AUTHENTIC - Singer/songwriter Levi Cuss

Behind the Grind brings eclectic mix of tunes to City

A rich and compelling set of musicians is on their way to Red Deer in early August.

Behind The Grind is a collective of Alberta-based songwriters who will be touring the province and B.C. in late July and early August. The group features songwriters Levi Cuss and Curtis Phagoo from Red Deer; and Edmonton-based artists Kimberley MacGregor and John Guliak.

The group will be performing 20 shows in 18 consecutive days from July 22nd – Aug. 8th, touring to Vancouver Island and back, with a stop in Red Deer to play an afternoon show on the Ross Street Patio and and evening show at The International Beer Haus on Aug 3rd.

“The show we are touring is an intimate look into our individual styles and song writing personalities. The show is performed ‘in the round’, one artist after another and makes for a diverse and engaging night of original music,” said Phagoo, a well-known local singer/songwriter who is also part of The KlamDaggers.

The group did a similar tour – albeit shorter – this past February throughout Alberta.

“It was such a pleasure the first time – what happened is that I had four of the dates, and then we ended up with quite a few more. Everybody kind of contributed something – we could get press in different places, for example – so it kind of snowballed into that,” explained Cuss. “We had a lot of fun and it was well-received, too. So we decided to do it again.”

Phagoo agreed. He also pointed out that part of what makes the group gel so well is that each artist brings something unique to the mix. “I think it’s the diversity,” he said. “I think that is the big seller for the show.

“Everyone is quite diverse with where they are coming from with the content of the songs as well. It’s a really great variety.”

Cuss pointed out that the mix helps to keep listeners on the edge of their seats during the show, which features all four musicians onstage at once with the focus on one at a time. The others help – here and there – to back up the featured performer as well.

“I think of it as a songwriters’ showcase,” said Phagoo. “You’ve got four individuals up onstage, and we play one after the other. So you tend to feed off of what the others are doing. Maybe you want to take things in a completely different direction just to kind of stand out on that set,” he explained.

Cuss noted that in a sense, it feels something like the Edmonton Folk Festival when, “They get four guys up on the stage and some things start happening. One guy will blow the doors off of a song and the next guy will go to a slow song.” Or maybe the next musician will opt to blow the door off another tune – just with his or her own unique stamp on it, he added with a laugh. Ultimately, as mentioned, the variety of the show is a key and compelling element to what makes it special and so well-rounded.

Cuss certainly comes by the blues honestly. His dad died when he was five, which left his mom having to work very hard to support her young family. Looking back, Cuss was off to a relatively rough start in his youth, spending some of his teens and early 20s drinking, doing drugs and doing crime.

That’s all behind him now, and these days Cuss consistently taps into his life experiences as inspiration for his music.

Growing up, he heard plenty of old-school country around the house which certainly had an influence.

He also grew to like the outlaw country that was surfacing more at that time. As a teen, he explored gangster rap, “Because that was outlaw. And then punk rock, because that was outlaw. And then I kind of went to the blues, which to me is kind of like the original outlaw music.”

As he has honed his craft over the years, more and more folks have been taking note of his undeniable talent. These days, he’s busy writing and performing and anticipating a release of new material at some point down the road.

For Phagoo, music was always something of an interest, but originally not what he aimed to tackle as a career.

He sang in a choir during his high school years. After completing high school, he signed up for theatre studies at Red Deer College with an eye on the technical aspects of theatre.

But one day, he saw a Thursday afternoon concert at RDC and promptly knew he was in the wrong program.

He dropped out the next day and switched to music studies.

After additional studies at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton, Phagoo began performing across the region and garnering a reputation as a remarkable performer and artist.

Looking ahead, Phagoo is on his way to the Banff Centre this fall for a residency, and is really looking forward to the opportunity to stretch his creative muscles that much more. He’s also busy writing in preparation for a new CD.

MacGregor started last year out with a triumphant bang, winning Female Artist of the Year and R&B/Soul Recording of the Year at the Edmonton Music Awards. According to her web site, she has previously shared bills with The Sadies, The Von Zippers, Whitehorse, Sloan, Corb Lund and Joel Plaskett, just to name a few. Meanwhile, she scored another victory by landing the 2016 EMA’s Female Artist of the Year award as well for the song Nicer, Gentler just last month.

Her latest CD, I Am My Own, was released in 2015 proceeded by True in 2014.

Guliak has been performing roots music in Canada for over 20 years. According to his web site, his music, “Contrasts the isolation of his prairie upbringing with his later experiences in the urban landscapes of Glasgow, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto.

“The songs that result from this perspective have been compared to those of other uniquely Canadian voices such as Gordon Lightfoot and Leonard Cohen.”

editor@reddeerexpress.com