Kayla Howran
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Kayla Howran

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | INDIE

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | INDIE
Band Country Rock


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It’s been more than a year since long-running Queen West institution the Cameron House (408 Queen West) announced it was starting a record label. It’s finally becoming a reality on Friday (February 3, 9 pm), with the release of Kayla Howran’s debut LP, Pistol. I guess if you’ve been operating a bar for more than 30 years, you don’t feel the need to rush these things.

As Cameron House regulars might expect, Pistol is a twangy back-to-basics alt-country album, with contributions by many musicians who play at the venue. There are plenty of songs about whiskey, beer and heartbreak, recorded and arranged as if new country had never invaded the airwaves. - NOW Magazine

With three decades and a new record label to its name, the historic Cameron House prepares to throw a massive bash.


Photo by kcnickerson, from the Torontoist Flickr pool.
Remember when there was talk about the Cameron House going up for sale in late 2009? Well, don’t. The historic Queen West institution, which helped to launch the careers of such now-storied acts as Blue Rodeo and Ron Sexsmith, is on the cusp of its 30th birthday, an occasion that will see the bar reunited with artists from its past and present.

“The actual official birthday is the 15th, which is the Saturday, but we’re kind of doing the whole week,” says new manager Cosmo Ferraro, whose uncle, Paul Sanella, has been one of the establishment’s co-owners since its 1981 inception. Ferraro then proceeds to list off the week’s formidable roster, which will include members of the Sadies, Big Sugar, Run with the Kittens, the Fedora Upside Down collective, and actor/poet Gordon Pinsent, as well as some very special “surprise” guests. The performances are scheduled to start on October 10th.

Since its sell-off scare, the bar has been a busy place. After Ferraro took over management, he and his high-school friend Mike McKeown set off to further the Cameron House’s legacy of fostering new and homegrown musical talent with a leap of faith, launching the Cameron House Records label this January. So far there are three artists tied to the label (including Devin Cuddy, son of Jim), all working on their first albums. “They’re all very fresh,” says McKeown. “But so are we, so it’s a good partnership. We work together to benefit the both of us, I guess. They’re all great musicians and they all deserve to have some help.”

Ferraro and McKeown haven’t run record labels before, but they both have business degrees and Ferraro plays in a band with his brothers. Additionally, as McKeown points out, with 15 to 20 bands playing the space on any given week, “We get to see a shitload of music, and we get to see who we really like and who we think has a lot of potential. And that being said, there’s a lot of [artists] that have come through here and done residencies here before moving onto bigger and better things.” Justin Rutledge and Royal Wood are two of the acts who have recently risen to prominence following Cameron House residencies, but over the years there have been dozens more.

The bar’s 30th birthday events will be a celebration of that musical history. “It’s a huge favour,” says McKeown of the number of high-profile musicians who have signed on to perform. “Some of these guys play all the time for tons of money, but here they are playing for us for basically nothing. I think that says something, that they’re willing to do us a favour.”

Ferraro agrees. “We think they’re doing us a huge favour, and I think they’re also appreciative that we’re asking them to come back and play. It’s a nice relationship.”

“It’s exciting,” says McKeown. “And this is just the beginning.” - The Torontoist

Venerable Queen West venue The Cameron House is using the occasion of its 30th-anniversary to launch a new record label showcasing the next generation of Toronto roots music, including Jim Cuddy's kid Devin.
With monitors mounted on elaborately painted ceilings, the Cameron House looks like a hybrid of a club and an art gallery. A giant cowboy hat, covered in what could either be shag carpet or beige-coloured mould, sits jauntily atop the front entrance. The bar is nestled in an ivy-covered domed alcove, as if it sprouted out of the corner naturally. One painting behind the bar shows a grinning woman riding a horse, her long hair swept up in the wind. Below the painting there is a new addition to the décor: the same image has been silk-screened in white onto a black T-shirt along with the words “Cameron House Records.”
“The idea started as a long shot,” says Cosmo Ferraro, one half of the duo behind the new record label. Ferraro’s mother and uncle were two of the original founders of the Cameron House, which opened 30 years ago this Saturday. When the bar’s long-time manager decided to retire in May 2010, Ferraro, who had just graduated from the University of Guelph with a degree in business, stepped up. He enlisted his high-school buddy, Mike McKeown (who had a business degree of his own), to help out. After running the bar together for six months, they decided to take it one step further and start a label out of the renowned Queen West venue.
Running a label isn’t exactly the same as running a venue; as McKeown puts it, “Instead of sitting on the patio playing cards and drinking sangria, we’re in an office, working.” After launching the label in January of this year, Ferraro and McKeown are using the occasion of the venue’s 30th anniversary to announce their initial roster of artists: Peterborough swamp-rockers Tarantuela, country singer Kayla Howran and pianist Devin Cuddy. “We’re lucky with these three, because they’re all fresh,” McKeown says. “They don’t have managers, none of them even have a record.” Howran and Tarantuela will be the label’s first two releases—both albums are currently being mixed and mastered, and will be put out next year.
McKeown and Ferraro found an ally in Cuddy, an old friend who they insist “would never tell you about his dad,” Blue Rodeo rocker Jim Cuddy. “When we first started the label, he was one of the first people we talked to,” McKeown explains. “We asked him if he wanted to come help us out, work with us, be a part of this. He didn’t have a record and he wasn’t playing many gigs on his own. So he started playing here, and he’s great, so we thought, let’s just get him on the label as an artist instead of working for us.”

