Whistler Creek's building a fan base

Article content

Sometimes good things come to those who ask.

Whistler Creek, a country music band ('straight up country'), discovered that recently when they were playing at a family function.

"We were playing at a family event last weekend, and my brother-in-law's parents were up from Florida," said Whistler Creek's Scott Howarth. "We were joking around and said, 'what do you think about driving us next weekend?' They said, 'impress us and we will.'

Howarth, 'Satin' Steve Gorman, lead singer Stewart Irvine, Chris Cleave, and drummer Larry Baker did just that, and travelled to their Delhi Fall Fest show on Saturday, Sept. 9 in a luxurious mobile home.

But it takes more than just asking to make a good EP, and Whistler Creek knows that too. They launched their debut, self-titled, five-song EP in July - all original songs - at a Norma Jean's London release party. Three original songs were written by band members, who cranked them out in a couple of months. Two originals (Rock Me Country and Daddy's Always Here) were from Nashville.

"It's what we do," said Cleave.

"It just comes to you," said Gorman.

"I wrote One More Dance," said Irvine. "Scott wrote Lucky. And three of us wrote Tonight's Going to Get Hot."

"Everyone kind of contributes," said Baker.

"The intent is to be an all-original band," said Cleave. "Signed, touring and the whole nine yards."

"It's all about the fan base," said Baker. "It's all about developing the fan base so people know who we are."

And that process would be slower, said Gorman, if they did not also play cover songs.

"The tricky part, trying to get your name out there is, in my opinion, choosing songs that not everybody's playing," said Baker. "Nowadays, everybody's playing the same thing. That's why - collectively - we have tried to select songs that not everybody's playing, add our own little twist to it. Some songs we kept just the way they're done, just because you can't play around with everything, but some other songs we add our own little twist. And we're still building on that list."

"I feel that we have a uniqueness that not a lot of other bands have. We spend a lot of time on choreography with the show, right from how we walk on stage till we walk off, how we finish," said Cleave.

"We're the only country band with a double kickdrum," said Irvine, noting the rock flavour of his drums.

"I introduced the double kick," Baker laughed. "I'll never forget the look on Scott's face as he standing there..."

"Who is this guy?" Howarth grinned, recalling Baker's audition.

"I just feel that not a lot of country drummers do it," said Baker. "It adds something different and I feel it's done tasteful - these guys can tell me whether it's not. There's a time and place for it. It just adds that extra element, right?

"It's different," he nodded, adding with a laugh, "Oh, I'm different."

"That's an understatement," Cleave laughed.

The process of building a band's name and image - it's brand - can take months, and in some cases years to develop.

"I think right now we're taking our time, kind of building our repertoire," said Gorman. "That's the best way to put it...

"And writing," said Cleave.

"And writing as we go," Gorman nodded.

The band has only been together seven months, noted manager Robert Moody.

"For what they have accomplished in the first seven months, I think it's really good," said Moody.

"There's no real formula to it," said Cleave. "For some artists, it happens instantly. For others, it takes decades. I always use Hootie & the Blowfish as an example..."

"That's a great example," said Irvine.

"They were together 12-15 years before they blew up in the late 90s, early 2000s or whatever it was," said Cleave. "You just never know, there's no formula to it. You just keep working hard playing shows, writing songs and try to get our name out there."

"And just hoping the people that are seeing us like what we are doing," Howarth nodded.

"Like what we're doing and keep coming back," Gorman said. "And keep buying merchandise, and the music."

"That's the thing," said Howarth. "Even if it's only one or two fans, if we can make new fans every show, then we're stepping in the right direction."

"Yeah, and as long as we're having fun, and not making it all about money," said Gorman.

"It's hard sometimes," said Cleave," because there is a business side to it too, and sometimes you get frustrated with business issues."

"And you have disagreements," said Irvine. "But as this stage, that's normal."

