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Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Band Country Americana


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"FIFTYMEN on Bandwidth"

"Ottawa's Fiftymen could be next to rise to the top of the haystack of North America's country bands...if only they weren't so darn modest about being awesome..." Amanda Putz, CBC's BANDWIDTH, November 5th, 2005

Full interview at - CBC RADIO - Amanda Putz

"Y101 FM review"

"In listening to the entire project [Balances + Sums], I thought lyrically it was insightful and poignant. Which is why I found it so appealing. The retro feel with a contemporary lyrical content is catchy. I've added For The Sake Of My Pride to our rotation." - Joel Lamoureux, Music Director for Y101 FM, October 27, 2005 - Joel Lamoureux

""Fiftymen rock the country""

"Fiftymen rock the country" - Peter Simpson, The Ottawa Citizen, CD Review, October 22, 2005

Full Review at - Ottawa Citizen

"It's slow and steady for Fiftymen"

It's slow and steady for Fiftymen
New release took its time, but the wait was worth it

Lynn Saxberg

Friday, October 14, 2005

You can't rush Jeff Hardill. In that calm, unhurried way of his, the singer is trying to explain why it took so long to make the second Fiftymen disc.

It's been three years and three months, to be exact, since After Darkfall made the country-rockers into Ottawa's most beloved band. Over a plate of quesadillas and a lot of black coffee at the Manx Pub, Hardill chooses his words with care.

"Apparently there was a sign on Frank Zappa's studios, and it was a triangle: 'fast, cheap and good.' You could pick two. If you want fast and good, it's not going to be cheap," he says thoughtfully. "It hit home. We took the time and got a few deals."

The obvious conclusion is that Sums + Balances must be good.

Wait a second: Hardill isn't the type of guy to blow his own horn, even if it's on behalf of the band, so he says he's too close to judge the overall quality.

But it's pretty darn terrific. The songs are dark but hopeful (highlights include Twenty-Two Minutes, For the Sake of My Pride, Shine a Light and Try to Hide), the playing is tight (plenty of fiddle and banjo make it a little more country than rock this time) and the production pulls it all together (take a bow, Dave Draves).

"We took our time on purpose," Hardill says. "We wanted to make sure the songs were all they could be when we headed into the studio and we took our time to polish things and arrange them and made sure they were well-rehearsed so we didn't waste any time."

It was recorded in short stints at Draves' Little Bullhorn studios, the time booked as the band members, who all have day jobs, got the money together to pay for it. These are not 20-year-olds dreaming of a fast track rock stardom. Hardill, for example, is 39, married and works as a bartender at the Manx.

Plus, he says, "it turns out we're not that prolific of a bunch of songwriters."

Another complication was that Hardill was going through an emotionally trying time.

The disc is dedicated to his father, Gary Hardill, who died this year.

"When my dad was in the hospital, I never thought to myself, 'I'm going to sit down and write a song about how I'm feeling,'" Hardill says. "But obviously, it was consuming a lot of my thoughts. I was thinking a lot about mortality."

Coincidentally, some of the lyrics written by bandmates Jake Bryce and Todd Gibson also deal with death.

"There was no band meeting where we said, 'Let's write an album about mortality,' but there is a thread through a lot of the songs," Hardill says.

Over the years, the band has evolved into one of Ottawa's most popular acts. At any show, you'll see blue-collar types rubbing shoulders with middle-class suburbanites and club-going hipsters. Anyone with a soft spot for hurtin' tunes and hardcore barnburners is a fiercely devoted fan.

Their success across the region still comes as a surprise to the band members. The deep-voiced Hardill wasn't even a singer when guitarist Mark Michaud decided they should play country tunes together.

"I was a lifelong fan of music, but it never even occurred to me that I could take part," Hardill says. "Mark's confidence in me was based on singing along with the stereo. Until we had our first actual rehearsal, I wasn't sure I could even really do it."

The band saw things get a little more serious about a year ago when banjo/fiddle player Keith Snyder joined. The former member of Black Donnellys had played on the first record as a guest musician, then began showing up to gigs and rehearsals.

"He makes the rest of us look like amateurs, he's that good," Hardill says.