The addition of Cuddy cements this group of artists as the next generation of the Cameron House, led by McKeown and Ferraro, who work out of an office above the bar that was once Ferraro’s bedroom. (He’s since been relegated to a roomy closet.) They enlisted Andrew Shay Hahn, a Cameron House regular, to re-interpret a painting they found and put the image—of the woman riding a horse—on t-shirts. When it came time to pick a logo for the label, they chose a graphic of a tiny ant holding up a giant record, an allusion to the oversized ant sculptures crawling the ceilings of the Cameron. “The ant is the little guy, strong—he can always carry more,” Ferraro interprets. “Yeah,” McKeown adds, “we’re the little guys trying to hold up the record industry.”
The Cameron House’s 30th-anniversary celebrations continue every night this week until Oct. 16; consult the Cameron House website for event listings. 408 Queen St. W. Doors open at 4 p.m. daily. - The Grid TO

Turning 30 is kind of a big deal. I did it last year, and this year it’s the Cameron House’s turn. A venue whose literal foundation is a metaphorical one for the Toronto indie music scene is celebrating a very big birthday, and they’re celebrating in a very big way. It’s a weeklong event, from Monday October 11th until the following Monday, the 17th, with the dirty thirty transpiring on Saturday, Oct 15th.

Old friends, new friends and many many surprises are in store. Cosmo Ferraro, bar manager and son of Anne Marie Ferraro, owner and founder of the Cameron, and Mike McKeown, his long-time friend and business partner, sat down with me to talk about the bar, its history and the anniversary that is sure to be a party to remember.

Nadia E: How did you guys get involved in the Cameron House?

Cosmo: My Mum and Uncle (Anne Marie and Paul Sanella) started it 30 years ago. There was a manager taking care of the bar for the past ten or fifteen years, and she decided to retire. The timing just kind of worked out where I took over the management of it. And Mike and I have been friends for a long time, since high school. When he found out I was taking it over he liked the idea and saw the potential here. He quit his job, and we took over in May of last year.

Mike: Yup, May 2010.

Cosmo: It was probably about six or seven months after running the bar that we got the idea for the record label and it’s been a bit of a slow process. Started as a really rough idea but the more we talked to people, and saw it was possible and there was a need for it, we could make something of it, so slowly but surely we got to the point we’re at now.

NE: How many artists do you have signed?

Mike: we started with 3. We don’t have any records yet. Two of them are in the process; they’re done in the studio, so we’re just waiting for final mixes and get mastering done, and get them produced.

NE: Have all the artists on the label played at the Cameron?

Cosmo: All of them play here.

NE: And who are they?

Mike: Tarantuela, Kayla Howran, who plays here every Friday night, and the third one is Devin Cuddy.

TLME: Jim Cuddy’s son?

Mike: Jim Cuddy’s son, yes. Those are the three and like I said they all don’t have an album to their name, we’ll be releasing all their first records. It’s a good fit because they’re all so fresh and they’re just starting out, and so are we at the label.

NE: Are you guys born and raised in Toronto?

Cosmo/Mike: Yup.

NE: The Cameron house is a Toronto live music institution. What do you think makes it so special? And as the new generation now running the Cameron, what direction do you want to take it in?

Cosmo: What makes it really unique is the aspect of the residency and how it takes a band that is just starting and doesn’t have a following yet, and let them play week after week for a long time until they get a bit of a buzz going. It’s where a lot of bands have made a name of themselves to the point where they were too big to play here. There’s a lot of good Toronto venues where famous people have played but this is a unique spot where it’s fostered [bands] and built them, given them a chance to play in front of an audience.

NE: Who would you say are some of the artists that the Cameron House has given their start?

