Kalem McSween caught up with Fortunate Ones as they were cruising through Toronto last week. We chatted with them about their second album release, The Bliss, and the quasi-comeback of vinyl. Check out the interview below!
Kalem McSween: To start off, could you tell us how you two met and how the duo [Andrew James O’Brien & Catherine Allan] came together?
Andrew O’Brien: Absolutely! So, we met officially at a rehearsal that Catherine’s brother and I were having in an old apartment that I was living at in St. John’s [NFLD] and we were rehearsing for this Music Newfoundland and Labrador showcase that was happening and Catherine came by. During a break in rehearsal they were singing a Grizzly Bear song called “The Knife” and I thought that her voice was stunning – just the harmony that she was singing was beautiful. The next night I was supposed to be opening for another group from Newfoundland called Sherman Downey & The Ambiguous Case and I said to Catherine, “if you can learn these songs by tomorrow you won’t have to pay cover to get in to the show.” And so she took it upon herself and learned the songs and saved five bucks! The rest is history – we’ve been singing together ever since, and that was about five years ago.
KM: Nice! That’s always a good incentive when you don’t have to pay cover to get into the club.
Catherine Allan: Oh, love it!
KM: What has inspired you both to become musicians?
CA: That’s a good question. Well obviously we both just love playing music, we love listening to music and everything about it. But, in particular, it really was our two voices that really inspired us first to play with each other. Of course we played in a four or five piece band. Then we kind of realized that there was something about the two of us together that we just really enjoyed. So about two years ago we put the name Fortunate Ones on that duo and it’s been going so well since. We enjoy playing together every night – it’s pretty amazing.
AO: I think it’s pretty special to be able to make a career not only of something that you love and something that feels so innate and such a part of our character I guess, in a way it feels great to make a career with really your best friend and it just feels like it’s brought us closer together. We’ve learned so much about each other – we were aware of each other’s buttons and we hover around them, but it’s great. I mean especially on the road I never really envisioned having a boss per se and so I find that this arrangement is awesome. Music is such a profound thing for us. Also, the connections that we’re able to make with people night in and night out, with not only the audience, but in the industry, the other bands – it’s a complete pleasure and I can’t imagine a better job.
KM: Given your close bond, does it ever get hard to work with each other in terms of the direction you want to go and having differences of opinion on certain things?
CA: I think for us we’re still fairly new, like I said it’s been two years since we’ve started this journey, this path of Fortunate Ones. It’s been a pretty natural journey so really there haven’t been any difficulties to be honest. And we work so well together that it’s pretty easy. We really enjoy what we do every day and we’re thankful for what we’ve been able to do. We’ll see in the future! I mean there’s definitely little bumps along the way. Travelling with your partner isn’t always easy and finding your way around new cities, but I’ve got to say it’s been pretty smooth.
AO: Yeah. I think for us the common goal is we’re so focused on what we have to do and, you know, trying to make the best decisions for our career and the advancement of it, and that keeps us focused – we play to each other’s strengths. Any couple or any partnership is going to have hiccups along the way, but keeping focused on that plan and what’s on the horizon is what keeps us in line and with each other and not at each other.
KM: Backtracking from that now, who are your musical influences?
CA: For me growing up it was a mash up of bands. Anything from the Traveling Wilburys and I have two older brothers that were into Rage Against the Machine. It was seriously a mash up of everything in my household. More recently I find I’m really inspired by musicians from the East Coast because I’ve gotten to know them through the industry and I’m inspired by their work ethic and their creativity. Now we’re working with Rose Cousins and she’s really an inspiration to us.
AO: I think for us the more you get into this career as a path the more you come to be inspired by people for reasons other than the musicality, and certainly that’s always there. We’re always inspired by the talents of our friends and peers, but I think for me the more I get into it the more I’m inspired by their courage and the tenacity to pursue something of this nature. It definitely takes a certain kind of person to go down this road. There’s no cookie cutter instructional guide of how to do this and I think that we draw inspiration from our peers and friends that do this because like I said, it does take a certain amount of courage and thick skin. There’s so many people where we come from that are doing it and are doing such a great job that it’s hard not to be inspired.
