The United Steel Workers of Montreal
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The United Steel Workers of Montreal

Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Montréal, Quebec, Canada
Band Folk Country




"I was totally wowed by the band"

...John Bissell, who runs Moth-light Music in Hollywood and supervises music for films: As for the Steelworkers, who put on the afternoon's most characterful show, he enthuses, "I was totally wowed by the band. There's a song that they did, Get Me Out of the Cold -- God! What a great national broadcast commercial that would be. - THE NATIONAL POST

"Dream combination"

Gern f's and Felicity Harmer's tag-team vocals of the haggard old man and the sultry ingénue drive the United Steel Workers of Montreal's second release Kerosene and Coal. This six-piece produces the sort of spiritual music that reconnects city dwellers with the earth they seldom see due to all of the concrete. Although the dream combination of Gern, a guy who sounds kinda like Tom Waits, and Felicity, a lady who kinda sounds like Janice Joplin, are hard to top, it is often the space between the lyrics, like the grass and flowers found in the cracks of a sidewalk, that produce the most emotion. These instrumental flourishes are cultivated by the other Workers who drive each song along with an assortment of guitars, banjos, the telecaster, mandolin and double bass but no drum kit. The United Steel Workers of Montreal are a welcome addition to the urban roots scene that is creeping across Canada like ragweed. - !EARSHOT

"Building on the work of bands like Wilco and Sun Volt."

Breaking Through the Cracks
The word “retro” clearly means something different to The United Steel Workers of Montreal. With one foot planted all the way back in the days of Woody Guthrie, these Quebecers are amongst a rising tide of Canadian citygrass groups providing “blue-collar” tunes for the workingman” by bringing urban and rural together and building on the work of bands like Wilco and Sun Volt.

"USWM Deliver soul that is lacking in most bands today"

United Steel Workers of Montreal deliver soul that is lacking in most bands today. USWoM created a vibrancy and atmosphere that could be felt in every corner of the Tavern – like the smell of wood chips. With lead singer Gern F, weaving tales of sorrow and happiness with his dark-as-oil growl, the group really nails the alt-country style with class and freshness. Live, the USWoM were like a family runaway ghosts from another time; suprisingly original and diverse, the Steel Workers aren't one to miss.

"The hoot-and-holler meter went highest when the United Steel Workers of Montreal thundered through a set of"

Dive-bar roots-rock is all the rage
Know now that dive-bar roots-rock and taproom alt-country is alive, weird and woolly in Canada. A four-band bill curated by independent label Weewerk showcased a pan-Canadian array of talent, most of which succeeded, at the sooty and venerable Horseshoe Tavern.

While Peterborough's The Silver Hearts -- a rambling nine-piece that does speakeasy blues -- was ostensibly the headliner, the hoot-and-holler meter went highest when the United Steel Workers of Montreal thundered through a set of urban hillbilly -- or "citygrass" -- music. Though comprised of six members, the band had two singers who drew the bulk of the attention. At stage left was Felicity Hamer, a pigtailed redhead who looked pretty much what you'd expect a Felicity Hamer to look like, except for the tattooed arms. On rowdier cowpunk tunes, she used a raspy Janis Joplin vocal approach; on slower material -- comparable to the haunting melancholia of the Cowboy Junkies -- she was breathier and sweeter.

The gentle giant holding down the other side was "Gern f.," who wore a rumbled suit that worked well with his Depression-era fade haircut. The big man worked hard, chopping at an acoustic guitar with hands large enough to palm watermelons and maybe a thumb left over for a jug of corn liquor. He sang about drag racing and united stands against various bodies of authority -- the working-class blues of a prosperous nation.

