The Proud Sons: Roots Rock From the Heart of Manitoba
By David DeRocco
A little bit county, a little bit rock and roll. From the Rolling Stones to the Eagles, from the Black Crowes to Blue Rodeo, magic always happens when a band can successfully mesh those two styles together into a cohesive hybrid.
Another band to add to that list would be THE PROUD SONS, an up-and-coming collective from Winnipeg currently on tour opening for The Tea Party. Mixing soulful four part harmonies with a countrified roots-rock energy, The Proud Sons are an antithesis to the Tea Party’s mystical, Moroccan, signature sound. Which is actually a good thing, because THE PROUD SONS have planted their roots in soils closer to Memphis than Morocco. It’s why they travelled to make their first recording at the legendary Sun Studio, and why their new EP was recorded live off the floor at Scarborough’s Coalition Studio.
Band members – lead singer Ryan McConnell, drummer Rob Mymryk, keyboardist Jason Stanley, guitarist Kyle Meyer and his brother, bassist Jesse Meyer – were all weaned on music that rocked and rolled. As a result, it’s easy to connect the dots between the songs on their new EP and rootsy classics like Black Crowes “Soul Singing” or “Country Honk” by the Stones. Proud Sons tracks like “Company,” “Rolling Stone,” “Fourth of July” and “Best Bad Decision” are a great introduction to a Canadian band that, if it survives The Tea Party tour, will be one to watch for in the future regardless of whether a radio station is smart enough to play them. To promote their upcoming opening slot for The Team Party at Hamilton’s FirstOntario Concert Hall April 2nd, singer Ryan McConnell took time to chat with GoBeWeekly.com about recording at Sun Studio on Elvis’s microphone, impressing Tea Party fans and hanging out in a van down by the river.
GoBe: You started off your career as a band on a bit a pilgrimage, heading to legendary Sun Studio in Memphis to do some recording. What was your take away from that experience.
RYAN: What we did, we went down there early in the band’s career. We decided we wanted to stay true to our roots and the music we loved as children growing up. So we just decided hey, if we’re going to record something, let’s do it in a place that inspired all the music we loved. We had planned to do something live, so we thought let’s do it live off the floor in Sun Studio and see what happens.
GoBe: What were your impression of that legendary room
RYAN: It was incredible. You’re standing there recording vocals and there’s an X on the floor. That’s where Elvis stood. They have the same mics that he used, and a picture right beside you, a portrait of Elvis using the same mic you’re singing into. It was pretty incredible. It’s an old, run down beat up studio, but somehow it still has that sound.
GoBe: Speaking of sound. Everything old can be new again. The Proud Sons are certainly mining sounds and a vibe of great rock and roll and country hybrids. What draws you all to that music.
RYAN: We were all in bands before, playing whatever was popular at the time. When we started this band, it was let’s just get back to our roots, let’s get inspired about everything we’re doing. And it just kind of came out. We had no idea of how the band was going to sound when we first started it. It turns out the four of us can sing, so it was like, let’s do that. If you can hear it, there’s some Stones, there’s some Black Crowes, there’s some Blue Rodeo. That’s all stuff we listened to as kids. That’s where that hybrid of rock and roll and country met.
GoBe: It does harken back to that mid-80s era when bands like Blue Rodeo or Andrew Cash were introducing rootsy countrified rock to the radio. Rock can be dark, and modern country can be over-produced. But you’ve managed to capture a perfect blend that sounds entirely fresh.
Ryan: Thank you!
GoBe: You’ve got some long relationships in the band, some brothers and friendships dating back to age three. You’re on the road now in the van which I’m assuming is the one in your video for the song “Company.”
Ryan: Yes, we’re in it right now about an hour out of Moncton. We’re rolling in the same 1994 E-150 Conversion Van. It’s become home for the last little while and will be home for the next few months.
GoBe: So guys that are best of friends now living in a van, is that making you become better friends or are you starting to learn things about your buddies you didn’t know before.
Ryan: We’ve done this enough now that we know how to handle each other. If someone’s in a bad mood we know what to say, what to do, leave each other alone. There’s a lot more positive benefit to it. We’re all such good friends. I guess it’s like that saying, when it’s good it’s fun and when it’s not it’s funny. It’s pretty sweet to roll through the country with your best friends playing rock and roll music.