Mike: Blue Rodeo played here, way before they had a record label. Bare Naked Ladies, Molly Johnson. More recently Royal Wood and Justin Rutledge. Both have come out and said that their residency at the Cameron as the reason why they’ve found success, building up that audience and playing for other musicians. One of the things you asked was what direction we see [the Cameron] going in and why do we think it’s special. The idea is that we don’t want to change anything. What is special about it is the fact that it’s always been that place where you can go hear great music, no cover, you walk in, it’s very relaxed, and you’re playing for other musicians for the most part. It’s sort of a community for artists, and not just for music too, there’s theatre, and the art that’s on the walls. It’s for people who appreciate and respect good art and not the commercial shit that’s out there.

NE: Is that the direction you’re trying to take the label in as well, the growth and fostering of new artists?

Mike: It’s sort of like a home grown organic thing as opposed to shoving it down people’s throats. It’s the idea that these people should be heard because they’re so talented. And hopefully we can help them out with that. They will gain a bigger audience, but it’s not going to happen overnight. But if we can have some artists that we’re associated with, making really great music, people will start coming, going to the website, listening to them. That’s the idea, we can help them along. People need [more good music].

NE: Who are some of the most memorable artists that you’ve seen play at the Cameron? You can just

Cosmo: Doug Paisley, Jack Marx,

NE: It must be awesome to live here, and just wander downstairs to hear awesome music.

Mike: My room is right above the stage. There’s a hole in the floor, and I can hear the music coming through. It’s a small room so I can sit anywhere and hear it come through. Sometimes if I don’t want to go downstairs I just listen to the band from there. Sometimes if it’s really good I’m like “whoa, I gotta go down there and see this”.

NE: The outside of the bar stayed a blank white canvas for so long, Bob and I would wonder how, considering the location, it remained so untouched. Is that just part of the Cameron’s mystique, or did you guys just secretly paint it white every morning?

Cosmo: I’d like to think that people respect it, but I don’t know if that’s true or not.

Mike: We thought for sure someone would paint on it.

Cosmo: But it is a bar and there are people there until 3 or 4 of the morning and it’s right on Queen Street. Maybe people were too timid to do something out in the open.

Mike: Well generally the people that are doing graffiti are artists they probably respect the place as an art place, and they don’t see a need to do that. And they know art is going to go up there anyway.

Cosmo: Some people have joked that it seems like a set-up, that it’s just too perfect.

NE: So tell me about the anniversary week, what do you have planned?

Cosmo: it’s a weeklong party. There were so many artists that we wanted to have play and they were interested in playing. To make it one day was too much. So it’s spread out over the whole week, Monday to Monday. A lot of the great artists that have played and moved on are coming back, and a lot of the current people, the ones that we’re starting our record label with and that play weekly residencies, they’re all going to be a part of it. There are a lot of big names, some of which we’re not allowed to mention. Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor and Travis Good (The Sadies), Runs with Kittens, who had a long residency here, and many more.

NE: What does it feel like to have that kind of support, with you guys starting out, and getting support from the pillars of this institution?

Mike: It’s humbling I guess. They’re doing us a huge favour.

Cosmo: I’m really grateful for how many people said yes. We sent out these invitations to everyone thinking “hey maybe one of these people would say yes, wouldn’t it be great?” And almost all of them did. That was really flattering. And in thanking the people, they were thankful to be asked. It’s a great relationship between the venue and the artist.

Mike: I’m sure the people aren’t necessarily doing it for us, but for the people they associate the Cameron with when they were here, [Cosmo’s] mom and his uncle. They’re a big part of it, and the way they treated the artists. It’s not so much for us as it is for the Cameron.

NE: Who are you most excited to see?

Mike: I like everyone [laughs]

Cosmo: Devin Cuddy, who’s on our label, doesn’t usually play with a full band, he plays solo piano. He has a really great band to play with, and I’ve never seen them.

Mike: And Tarantuela as well, they’ll be playing to packed house on that Saturday night.

Cosmo: They’re from Peterborough and don’t have the biggest draw up here. And they’re a rock and roll band, they really get into it, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

NE: Cosmo, what was it like growing up here?

Cosmo: I spent a lot of time here as a kid. It was fun at times but also I remember, you could still smoke in the bars then, and my clothes would always smell. There was a period there where I didn’t really like being around here, but I came around, started liking the bands again. When I was really little my mom would have me in a car seat on the bar. Everyone always played with me. My mom came back to work Saturday afternoons, some of the old friends still come around, and she likes it.

NE: would you ever change the look of the bar at all, the ceiling and the art on the walls?

Cosmo: Well the ceilings were put in for the Cameron house. The idea to put art on the wall, it’s everywhere now, but it was a very original idea here. My uncle hated beer advertisements, companies would want to come in and put up their neon signs. And even pint glasses [with logos], we don’t have any. So we had to fill the walls somehow. That was the idea, to have different artists every month [put their work on the walls].

Mike: There’s no real change planned. We like the living room vibe.

NE: It’s a great relaxed vibe, you can come in and hangout and make new friends. It attracts a good crowd.

