It’s been four years since the release of Saskatoon singer/songwriter John Antoniuk’s acclaimed CD 13, but he’s back in action with his last project Always With You.
Locally audiences can enjoy his latest tunes and plenty of other sonic gems Sept. 14 at The Hideout. A love for music was sparked early on.
“Ever since I was a little guy, I remember air-banding to Elvis Presley,” he recalls. There was always an appreciation for music, but sports pretty much took centre stage through much of his teens. Then he seriously injured his knee in Grade 12, and while recovering he picked up a guitar. Something clicked. And inspiration to write songs promptly followed.
“I started playing it a little bit, and shortly thereafter a girl broke my heart so I started writing my own songs.”
Meanwhile, produced by Leeroy Stagger, Always With You is dedicated to Antoniuk’s mother, Marlene, who passed away in October of 2010. His mom had a real love for music as well, and was an avid accordion player.
“One of my biggest regrets is that I wish I would have gotten her either on an album or had recorded some of her own stuff. She played the accordion really well, and was always really supportive of what I was doing.”
Antoniuk’s music draws a range of comparisons – from Teenage Fanclub and Weezer to Ryan Adams and Neil Young. He released his first EP disc, Side A, back in 2003. His first full-length CD under the moniker ‘Smokekiller’ was released in 2006 and he followed it up two years later with a second Smokekiller disc titled 13 in 2008.
The song Out There from 13 was selected as a national finalist in the 2009 Radiostar Songwriting Competition and in 2011, Antoniuk was awarded a 10K20 project grant from Rawlco Radio which allowed him to record Always with You.
After releasing his two previous discs under the name Smokekiller, he also chose to release the new project under his given name because it’s an ode to his mother and it seemed like the right thing to do.
“I know it’s kind of confusing but it just felt like I should release this album as ‘me’, out of respect for my mother,” he said. “When I’m performing with a full band, I still consider that collective to be called Smokekiller, but to make it less complicated we’ll be calling them The Smokekiller Band when they perform with me.”
For the new disc, he knew from the start he wanted a producer to head up the project. Enter his good friend Stagger, who Antoniuk trusted implicitly with the entire creative process.
Antoniuk sent Stagger nearly 30 songs to sift through, and left it up to him to choose 11 for the CD. “I told him that I wanted him to be as big a part of the project as I was.”
Antoniuk had every confidence in Stagger, having also been very familiar with his past work. He wanted the vibe, the coolness and ‘the heart’ Stagger has shown he has going into the recording process.
“I didn’t want to get in the way of that because I knew that if I was strong enough to let it happen, I would make the strongest record that I had ever made,” he said. “And when I looked at those (selected) songs, I really realized that it told a pretty personal story of the last few months of my mom being here, and the sadness of dealing with her loss over the last year.”
As he’s been performing the tunes, people have mentioned how strongly they connect to the material. “People like the personal stories, and they are receptive to them.”
Opening the shows on this current tour will be his wife and fellow musician, Jen Lane, who will also be performing with a full backing band.
Sharing the road together, and the stage, provides a rich, creative dimension to their relationship. “It’s great we can be out there together working on our music.”
After a short break, Antoniuk will then be back on the road for an acoustic duo tour of eastern Canada with Lane in October. Meanwhile, he’s thankful he picked up that guitar all those years ago and for the path in life that has unfolded ever since.
“I really feel like it’s become what I am, and not just what I do.”