The Silver Hearts
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The Silver Hearts

Band Folk Jazz


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"Dear Stranger Story - Toronto"

Hearts 'n' soul
Silver Hearts boosted by Snakes' charmer
THE SILVER HEARTS featuring ANDRE ETHIER at the Mod Club (722 College), Friday (April 7). $13.50. 416-588-4663.
A strange thing happened while Peterborough brothel blues band the Silver Hearts and Andre Ethier of Deadly Snakes infamy were supposed to be rehearsing for a one-off show together: they wound up making an album.

The odd part isn't that the resulting disc, Dear Stranger (Banbury Park), sounds like a brilliant bizarro-world version of a Deadly Snakes album – substituting sousaphone, theremin, accordion and viola for the usual guitar blast – but that the entire recording was completed top-to-bottom in a matter of days. They managed this despite the fact that Ethier and the herky-jerky 12-strong ensemble had never even met before convening in the Victorian home of the Hearts' squeezebox-strapped singer, Kelly Pineault.

"Since we'd never played with Andre before," says Hearts drummer Paul Vernon, "we thought it would be a good idea to have a rehearsal – a novel concept, since the Silver Hearts never rehearse.

"We didn't go into it with a list of songs already planned. Actually, we didn't even know which members would show up, since, well, let's just say we'd been on an extended hiatus.

"Eventually, we met up on the front porch of Kelly's house, looked at each other and said, 'All right, who's got a song?' Our manager, James Greenspan, drove up with some recording equipment. It was like, 'This tune is in A and it goes like this, like that and then ends like this. '"

"That's how it went for three straight days and nights. By the end of it, we had 26 or 28 songs done – complete – which is just crazy. It's amazing how quickly Andre fit right in with what we were doing. Everything just locked."

Vernon isn't alone in his amazement at how fast the songs came together during the weekend session. Ethier, too, seems at a loss to explain how everything fell into place so effortlessly with a group of musicians he'd never traded licks with before.

The creativity was contagious. Ethier wound up composing a song for Dear Stranger and co-wrote two others. That wasn't the initial idea. Originally, they were going to learn his tunes and he was going to learn theirs. That changed once they got into it.

"Someone would say, 'I think I've got an idea for a new one,'" explains Ethier, "so I just went with it. They'd show the other members the changes in about five minutes, dictate the lyrics to me, and then I'd go into another room and sing the words I'd just written out while they played through the song. We'd record it live just like that and then move on to the next one. It was a very unusual way of working, but it was fun.

"The Silver Hearts are a rare bunch – a group of amazingly talented musicians who really care about the craft of songwriting. They all live together in this tight little community in Peterborough where they can record together at a member's home and then walk across the street to a bar. They really are like a family – somewhat dysfunctional at times but definitely a family."

When Vernon alluded to the Silver Hearts' "extended hiatus" prior to the sessions with Ethier, in truth, the group had broken up, and there were serious doubts that they'd ever reunite. Evidently, the collaboration with Ethier was just what the Silver Hearts needed to get back on track.

"When I arrived," recalls Ethier, "there seemed to be some animosity between certain members, but they were able to put their differences aside and get on with it. The tension in the air just added to the excitement of the recordings. I'm not entirely sure, but I think the album's final song, The Last Days Of Chez Nous, is about the tenuous status of the band. Much like families, bands are hard to break up for good. There's always something that pulls you back together."

"This band has been breaking up regularly since it began," chuckles Vernon. "It's like any group involving a number of creative people with strong personalities, especially if there are 12 of them. It's difficult to get everyone on the same page, but we keep coming back. It's not because of the financial success, the critical acclaim or all the records we've sold in the past. It's the music that always brings me back."

- Now Magazine - Toronto

"Dear Stranger Story - Ottawa"

Heartburn and whisky blind
Chris Whibbs

Silver Hearts: Big Band

The Silver Hearts welcome dear stranger Andre Ethier into their massive fold

After finding their roots through weekly gigs at Peterborough's Montreal House, The Silver Hearts are now expanding not only their area of influence but also their ranks.
While their first intention was to rehearse an upcoming show with The Deadly Snakes' Andre Ethier, something else happened when the entire band decided to record an entire album, Dear Stranger. Patrick Walsh, vocalist and harmonica player for the Hearts, explains the process:

"When I describe this record to a friend, I say it was like an accident; we planned to do a show with Ethier, like a Bob Dylan and The Band sort of thing, but we had this recording gear there and about 20 musicians who had a wealth of songs, so it just happened."

Not only that, it happened in just three days. Walsh notes, "Dear Stranger was a fast-paced recording, so much done in such a little time. I would be at Kelly's [Pineault, accordionist and vocalist] house for 14 to 15 hours a day, and I sat for most of it, hanging out with friends and family on the porch, while others were recording their parts or developing new arrangements. It was almost like a community event."

Ethier is a formidable songwriter unto himself, but this didn't faze the Hearts. "From what I know of Andre's stuff, our two styles are different yet they compliment each other. It's almost like we came from the same place, sprouted off in different directions, and met up again. We all felt that this was a very magical mix. We all have the same ideal of what genuine

roots music is along with punk and garage rock."

