The Halifax Urban Folk Festival kicks off its 13th annual edition on August 28 with a songwriter’s circle with a performance by alt-country-swing band Horsebath.
We realized we both come from families of four boys from rural areas and from there, we became buddies and started playing music together, travelling the country – Keast Mutter
Led by frontmen Daniel Connolly and Keast Mutter, the duo met by chance four years ago in Montreal, standing in a parking lot waiting for a ride share to Toronto.
“We kept looking at each other and weren’t sure at that time if we were going to fight or if we were going to become friends,” says Mutter with a laugh.
“We approached one another and started talking about music and other things that we were both into. We realized we both come from families of four boys from rural areas and from there, we became buddies and started playing music together, travelling the country.”
Now on the road together, it was during a meteor shower while camping at a bird sanctuary in Saskatchewan that the duo first decided to write a song together.
“We had the guitars, and we’re writing some music with the stars shooting by,” recalls Mutter. “At that moment, we thought we should do something together and see if something comes from it. So far, things are going well, and we’re enjoying it.”
The song that would launch their career together was Colleen, inspired by a retired nurse the duo met in Manitoba who had been organizing a small music festival.
“At that time, Keast and I were working on a documentary project filming musicians across the country that we started in Cape Breton where we ended up meeting her,” says Mutter. “They invited us to the festival and she was so full of joy and such an inspiration.”
“She made such an impression on us so that we were sitting around one night and thought we should write a song about her,” adds Connolly.
But while Colleen marked a significant milestone for the two musicians, personally and artistically, it is not a song that gets a lot of play these days as their musical focus changed.
“We haven’t been playing it recently because it’s a slower song and lately, we’ve been playing more upbeat dance music,” says Mutter.
“More high-energy stuff,” adds Connolly.
While the songs may be more upbeat, the duo’s music remains rooted in country. Connolly’s grandfather was particularly influential in his appreciation of the genre as a country music artist in his own right.
“My grandfather was a country musician in Guysborough and the Antigonish area as a young man,” he says. “He would organize shows in the middle of a dirt road or on a bridge, and the whole town would come out to hear him play old classics like Hank Williams and George Jones.”
Eventually transitioning from playing music to life as a DJ due to an injury to his hand, Connolly’s grandfather amassed an extensive collection of records crossing all genres.
“He was also into jazz and classical and different styles of music, but he introduced me to country music at a young age,” he says. “I used to go fishing with him, and he’d have a CD or was always whistling or singing a tune. He always had melodies in his head, and there were always beautiful country ballads.”
Music is such an integral part of Nova Scotian and Canadian culture in general, but especially the kitchen party idea. It inspired me to want to sing out loud and sing with people and harmonize and, and just express myself in some way. – Daniel Connolly
Not a fan of modern country music, it took Mutter a little more time to appreciate the genre.
“I know my mom liked country music and I’m sure my grandfather listened to it a lot but I listened to rock and roll or seventies punk music, and a lot of jazz,” he says. “But the country music came throughout my late teens and my early twenties.”
While Connolly’s trajectory as a musician began when he learned to play the piano at age seven, picking up the guitar solidified his desire to pursue a career in music.
“Music is such an integral part of Nova Scotian and Canadian culture in general, but especially the kitchen party idea,” he says. “It inspired me to want to sing out loud and sing with people and harmonize and, and just express myself in some way.”
For Mutter, while music was a big part of family life growing up, beginning with his father playing the electric guitar, it wasn’t until his older brother picked up the instrument that he began taking it seriously.
“I think I had the dream in my mind that I would like to play, maybe not professionally, but perhaps play for an audience someday,” he says.
Leading a somewhat nomadic life was also not conducive to a music career for Mutter.
“I was always on the move and never really had the time to stay somewhere and put the time in,” he says. “But meeting Dan, who had a similar lifestyle, we found the time to play music any chance we had.”
Their work on The Driftwood Trail also motivated them.
“That documentary trip we did a couple of summers ago sealed the deal,” says Mutter. “It inspired us to keep up with it more.”
The duo also found inspiration from other sources. “It’s not just music that inspires songwriting,” says Connolly.
“It’s a combination of what all your senses experience, especially visual. Dance, visual art, sculpture, nature, everything ties in,” adds Mutter.
It has all led the two to record their first, as yet untitled album. Set to be released later this year, the duo continues to look for representation to help.
“Before we decide on a release strategy, we have to see if there are partners that would like to work with us to strategize a plan to help our music reach an audience globally,” says Connolly.
In the meantime, in addition to playing from their new album at this year’s Halifax Urban Folk Festival on August 28, they plan to release a couple of singles and live music videos to showcase their updated sound.