The Middle Child’s Music

As The Poets Affirm ready the release of a new album. “I think we realized we have a very fairy tale-ish essence to our music,” Gary Udle says. “I find we’ve always had a tie to nature. We’ve focused on trees a lot. You’ll find a lot of tree imagery and there’s a little bit of sea imagery as well in our past songs. Animals just felt like the next thing to include.”

- Sheila Busteed
Photos by Dara Hakimzadeh

posted July 2, 2007

The Middle Child’s Music

     In cities with thriving local music scenes, there is almost always one band that everyone has heard of – even if they’ve never actually seen them perform. In Ottawa, that band is As The Poets Affirm.

     This six-piece band has been entertaining Ottawans since 2001 with its pop-rock-jazz infusions, and will be releasing its fourth record later this year. This most recent studio endeavor was recorded recently at Ottawa’s Little Bullhorn Studios.

     Mere days before the band’s upcoming performance at the Ottawa Bluesfest, where it will open for City and Colour, guitarists Gary Udle and Ryan Patterson sat down in the grass of a vine-covered courtyard on the University of Ottawa campus to discuss the upcoming release.

     While they were willing to discuss what can be expected musically from the new album, they said they could not divulge certain details, such as the album’s name – “It’s actually top secret,” Patterson explains. What they did reveal is that, unlike the band’s last album, Awake, which introduced lyrics into the band’s music, the new album will not include any vocals.

     The album will also possess a fair amount of animal imagery, says Udle, which is the next step along the evolutionary plain for their writing.

     “I think we realized we have a very fairy tale-ish essence to our music,” he says. “I find we’ve always had a tie to nature. We’ve focused on trees a lot. You’ll find a lot of tree imagery and there’s a little bit of sea imagery as well in our past songs. Animals just felt like the next thing to include.”

     Patterson adds that watching the BBC documentary “Planet Earth” made him realize how much symbolism is associated with certain animals.

     “I find interesting – and I think it kind of works with our music too – how we place animals, and generally pretty much anything living, based on if it’s pretty or ugly,” he says. “We’re afraid of things that we think are ugly and I was thinking, ‘Are they ugly because they’re dangerous or do we think they’re dangerous because they’re ugly?’

     “I guess it’s subjective, what is ugly, but I think we’ve slotted those things in and it’s the same with our music,” he continues. “There’s a nicer feeling part to the song and an ugly feeling part.”

     The band will be returning to the Bluesfest stage this year, and playing the festival has been a very positive experience for the band in the past, says Patterson, because it serves as an outlet to expose new listeners to their music.

     “I think we definitely get an older crowd at Bluesfest,” he says. “It’s always good because there’s always such a huge crowd that comes out no matter what.”

     However, he and Udle think slotting the band to share the stage with City and Colour was a “weird” choice.

     “I’ve seen some of the line-ups and they’re not too focused on a certain genre at all,” says Patterson. “We haven’t really listened to much City and Colour but people we talk to really enjoy him and I think a lot of people are going to come and check him out.”

     “I hope we steal some of his crowd. He’s got a big crowd so it would be nice,” adds Udle about Dallas Green of City and Colour.  “I would hope he would enjoy our set and his fans will enjoy it too.”

     However, this odd pairing is a prime example of how Ottawa bands don’t fit in with the overall music scene, says Udle.

     “The thing with Ottawa bands right now is there’s this weird genre mashing,” he explains. “So where would you place most of the bands from Ottawa outside of a bill with just Ottawa bands? How do you take something like City and Colour or the White Stripes and find someone to go with them? I mean, the Hilotrons are amazing but who do they really mesh well with? Everything seems really scattered.”

     Udle and Patterson agree that Ottawa is like the awkward middle child, stuck between two major Canadian cities with thriving music scenes and a third, very musically rich metropolis just on the other side of the border.

     “Everyone keeps talking about Ottawa and where it fits musically between Montreal and Toronto,” says Patterson. “It’s so hard to say, but there are a lot of good musicians here.”

     “It’s a colliding of a little bit of New York, a little bit of Montreal and a little bit of Toronto,” adds Udle.

     Despite having these other cities so nearby, Udle says the band feels at home in Ottawa and doesn’t intend to move.

     “We know the promoters here and we know the club owners here and we know the other big names, so booking a show for us isn’t a problem. And we have a fan base here, so we’re pretty much guaranteed to draw X-amount of people to a show, which is comforting,” he says.

     Udle adds that staying in Ottawa offers the band a guaranteed “ego paycheck” and that they’ve come to rely on that consistency. He also says that moving the band to a bigger city would be “contrary” to why they’re doing what they’re doing.

     “You go to another city with the intention of being successful, like if you’re trying to jump into the scene or the pool, but I think if we were trying to do that then we probably wouldn’t switch around so often what we play and how we play,” he says. “Especially now more than ever, we’re really focused on just satisfying ourselves with our music.”