Mike: That’s the thing, even with us, you go downstairs and there are four or five friends there at any given time. That’s kinda nice.

NE: Anything else you want to mention?

Mike: Come out this week, come and have a beer!

Cosmo: Not just this week, but all the time. Come have a beer and enjoy the bands.

And there you have it, personal invitations from the managers themselves. So come swing by the Cameron, grab a pint and sit a spell. Not only will you be helping to celebrate the anniversary of a cornerstone of Toronto Music history, but you might run into me or another DBAWISer while you’re at it. Don’t be shy, say hello, but most of all, sit back, relax and enjoy the wonderment that is the Cameron House.

We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted:dbawis@rogers.com Please use it to ask questions, tell us what you’d like to read about, links you’d like to share, and let us hear what you have to say.

Nadia Elkharadly is a Toronto based writer with a serious addiction to music. Corporate drone by day, renegade rocker by night, writing is her creative outlet. Nadia writes for the Examiner (.com) on live music in Toronto and Indie Music in Canada. She has never been in a band but plays an awesome air guitar and also the tambourine. Check in every Tuesday for musings about music, love, life and whatever else that comes to mind. - Bob Segarini: DON'T BELIEVE A WORD I SAY BLOG


PISTOL (February 2012, Cameron House Records)



"Kayla Howran sings country music, not by virtue of a Wrangler shirt, but a childhood in Peterborough spent fishing and wrestling dogs. Her song writing is equal parts original and idiomatic, a fresh but faithful interpretation of the genre and proof that classic country doesn’t have to be old, but it does have to be timeless."

"Kayla Howran is a one woman opry" - Corin Raymond

"As Cameron House regulars might expect, Pistol is a twangy back-to-basics alt-country album, with contributions by many musicians who play at the venue. There are plenty of songs about whiskey, beer and heartbreak, recorded and arranged as if new country had never invaded the airwaves."
- NOW magazine

Firing a pistol is one of those things that might seem simple, but comes with a host of complex emotions. Its equal parts energy, skill, and responsibility, all culminating in a whirlwind of catharsis. All of these important elements come together like whiskey and water in a perfect union to comprise Kayla Howran’s debut album “PISTOL” released in early February. This was not only her debut release but also the debut release of Cameron House Records’ first full length album. Kayla will be playing shows in and around Toronto and Southern Ontario before she hits the road and heads West on tour in late March.

The rock solid sound of Kayla’s Fellas is forged not only out of whiskey and heartache, but a strong musical pedigree that includes the guidance of Toronto music staple David Baxter, who produced, engineered, and played lead guitar on “PISTOL.” Baxter has shared the stage with a number of artists including David Wilcox, Justin Rutledge, and Lori Yates. He has produced the likes of Justin Rutledge, Treasa Levasseur, Catherine MacLellan, Jadea Kelly, Jack Marks, Lynne Hanson, Lori Yates, Corin Raymond, Daniel Sky, and Bob Snider. Other notables featured on the album include: Burke Carroll: pedal steel (The Brothers Cosmoline, Justin Rutledge), Devin Cuddy: piano, Arif Mirabdolbaghi: bass (Protest the Hero), Pat Phillips: drums (Dustin Bentall, Twilight Hotel, The Swifty's), Sara Fitzpatrick: fiddle (Delhi to Dublin), Jamie Oliver: vocals (Big Tobacco and the Pickers), and Jadea Kelly: vocals.

With a country sensibility that harkens back to the wonderfully idealized days of outlaw country sweethearts such as Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, and Tammy Wynette, Kayla’s Honky Tonk country sound can sonically transport even the most discerning listener to a seedy Texan Honky Tonk.

After moving to Toronto, Kayla found a foothold in the country and rockabilly roots of the Queen Street music scene. She and her band, The Fellas, began playing at The Cameron House in September 2010, and quickly established one of the hottest weekly residences on Queen Street. Every Friday night Kayla’s powerful vocals fill the bar as she and The Fellas spur on a dance floor full of patrons with bourbon-soaked two-steps, meandering tales of love lost, and everything in between.

Kayla has a rare ability to lean on her influences without imitating them, which lends a genuine quality to her music that is often absent from many of her country contemporaries.

She sings with the conviction of someone who has lived every bit of joy, agony, and heartbreak contained within her songs. However, it is Kayla’s voice that truly sets her apart. Powerful enough to rise above the din of a packed hall, yet with a softness that evokes the tender emotions of transfixed onlookers, Kayla controls the mood of the room with the skill of a baton-wielding maestro.** Records are available for purchase at The Cameron House, through the on-line store, and itunes **

bookings: mike.mckeown@cameronhouserecords.com

press: mike.formusa@cameronhouserecords.com