"I've said I want to be in this band because it's different," said Baker. "We have our families at home, but I feel we've really developed a closeness - like a family. Sometimes we'll argue like brothers for a few minutes. That's part of it. But it boils down to 'when that sound system gets turned on and we hit that stage, that doesn't mean anything.' Any quirks that happen, they're discussed usually two days after because it's about giving the people what they pay for.

"It's neat because we all have such different ideas and personalities," Baker added.

"Musical personalities," Cleave noted.

"For example we have Stewart, and he's more of a traditional country guy," said Baker. "Steve's a very theatrical guy and he's a very good guitar player. Then you've got Scotty here who's got that country twang to him, and you've got Chris who comes from a bit of a heavier background."

"That kind of 80s kind of sound," Cleave nodded.

"Ironically enough, it's worked," said Baker. "And it's just starting to mold better, every show. We each offer a different element and sometimes that's what causes those little quirks. 'No that ain't gonna work!' And 'I think it will!' We figure it out, that's how it's done."

Following the release of their July 15 EP, they've had a whirlwind of shows including August 4th at the London Rib Fest, August 11th at the Woodstock Street Festival, a three-show weekend August 25-26th in Woosdtock and Straffordville, and September 9th show at the Delhi Fall Fest.

The festival/fair season is now winding down, but they still have a major gig on the calendar. Friday, Sept. 22, Whistler Creek will open for Canadian country music singer-songwriter JoJo Mason at Feast Fest London (Victoria Park) at 7:30 p.m.

The band will continue through the rest of the fall and winter months, however, with indoor shows at clubs and bars, and doing corporate/business engagements.

"That'll run all the way through," said Irvine.

"I think having the festival time off will give us time to focus more on writing," said Howarth. "I don't know if I ever want to do four in one weekend again," he added with a laugh.

"That was just a few weeks ago," said Baker. "Didn't we do six shows in three days?"

"Five or six," Gorman nodded. "It was a lot."

"I think, too, we'll do some studio stuff in the winter," said Baker.

"I'd like to see the guys write some more tunes," Moody nodded. "Hopefully we'll go back into the studio in January-February. If we can get in their sooner, we will, but I think this time we should take our time with it."

Having the EP available in July, said Gorman, was a huge advantage this summer.

"It's product and the only way we're going to sell is through our product. We have to be able to give something back. Anyone can go to any bar in town, anywhere, and watch a cover band play Top 40 country hit songs. We want to eventually be in that Top 40... well, Top 10 would be even better... but we need to give them something different. Hopefully we can get it out there enough that they start to recognize these songs when we start playing these shows next summer. We'll have people singing along, nodding their heads when the song is playing."

"You can't rush the process," said Cleave.

But he admits at the same time, there's a temptation to rush back into the studio, to keep touring year round.

"It's exciting," Cleave nodded. "And we love this feeling, what it feels like to do this. I go squirmy in between shows, I get anxious waiting for the weekend. Even when they are only five or six days apart, it's like 'I need to get playing again.'"

"That's the common mistake that a lot of bands make," said Baker. "They have a handful of great shows and they rush the studio process. They rush the writing process, say 'let's get it done, let's get it out!' Then all of a sudden when they get it out, they've spent all this time and money and effort in the studio and they're releasing it to a 3,000 person venue and all of a sudden 200 people show up. Uh oh. Because it's rushed. You've got to develop that fan base first, which I feel we're doing very, very well.

"I'm noticing more and more at shows, more people are singing our songs. They're buying the T-shirts, the CDs. It's crazy because my very first show we signed a lot of autographs. We've done some smaller shows and everybody wants CDs and shirts and autographs and pictures and drumsticks. We gave a cymbal away the one show - autographed it.

"But I think the show that's coming up on the 22nd, that's the one that's huge for us."

"It is a major show," Irvine agreed. "It's definitely a huge opportunity for us."

"It'll open some doors, that's for sure," Gorman nodded. "If nothing else, it'll open some eyes."

"For sure, a lot of people are going to go out to a big show like that," said Howarth, "and this gives us an opportunity to get ourselves and get our music in front of that brand new audience."

"For a show like that, for the most part we're just focusing on our originals," said Cleave.

