Roland Wilhelm/Mannequin Media
A pretty wide variety of music can ring through the speakers in the grocery store in my one-stoplight town. Rural communities, I suppose, can be like that.
On any given day you’re as likely to hear Emerson Drive while perusing the five aisles as you are AC-DC or a Top 40 boy band from another era.
I went there the other day to get a sandwich from the deli, just ahead of a wave of high school kids on their lunch break, and I smiled when Tim Hicks’ “Get By” came on. I’d just spoken with Hicks on the phone about his rise up the Canadian country charts with his debut single, and as the song played I watched the kids in front of the deli counter singing along.
I pictured them cruising the back roads on a Friday night in a beat-up truck headed for a raging bonfire in the middle of nowhere.
He must be onto something, Tim Hicks. You know a song’s got the ear of the public when you catch teens singing along in a grocery store. It’s no surprise that “Get By” has broken the Top 10 on the country charts, spent week after week as the most downloaded country song on iTunes, and Hicks is preparing for a busy summer playing the country festival circuit.
What might surprise people is how the St. Catharines native went from playing cover tunes in Toronto bars to becoming one of the fastest rising artists on the Canadian country scene.
Almost three years ago after a typical set finished on one of his regular bar nights, Hicks was approached by Three Days Grace drummer Neil Sanderson and Casey Marshall, a fellow songwriter and business partner with Sanderson through their project, Public Artist Development.
They wanted to get together with Hicks and see what might emerge if they started to collaborate through songwriting. They soon had a few demos and, unbeknownst to Hicks, Marshall and Sanderson visited RGK Entertainment Group president and CEO Ron Kitchener in his Nashville office. They later worked on the demos with Florida-Georgia Line and from there things started rolling for Hicks.
Sanderson says he couldn’t be more inspired through his connection to a fellow Canadian musician and songwriter who’s finding a place in a tough business where the spirit of collaboration is proving to be an important asset as markets continue to change.
Sanderson writes all the time and is breaking down any semblance of barrier between genres. As one of the key songwriters for Three Days Grace, a group that has dominated active rock for the past decade and just landed its 10th No. 1 single on Active Rock charts in the U.S. with “The High Road,” Sanderson continues to write in Nashville whenever he can with Marshall and the likes of Craig Wiseman, who he describes as “arguably one of the best songwriters out there.”
“Collaborative songwriting has always been a big part of Three Days Grace,” Sanderson notes. “We all bring lyrics, melody and music to the table and then as a team build the song until everyone high-fives in the studio. The process of being able to openly share and bounce ideas off of each other is what turns a good song into a great song.”
He has also recently collaborated with rock groups Art of Dying, My Darkest Days, Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, and Aerosmith producer Marti Frederiksen, all while pursuing a long-held passion for the life of an electronic producer/DJ through his latest project, PublicWurks (www.publicwurks.com / www.facebook.com/publicwurks ); lately he can be seen been going from behind the drum kit at sold-out Three Days Grace concerts to packed clubs as a guest DJ.
“It’s exciting today how a lot of artists are crossing genres with the belief that good music is good music,” Sanderson says.
“It’s all about emotion and people feeling something through song and relating their own lives back to it. When it is real to you, it becomes real to others . . . and that’s the greatest thing about songwriting I think.”
He’s been playing and writing music and lyrics since he was a kid, and today he’s at a place where he’s free to pursue his passions and use his experience to help launch new ideas and push the envelope.
Discovering talent like Hicks and exploring the songwriting process with him in a different genre has been and continues to be a welcome challenge. Sanderson has always placed strong songwriting upon a pedestal, “because with great songs everything is possible and without great songs, nothing is possible,” he says.
“It’s about the listener hearing a song and feeling something; songwriting is a craft and becoming more experienced at that is something that can only come through writing every day and being creative.”
He says sharing space with a range of songwriters between Nashville, his home outside of Toronto and the touring bus with his Three Days Grace band mate sparks a continual evolution of the craft.
For his part, Hicks says finding his voice as a country singer has been a beautiful ride and after a lifetime spent looking for a break in the business, one came when he chose to stop looking.
“It took me 30 years to figure out who I was as an artist and get comfortable in my own skin,” Hicks says with a laugh.
