by Roman Mitz for Open Spaces
“It takes a whole lot of medicine for me to pretend I’m someone else” is a line from the Randy Newman song ‘Guilty’ rendered most famously by Joe Cocker. In the case of their new EP ‘20 Dollars In My Pocket’, Toronto duo The Lovelocks are not trying to pretend their someone else, but rather they’re trying to expand upon their celebrated roots sound that has brought them several Canadian Country Music Award (CCMA) nods for Best Roots Band, including another nomination in 2018. Coincidentally, the first song on the EP is called ‘Medicine’ and for Ali Raney and Zoë Sparrow, it seems appropriate to start things off with a therapeutic number.
“When we were choosing songs for the album we were going through the process of putting music out there that was really fun and uplifting, and we were basically going after hits,” says Ali, who is on the line with Zoë, calling in from Toronto’s Bloor West Village where they live in neighbouring residences. “I hadn’t actually made the connection between the word ‘medicine’ and the story of the album but it’s actually very appropriate.”
The story of the album is laid out in a heartfelt Facebook post by Zoë, who is quite candid about coming off of the toughest year the group has experienced, one in which they had “zero dollars in their bank account” and a high level of frustration because they “weren’t being fully accepted at radio and they were being pressured to do better from an industry perspective”. In a nutshell Ali and Zoë were totally burnt out and they knew that something had to change.
“People only see the shiny side of the business, the shiny side of our career,” Zoë begins. “The Facebook post was intended to create a voice for what other people might be going through. There are a lot of ups and downs in the industry and it takes a lot of grit and grace to stay in the game.
“We’re not abandoning our roots but when you listen to our new single, the EP’s title track, there’s definitely a new flavour present on the record,” adds Ali. “We didn’t really set out to have a different sound but I think over the last year we felt that we were stagnating a bit. It was more about needing to grow and feeling like we wanted to get back to the joy of making music. We just got back to basics and got together as friends as we’ve always done, and did away with all of the labels and what we sounded like in the past. For sure the sound is different and more pop leaning, but it’s still us. There’s still my fiddle, and still the signature harmonies that we’re known for. There are a lot of acoustic instruments like banjo, ukulele and mandolin, but the effects that are put on the instruments in post-production, like the special effect on my fiddle, give it a little bit of a different sound.”
The first evidence of The Lovelocks ‘new’ sound came in the form of the single ‘Staycation’ which became a moderate hit and thus a cause for renewed optimism. (“When we released it, what was so cool was that with relatively little support we had almost half a million streams and that’s the first time around that’s happened for us,” Zoë says. “It was just a real great indicator that we were going in the right direction.”) 20 Dollars In My Pocket should follow suit as it starts with a slow acoustic build and then blasts into the irresistible chorus. While Zoë and Ali previously co-wrote most of their own songs, this time around they incorporated a few numbers from outside sources.
“We heard 20 Dollars less than a year ago and when it was pitched to us it literally stuck in our heads,” Zoë says. “We knew we had to record that song and because it was the first one we had for the album it made a lot of sense for us to name the EP after it. We co-wrote three of the tracks and the rest were from the outside. For this album we were in the pursuit of excellence and with that we were more open to not just cutting our own songs but also cutting songs by other amazing writers that we really felt we could perform honestly. We’re excited about that because we are in love with the songs we did cut.”
There are quite a few romantic songs on the album and this could be due to the fact that Ali and Zoë are both happily married, and their bliss is obvious on the track “Good Way To Go”. The effect is a little more subtle on ‘Fast Forward’ a seriously atmospheric number highlighted by what sounds like a full string section rising to the occasion.
“The string section is actually me playing 40 different takes on violin,” says Ali, who is a six-time Fiddle Player of the Year nominee at the CCMA’s. “Our producer, Ben Glover, layered it all very beautifully so it sounds like a huge orchestra. Ben is a huge piece in our equation and he’s been our producer since Day One. He’s a Grammy Award-winning producer and songwriter and he has a wonderful heart. He has a great ear for picking songs and finding the right focus. We knew right away that Fast Forward was going to be an epic balled. It’s one of those beautiful, soaring, memorable moments and we’re really excited for our fans to hear the recorded version because at this point they’ve only heard it live.”
The second last song ‘Count On Me’, is a bit of a throwback to The Lovelocks’ more roots-oriented material, as it kicks off with some nifty banjo and sparse percussion. For Zoë, the song simply completes the range that the EP tries to cover.
“I think as artists we exist on a spectrum and that definitely is on the left end of the spectrum whereas 20 Dollars is on the right end. It is a bit of an homage to our roots. Ali and I wrote that song about 18 months ago and after going through the process of about 1,000 pitches and writing 100 songs, it still rose to the top.
“I think the message of that song is very true to our band,” Ali chimes in. We co-wrote that one with Gavin Slate and Travis Wood who are behind a lot of things by Tim Hicks, The James Barker Band and The Reklaws. The message of the song is just about hope and love and being accepted, and those are key things we want our fans to feel when they listen to our music.
If there is one song that’s absolutely outside of the musical spectrum that Zoë mentioned, it is the remix of Staycation that ends the record. It might be difficult to imagine a Lovelocks song being played in after-hours clubs but given the song’s danceability don’t be surprised if you find some inspired DJ adding it to his mix.
“Every time we get together it always ends with a dance party,” Ali giggles. “We wanted our album to reflect what we’re actually like when you hang out with us.”
You can catch The Lovelocks at the Blue Jays Fan Festival pre-Game show on July 20 when they perform along with other artists on their MDM label, including Jess Moskaluke, Bobby Wills and David James.
Other Stuff: Nicole Rayy has released a catchy new single ‘Bad Habit’. This country power ballad is sure to hit home with many listeners. Between the driving chorus, honest lyrics, and Rayy’s dynamic vocals the song has all of the makings of a perfect summertime anthem. With her previous smash single ‘ Fireproof ,’ Rayy has seen over 150,000 Spotify streams and this lead her to opening for Brett Kissel for his Kick it with Kissel contest earlier this year.
While we’re on the subject of perfect summer songs, another qualifier would be Brad Saunders’ ‘Play It By Beer’. Saunders has been making his name known since his 2014 debut, having shared the stage with the likes of Aaron Pritchett, Dustin Lynch, and Thomas Rhett. This summer, Saunders isn’t showing any signs of slowing down as he hits the road for his cross-Canada tour, in partnership with Big Rock Brewery. But first, he’ll be playing in B.C. and Alberta, hitting the mainstage at Sunfest Country Music Festival on August 2 and returning to the Big Valley Jamboree on August 5 and Country Thunder on August 19.
Finally, CCMA Award nominee Alee is pleased to announce the release of her brand new single ‘Don’t Make Me Miss You’. The new track is a welcome return for the 25-year-old singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has been hard at work in the studio writing and recording new material. “It’s funny how we find our strengths in our moments of weakness,” she says. “Know your worth, trust in yourself, laugh and make the most of every moment you get.”