There’s so much to be said about sticking to your guns when it comes to holding onto your own artistic vision. That’s what has guided the men of Calgary-based band The Northern Beauties to the place they are today, and local fans can tap into their extraordinary tunes when they play Fratters Oct. 8th.
Todd Stewart is the driving creative force behind the popular bluegrass-inspired, roots/folks quintet.
A veteran of the western Canadian music scene, Stewart is originally from Edmonton but moved south more than a decade ago to live closer to the mountains and explore Calgary’s music community.
After trying to position himself as more of a pop/rock artist, Stewart found that he had come to a crossroads – a position that compelled him to re-assess who he wanted to be as a musician and a songwriter. “I had a band called Brocade that was doing pretty well but we hit some snags and it just unravelled. And me being the guy doing everything, I was left holding the debt bag,” he said.
“My wife was a little hesitant with me doing another Brocade album because of that experience. She asked that if I was to do another album that it sound more like my songs when I first write them – like what she would hear while I was singing on the living room couch. So that was the deal. Previously, I would write everything in a western folk vein, but then go into the studio and re-arrange it to be more pop/rock because that’s the genre where all my industry contacts and avenues seemed to be and it’s what I had been doing forever by default.”
As soon as he decided to follow his heart and make the shift, Stewart realized he would need collaborators.
“I was writing for the next Brocade album at the time, but I was writing what I always write – western, folky stuff. That was why I felt that I just couldn’t change it again this time around. The idea that had carried the Brocade name forward just seemed redundant. So I just kind of re-imagined it.”
He knew what he wanted moving forward, and eventually teamed up with vocalist Craig Aikman, drummer Erik Allen, bassist Aaron Schlopp and Charlie Hase who is on pedal steel. In terms of ultimately laying down tracks for the band’s EP, which was released nearly a year ago, Stewart really couldn’t have found a tighter, more cohesive set to work with. And finding the right producer proved a natural step as well.
Back in 2010, Stewart had worked with west coast producer Shawn Cole on the Brocade CD. He had told Stewart at the time that he wanted to produce a bluegrass-type project. When it came time to bring the Northern Beauties tunes to life, Stewart knew immediately who to contact. “We had just hit it off – he’s such a true music fan and we have a lot of common loves when it comes to music,” he said.
“So it took a few years to bring him back into the fold for this one, but there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to work with Shawn on this,” he said. “Our relationship is really creative – it was a no-brainer to have him in there. he came in and did such an awesome job.”
The results are indeed stellar – an authentic mix of gems that really capture something unique in today’s rather plastic, pop-saturated market.
Looking back to his own influences, Stewart recalls hearing his dad’s love for traditional country and western music.
His mom loved the Beatles, The Judds and classic artists like Patsy Cline. “I’ve always seen music as such a defining characteristic of a person,” he explained. In Grade 11, a band visited his school featuring musician Stew Kirkwood and Stewart was simply mesmerized by what he heard. “It was intoxicating – it just hit me so hard.”
He asked his folks for a guitar for Christmas, and something of a musical journey was born.
But a pivotal moment came when he saw Blue Rodeo’s video Love and Understanding on MuchMusic.
“It wasn’t what was dominating the pop charts at the time but I loved it and it showed me that I could be a kid from Edmonton and wear old cowboy shirts and it was okay,” he said. “When I saw that video it was like I was finding my tribe!
“It was like a homecoming.”