KM: Could you explain the creative process that went behind your album The Bliss?
AO: This album was a bit of a growth for us we wanted to try and test our limits and our abilities musically and what that meant was incorporating new instruments. Also, just in terms of the writing, dealing with different themes and things that are going on in our lives at the time I think that the album is a great snapshot of where we were and even since the time of the recording, which was about a year ago, I just feel that we’ve grown in leaps and bounds and we’re super proud of it. Working with Daniel Ledwell also really opened us up creatively in such a great way. Dan was amazing and he was just such a creative force and we were lucky to be able to share his experience and talent. We just approached it with an open heart and an open mind and I think that what we got out of the album was a product of that approach.
KM: So what would you say your favourite song is, coming off of this album?
AO: That’s tough, that’s like choosing your favourite kid almost. You know I think I love each one of the songs in different ways and I think each night a certain song might hit you in a different way depending on how you’re feeling. I think that’s the sign of a good record. Each song has a moment for me that makes it feel special.
KM: Yeah, definitely. I noticed that the album is going to be available on vinyl. I found that interesting because you don’t see that too often anymore since everything is digital.
AO: Yeah. I mean we’re big vinyl lovers at home, it’s all we really listen to, to be honest. So we just felt like it would be really cool to hear our music on that beautiful sounding disc, you know? It’s something that we do every day – put a record on at home – it’s almost like a romantic idea of having your music on vinyl.
KM: I’ve always wondered – does it increase the experience of listening to music? Having music on a vinyl player rather than a CD player?
AO: For me personally it’s the whole act of listening to a record. You choose the record you’re going to listen to, you take it out of the sleeve – depending on how old the record is it might have that cool, musty smell. And, you know, album art for vinyl is a process unto itself. You’re sitting with this massive square and it really does make the artist more thoughtful about what the image is that they want to have on the front cover. And being able to read the liner notes and just sit back with the record and just listening to it…I don’t know, I just…I know a lot of people listening to this will agree with that. It’s just such a romantic and a beautiful experience that it can be very cerebral. It’s one of my favourite things to do. I love to unwind and just listen – I can spend an entire day doing it. You know there’s something cool about flipping it [the vinyl disc] to side B. The physicality is just as great as the listening.
KM: It’s great that you’re able to bring that into a digital age and into a time where we’ve kind of left that [in the past] and make people realize what it’s like to have that musical experience.
AO: I really feel like it’s back. I don’t think it ever totally went away, but it really does feel like there’s been a renaissance in vinyl. I actually worked at a record store called Fred’s in St. John’s for three years and I kind of got to see the vinyl resurgence on the front line and it was really exciting.
KM: So to close off here at BestFan we like to play a speed-round game to let your fans get to know you a bit better. So I want you to answer the following questions with the first thing that comes to mind, cool?
KM: What’s your go-to karaoke song?
AO: “Don’t Stop Believing.” Oh wait no! “Patio Lanterns” by Kim Mitchell!
KM: Favourite TV show?
KM: Dream duet?
AO: Wow, I’ve got it made already.
KM: Ok! And lastly, what are you a BestFan of?
AO: I love Thai food and we don’t have a Thai restaurant back home in Newfoundland.
AO: Yeah. So whenever we come to the big city I always eat Thai. As much as I can – Tom Kha soup [Thai coconut soup] in particular.
KM: Nice! And where can your fans catch you? I know you have a series of upcoming shows.
AO: Yeah. We’ve got a whole bunch of shows coming up in Ontario. Most of them have been sold out, which is great, but for anyone who is looking to catch up with us or find out what we’re up to they can check out fortunateones.ca and all of our dates are there.
Photo courtesy of: Fortunate Ones and Graham Kennedy
With files from Michael Sist