He’s loving the fact that people are responding to his music in new and exciting ways, and he’s certain to never take for granted that anything is possible if you remain open to collaboration in songwriting.
“You feed off one another,” Hicks says of the shared writing process. Each writer brings sparks of concepts and possibility for others to build from, “and at the end of the day, a good song is a good song,” Hicks says.
I think the kids at the grocery store would agree.
This article was also shared with the readers of Canadian Musician Magazine. Click here to see the post there.
“The shortest distance between two people is a good story,” said Schlegel Villages president and CEO James Schlegel at one point during the organization’s annual leadership retreat at Brampton’s Pearson Convention Centre April 17-18.
He was right on the mark.
Around 150 people with various connections to the villages came to the annual event, themed “Stories that Create Culture.” They arrived free of any expectations or inhibitions, prepared to accept the idea of the story as a powerful relationship-building tool.
The stories that emerged from within each person in the group under the guidance of master storyteller Annette Simmons drew the entire team together in ways that some simply described as magical.
Annette began the first day sharing her own stories, opening a window into who she is and the path that led her to stages and boardrooms where she helps people break down the objective reasoning of data and facts by embracing subjective realities that bring experience and emotion to life through story.
“Story is the DNA of meaning,” she told the group as she broke down the anatomy of a story and explained six key principles of strong storytelling.
One of her key messages was that everyone has a story to share, yet many lay hidden within the preconceptions, premonitions, fears and worries that come to us as we evolve from the curiosity of childhood to the stark understandings that come with growing up.
She gave the room license to dig into their stories, assuring everyone that when a person gives a story chances are they’ll get one in return. Each exchange brings us closer together and closer to understanding where we are and where we are going.
Small groups sat together in the afternoon of Day 1 and each person shared a story. Some were deeply personal, some were filled with snippets of humour, and all were genuine.
Each group then chose one story to be told the next morning during a story concert, referred to as an olio. The stories were as beautiful as they were diverse, and commonalities among the group emerged as tears and laughter mingled among the 150 souls in the room.
These people carry deep within their being a profound capacity to love. They love their families, they love their sports, they love their hobbies and pets, and they love the people they care for every day in what some may categorize as a job, but others might call a vocation.
“I’m reminded of the incredibly talented group of people that we have as leaders in this organization and the vast diversity of their experiences,” James said as he reflected on the gathering.
“I was amazed by the stories of our team members and how they were willing to be so personal with a big group of people . . . and expose themselves and have the confidence to do it.”
The hope, he says, is that people will bring that confidence back to their villages and neighbourhoods and share it with the people they support.
We are all storytellers and have been since the day we first understood that the world is a complex place that thrusts complex obstacles upon every path we choose to navigate.
We learn from each step of the journey and the stories we encounter are what make our lives rich with experience and the beautiful notion of hope.
These are the stories that create culture.
This post was written for Schlegel Villages, but I thought it made sense to share it here as well. I'm certainly fortunate to work with an organization that understands the importance of our stories! Thanks to the team there and to Stephanie Stoyko for her photography work.
Easter sermon this year echoed through the hallowed halls of Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre, delivered by the combined voices of Wintersleep, Frightened Rabbit, and around 1,100 people who turned a Sunday night into one of the more memorable concerts I’ve been part of in a long time.
Devoted fans mixed with those brought in through curiosity and the promises of the devout, who, no doubt, told their friends and family, as I did, that Frightened Rabbit is a collection of some of the most talented songwriters and musicians touring today.
This band skips over the Atlantic on a Scottish wind once in a while, turn small clubs and theatres into a frenzy, and carry on again. That they were playing in Toronto with Wintersleep was a gift I couldn’t refuse.
Wintersleep has long been a staple of my music catalogue, and watching the band blend harmonies to the beat of monster drummer Loel Campbell under the guidance of Paul Murphy – one of the more iconic voices to come out of Canada in the past decade – is a treat.
They played a fast set, filled with a mix of staples off earlier albums and new music from the latest offering,Hello Hum. They were strong, the crowd was into it, singing aloud to the climax of “Weighty Ghost” with authority; it was the perfect introduction to what would follow when the sermon really began.
I can’t say what first drew me to Frightened Rabbit. Scott Hutchison’s voice is rough and beautiful in the same moment, tinged with Scottish reflex and urgency. His brother, Grant, on drums, mesmerizes with steady and complex beats that seem at once to be off-time and in the only time possible at each second of a song.