GoBe: That video for “Company” is pretty rudimentary. There are a lot of shots of the band playing alone to a horse in a field. How long did it take you to shoot that and what waterway are you splashing around in.
RYAN: We rolled into Toronto for the C.N.E. and our label was like, we’re going to get you to do a video for this song and we’re going to take you to a place called Knight’s Beach, which is just past Hamilton. So we went there, we didn’t really know what was happening at all. They said we’re just going to follow you guys around for 12 hours and you guys can do what you do and drink beer and we’re just going to film it like a day on the road. We just stumbled upon a barn with a horse and the guy was like, go ahead, shoot it, do what you want. We stumbled all over to places like the beach, just chilling. It was kind of just like a really off-the-cuff music video that turned out really well and we had a ton of fun doing it.
GoBe: I like it, a little old school. Who needs story boards and fancy scripting.
RYAN: Yea, who needs concrete rooms and lights. We just figured, let’s do something kind of exactly showing what we do on a day to day basis on the road.
GoBe: You’ve toured with Sheepdogs and Dallas Smith which seem like a natural fit. You’re opening now for The Tea Party, a band with a real loyal contingent of hardcore fans who will be wanting to hear classics like “The River.” It’s not necessarily the kind of four-part harmonies that your band delivers. How do you approach the show to appeal to these hardcore Tea Party fans.
RYAN: We’re actually pretty lucky, because the hardcore Tea Party fans are exactly that, hardcore. And they’ve very very diverse in their musical tastes. They really love music, the type of fans who find a band and then follow them for 20 years. It’s not a young crowd, it’s an older crowd that in the last few nights we’ve played with them have really appreciated our style of music. A lot of people who listen to The Tea Party will listen to bands like Black Crowes or Rolling Stones, so there is a translation there, not exactly in the style of music but in the interest of the fans. It’s obviously a different style than what we do, so I think they appreciate it.
GoBe: Are you all full time musicians now and committed to this project.
RYAN: At this point it’s still an entry level phase, trying to figure out how to pay all the bills completely. When it comes down to it, we’re told we’re being booked for a two-month tour, so you drop everything and do it, whether than means quitting your jobs, taking a leave of absence and just packing up. We’re all in mentally at this point. We’ve come this far, we’ve got this opportunity so we have to dive in.
GoBe: Absolutely. That’s how success is built in the music industry. For your band with this EP, a lot of it was recorded live off the floor again at Coalition. Why take that approach. Was that just to capture the kind of purity and authenticity of sound you all like?
RYAN: Really what it was, we’ve done recordings before, at Sun Studio and out in Vancouver. We just felt that the one thing that lacked was when comparing the recordings and our performance at a live show. We’ve always been more of an energetic band on stage than how the recordings have transpired. We started thinking, let’s try and keep that energy by all being in a room at the same time and all recording our parts live off the floor and see what happens. It’s where we want to go with recordings in the future now. In fact, we just spent two more days back at Coalition recording two new songs doing the exact same thing, standing in that chapel there, all five of us just staring each other kind of rocking out and letting the tape roll.
GoBe: So what are you enjoying on the road as part of your adventure.
RYAN: So far it’s been scenery, because we’ve never played east of Ottawa. So since we left Kingston we’ve just been keeping an eye on things, because it’s not often a band of our size gets to go all the way out to the east coast like this. We’re just excited to be in an new place and playing to new people. Also playing legitimate large sized venues with decent backstage areas and decent load ins. It’s kind of been surreal.
GoBe: It’s nice to get a little taste of luxury on the road isn’t it.
RYAN: Yes, personally makes me want to work harder to get there, to be the one selling tickets and not just helping.
GoBe: For you, what would be the best end result to achieve by the end of the tour and looking to the future. You’re experiencing now some of the highs and lows of the infancy of being a band. What’s the measure of success.
RYAN: The measure of success I guess at one point initially would be making it back alive. Secondly, just trying to connect with as many people as we can. We’ve been on tours where we’ve met people at a show, and then when we’re back six months later or so we see them again. That’s kind of the most important part in my mind, to get as many people coming out to see The Tea Party to then come out and see us, whether we’re playing some little club or wherever we are next time we’re here. That’s the goal, Realistically we can’t assume anything, that there’s big breaks left and right. It’s a one in a million chance that this works out. We’re just trying to enjoy it.