A punk edge serrated the drumless fire-on-the-mountain romping, with Ramones-style "1-2-3-4" count-ins during a couple of songs, including one that had the sloppy fierceness of a Tom Waits-Shane MacGowan knife fight. There was a slow country "period piece" about Montreal all-beef wieners, too. - THE GLOBE AND MAIL

"The thing I like most about the album is how adaptable the band is. ...the rage [Felicity] sings with on Glen Jones ...[the way] Gern is able to control his gravelly pipes on the lovely duet The Line...those moments are what transforms the United Steel Wo"

The United Steel Workers of Montreal will kick your ass. I’m not really sure what else needs to be said about the urban hillbillies from Montreal, but seriously, one listen to their new record – Three on the Tree – will leave you battered and bruised and emotionally spent.

I could start with the basics; banjo, squeezebox, guitar, and double bass that make you want to stomp a hole in the dance floor or talk about Gern’s gruff, whiskey sloshed vocals. I could even mention the tender ballads the band routinely adds to the mix (the old-time feel of Little Girl is a great example of how they control the tempo of the record) or how perfectly Felicity Hamer drifts into falsetto, but trying to dissect this record takes away from the end result.

I know bluegrass has become increasingly popular over the last few years (thanks in large part to the rise of the Avetts) and naturally that will lead to a ton of bands throwing their hat in the ring, but the USWM are the real deal. Even with multiple song writers with different styles (Shawn Beauchamp, Gern, and Matt Watson), they all manage to pay tribute to the past with classic imagery, sounds and themes - hearing the epic tale of of a man defending the honor of the woman he loves, even if she doesn't love him back on Son, Your Daddy Was Bad or the way they transport the listener to the seedy underbelly of society on Shot Tower will appeal to any longtime fan of the finger picking, as will the familiar sounds of What a Riot - but it's the experimentation they use that will help the Montreal sextet touches a much bigger audience.

Obviously, USWM write songs that take new life once the whiskey and adrenaline start flowing, but they avoid the disconnect that so often plagues energetic bands when they hit the studio. Shot Tower starts as a slow burner, but they change pace midstream and when they break into full gallop (the banjo, mandolin and percussion that clip clops for the last minute surge forward) a charge pulses through your body. Three Hard Knocks sizzles, but they don't rely on frantic finger work to set the tone. The Ballad Of Mary Gallagher could easily find a home on a more radio friendly effort (think Be Good Taynas) and Rise Up sounds like a traditional Irish pub standard. Even as the harmonica and blues guitar rip over the images of heaven and hell on the album closer, Jesus We Sweat, they add Gern’s radio Pasteur pontification to freshen the sound.

But at the end of the day, the thing I like most about the album is how adaptable the band is. You might expect Hamer to focus on the softer touches on the record, leaving the grit and grime for Gern, but the rage she sings with on Glen Jones makes the song. On the flip side, Gern is able to control his gravelly pipes (like the way he shows compassion and control on the lovely duet The Line) and those moments are what transforms the United Steel Workers of Montreal from another fantastic bar band not to miss into a complete band that packs a record full of surprises. - HEROHILL

"The USWM are the quintessential Montreal of the best, hardest working and most loved bands in the city. Possessing a blue-collar charm that's impossible to fake and a punk-country sound impossible to mistake"

After six years and many lessons learned, United Steel Workers Of Montreal let it all hang out on Three on the Tree

As long as there are Montreal bands, there will be arguments about Montreal bands. Who's the biggest? Who's the best? Who's overrated? Who's about to blow up? Apart from the copious amounts of booze fuelling them, these conversations all seem to have one thing in common: a lack of inclusiveness. In these conversations, entire genres of music tend to disappear.

With that in mind, it's easy to see why Montreal is perceived as an indie rock mecca. Yes, our town's rife with outstanding examples of most every kind of rock going, but to suggest that's all that's afoot here is to miss the forest for the trees.

For six-plus years, the United Steel Workers Of Montreal have been one of the best, hardest working and most loved bands in the city. Possessing a blue-collar charm that's impossible to fake and a punk-country sound impossible to mistake, the only way to live here and miss the USWM is to try to: They're large in number, long on heart, play all the time and are led by the colossal Gern f., who has his take on why Montreal's scene became synonymous with indie rock and little else.

