INTERVIEW – March with Collen Middleton of Bent Roads Tavern.
It was a pleasure as much as an honor to have met you Collen Middleton on that November 12th, evening, as part of the Media Row Breakout Rooms at the 2020 Virtual Indie Week Canada Conference. I got the chance at a do-over interview seen here below, due to a computer glitch we concurred upon our November 12th online speedie interview. Collen Middleton is an outstanding artist that sits at the helm of his 7 piece band from Calgary Alberta called Bent Roads Tavern, which has an indie flavor that combines a jazzy taste of a fiery protested punk meets folk roots music and everything in between. It revisits fan favorites with their storytelling tale through the release of The Legend of Bent Roads Tavern. This act definitely captivates the inspirational likeness to that of folk jam-band stylings of the Dave Matthews Band. November 6th, 2020 they released their storied Canadian collective that was mined from their previously unreleased archives where they remastered, reimagined, and reissued their previous works, and the result is The Legend of Bent Roads Tavern, Volumes 1 – 5 https://bentroadstavern.ca/discography
DEB: Congrats on your new 5 volume trilogy Bent Roads Tavern. It is some pretty stellar material, I am already addicted! You weren’t kidding that you resemble a style to my favorite artist, Dave Matthews Band, your vocal ranges are brilliant. I was disappointed on Nov. 12th at 9 pm when I got to view the finished interviews from this year’s Indie Week, that my laptop recorded with you from my cell, but our session turned out rather choppy in nature, and I was so thrilled that you were interested in a do-over interview with me. So, Collen, What does success mean to you, as well, what is your secret to longevity? COLLEN: “To us, success is touching the lives of our audiences, and connecting with fans on a personal level. If that remains a small following or a regional/national/international presence, that is fine, as long as we can keep writing and recording the music that reflects our lives. Obviously, it would be nice to make some money at it, as it frees up more of our time to dedicate to the music. Given where we are at and how each of our personal lives’ has unfolded, it is not entirely in our control how much time we can afford to put to it, so we just make the most of what we have to work with. Our secret to longevity I think is just being realistic with where each person is at and staying flexible over the long run. We do have to recognize too that the band has been on a significant hiatus, although we continued to write and record together, and under different projects over that time, but Bent Roads Tavern is the one we know we can keep coming back to. I think of some of my favorite bands who are currently on a ‘hiatus’, and I hold out hope for the days they release new music and tour again, because their music is timeless in my mind, so they stay fresh in my memory. One of the reasons why we describe ourselves as a ‘collective’, is that some of the musicians have come and gone, but the Bent Roads Tavern still stands, and as long as we stay deliberate with how our sound evolves over time, I think it can remain for a long time yet.”
DEB: Collen, highlight aspects of your cultural background that makes your music unique. COLLEN: “When we first got together in 2001, we were all students at the University of British Columbia, but from different parts of the world. Christian Stokkmo, the original instigator (guitar vocals) of the group was born and raised in Norway (but spent significant time in Singapore), Brad (bass [Vancouver]), Jim (Vancouver) Brian (percussion [Vancouver Island]), Anthony (saxophone) from Toronto/Singapore, Myself, Collen (guitar, vocals [Markham/Toronto]), and Lis (violin [Vernon, BC]), Graham (piano, vocals) and James from Prince Rupert, BC. We all came from far-reaching parts of the world, with different music backgrounds/tastes, and we mashed it together into something we felt sounded cohesive and interesting for us to play.”
DEB: What do your songs aim to say? COLLEN: “Most of our songs have lyrics, but we do have a few instrumental tracks – mostly we try to create an aural atmosphere that is expansive/ethereal at times, but sometimes direct and driving. We try to represent our full emotive range, and what you hear are the most honest reflections of our moods, ambitions, longings, and regrets we experience at the time we write and record the material.”
DEB: Contrary to popular belief, making it is the art of music isn’t merely a game of luck, as it requires talent, strategy, dedication, and determination based on your vision and goals. Share with your fans your creative studio process, and share any awards or accolades you have received and how you are developing your career during Covid -19? COLLEN: “Each of the musicians in BRT writes their own parts, and there is a high degree of trust between the musicians about their abilities to create interesting, sensible, and enjoyable parts. The primary songwriters (song structure, progressions, main melodies, and lyrics) in the group are me (Collen), Jim, and Graham. Usually, we create the main idea(s) on our own and then share with the other songwriters if there is a part they are struggling to refine or finish. More often than not, one of the other guys has something in mind that works to finish the idea. We then record the main idea and circulate it to the other musicians for them to come up with parts, and then we record from our home studios. This is how we record now though – on the recordings in The Legend of Bent Roads Tavern, most of it is live off the floor, with the more recent and cleanest recordings done using the process I just mentioned. As a group, Bent Roads Tavern has remained pretty unknown to-date, save for our following of Bent Heads who have remained keen on our music with the passage of time. We have been fortunate to get lots of fresh attention in the Canadian music press, which is super encouraging, but right now we don’t have any awards or accolades to speak of. We are super jazzed about the positive feedback on our music as we share it with the world though! I’d have to throwback all the way to 1999 for the last time I received an award for my music – my high school band, “Xstereo”, won a national songwriting/performance contest on CBC’s “Jonovision” – Jonopalooza 1999! I’m dating myself because that was even before Canadian Idol was a thing!”
DEB: Some of the most historical and revered music has always played a deep role in the transformation of society. Some consider how their art relates to the current social-political landscape or how their music can address these themes. Does your music touch on social or political issues?? COLLEN: “Thank you so much for asking this question! I can’t speak for the other songwriters in BRT, but for me (and a safe bet for founding BRT member Christian as well who passed away suddenly last year), at the root of my songwriting and my pursuit of musicianship, there is a deep struggle to communicate my opinions on political and societal issues. Even the name, Bent Roads Tavern, is a political statement, which was the name offered by Christian. In the 1938 film, “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” there is a very brief clip where the sign on the tavern (where Robin Hood and his men stopped to seek refuge on their way to Nottingham) reads, “Bent Road Tavern”. In using this name, we consider the Bent Roads Tavern to be a safe place for the road-weary travelers of life seeking shelter in their pursuit of equality and social justice. Many of our songs have implicit or indirect political messages about equality, social (and poetic) justice, and climate change.”
Congrats, releasing your 2021 debut professional studio album, truly exciting https://youtu.be/o30GzVvfEoM
Sound Cloud https://soundcloud.com/bent-roads-tavern Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bentroadstavern also, Twitter at https://twitter.com/bentroadstavern and Bandcamp at https://bentroadstavern.bandcamp.com and not to forget your Youtube with your 2nd single from The Legend of Bent Roads Tavern Volume 5’s Every Intention. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWz2m7LRd13l-rFSLuuJOnw
Order your vinyl copy of The ‘Requisite’ Legend of Bent Roads Tavern through the support of our Kickstarter Campaign, active until January 21, 2021. We can’t manufacture them and get them in your hands without your help! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/…
Thanks for your time Collen, this will appear in March within the online edition of both The Wire MEGAzine’s column Seeing Shows on the Road With Deb Draper at http://www.thewiremegazine.com and at The Wire Megazine’s blogcast at www.seeingshowswithdebdraper.com
Stay well, safe, and keep the music faith.
Cheers, Deb Music Editor and Photojournalist/Columnist with The Wire Megazine.