Although they have a massive membership the band always seem happy to welcome new people like Ethier to the fold. Thus, how do I become a Silver Heart? Walsh lays the rules out.

"It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude. From my experience, we've always had a core membership. The core of the band has been there for the beginning. You just have to show up and play. We've had at least 21 members since we started five years ago. We consider Andre a Silver Heart too. There's no telling where we'll go or who will be in the band next."

So there's no hope? "We've had offers for bagpipe players, but we feel that all our bases have been covered."

- Ottawa Express

"Dear Stranger CD Review"


Dear Stranger

The Silver Hearts and Andre Ethier

Banbury Park


They meant to rehearse for a one-off gig, but instead taproom troubadour Andre Ethier and the Peterborough roots orchestra the Silver Hearts hunkered down till a new album was born. It's earthy, rough, tumble, and perhaps still in the making, but the result wins the Honest Music blue ribbon for boozy laments and shambling rockers.

On The Last Real Poet, in a swerving voice, singer-guitarist Ethier looks for a rhyme for hallelujah. Suggestion: we hardly knew ya -- Dear Stranger, you're welcome any time. --

- The Globe and Mail (National Canada)

"Hearts of Darkness"

Somewhere northeast of Toronto, a wee jaunt up Highway 115, lies the oft-overlooked city of Peterborough. Quaint as it may seem at first, a look beneath the floorboards reveals a peculiar mix of leftist ideals, hot-blooded Protestantism and weathered, working-class booze halls. Seemingly from the beginning of time, Peterborough has also boasted more musicians per square centimetre than any other place in Canada.

Thus, it's no shock that Peterborough is home to a band as unfeasibly large and steeped in tradition as The Silver Hearts. Their latest disc -- the Bob Lanois-produced Our Precious City -- features a convincing set of original gospel rags, ghost-town themes and whiskey-soaked cabaret (plus a spooky take on Kurt Weill's "O Heavenly Salvation") that speaks from far beyond these players' years. But while countless gigs and tours have created a semi-solid lineup that ranges from nine to 12, the men and women who croon (or play keys, strings, brass and Theremin) in the band still grapple with the realities of their vocation. And like Jack Nicholson's chilling, 1920s-era photo in The Shining's finale, The Silver Hearts are a time-crossed enigma that they themselves can't explain.

"We're definitely 'Peterborough' -- which is to say something and still remain very vague," says sousaphone/ viola player Brian Sanderson. "Peterborough has a fascinating musical scene, which in spite of itself, can't seem to die. There's always a gritty edge, no matter what genre you're trying to play. And our regular Wednesday gig at the Montreal House is our lifeblood. It's one of the oldest taverns in town; when we started playing there it only had a men's washroom. That gig is very humbling and defining."

The frequenting of such locales might explain The Silver Hearts' rumoured penchant for scotch. But what led so many young musicians to a form that pre-dates their grandparents? As Sanderson explains, some things in life will never change.

"Our connection to turn-of-the-century folk-blues is far more sociological than musical," he says. "We relate to the sense of depravity and poverty. Things like Blind Blake and King Oliver -- the lyrics were so bleak, because life was bleak. It's hard to keep a job and do 150 gigs a year. There's anarchy in this band, it's just not an obvious, turn-your-amps-to-12 thing."

Peterborough's vibrant theatre scene clearly bolsters the Hearts' cabaret leanings. As for the band's authenticity -- is it due to musical method acting or some type of paranormal possession? Sanderson hints at the former.

"At one time we had five playwrights in this band." he says. "Only two of us had never acted onstage. We've all played so many bit parts in a small town that people get to know you as the character. The only way you undo that character is to come up with a new one. So some gigs we'll say to [guitarist] Wyatt Burton, 'Who are you tonight?' He'll say, 'Tonight, I'm feeling a little Red Squirrel.' We all have multiple personalities."

But as with any large band, the question of egos and economics always arises. How do The Silver Hearts manage to tour Canada without multiple, intra-band murders occurring?

"None of the characters we adopt is very sophisticated," Sanderson says. "So there's no faux-arrogance. And music is the great harmonizer -- you can't play music and not be close.

"But," he chuckles, "people ask, 'How do you keep going when you divide things 12 ways?' Well, it doesn't work -- it's stupid and dysfunctional. And having that be the answer -- rather than making up some bullshit -- is enough to keep it going."
- Eye Magazine - Toronto

"Our Precious City Review NNNN"

Seeing Peterborough roots orchestra the Silver Hearts live is exhilarating by virtue of the sheer spectacle of the band – 10 -plus musicians in snappy black suits busting out tunes with sweaty, infectious energy. Our Precious City, the Hearts' second disc, sucks you in with the same haphazard charm. Recorded with a homespun vibe on an analog Neve Board, the album spans styles ranging from wheezing klezmatic swing to bluegrassy ballads to cabaret jazz (Kurt Weill's creepy O Heavenly Salvation, one of two covers, is a remarkably good centrepiece). While some of the vocals aren't quite up to the calibre of the Silver Hearts' musicianship, it's a testament to their strength as a band that they squeeze a staggering 17 short 'n' sweet songs into 45 minutes without a single throwaway track in the mix. The Silver Hearts tear up the Silver Dollar as part of the Downtown Jazz Fest Friday (June 25).

