Telling stories important for The Once

Jason Kerr
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It’s been an interesting journey for members of The Once.

The Newfoundland-based band The Once will play at the Rawlinson Centre on March 7.   The members are Phil Churchill (left), Geraldine Hollett (centre) and Andrew Dale (right). 

The three members of the Newfoundland-based band are scheduled to play in Prince Albert on March 7.  It’s their fourth trip to Western Canada, but they didn’t start with the desire to be musicians.  All three started off as actors before making the switch to music.

“We all ended up working for this theatre company,” lead singer Geraldine Hollett says.  “One of the components was to do music, traditional style music.  We ended up having to do a show and having to learn music together and it worked out so well that we just kept doing it.”

They’ve had plenty of success with it too.  In 2010 they won a Canadian Folk Music award for their self-titled album and followed it up a year later with a nomination for Group Recording of the Year at the 2011 East Coast Music Awards.

That’s a long way from where they thought they’d be when they started out.

“When we got together we didn’t even know we were going to do this for real,” Hollett says.  “It was shocking that people were interested in it in the first place.”

Hollet says their Newfoundland roots influences their music in unique ways.  Their name comes from a Newfoundland phrase meaning “imminently,” but their music is more of a throwback style than people are used to.

“In the ’90s Newfoundland music seemed to be like a Celtic rock kind of music.  People expected drums and a lot of hardcore music,” she says.  “We still do that but our music is a little bit softer than that.  We’ll tell the tales of what it was like before the settlement.”

The settlement occurred in the ’70s when the Newfoundland government told people to move away from the coast and stopped paving coastal roads.  It’s songs about this time period that have the strongest influence on the group.

“Whatever gets to us at the core, that’s the kind of music we’ll do, and that stuff really got to us,” Hollett says.  “We really wanted to tell those stories and it seems like no matter where we go people want to hear them.”

Hollett often mentions their desire to tell stories through song, especially stories about people who work hard to make a living in tough conditions.  She says that’s something Newfoundlanders have in common with Saskatchewan.

“We have space in Newfoundland like you guys,” she says.  “We look out to sea like you guys look out to the plains, right, so you understand how vast the world is and how tiny and insignificant we all really are.  I think people really get that, and how we’re all kind of on our own, but we’re all working together for our families.  I think the Prairies definitely get it.”

Despite that more serious tone, Hollett says their show is more of a celebration than a funeral.  The lyrics and tone alternates between serious and comical, accompanied by the guitar, mandolin, fiddle and bouzouki, all played by Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale.

“I know every place is not ours but it feels like we’re inviting everybody into our house and we’re just telling stories and singing songs and people sing along,” Hollett says.  “I think we make people feel very comfortable.”

The Once have had a lot of musical success, but what they enjoy most is meeting people.  After touring across Canada and the United Kingdom Hollett says they’ve seen some amazing places, but it’s the personal connections they make that are most important to them.

“I grew up in a really small place, like 16 houses small,” she says.  “I always thought the world was a big scary world, but I wanted to explore it anyway and what I’ve discovered is that it’s not big and scary.  Everyone is awesome.”

The Once are will play March 7 at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre in Prince Albert.  Tickets for the event are $37.

“If they don’t think they’re going to have a good time they don’t know us,” Hollett says with a laugh.  “It’s just fun.”

Organizations: Group Recording, E.A. Rawlinson Centre

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Prince Albert, Western Canada Saskatchewan

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