in memory of The Road King and time spent on the road. The band's latest effort, There Are Days And Then There Are Days, a six-song EP recorded at George's Fabulous Roadhouse in Sackville, features Julie Doiron, former member of maritime underground band Eric's Trip. Doiron recently moved back to Sackville, and before long ran she ran into her future band mates.

"Eventually that happened and it built into a couple of dates in the summer. In the early fall we went up to Montreal and played a couple of shows, a split set where we played a couple of tunes and backed her up on some of her songs. We had the [new] record - like all the bed tracks - pretty much done and gave her a copy of the rough mixes and asked her if she had any ideas or felt like doing anything," revealed drummer Paul Henderson.

In January, Shotgun and Jaybird helped sell out two shows at The Marquee in Halifax when they opened for Feist, the Juno Award-winning singer/songwriter and Broken Social Scene member. Shotgun and Jaybird's new release was released simultaneously with the Feist show and since then has received rave reviews from across the country. According to Sackville's CHMA's Music Director Heidi Ebert, There Are Days And Then There Are Days has charted #1 every week since it was released. Ebert says that the band's success is based on their ability to stay true to their music and fans, and that getting people to listen, as they did in the days of the Westminster Hotel, is anything but an issue now.

"It has almost been a natural progression from hanging out in Sackville to now being a kind of national emblem," proclaims Ebert. "They haven't been trying to make it big, they haven't given in to a lot of the temptations. When punk rock was cool, they didn't turn punk rock; electro-pop is really cool right now but they are not going to just pick that up."

As un-courted as it may be, Shotgun and Jaybird remain unfazed by the spotlight they currently find themselves in. Like a true opening act, the band remains calm, focused and humble - they would rather chalk their success up to an alignment of the stars, or at the very least to simply "being lucky" - even if Morello's mom has a different take on it.

"She said it's based on hard work," admits Morello. "She's always been supportive, but at the same time now they are starting to enjoy hearing news about cross-Canada tours and stuff, whereas before they said things sounded dangerous."

Shotgun and Jaybird will head out on their first ever month-long tour of Canada in support of There Are Days And Then There Are Days, which due to popular demand will be re-issued on Doiron's reformed Sappy Records later in the spring. This time, though, the tables will be slightly turned and the group will have to find an opening band for them, as they will be headlining their own shows.

"I don't think I've ever seen a local band in the 16 years of doing this do it so gracefully, where it is like, okay, this band obviously needs to be the headliner now," remarks Halifax Promoter Wayne Mason. "Usually it's [the band] for several shows and six months to a year asking why the hell aren't we headlining? before it happens."

The reason Shotgun and Jaybird have become an Atlantic treasure is as simple as the reason they first picked up a guitar and started singing: they are huge music fans themselves, and have always tried to make their stage experience fun for everyone. Each time the band steps from the stage, Jimmie checks to make sure everyone in the band had fun. "The best part is to find out that all four of us had a great time, which is usually the case," shared Jimmie. "When you can get four human beings trying to do the same kind of thing at once and have it all work out, it's pretty amazing."

What's the secret behind their success? Together the members of Shotgun and Jaybird have crafted infectious stories that read and sound more like stand-in memories of our own. That, along with all the shows they never failed to open, and maybe a little luck along the way. Even when performing in a crowded bar, Shotgun and Jaybird have an uncanny ability to sound personal, as if their music is intended just for you. And that effect may not be entirely accidental - "I was actually thinking today how cool it would be to just write an album for one person," says Jimmie, "and then just give it that that person and be like, hey - this is for you and nobody else."

SEE ALSO: www.shotgunandjaybird.com

--
Matt Elliott
A J-school student at the U of King's in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Matt Elliot is a contributor-at-large for LAS magazine.

See other articles by Matt Elliott.

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