"And maybe a few covers," said Gorman.

"We do have 45 minutes to fill," Cleave nodded.

The band still enjoys playing smaller venues and towns, however, and will continue to book them.

"Even the small towns, with the Internet today," said Howarth, "we may play here in Delhi and someone posts a video or likes us on Facebook, they may have friends away at college in Toronto, and they've seen it on Facebook or the YouTube link shared. Your name can get out so fast, it doesn't matter whether you're playing in a big city or small city, for 10 people or 10,000."

"Our target audience generally comes from smaller, rural type environments," Cleave nodded. "They relate to country music, they relate to that atmosphere. I'm not saying there's no country music scene in the city of Toronto or London itself, but there are a lot of diehard country fans out in the smaller town areas.

"They call this a micro niche. You get your own micro niche going in these small towns, do your circuits and that's how you build your audience. Then all of a sudden there's a buzz and then all of a sudden people from the cities start thinking 'I should go to that show just outside town.'"

"The trick is, if you have five or six people show up, to get them to come to the next show," said Baker. "And the next show and the next show. That's the trick. And that's hard to accomplish. And that's what we're trying to accomplish. That's when you know you're doing something right when you see the same faces every show, all the time. Again, I see more and more people wearing Whistler Creek shirts when they come to a show."

"And singing along to our originals," Gorman nodded.

"The trick now is to back it up when we get out on that stage," said Baker. "And I know we're going to do that.

"We try to talk to the fans and we're getting a lot of positive reactions from that. We get 'you guys are great,' and 'you guys crack me up.' And that's what it's about, that's when we let loose and have some fun."

A band's success also has a lot to do with it's behind-the-scenes people, said Baker.

"Like Steve Murray, this is his fourth or fifth show doing sound for us? Steve is an amazing talented musician himself and he's a very talented sound guy, and a friend of mine for a long time, and now a friend of ours. He immediately accepted the challenge when I said, 'can you help us?' He just works his butt off for us at these shows."

"It takes a lot of pressure off us, too," said Cleave. "We can focus on the show."

"That one weekend we had those five or six shows," said Howarth, "we either had no sound guy or someone who was just thrown into that role as a volunteer and didn't know what they were doing. So it takes a lot of stress out of our lives just being able to go up there and do our thing and play, rather trying to figure out how to run sound boards."

"I'm not a sound guy," said Baker.

"I'm not either," Howarth laughed.

"It takes a lot of work," said Baker. "Those individuals are the ones who make us sound good. Steve has learned very quickly what Scott likes and doesn't like, what Stew likes, what Chris likes, what I like. He makes sure we have what we need. One show, Steve's (Gorman) guitar strap broke. Steve (Murray) ran up and fixed that during a solo - he didn't miss anything. That's how professional Steve is."

"This is how it all starts," said Cleave. "We start as a band, then we have a manager. Then all of a sudden we get, what I call a staff member. We have a sound manager. And next thing you know we have a stage manager and it starts to grow member. And the bigger shows we get, more and more the need for that's going to rise."

"What we're looking for is help from roadies," Gorman smiled, "to carry our gear."

"That's got to be the next step!" Howarth laughed.

"This (Delhi) show, the organizers were great," said Baker. "I honestly don't think they expected the quality that they're going to get because Robert and I, Steve, we were all talking to the organizers, trying to figure out sound. They said, 'You bring your own sound? We have sound here...' We finally called and said, 'What do you have there? Do you realize that we're not just a bunch of guys that 'play', we do a choreographed show. She said, 'explain it to me.' So I said 'There's different kinds of quality. We don't like putting out a sub-par quality, that's not what we've been used to.' And pretty much said Steve's got to come with us. We'll bring our own stuff that we're used to. She was amazing, she said 'you taught me so much.' So she went back to the committee and got it looked after, and it was great."

Another important element when developing a band, said Cleave, is social media, noting that Whistler Creek is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, and a website is coming soon.

"You can check us all out," Cleave smiled.




Article content

News Near Tillsonburg

This Week in Flyers