"[It] wasn't that everybody in town was playing indie rock and then indie rock caught. The indie rock scene came out of it because there [were] these other five or six fuckin' indie genres going on at the same time that actually pushed indie rock up," he says. "Indie rock was the easiest thing for everybody to capitalize on, to grab hold of."

That was yesterday, back when Montreal was anointed as the "it" city for
rock bands, back when Spin Magazine put out that error-filled map of the Main, and back when the USWM first played the stage at Brutopia with the Dirty Old Band. I remember these days, and chances are you do too. If we didn't flat-out know, then we at least suspected that something special was happening.

Turns out we were right.


Bold, brazen statement time: The USWM are the quintessential Montreal band.

The rationale: The USWM formed here, make music about here, are committed to playing shows here, and have been visible ambassadors of Montreal's burgeoning (and underreported) alt-country scene since the release of 2005's Broken Trucks and Bottles. Every time they do well, it immediately reflects well on the city, and because of their name, there's no hiding where they're from.

While we're bringing up USWM albums, 2007's Kerosene & Coal may as well have been called "Griffintown, St-Henri and the Pointe." As well as being painted with shades of those 'hoods, it featured a more balanced vocal attack that remains consistent today: Gern's knife-in-the-throat growl, Felicity Hamer's inimitable rasp and coo, and Shawn "Gus" Beauchamp's strength at traditional melodies and harmonies. Beauchamp, who wrote the majority of the songs on new LP Three on the Tree, says the new stuff is both similar and dissimilar to what came before.

"The writing is a little bit different. It's more geared towards that working-class anthem," he says. "[I'm] being a little less personal and taking the storytelling thing a little bit further as far as not necessarily having everything be autobiographical, and being more willing to tell a story that's not about my life."

"I write about what I know," he adds. "What do I know? I know working-class Montreal. That's how I grew up. All my friends are from working-class Montreal. Why would I write songs about the Prairies?"

Hamer echoes the fact that Montreal is a central character on Three. "Matt [Watson, guitar/mandolin] wrote a song about Mary Gallagher, Gern wrote one about the Shot Tower, also one about the hockey riots not long ago," she says.

"It's a truly inspirational city, the best city in the world," says bassist Eddy Blake. "The history is rich here," adds Watson, thoughtfully. Then Gern chimes in: "There's a big chunk of it, here. You go to Toronto and you don't see 300 years of history."


More than once during my interview with them, I bring up the notion that the Steel Workers are going for broke. And why not? Three on the Tree is more than just the band's third album. It's a diving board, a base-jump site. Its release show at Club Soda represents the biggest and most important USWM show ever played in Montreal, kicks off a full season of touring, and coincides with the six Steel Workers bidding adieu to their jobs and giving themselves fully and wholly to the band. It's a step they're approaching with trepidation, among other things.

"I'm terrified," says Hamer. "We're all totally scared," adds Beauchamp.

"I don't know about y'all, but I ain't one bit scared. Not one bit," counters Blake, a Prairie boy long on both moxie and mouth. He's oddly reminiscent of Tommy, Gil Bellows' character in The Shawshank Redemption, which makes him instantly likable. Watson is "happy." Mandolin/banjo player - HOUR

"Their live gigs have achieved a legendary cult-like status…they sing about you and me, and to you and me. It’s real, it’s about a good time, it’s about life."

While many of us weren’t listening all these years, one of this city’s best kept secrets has been filling concert halls small, medium and large on a scarily consistent basis – we’re talking every two months here – like few Montreal bands have, both then and now. All the while, this feat has been achieved without the push of a large label, publicity machine, or questionable marketing tools. The United Steel Workers of Montreal do it the old-fashioned way, spreading their blood, sweat and beers as if every gig were their last, handling all aspects of their existence, from the booking, to the promotion, to the driving, to the recording and releasing. Their live gigs have achieved a legendary cult-like status at home, the reason these eyes see being they sing about you and me, and to you and me. It’s real, it’s about a good time, it’s about life.

