Kazoo! Fest—a celebratory showcase of Canadian talent. It boasts unfailingly brilliant artists from all over, including those right here in our own backyard. There are as many styles as there are musicians, ranging from tenderfoot and promising Alanna Gurr to seasoned Canadian staple Bry Webb. But the one thing they have in common? Their true grit Canadian-ness. This is a theme that Edmonton-born singer-songwriter Eamon McGrath explores in his latest record, Young Canadians.
McGrath is no stranger to the Canadian music scene; he dove head first into playing in punk bands in his early teens. Now at the age of 23 he is on the crest of a wave with the release of over a couple dozen records along with several Canadian and European tours under his belt. He’s one of those few artists whose sound cannot be pigeonholed. His sultry, raspy voice leads us from folksier, poetic odes to tunes that hold a more hardened, raw punk vibe.
This scattergun approach also comes through in the way he makes his music. With this latest record, McGrath attempts to liberate himself from the more focused artistic process that went into Peace Maker to concentrate on a more in-the-moment documentation of a particular feeling in time. “Thirteen Songs (of Whiskey and Light) was a cross section of years worth of music. It’s a scattered, schizophrenic record, whereas Peace Maker was supposed to be focused—one sound, one feeling. Young Canadians was an attempt to return to that kind of schizophrenic element; a more diverse and eclectic sound that incorporates more themes all at once.”
And he delivers. McGrath does a stellar job at paralleling the cohesion of a record despite its array of varying sounds with the unity of Canada despite its geographic barriers. Young Canadians acts as a gritty philosophical exploration of what it means to be a part of this country and what role music plays in building our national identity.
What led McGrath to delve into the depths of Canadiana? Touring. In taking to the open road, marvelling in the vast openness of Canada’s terrain, one can’t help but be reminded of our unity amongst the diversity of geography. “We have moments in time that define our past and will continue to define our future. These points in time have managed to bring people from as far away as Vancouver or St. John’s close together. That doesn’t happen in Europe or somewhere where you have an entire country in one time zone. We are the only country that seems to transcends distance, and I think that’s kind of a unique thing.”
This consciousness is what brought McGrath to put pen to paper, fingers to strings, harmonica to mouth, and really dig into concepts of national identity. “Being on the road writing a lot makes you reflect on what it is that makes you Canadian. So I decided to make a record that makes an exploration of Canadian identity and what that meant to me as a young person discovering the country for what continues to be the first time.”
He also uses this record as a sort of call-to-arms for younger Canadian musicians, or those who find themselves in their artistic adolescence, to start their own band and take to touring. “That’s what comes to document us. I have the art that documented the time of my upbringing, and hopefully I’ll document someone else’s, and they’ll have the responsibility as an artist to provide the soundtrack for some other punk kid growing up somewhere.” Just as the Constantines and SNFU served as quintessential artists to his musical upbringing, McGrath hopes to foster an element of Canadian artistry in his successors that reaches to and unites our three coasts.
As for the future of Eamon McGrath, he’s ever-so-fittingly flying by the seat of his pants, taking to the open road before even thinking about releasing his next record. His current western Canada tour in support of the release of Young Canadians is scheduled to finish in Sault St. Marie on May 10, after which he hopes to head east toward Halifax for the first time. His brief stop at Guelph’s Van Gogh’s Ear for a show co-presented by Kazoo! and Fortnight Music this past Saturday was met with the enthusiasm and energetic bad-assery that only Canadian punk can bring. Be sure to keep a look out for this guy; he’s definitely got the potential to be one of our next great Canadian staples.