There are signs that Fiftymen could expand beyond their Ottawa roots. An Italian writer reviewed After Darkfall on a website aimed at fans of artists such as Steve Earle and Neil Young. A tour of Western Canada kicks off next week, and the band is working on landing national and U.S. distribution for the new disc.

For Hardill, who grew up in Peterborough and has lived in Montreal, Vancouver and Hamilton, the Ottawa area has become home. He and his wife live in Wakefield.

"What I remember when I first came here, liking about it, was the whole attitude people have about Ottawa being a government town, and very staid and conservative," he says. "I immediately found the underground, that there was this community of like-minded people that had nothing to do with that great flannel image. I liked that it was a secret.

"After spending more than 10 years here, it does feel like home. You develop relationships, like, I know where to go to get the shoelaces I like. I never found them in Vancouver."

Fiftymen play Barrymore's tonight with Camp Radio. Tickets & times, 233-0307.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2005
- Lynn Saxberg, The Ottawa Citizen

"A new dawn for country"

A new dawn for country
Steve Baylin

Three years since Darkfall, Fiftymen give the finger to mortality

In the faint light, a small black-and-white image in the corner of the room seems to leap off the wall: scrunched eyes, fearsome frown, middle finger thrust skyward with conviction, a 'fuck you' of all-out frustration, rage and rebellion. Jeff 'J. J.' Hardill, lead vocalist for Capital City's own best hardcore country saviours, Fiftymen, grabs a seat, takes a quick pull on his beer and calmly speaks up.

"Yes, bitterness," he says with a laugh, taking a moment to reflect upon the iconic vision of Johnny Cash sticking it to the man. "With a healthy soupcon of resignation. I've certainly felt my share of that."

The soft-spoken Hardill, not given to Cash-style displays of hostility, appears to be anything but bitter these days, and with good reason: Hockey's back (announcers yammer away on a nearby TV); Fiftymen's sophomore effort Balances and Sums is finally finished; and a three-week western tour beckons (alongside The High Dials, The Sadies and Jon Spencer's Heavy Trash), to be followed by a jaunt back east and throughout southern Ontario.

Still, one had to wonder about frustration in the ranks. It's been well over three years since Fiftymen-Hardill, Mark Michaud (guitar), Todd Gibbon (guitar), Jake Bryce (drums), Keith Snider (banjo/fiddle) and Michael Houston Hanlon (bass)-unleashed a dusty debut, the full-blooded After Darkfall, a period marked by highs (jam-packed headline shows), lows (a handful of near misses jockeying for label support), and everything in between. Hardill insists the band never wavered.

"We have so much fun doing this, and we haven't really pursued it as a business venture," he says, adding the band has plans to change all that, with a strong push behind this new record.

"So the few little ups and downs, the roller coaster of excitement when someone is interested and it just doesn't work out, didn't really weigh on everyone. It's not like Bruce Springsteen between Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. It's not like that for us."

So why the long wait? Multiple factors: minor scheduling issues (Bryce heading the Recoilers, Hanlon spending time with Werbo) and obvious financial considerations were involved. But in the end, Fiftymen-not "the most prolific writers in the world," admits Hardill-simply decided to take some sweet time, making sure "the songs were all we could make them.

"We wanted to concentrate on the arrangements and polish the material before we went into the studio," he explains, noting the songs were "deconstructed and put back together" rather than captured entirely live off the floor and left that way.

"Personally, that's something I'd like to see more of from bands, you know? Taking the time to actually have their shit together, and get it right."

The strategy paid off in the alternately sweet and savage twang of Balances and Sums, a full-blooded roots ride of heart churners ("Can't Walk Away"), lung-shredding gut burners ("Try To Hide"), hazy back porch shuffles ("New Mexico") and hurtin' tunes ("You Blame Me") that say plenty and feel even more.

Though many new traditionalists before them-everyone from Joe Pernice and Jay Farrar to Rhett Miller, Jeff Tweedy and Ryan Adams-felt compelled to dip their feet in pop after several roots-tinged releases, Fiftymen, according to Hardill, never "had that impulse to shed the country skin.