The band is a cornerstone of a larger movement that has painted the town blue…grass that is. While the spotlight of late has shone here on all things indie, post and whatever rock, an amazing array of artists steeped in the ole time traditions of country and western has exploded after seeking out what most wouldn’t call an existence for the better part of a decade, thanks to folky-friendly joints like Barfly and The Wheel Club providing gear, a stage and welcoming, appreciative ears. 2008 sees a list this long of credible and incredible folks practicing what Lee Mellor (of Lee Mellor and The Mudhounds) has dubbed City-Grass. In his words, “it feels like roots music has been kind of buried lately. So in a way our music is like those little tufts of grass that sprout between the cracks in the sidewalk, desperately trying to find some life.” And what a life! Montreal has arguably the tightest-knit, and surely the most innovative and talented of such scenes anywhere in Canada.

The Steel Workers call their musical wares “punk-country,” a gritty mix of tales of the city, the open road and lost-love weepers. The band is led by the imposing Gern f. on guits, harmonica and vox, Felicity Hamer on accordion and vocals, Matt Watson on Telecaster, mandolin, banjo and backing vocals, Shawn ‘Gus’ Beauchamp on vocals, guitar, mandolin and Telecaster, Chris Reid on mandolin, banjo, backing vocals and finally Eddy Blake on stand-up bass and vocals. Their discography stands at two (with number three on the horizon for early next year) – 2005’s Broken Trucks & Bottles and last year’s Kerosene and Coal – initially self-released before both being picked up by cool Canadian indie Weewerk (home to Great Lake Swimmers). The band has just returned from their maiden voyage to the Old World, a broken bones adventure, and has not shied away from taking their reputable live act on the road in North America from East to West, as well as North to South. We touched base with Gern and Felicity to chat about this and that.


How do you explain the band’s fiercely devoted Montreal following?

Gern: To a great extent our following in Montreal has been the result of our relentless effort. We started years ago with the plan that we would always try not to overplay our hand, and not perform more than one show per month. We put a lot of thought and promotion into each gig, starting with whom we’re playing with in terms of trying try to mix things up a bit, trying to play with as many local bands as we can, and trading our crowd with theirs. All shows get postered and press-released, and generally anybody who wants to know about our shows knows we’re playing. We’ve also had a lot of help from the fine folks around us to get the word out, anyone from the bars to the scene itself. The local production/promotion company UrbanHanded Works has been an enormous help, giving us support from the beginning and making us look good and professional on paper and on the internet. And finally, I think it must be said we really do give it our all at these shows. A lot of the time we’re playing for a lot of our friends and fellow musicians and we truly feel we have to pull it together and give them a concert with lots of banter and hard, fast playing.

Could this band exist anywhere but in Montreal?

Gern: The Steel Workers sprung from a scene that’s welled up over the last ten-odd years. It’s one that’s been centered on the experience of local jams from country, to folk, to old-tyme and even Irish, at the same time serving as a general meeting place for and between other musicians. We all came together years ago and got to know each other through a weekly night called ‘Train Song Sundays’ at a small brew pub. Any city that has this sort of thing going on can generally look forward to their scene(s) getting much larger, mainly due to artists having a chance and reason to get together and talk, bitch and play.

How important is the local scene you find yourselves immersed in – the often ignored country and bluegrass circles? Who are your peers?

Felicity: I think we’ve been really lucky to - NIGHTLIFE MAGAZINE

"When you convince people to slow dance in the middle of the room, you pretty much rule"

Six-piece Montreal band plays dirty, dive-bar country with an urban twist.
The Steel Workers proved that playing the first set of the night doesn't need to hold a band back if they have the right attitude. Their catchy country tunes and infectious enthusiasm started winning whoops and cheers halfway through and earned them a huge ovation at the end of the set.

