by Roman Mitz, Open Spaces
Chris Labelle may have to give up his day jobs. The lead singer of Ottawa’s River Town Saints is calling from the Capital city, where he’s taking a break from his arborist duties that entail cutting down some trees on his parents’ property. The other members of the band, singer-guitarists Chris McComb and Jeremy Bortot, drummer Jordan Potvin and bassist Daniel DiGiacomo, may have to follow suit and pack in their non-musical careers as well. You see the Saints’ fortunes have really turned as their first three singles were Top 40 country successes and one of them, ‘Cherry Bomb’, took home Single of the Year honours at the recent 2017 Country Music Association of Ontario Awards. Now their first self-titled album is the proverbial icing on the cake as it contains the three singles plus six more radio friendly tracks that will be vying for air time. Chris says the members are ready to turn their undivided attention to the band.
“A couple of the guys actually got fired from their day jobs so we’re ready,” laughs the affable singer. “I’ll help my mom and dad around the house and cut down some trees. My real day job is cleaning beer lines in the city. You have all these bars around Ottawa and you have to clean out their keg system, otherwise the beer sits in the line and clogs it up. There’s nothing better than beer lines and country music; it’s a great relationship. I’ve had to go down to part time because everything for the band happened so quickly. It was mostly going to be single after single, and then maybe an EP after that. It turned into an album and it was really the fans that put it together because we played everything live at our shows. If the song got a good reaction it made the album, but if it was a dud we didn’t put it on.”
The live component of the band actually helped them land their recording contract in the first place. Chris had been trying to secure a solo record deal but the label’s president felt there was already an overabundance of male artists in country’s mainstream and he suggested that the singer try forming a group. Chris complied and the ball began rolling when he found four like-minded mates, picked up speed as they learned their chops, and culminated in a make or break moment for the newly christened River Town Saints in Music City.
“I sort of knew Chris McComb, our rhythm guitarist, and I saw him playing at the Navan Fair in Ottawa,” Chris begins. “I thought, man, this is a good looking guy who could probably pick up all the ladies and he’s awesome with the guitar. He knew the other guys from a previous band they played in so it came together pretty quickly. The band name comes from the fact we’re all surrounded by either the Ottawa River or Mississippi (Ontario) River. We went down to Nashville and played in front of the label’s president who was super intimidating. He basically said that if you can get a show in Nashville and you get a reaction and you can film it, then I’ll work with you guys. We went to The Stage on Broadway and there were some people from Ottawa in the club and when we told them we were from there the applause just went crazy. That’s when the relationship with the label began.”
The new single from the album is ‘Woke Up Like This’, a song with a strong double-hook chorus and a soft and sweet chorus that almost sounds like a country loop. The song showcases the softer side of the band on the heels of the rollicking Cherry Bomb and its steamy accompanying video. Woke Up Like This is Chris’ lone song writing contribution to the album and he went to lengths to see it released as a single.
“I pitched that song to the label because I thought it was a sleeper that could be a really big one for us,” he says. “They weren’t really sure but I said I’ll go into the studio, record the song myself and pay out of my own pocket. They eventually saw that it was a good song and because we were getting positive reaction playing it live, we decided to go with it as the next single. A lot of songs were pitched to us and all of the good pitches came in very early in our career. We’ll take the pitches because it’s basically the best song wins, but for the next one we’ll be doing a lot of writing over the winter months. We already have four or five of our songs that didn’t make the album that we want to put out.”
The album leads off with ‘Bonfire’, their previous top ten single, a catchy little number about country going uptown that has become one of their signature songs with fans. Other album highlights include ‘How I Got To You’ in which Jordan Potvin’s pounding rhythm is up front in the mix, and ‘A Little Bit Goes a Long Way’, in which the band takes their foot off of the gas pedal for a bit and even includes a slow rap in the verses.
“How I Got To You’ was the first song we ever recorded as a band,” Chris begins. “We weren’t sure of our sound at the time but it basically defines the River Town Saints. It’s high energy, shows off the harmonies and has that rocking feel to it with a little country flavour.
“With A Little Bit Goes A Long Way we wanted to have some variety which is super important. I wasn’t born on a farm, although my grandpa grew up on one, so I can’t technically say I’m a country boy and that we have to keep it all country music. I love Justin Timberlake, Hip-hop and Rap; I respect every art form out there for sure. When we put out that song as our first single in 2015 some radio stations didn’t embrace it or add it to their rotation because of the rap part. We had to put out a version without the rap just so radio would pick it up. The rap is back on the album track, and we also did an acoustic version of the song for the final track which is basically live off the floor. That’s what we sound like at our shows.”
You can probably define Chris Labelle’s character based on his enthusiasm for the subject matter of the album’s songs. One of his favourites is ‘Friday Night’, a great party song that has a Road Hammers feel to it with lyrics that beg for a sing-a-long. (“We didn’t tune the vocals, it was just straight up in the studio like they did in the old days and just rip it apart.”) On the other hand he isn’t quite as fired up about the break-up song ‘I Hope You’re Driving’ and prefers the message about a life lesson not learned in ‘Hungover It’.
“I Hope You’re Driving is one song in our set that I never know if I want to do because it always takes me back to my ex-girlfriend from five or six years ago. I just want to party and go full throttle all of the time, but you have to throw one of those songs on the album just to capture another audience.
“Hungover It is one of those crowd chanting songs that’s like an anthem at our shows. The lyrics say ‘You can take that bottle, Devil’, but then it comes to the bridge and it’s like ‘Give me back that bottle’. I just felt it had to be on the album because I’m so heavily influenced by Garth Brooks. It’s got one of those ‘Friends In Low Places kind of vibe to it.’
Be sure to catch the River Town Saints performing Hungover It, Friday Night and other anthems on the summer festival circuit throughout Ontario from July to September, before they embark on a cross-country tour in the fall. https://www.facebook.com/roman.mitz