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After the goldrush

By Matthew Ritchie, Staff Contributor

 

Anthony McKnight, bass player and songwriter for Toronto band Great Bloomers, is currently discussing the Toronto Blue Jays with me. More importantly, he is discussing Jays slugger Jose Bautista, a player who relatively came out of nowhere and proceeded to rock major league ball by throwing down, as of this writing, 54 home runs. It seems like joining the Jays has allowed Bautista countless possibilities to succeed in the world of baseball and has taken not only the American League East, but the entire sport by surprise.

Similarly, for the past three years Great Bloomers have been given opportunities to perform at festivals across Canada, open up for the biggest acts in music and perform on television. Which leads Great Bloomers to be hitting out of the park.

Upon the bands inception in 2007, they gained a cult following through fans in the local Toronto music scene. Playing countless shows at the acclaimed Horseshoe Tavern and around town, the band gained notoriety for playing expressive rock music with a folk and roots flair. They released an EP and continued to perform around Toronto before signing with Maple Music and releasing their debut album, Speak of Trouble.

But right before the imMcKnightpending release of the album, their bass player abruptly quit, leaving the quintet (now a quartet) without the glue to hold the rhythm section together.

“Lowell and I had gone to high school for a couple years,” McKnight says about singer/guitarist Lowell Sostomi. They met in their first year of high school and played together in a rock band at a young age. Sostomi left for Fort Erie while still in high school. After graduation, McKnight headed to study music on the East coast, increasing the gap between the two songwriters.

“When I came back the original bass player had decided to leave and Lowell called me up. I was just moving back to Toronto, so it worked out fine.”

Deciding to attend the University of Toronto to continue his jazz studies, McKnight returned to find Sostomi’s songwriting greatly matured since their youth and had a batch of high caliber rock songs to back it up.

After joining the band the record was released to extremely positive reviews in the Toronto press and adjoining cities where the band had performed. Toronto weeklies and national papers like the National Post and Exclaim took notice, referring to the band as composing music that was wise beyond their years. Mixing country, rock, folk, ragtime and 1960s pop flair lead to not only eclectic songs, but an eclectic fan base. Gordon Lightfoot was even quoted as being a pretty big fan. Things snowballed even further from there.

“A lot of good press started coming out. Then we got to go perform on MTV Live which was just amazing and then we went on our first tour together in the summer.” The band headed west and were met with open arms, being asked to open at the Virgin Festival in Calgary.

“It was Pearl Jam headlining, and I think it was their first big one in awhile since they decided they were going to get back into it,” McKnight remembers. “So that was pretty wild. That was definitely the highlight of the tour.”

Being the first band on stage at a festival of such large scale as the Virgin Festival can be daunting due to the expected lack of fans in attendance, but as McKnight remembers: “There were hundreds of people there.”

More good fortune came the following day when the band picked up a local newspaper.

“The Calgary Sun had been doing coverage of the fest.  Apparently what the article was saying was that we cleared the media tent. When we started playing everyone just came over and started watching us and even the crowd there, it was small compared to what it turned into later that day, but they were really receptive ,” says McKnight.

Upon returning with a string of new fans and critical adoration, the band was asked to head west again, but this time with help from the Wooden Sky and Rural Alberta Advantage, who had asked them to join their tour.

“Regrettably, we haven’t been out to the east coast since HPX last year,” says McKnight. “But it’s mostly circumstantial and we couldn’t be more excited to be playing the East coast again this year.”

One of the things holding them back from touring more had to do with the education of the band, mostly in their early twenties. McKnight was going full time at a degree in jazz while playing in Great Bloomers, which added to some trouble at times.

“During the winter tour I had a lot of performances coming up so I had to find people to sub for me, which was a nightmare,” he says. “It was basically tonnes of hard work, and knowing that basically both these things were on-par in terms of my priorities. I had to get my degree, but playing in this band is becoming more and more my life.”

This led to the band recording once again this summer in guitarist Tim Moxam’s rural cottage to prepare a two-song seven-inch, *Small Town Love*, which comes out this fall. The track marks a stylistic departure for the band, but luckily not at the cost of forgetting their roots.

“We’re always open for new sounds. We don’t really want to get away from our high energy rock sound. That’s who we are. We like to rock out on stage. We’re all about rock,” he says with passion, “but incorporating other sounds, we’re totally open to it.”

He adds, “Anything we think that could add to the textures, we’re going to try it out at least.”

At the same time it’s important for the band not to go, as McKnight says, “too far beyond our means.” Small Town Love departs from the previous full length by being mostly acoustic, with the exception of electric guitar. The record saw McKnight beginning to play stand up bass in the band, which is something he plans to use more in the future on subsequent performances and recordings.

The song also features trumpet by guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Tim Moxam. In fact, four out of the five band members gained their secondary education by studying music. But that doesn’t mean the band is going to perform any instrument they can just to show off their skills (I’m looking at you, Arcade Fire).

“We’re going to keep experimenting and incorporating new things, but I think always our main focus is writing good songs. We don’t add a trumpet just to be a band that has a trumpet,” McKnight says with a laugh. “Tim came up with a really good melody on the trumpet, so that’s what we decided to use, and now I can’t picture Small Town Love not having a trumpet,” says McKnight.

Similarly, its hard to imagine the Canadian music climate being the same without the added texture and character of Great Bloomers.

Great Bloomers perform at the Paragon Theatre with the Hold Steady on Oct. 22. as part of the Halifax Pop Explosion. You can hear their music at  myspace.com/greatbloomers.

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