This band owned the stage from the start, mostly on the strength of their excellent songs. Their look was appropriately dirty, save for vocalist Felicity Hamer, whose punk-rock mini-skirt and boots added sex appeal, and frontman Gern F, who wore a suit and hat that could have been stolen from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones' closet. The banjo player seemed to be having an especially good time chatting with the crowd. Pretty much every member has a distinct personality.

Hamer and Gern F. have distinct yet complementary voices, with Hamer softening the extreme edges of F.'s Tom Waits-inspired growl. This vocal interplay powers the band, but the support work of their colleagues can't be overlooked. Without a drummer, they used banjos, guitars and bass in a variety of ways for percussive effect, and their overall sound is authentic enough to entertain both old-school country fans and curious onlookers.

At the end of the show, The Steel Workers slowed it down and asked people to grab a partner and dance. It worked. When you play an early set and you convince people to slow dance in the middle of the room, you pretty much rule. - CHARTATTACK

"Toronto International Film Festival"

The USWM eat the crowd, winning over the industry people and Queen Street hipsters with a raucous country-marries-urban-roots set. It is music of rough-hewn charm and confidence... after Felicity's sass has met Gern's grit, you are feeling that familiar flush of pride and thinking "we've done it again." Because USWM are indeed from Montreal, "the south-west" of the city to be precise. - THE MONTREAL GAZETTE


Three on the Tree 2009
Kerosene & Coal 2007
Broken Trucks and Bottles, 2005



USWM are number 1! The United Steel Workers made the Mirror's lists of top ten Best Musical Acts and Best Folk/Country Acts 2005-2010.
United Steel Workers of Montreal launch 3rd album: "Three on the Tree"!

Montreal's beloved six-piece, THE UNITED STEEL WORKERS OF MONTREAL, have wowed audiences from coast to coast with the infectious draw of their unique brand of blue-collar alt-country. A potent mix of blues, jazz, country and swing, The USWM’s live performances are filled out with dry wit, tall tales and some outright lies. Dancing is optional but hard to avoid.

Following in the wake of their critically acclaimed albums, Broken Trucks and Bottles and Kerosene & Coal, THREE ON THE TREE sees the band branching out from their earthy, acoustic-country-punk roots to experiment with gospel (Jesus We Sweat), historical ballads (Mary Gallagher), Spanish horn arrangements (Glen Jones) and thundering premonitions of death (Three Hard Knocks). Lead singer Gern f., guitarist Shawn 'Gus' Beauchamp and electric guitar master Matthew Watson each pour a diverse helping of tunes into the mélange. Rockabilly bassist Eddy Blake and banjo/mandolin player Chris Reid's combined upbeat, energetic stylings give the album an unmistakable pop and swing. Huge in heart, narrative scope and emotion, THREE ON THE TREE swoops down over the industrial grimness of Shot Tower sashaying through the street-level social turbulence of What a Riot and peers into a delicate room where lead singer Felicity Hamer's velvety vocals balance the melody of Little Girl like a frail tea-cup on her saucer. All of the most loved conventions of The USWM's previous work are represented, from the stirring rallying cries of Rise Up and The Line to light hearted foot stomping romps like Making Babies and Lorelei.

THE UNITED STEEL WORKERS OF MONTREAL were voted Montreal’s #1 Folk/Roots Band and #2 Best Live Act, and have been recorded live by CBC Radio 2 and CBC Radio 3. The band has been receiving critical acclaim, playing SXSW, NXNE, CMW, Pop Montreal, Toronto International Film Festival, Festival de musique émergente, Quebec City’s 400th anniversary, Ottawa Bluesfest. Berlin’s Popkomm, Nancy France Jazz Festival and received nominations for the Quebec Independent Music Awards and the MIMIs. They have released two stunning videos for Émile Bertrand and Meaner than You. THREE ON THE TREE will be unleashed upon a rapidly swelling international audience, all hungry to hear more, and will see the band touring extensively across Canada, the US and Europe.