"We don't feel limited by the traditional form because we're not working within the definition of the form," he says, citing the influence of Snider, the band's newest member, for an even more dug-in rustic, sepia-toned sound the six-men have managed to fine-tune.

"But we don't sit down and talk about our direction. I just think that more thought has gone into the arrangements, and it's a little fuller than the verse-chorus-verse type tunes that were on the first record."

Featuring songwriting by nearly every member, the 12-track set recorded last January in Dave Drave's Little Bullhorn Studios marks a shift in perspective for the band. Where After Darkfall was consumed with fresh pain and circumstance, from one-upmanship with "that damn Jimmy Turner" to menacing murder ballads where a conflicted soul weighed "the subtleties of my sin," Balances and Sums deals more with consequence, wandering down "long desert highways," conscious of lost time and how much more remains.

In short, the new record comes across as Fiftymen's collective middle finger to mortality, a Cash-like kick at life's footlights, its cast of fed-up characters either stuck in purgatory or determined to make a move, no longer willing to "go through the motions.

"That seemed to be on everyone's mind, at least subconsciously," says Hardill, reflecting on the thread of impermanence that runs throughout the set. "I know for me personally, I had gone through a couple of experiences in that respect, and those were in the forefront of my mind. I always think of the great mortality record as Bone Machine by Tom Waits. Balances and Sums is a half way to that."

BARRYMORE'S - Steve Baylin, Ottawa XPress cover story

"The Sum of Real Anguish"

The Sum of Real Anguish

Jeff Hardill has spent the past few minutes matter-of-factly discussing all things Fiftymen -- from the local band's drunken origins some six years ago, through an imminent and long-overdue cross-country tour. His bandmates, meanwhile, have patiently waited for their frontman to join their rehearsal.

"There's one more thing we should discuss," Hardill quietly says in his natural Johnny Cash baritone, "and that's the mood of the album."

Those familiar with the band's 2002 debut CD, After Darkfall, do not need to be told that the mood of Balances + Sums is dark. We are again taken on a ride from town to town as our narrator lives outside the law and ultimately faces the hangman's noose.


But Hardill's fatalist sentiments are no longer borrowed from the country tradition; the pain is all too real.

"My dad was sick and dying while a lot of these songs were being written," Hardill explains. "I didn't consciously write about mortality, but I know a lot of that came out in the lyrics."

Hardill's father passed away shortly after the album's completion. And as Hardill discusses how he and his family are dealing with that and other recent losses, one can only offer the following words of comfort: "I know there will come a day/ When everything will be OK."

The words are from Not Tonight, one of several Balances + Sums tracks to deal with reluctantly moving on.

Asked whether such therapeutic exercises are difficult to sing, Hardill looks up briefly and mutters a simple, "Yep," adding that he is nonetheless proud to present material that "has real emotions."

Real may be the operative word to describe Balances + Sums. For as promising as After Darkfall was, the Fiftymen debut was essentially the work of a band of punk-rock exiles backing a first-time singer.

All the better for it, perhaps, but still something of a tentative introduction to the world of country music.

With Balances + Sums, Hardill, guitarists Mark Michaud and Todd Gibbon, bassist Michael Houston Hanlon, drummer Jacob Bryce and violinist/banjoist Keith Snider silence all who would dare to call the band pretenders, performing with such confidence that Gibbon playfully breaks into Ghost Riders in the Sky during one fiery solo and the band brings it home by gathering around one microphone to honky-tonk up Talkin' 'bout You, a song of Bryce's previously recorded by his other band, The Recoilers.


Combine that confidence with Hardill's very real emotions, and you have a solid best-of-2005 contender.

And, finally, a determination to let those outside the 613 in on Canada's best-kept secret. Following Friday's wingding at Barrymore's, our Fiftymen will boldly go west, taking their barroom brilliance all the way to Alberta and back for some eight shows in two weeks.

"We're essentially making cold-calls," Hardill says of booking the tour. Shuyler Jansen of Alberta-based soulmates Old Reliable has been a big help, he adds, but The Fiftymen have also encountered a pleasant surprise or two during their telemarketing campaign -- such as the response of a club owner in Sault Ste Marie, who sang the band's first-album favourite Whiskey & Lulu back to Hardill over the phone.

