By Keith Sharp
The year 2019 was a breakthrough year for the Vancouver-based Washboard Union. Riding on the success of their 2018 release, `What We’re Made Of’, the trio of Chris Duncombe (vocals/banjo), Aaron Grain (vocals/guitar) and David Roberts (vocals/harmonica/washboard) claimed their second consecutive CCMA Group Of The Year award to go along with their Roots Album win, claimed a Juno Award for Top Breakthrough Group and presented their energetic live performance to fans across Canada, the United States, France, Spain and Ireland.
Energy that they also channelled into their third studio LP `Everbound’ (Warner Music Canada) which they recorded with three separate producers; Karen Kosowski, Gordie Sampson and Thomas Tawgs Salter.
With the album’s debut single, “Country Thunder” already topping Canada’s Country radio charts, everything seemed to be in place for a continuation of that impetus in 2020. But then a pandemic virus called COVID 19 rose its ugly head and the planet’s entire music industry ground to a shuddering stop.
“We were down in Nashville recording what Is now `Everbound’ for about five weeks and then when we came back home, Nashville was struck by a deadly tornado and then the world came under the grip of COVID 19,” explained guitarist/vocalist Duncombe from his Vancouver residence. “But looking on the positive side, I think the album coming out right now while people are looking and consuming music more than ever is a great thing.”
For a band that has thrived as a live performance act, Washboard Union finds its 2020 touring schedule on hold, but to Duncombe, this just another career challenge. “I don’t think that as a band we are any less busy except for the live part has disappeared at the moment. We just have to be more creative with how we connect with our fans and how we are collaborating with each other. (They staged an Online listening party Friday, April 24th) Having home studios, producing and releasing music together, this has kept our sanity for sure and we know that brighter days are ahead.”
Duncombe agrees that Washboard Union was on a high entering the studio to record `Everbound’ and had recorded 31 songs for the sessions. “With three creative songwriters going full tilt at it, we’ve always got a big selection of music so we had to decide which of those songs connected the right way and made the right statement. There’s a unique undercurrent in the songs we chose that was totally unintentional but it’s an undercurrent of hope which we are all proud of.”
The album title `Everbound’ is a word the band made up and was prompted by a lyric in the album’s debut single, “Country Thunder” In the song, we sing “I want to look at the whole world with wonder” Duncombe noted. “And the ability to never lose that sense of that childlike astonishment is what `Everbound’ is all about.”
The 10 songs featured on `Everbound’ reflect the band’s developing diversity with feel-good tracks like the debut single (which is also presented as an acoustic track), the second single; `Dock Rock’, `My Weekend Amen” and “Never Run Outta Road” are counterbalanced by a couple of mid-tempo romantic tracks like “If She Ever Knew”, “Home Sweet Her” and the stand out “More Memories Than Wishes”. And to top things off, there’s a couple of rowdy WU rockers like “One More One More” and “Shut Er Down”.
Understanding that Washboard Union is scheduled to appear at two Country Thunder festivals in Craven Saskatchewan and Calgary later this summer, has the band intentionally penned an anthem for this successful festival franchise created by Regina native Troy Vollhoffer? “Totally unintentional,” laughs Duncombe “but we sent him and Gerry Krochak a copy of the song and said I hope you like it. The title came from one of our producers, Karen Kosowski and Emma Higgins. They had the title and a line or two and we built on it from there. It’s about that feeling of getting back to what is important, being out with our friends. It’s not a big think piece, it’s a celebration, a rallying cry.”
This anthemic country-rock track Is being promoted by an innovative video helmed by Stephano Barberis and features the band members portrayed as Muppet-like puppets. “It’s a totally different way to tell a story in a song,” Duncombe enthuses. “We wanted to do a country music video in a way people haven’t seen before and puppets in the video allow us to do that. We are intimately involved in everything we do and our videos are a great example. Our “Feel Like That “video was about three kids kidnapping us to perform a private concert while “Shot Of Glory” was about a horse race.”
Washboard Union was originally formed in Vancouver by two Kelowna school chums; Duncombe and Grain who became stepbrothers when Duncombe’s father married Grain’s mother. After moving to Vancouver, they hooked up with Roberts and originally operated as Run GMC before changing their name to Washboard Union as they became more centred on their own songwriting.
They elicited the likes of noted producers Garth Richardson and Bob Ezrin to direct their 2012 debut, utilized Trey Bruce to produce their 2015 EP “In My Bones” (which spawned five hit singles; “Some Day”, “Maybe It’s The Moonshine”. “Shot Of Glory” “Shine” and “Head Over Heels”) which won Roots Artist and Rising Star CCMA’s before earning CCMA Group Of The Year and Roots Group Of The Year plaudits in 2018 for their Matt Rovey (Zac Brown/Dean Brody) and Jeff (Diesel) Dalziel produced “What We’re Made Of”
When it was mentioned that Washboard Union has utilized different producers for each album, (using Karen Kosowski, Gord Sampson and Thomas (Tawgs) Salter to produce `Everbound’ ) Duncombe informed. “We’ve never wanted to do the same album twice. As the band moves forward, the songs change and that calls for different people so now we have a great production family to work with.”
The strength of Washboard Union has been their electrifying live act which has been a major drawing card as they’ve toured constantly through Canada and The USA but also to France, Spain and Ireland.
“We have succeeded so far by setting out to become the best songwriters we could be and that has manifested itself into these three voices and our signature sound,” Duncombe allowed. “To perform live and have people singing back songs that you wrote in some dirty kitchen is the single greatest feeling in the world.”
Duncombe agrees it would be great if Washboard Union could eventually crack the US country market but says the band is in no great rush. “I would love to expand our reach as much as possible but I am confident that when the time is right, the band will find it’s way into the U.S. Because of YouTube and other social media outlets our songs are getting out there. We are being choreographed by line dancers in France!
“Right now we are focused on getting our music out to the world, when that happens and this virus lets us, we’ll be ready to go” Duncombe concluded.