Capturing the rich and compelling musical sensibilities of an earlier era, melded with a modern pop sheen, The Walkervilles perform at the International Beer Haus on Sept. 10th.
“The music that inspires us comes from a feel-good standpoint sonically, but it often deals with some pretty heavy lyrics, or lyrics that are ‘real’ – emotional – that make you feel something. I think that’s an important part of soul music,” explains Pat Robitaille of the band’s style.
The inspiration for their name is a fascinating bit of history, too. In the late 19th century, Detroit-based American industrialist Hiram Walker invested his wealth crating a model town on vacant land near Windsor, Ontario. The community was filled with homes for the employees of his burgeoning distillery.
He exported what would soon be relabeled Canadian Club Whiskey into the U.S., dominating the market because it was cheaper to make his whiskey in Canada.
The model town which surrounded the distillery was dubbed ‘Walkerville’.
Decades later, three men living near the heritage district of Walkerville were enthralled by another export from Detroit – the music of Motown. And eventually, Robitaille, Michael Hargreaves and Stefan Cvetkovic joined forces to create their own brand of soul and R&B. To commemorate the legacy of Hiram Walker and as a nod to their Motown influences, they decided to name their band The Walkervilles back in 2012.
“It seems to connect with people of all ages because everyone is into the feel-good, pop side of things but at the same time, it’s reflective of older rock and roll as well,” he said.
“What I am referring to is that classic stuff from like 1960 to the early 1970s that we grew up hearing. Hitsville USA is about five km from where we live,” he said. Living in such close proximity has had a huge influence on the guys, he added. “It’s coming through with this band – having an outlet that is inspired directly from what we grew up around. Being so close to Detroit has been pretty unique.
“There’s been a lot of power and energy over there.
Looking at the classic Motown style, he notes that there is a different sensibility to the music from that era. “It was much more innocent. It was still heavy and emotional but it was also more fun and the songs were shorter, hookier and incredibly well-written,” said Robitaille. “And everybody dressed sharp. It was what everybody needed. Times were tough and people wanted entertainment. Motown was a phenomenal vehicle for all of that.”
Their self-titled, self-produced debut CD Meet the Walkervilles: Live at Mackenzie Hall which came out towards the end of 2012.
And continuing to create a buzz within the local music scene, it was time to record again. The group went into Willie Nelson’s Arlyn Studios in Austin, Texas in the spring of 2014 to record tracks for the new record, aptly named Soul Brothers. Recording in such a musically-loaded community was again a blessing, not to mention working in Nelson’s studio.
Behind the board for these sessions was Canadian blues-rocker and fellow Windsor-ite Gordie Johnson (Big Sugar, Sit down Servant).
Meanwhile, Robitaille had established himself as a solo artist by his early 20s while Hargreaves and Cvetkovic led an acclaimed touring act when their paths collided.
“When I was 18, I had the opportunity to go to the states,” he recalled. “I went to LA for a bit then to Nashville where I hung out for a bit. That’s where I was really introduced – even more so than living in Windsor – to soul music and the greats. That’s when my love for R&B and soul really started as well.
Ultimately, they were signed to the same agent and would often end up on the road together. “It was inevitable that we were seeing each other,” he recalled. And there was a connection musically.
“There was a need to explore more musically and take a new risk and be inspired. The three of us were just hanging out one day and came up with this idea to start this band that would be inspired by Motown.”
Cvetkovic agreed. “We instantly knew there was chemistry between us. But not wanting to be a cover band, we soon got down to the business of writing our own material. It was way more fitting for us to be playing our own music.
Robitaille also said the band’s primary lyricist, Hargreaves, still offers a gigantic nod back to the more subtle meaningful lyrics of the best of the Motown era.
“Lyrics are important to Mike. He feels you have to say something in a song and you have to say it in a unique way. Most artist today say things so bluntly and directly. That’s what makes music so boring and disposable today.
“We want to feed the imagination of people who hear our songs, just like the songs of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder fed our imagination.”
The Walkervilles have already toured Canada extensively and make some inroads into the American market. They will be releasing a new single What You Do this month, followed by a new CD in 2016.