"I've been waiting three years to hear from you guys," a flattered Hardill reports him as having said.

He's not alone. We've all been waiting three years to hear more of The Fiftymen. But with Balances + Sums, a good thing has indeed come our way.

"There are fewer three-chord ditties," is how Hardill puts it. But if the band's songwriting has blossomed, The Fiftymen are also enjoying the benefits of having a band whose members are no longer dividing their time between a number of simultaneous gigs. "This," Hardill proudly asserts, "is everybody's only project now."

That has meant undertaking that first real tour, as well as writing and arranging songs with country-ringer Snider in mind. The former Black Donnelly was merely a guest on After Darkfall but, as Hardill explains, "started coming to more and more practices."

That includes the practice that is about to commence as Hardill stalls Michaud to offer observations on life and loss. Now, it's time to move on. As the haunting track that officially closes Balances + Sums states: The Train Ain't Gonna Wait.

And this train is bound for glory.

Scene setter

The Fiftymen with Camp Radio

Where: Barrymore's Music Hall, 323 Bank St.

When: Friday, 9 p.m., $10 adv. - Ottawa Sun, Allan Wigney

"FIFTYMEN review on PWI"

"The Fiftymen may call themselves an alt-country band, but I think the extra syllable does them some manner of disservice. Balances + Sums is a country record like they USED to make country records." - Keith Serry, Pregnant without Intercourse blog, October 11, 2005

Full article at: - Keith Serry, Pregnant without Intercourse blog

"The Ottawa Citizen EDITOR'S PICK"

"Are Fiftymen the best band in Ottawa? The answer depends on personal musical tastes, but a lot of people would give a resounding "yes." Those fans have been eagerly waiting for new music from Fiftymen, the alt-rockers who had an impressive debut three years ago with After Darkfall and have been teasing us with new songs in concerts around town ever since. Fiftymen fans can finally find out what the new disc is all about Friday, when the band holds a CD-release party at Barrymore's Music Hall." - Peter Simpson, The Ottawa Citizen, EDITOR'S PICK, October 8, 2005 - Peter Simpson

"Record Review"

“During our recent sojourn in Ontario we kept our ears to the ground in an effort to bring you quality music from other parts of Canada. The band we heard about everywhere we went... from musicians, fans and club owners, was The Fifty Men. Dutifully, we picked up this album, and man, were we impressed. If you like your Uncle Tupelo and/or Old Reliable, then this is something you want to add to your collection.”
- Red Cat Records, Vancouver - Red Cat Records

"Ottawa Bluesfest Review"

“How can this incredible band still be a local secret…?”
- Jon Bartlett, Exclaim - Exclaim magazine


Subtleties Of My Sin - 2000 (ep)
After Darkfall - 2002
Balances + Sums - 2005


Feeling a bit camera shy


Make no mistake: Fiftymen play straight up hardcore country through and through - a world of killing tunes and whiskey blues, trampled hearts and unsettled scores after darkfall. But, of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. Formed from the ashes of Crash 13 in the latter stages of 1999, Fiftymen - J.J. Hardill (vocals), Mark Michaud (guitar) Todd Gibbon (guitar) Jake Bryce (drums), Michael Houston Hanlan (bass) and Keith Snider (banjo, fiddle) - is clearly a band with dusty twang surging through its veins, but whose soul is consumed with the evil power of reckless rock and roll. Breakneck and brokenhearted, the sturdy five-piece churns out a hard luck parade of full blooded hurtin’ tunes that walk the line between jealousy, revenge, faith, guilt and redemption - Merle Haggard’s working man sweat rolling down Joe Strummers back. It’s a scorching sound that’s five feet high and rising-wiry and hungry, but plenty full and ready to fight. It’s two guitars, bass, drums, a voice and menacing Marshalls: pure, honest roots music steeped in traditional country and gut level punk. Scars, graveyards, sin, skeletons, vagabonds, women, wine and song: living large and marking time "on the shady side". Don’t turn your back on Fiftymen - not even for a second.