Visit to First World War cemetery inspires Ontario trio
Century-old stories of endurance under harrowing wartime conditions inspired the Juno Award-winning latest album by roots band Elliott BROOD.
The Ontario trio sings about trench warfare during the First World War on the CD Days Into Years, even though none of the band members had much personal connection with this era.
Guitarist Casey Laforet, 37, said his grandfather was even too young to fight in the Second World War, although his two great-uncles were veterans.
But of the two great wars of the last century, the first one seemed more fascinating. “For one thing, there were trenches,” he explained — which meant soldiers suffered in gruelling, swampy, rat-infested, and poison-gas-harbouring conditions.
Besides the almost unimaginable hardship and loss that went on from 1914-18, it was also a time when our country’s national identity was formed, added Laforet, a history devotee and former cartographer.
The concept behind the group’s Days Into Years release was inspired by a visit to a Canadian First World War cemetery in France, where band members viewed hundreds of Canadian names engraved on a monument.
Each song on the Elliott BROOD album became kind of a chapter in the soldiers’ lives, said Laforet, who also plays mandolin and banjo with the band that performs on Friday, Sept. 20, at The Hideout, south of Red Deer.
The opening tune, Lindsay, is about a survivor revisiting the past while cleaning out the family home.
The protagonist of If I Get Old is a jaded soldier who dreams of making it through the war. “What we’ve done has made us old,” the soldier reflects in the song’s lyrics. “If I live to see the end, I’m going to make a brand new start, But I’ll never be the same again without my youthful heart . . . .”
Laforet said the young Canadians in the trenches must have thought “if I do get out of here what kind of things will change about myself? Will I do things better?”
Northern Air is described as a love letter to Ontario’s landscape and to the memory of a departed friend, whose spirit now resides there.
Laforet admitted the band members, including his school friend from Windsor, Ont., vocalist/guitarist Mark Sasso, and drummer Stephen Pitkin, never expected to win a Juno for the album. They were touring Quebec when the roots music award was announced earlier this year.
“It was really flattering, after 10 years as a band, to be recognized . . . . but it’s really a bigger deal for our families, who have had to put up with what we do.”
As a sign of appreciation, Laforet gave his first Juno Award to his mother, “because she’s the biggest Elliot BROOD fan. If I get a second Juno Award, I’ll keep it.”
The group members are now all family men based in Hamilton and Toronto who routinely tour Europe. But they started off in 2003 playing under the label “death country.” Laforet admitted that while Elliott BROOD can still play loudly, it was never so much about creating a metal-country sound as writing with a Clint Eastwood-style, cool-as-a-cucumber vibe.
This can be heard on earlier tunes, including Second Son and Oh, Alberta. (The video for the latter quirky song that Laforet says speaks of Elliott BROOD’s love of Western Canada, features a couple of outlaws reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde.)
With the Days into Years album, Elliott BROOD has happily wandered more into folk-rock terrain.
Tickets for the 9 p.m. show are $20 in advance (available from The Hideout, 53rd Street Music or Gord’s Smoke Shop) or $25 at the door. For more information, call 403-348-5309.