Throw in haunting organs, lyrics that sting with beauty and anger, and a knack for the art of the crescendo where all voices blend to the point you think a choir is backing them, and I think this might be the perfect band.
The choir in the audience on Easter Sunday agreed, and it was a beautiful thing to be part of. The smiles on the band members’ faces showed they felt the same way when they graciously accepted mounting approval after each song.
Even when the bunny ears of a beautiful bartender at the back of the theatre distracted Scott as he entered the second verse of “Good Arms Versus Bad Arms,” forcing him to regroup with a laugh, he was easily forgiven.
It was Easter after all – the late March death march.
Virtually every song off the latest album, Pedestrian Verse, including “Late March, Death March,” was shared with the crowd, along with several beauties off previous albums Midnight Organ Fight and Winter of Mixed Drinks. A set nearly two-hours long disappeared in a blink while the devoted fans carried along with every note.
They finished with “The Loneliness and the Scream,” a primal call to be heard in a complex world where we’re meant to be more connected to one another, yet seem farther apart than ever before.
As the musicians played, however, everyone came together – both bands and a crowd of people eager to sing. I felt connected to everyone in the room as we carried on with the final chant echoing through the theatre until long after the music ended.
It was the way a concert should be and the best sermon I’ve ever heard, though, as Frightened Rabbit says in “Holy” off their latest album, “I’ll never be holy.”
To Wintersleep and the Scottish winds, my gratitude sails high in this early Spring.
The curious are sure to be converts and Easter, for me, will always carry the sound of “The Loneliness and the Scream” of more than a thousand people carrying voices beyond the rafters into the damp air of Sunday.
“Staggering sermons never wash,” they say. This one did for me.
Article also posted on Canadian Musician's Blog.
And so, with the launch of a new website and blog, Kristian Partington and Partington Writing Studios enters the 21st Century with the force of a small child tentatively tip-toeing into the frigid waters of a swimming pool in early spring.
So here we go, one step at a time . . .
Who am I, and why does anything I say matter in a world saturated with tweets and links to thoughts and opinions in a pulsing sea of technology?
I suppose I’m just another person with opinions and thoughts constantly in search of a way to sustain a career centred on my passion for people and their stories. This quest has led me down many paths, and I’ve struggled through as the penman that would take any assignment, often working for wages comparable to a Panamanian sweatshop.
But through that struggle I discovered experience, knowledge and an understanding of the power of the craft of storytelling.
I’ve written since I could hold a pen, but only recently have I discovered my voice, and in partnership with a beautiful organization called Schlegel Villages that voice is describing how we can restore the place of the elder in our society.
Last August, I met a man who helped me discover the power of this voice. Barry Barkan is twice my age and I met him while covering a conference in Jacksonville, Florida, hosted by the Pioneer Network – a group dedicated to changing the culture of aging as we know it today in the Western world.
Barry was my age when he found his life purpose. He told me about the epiphany he had under the shade of an Oak tree in a park in Berkeley, California when he was 35.
He and his wife, Debra, started the Live Oak Institute shortly after and their life since has been all about helping people understand that our world is stronger when we include the wisdom of our elders in it as opposed to discarding that wisdom and beauty in the nursing homes of tradition.
We spoke that day about the writing I did as a generative journalist with Axiom News, especially that which focused on elder care. He told me my voice was not only part of the movement he helped found – it was on the leading edge. He’d only just met me, but Barry is the type of force that you can’t help but heed.
I couldn’t ignore what he said – Barry was part of my own epiphany. As we rolled into 2013, I made the decision to spend the bulk of my energy describing the culture change movement in the only way I know how – through the art of storytelling.
There is still music and art in my vision, and thankfully there are places for me to use my voice in that world. I suppose this is another of those places.
But the culture change movement is a great place to be. In it I see all of humanity: compassion, wisdom, love, life, death, laughter, sorrow, new beginnings, memories and loss of them, generosity, grief, faith. I see our past, present and future converge in way that a few years ago, I never would have imagined.
It’s funny where you find yourself.
Just another voice of another writer, I suppose, but I hope it resonates somewhere.
Thanks for visiting.