- Now Magazine - Toronto

"True Love Waits"

Sometimes you have to own up to your influences and celebrate them to the max. In the case of the brothel-blues orchestra known as The Silver Hearts, taking a stab at Tom Waits was just irresistible. Thus, the ensemble's dozen-or-so musicians (along with friends such as Al Tuck and The Deadly Snakes' Andre Ethier) recently got it together and performed several epic renditions of Waits' Rain Dogs in its entirety. The resulting live disc, The Silver Hearts Play Rain Dogs (out later this month on Banbury Park Records), is a convincing interpretation of the 1985 classic, delivered in a style that reflects the Hearts' theatrical origins.

"We thought it'd be great just to learn those songs and have them in our repertoire," says guitarist Mike Begin. "As far as Tom Waits albums go, that was a great one to pick -- at that time he was living in New York, co-writing with Kathleen Brennan and he'd left his producer of three or four albums. That record is where the quintessential sound -- that clanky percussion -- really starts coming through. And it had cameos from Keith Richards and Chris Spedding."

It's always a gamble to release a live disc -- some folks will inevitably criticize the sound or intent. But according to Begin, the live setting is the only way to truly appreciate The Silver Hearts, who probably set a record for longest-running residency (six-plus years) at Peterborough's Montreal House.

"We tend to sound best live," he explains. "Most of the live recordings I've heard, if everyone's playing well, come across very well also. People who've seen us always say, 'You gotta capture that live feel,' but it's still pretty hard to get everything in place with such a huge band. Most of the Rain Dogs songs were recorded at The Annex Theatre, and it was pretty quiet -- everything was mic'd up, and the audience was pretty respectful while the songs were going on. The songs from The Rivoli shows, though -- you can hear people talking and boozing it up. I like them both."

But why the Hearts' intense attraction to the down-and-out characters of Rain Dogs?

"I think it's the Peterborough vibe," Begin says. "People are broke and hanging out with weird people. You drink a lot, you smoke a lot -- although the drinking is no longer legendary in this band. We've had two people told by their doctors, in all sincerity, that they had to stop drinking immediately or die. It's hard, playing in bars.

"But people still think we're a little unapproachable and squirrelly looking. Certainly on the folk festival circuit, man, we stand out like a sore thumb -- usually because we're en masse. People say, 'Do I wanna go talk to them? I dunno, that guy's only wearing a towel.'" CHRIS ROLFE

The Silver Hearts perform with Andre Ethier at The Silver Dollar (486 Spadina Ave) Aug 13. Doors at 8pm. $10 from Rotate This, Soundscapes.

- Eye Magazine - Toronto

"Play Rain Dogs Review"

Ordinarily, the prospect of a group paying homage to a classic album by reproducing it, track for track, can fill one with dread. The marriage of Peterborough's roots-rock orchestra the Silver Hearts and Tom Waits’s masterwork, Rain Dogs (released exactly 20 years ago), is a happy one, however. The inventive and widescreen soundscapes of the Silver Hearts have previously elicited Waits comparisons, while their two acclaimed original albums have established their credibility. Here, they treat Tom's tunes with respect, but not slavish reverence. The album was recorded live at two Toronto shows (the Rivoli and the Annex Theatre), and this helps establish a mood of intimacy. Eleven of the twelve Hearts take a lead vocal turn, and this gives the disc more vocal variety than the original. Two indie rock heroes, Al Tuck and Andre Ethier (the Deadly Snakes), guest; the former with a spooky spoken-word take on “9th & Hennepin,” and the latter with a persuasive interpretation of the moody ballad “Blind Love.” The rather unhinged burlesque/cabaret/carnival feel of the original record is recreated effectively via the instrumental skills of the Silver Hearts. Tools at their disposal range from Theremin, sousaphone and trumpet to dobro, pedal steel and accordion, and all are used ably. The result is a work sure to please both Silver Hearts and all but the purist of Waits fans. - Exclaim Magazine


No Place -
Our Precious City -
Play Rain Dogs -
Dear Stranger (w. Andre Ethier) -



“Brothel Blues”… “A Saloon Symphony”… “Ghost Town Orchestra”… “The Muppets meet Harry Smith’s Anthology of Folk Music”..”Music to rob trains by”… For the past five years, Peterborough’s The Silver Hearts have drawn comparisons as unique as their music. With a membership ranging from 12-17, and instrumentation consisting of the standard drums, bass, guitar, piano and the more obtuse, sousaphone, theramin, trombone, trumpet, harmonicas, and accordion, The Silver Hearts have established their own blend of burlesque swing, southern gospel, pre-war blues, field hollers: Exciting music, rooted in tradition.