The sound of northern Saskatchewan

Matt
Matt Gardner
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Local band Black Rain is well-known for their original material, having recorded three albums of songs with lyrics inspired largely by their own life experiences.

Yet it was while explaining their approach to cover songs during two weekend performances at the Northern Lights Casino that the band touched upon their general view of music -- and by extension, that of northern Canada as a whole.

“Last night we played a Merle Haggard song and we followed it up with an AC/DC song,” bassist Kevin Joseph noted.

“It didn’t occur to me ’til after we played it that I didn’t know how many bands could pull that off -- and that’s kind of the northern Saskatchewan thing.”

He added, “If you listen to MBC Radio, you’re going to hear Métis fiddle and then you might hear Metallica. Then you might hear Merle Haggard. So we weren’t really raised with genres -- it was just, ‘This is music.’ It’s either a good song or it’s not.”

With the band’s current lineup now entering its sixth year, Black Rain -- comprised of brothers Ryan Peekeekoot (guitar/vocals) and Jamie Peekeekoot (drums/vocals) along with Joseph -- have become of Prince Albert’s most popular acts.

Though the band has toured throughout Western Canada and Ontario -- even playing 50 miles from the North Pole during a show in the Northwest Territories – its local reputation is built on frequent performances in Prince Albert.

The band’s concert schedule, however, again reflects the surrounding region’s unique musical culture.

“There’s no money in it when you go on tour non-stop,” Jamie said. “The way we do it, we can pay our bills and stuff doing it with our gigs … so it’s a good way to go, especially when you have families and all that.”

Joseph -- who also writes a regular column in the Daily Herald every fourth Friday --noted that he has never played as many gigs with other bands as he has with Black Rain.

“The way I was looking at it, there’s an area from northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and all through the territories, and that scene keeps a lot of bands who other people might not have heard of busy,” he said.

With Black Rain typically booked up months in advance, he added, “It’s different from other so-called scenes I’ve worked with where … bands will go on tour for months and come back broke because they’re out there trying to become rock stars.”

From an early age, it was the simple joy of playing music that propelled each band member forward.

All grew up in musical families, with the boys’ fathers even playing together in a group during the 1970s that appeared on the local program Shamrock Showcase.

“When I was five and Ryan was eight, our parents bought me a little miniature kids’ drum set and they bought him a little miniature white guitar,” Jamie said.

We weren’t really raised with genres -- it was just, ‘This is music.’ It’s either a good song or it’s not. Kevin Joseph

“Before I was even in kindergarten I knew how to drum, so I just grew up with it. All of us did. Most of our family members knew how to play an instrument.”

The genesis of Black Rain began when the Peekeekoot brothers, while still in their teens, received an offer to play a bar in Leoville.

Despite their musical experience, they still lacked one thing -- a name.

“The bar owner/manager phoned us and asked us what our name was,” Ryan recalled.

“We went for coffee to think about it and in the movie (rental) section there … that movie Black Rain was there. Held up that cover -- ‘What about this?’ … and that was it.”

Among the band’s formative musical influences were Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC, Metallica and C-Weed, a well-known aboriginal band from Winnipeg that Joseph played with for seven years.

With the formation of the current lineup, Black Rain solidified its collective approach to songwriting.

“If one of us has an idea, we’ll just sit around with acoustics and we’ll just bang it out until we write the songs,” Jamie said.

Noting their lyrics are drawn from true life experiences, Joseph commented, “I think that’s a big part of the draw … If you hear a name in a Black Rain song, it’s somebody we know. It’s a friend of ours.”

Over the years, the group’s songwriting has steadily evolved.

While their first album Rain Came Down bore a strong alternative influence, subsequent albums Hundred Dollar Hickey and Under The Gun -- all available for download on iTunes -- showed the band embracing a more eclectic sound.

Currently halfway through recording session for their fourth album, Ryan noted that the forthcoming release will contain both “straight-up country music” with fiddles and steel guitar as well as its share of rockers.

With the album release still two or three months away, for the moment the band plans to continue exploring its own brand of musical unpredictability in the live arena.

“The thing I really love about being in this band is every time we get on stage, we don’t know where it’s going to go,” Joseph said.

“It’s going to be a little different every time we play a song.”

New Black Rain songs can also be heard on the group’s Facebook page.

Organizations: AC/DC, Prince Albert, Northern Lights Casino Daily Herald

Geographic location: Northern Saskatchewan, Ontario, Northern Canada Western Canada North Pole Northwest Territories Northern Alberta Saskatchewan Manitoba Leoville Winnipeg

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  • Gary Joseph
    January 29, 2014 - 00:52

    Am hoping to find a sponsor to bring your unique sound to the maiitimes