3-Across-Dee-Eye is a group of four Cape Bretoners (three teachers and a carpenter) currently freezing in Yellowknife.
The band, which performs an eclectic mix of tunes, consists of brothers Paul and Nathan McGrath (from Sampsonville), David Dowe (Port Hawkesbury/Cheticamp) and Stephen Richardson (Grand River). The band formed in 2007 and has one album to its credit, 3-Dinkie-Pile-Up. The album is available through iTunes and other digital distribution sites.
A second full-length album, Sock Puppet Serenade, is in progress, and several of its tunes are available for streaming online.
What follows is a lengthy, interesting and, at times, odd interview with all four guys pitching in. Enjoy …
ECN: So … how does it happen that four innocent, musical Cape Bretoners get trapped in Yellowknife?
David Dowe: It really comes down to money. Yellowknife is expensive, but many people still manage to put a lot away for a rainy day, or pay off some debt. It’s not a bad place to raise kids, and you sure as hell look forward to summer vacations and traveling South.
Stephen Richardson: I was living in Vancouver and teaching English and ESL for The Open Mind Academy. I wanted to kill my student loan debt and the North pays licensed teachers extremely well. So I applied to the many school boards of the three Canadian territories and accepted a contract to teach band/music with a board in Yellowknife.
I signed the contract and e-mailed it back to them… then, I checked my inbox. Nathan, who had been studying for his B.Ed in New Zealand (and who I hadn’t seen in awhile), had just written saying he was moving to the Knife to try and secure a teaching position.
The timing was very strange. I wrote back and thought maybe we could play some open mics or something when we arrived. He ended up staying with me and then Paul moved to Yellowknife from living in Japan and he also moved in. It was one crowded, crazy bachelor apartment called 205N. We have a different tune for each place we have lived. Dave had been a longtime Northern resident and I met him on staff at one of the schools I where I taught. I haven’t written any tunes about Dave yet.
I think part of what made it all come together was that previous to this Nathan and Paul had been hanging around StFX when I was in the Jazz program. We used to go see the open mic jams together and we even attempted to collaborate and finish Nate’s tune Thunder. A life of excess negated it from happening at that time. I think we recorded some of Nate’s tunes on an old answering machine. I likely have the tapes in storage.
The love of well played melodies, the lifestyle and gigging that seem to have prepared us for a true professional effort. It would lead Dee-Eye to the choose to live together in a massive Loft apartment, open a late night Cardboard Bar, (Steve and Nate’s Speakeasy Delight and Cabaret) and together write/inspire nearly a hundred songs over three years.
We also gigged over one hundred times in our second year as a group. Coffee, Brown Pop and Energy drinks… a band’s best friends.
Nathan McGrath: How’d we meet? I was caught in a snare. Paul fell into a hole. Dave went into a cage to retrieve some cheese, and Stephen stuck his tongue onto a metal pole in January.
Paul McGrath: Bitches man….bitches
ECN: What’s the music scene like in Yellowknife? Can you compare it to the east coast?
David Dowe: There are lots of people that play up here, but many that never venture out to open mics or form bands. Being a relatively small community (20,000), there seems to be ample opportunities to become part of the music scene, more so than many other parts of the country. That being said, you really get a mix of the very good and the not so great hitting the same stage on any given weekend. It is somewhat like the east coast in that there are many kitchen parties, and that’s simply a reflection of the huge population of East Coasters here.
Stephen Richardson: It has some East Coast similarities although I think the talent at home with acts like Keith Mullins and Craig Mercer’s various outfits, the bombast of Ashley MacIsaac, the writing of the Spinazzolas… You can’t compare to that level of craft. Top that off with all the orchestral stuff, solo blues performers, and the yearly wave of musicians out of the StFX Jazz program… The Maritimes is a small Seattle waiting to burst like a ripe manly boil… or something to the degree.
The Yellowknife scene does has the normal cover bands you’d expect in any small city, the open mics, the eclectic acts… but it also unique in that it has various heritage acts/cultural acts, hip hop acts like Godson, Maritime acts, modern Dene Rock and Inuit performers. There are also a few very strange and very dangerous people playing in the scene that are to be avoided. Large groups of collaborative musicians play at each other’s shows and support each other. However, 3-Across-Dee-Eye tends to just do our thing and keep writing. We always run our own live sound with Dave at the helm and I make the posters and keep our web presence, branding, and promo efforts moving forward. We do what we want. We are very fortunate in that being teachers and business men we are granted the luxury of not needing to play for the money. However we do accept large denominations in support of our efforts.
Nathan McGrath: In Yellowknife there are a lot of people playing and the scene is actually pretty diverse. You have people that suck a little bit and people that suck a lot.
Paul McGrath: Once you get away from the old town hippies and self-absorbed lunacy it’s not that bad.
ECN: What inspires you guys when you’re writing? Is it a collaborative effort, or are there one or two band members driving the group?
David Dowe: So many of the tunes are a product of jamming them out and finding those key notes, rhythms and harmonies that after while you discover just need to be in the tune. For my part, I manage to build the constants in a lot of the tunes, such as the electric guitar rhythms in the singles, a lot of the harmony development and the drum patterns.
Ultimately, whoever comes up with the initial song ideas through lyrics, melody or basic chord progressions leaves it open to the interpretation and incorporation of our varied musical backgrounds and influences. That’s what creates the unique style that exemplifies our music.
Stephen Richardson: Dave answered this question well but I’ll add that it was a much more collaborative effort before I moved away from Yellowknife for a year. We all live separately now so the tunes tend to be brought to the band by individual members. So often the skeleton of the tune is already in place.
Since I returned we have mostly been working on recording and mixing the SPS album. The last tune we arranged for live performance was Cast Them Nine. It would be great to get the whole song list recorded (even at demo quality) so that nothing is lost. There are real gems that have yet to be played live or arranged to their full potential. Dave and I have been collaborating on a few more heavily arranged efforts like Keep Your Cigarettes Lit which we have been testing live through our instrumental duo FRUIT.
Emotionally I get very dark if I am not playing every weekend. Guitar pays my bills so I want to be playing as often as possible on top of teaching music… but it’s tough to balance work and teaching with being manly… as such Dee-Eye hasn’t been gigging or rehearsing as often as we used to so I formed FRUIT with Dave as a way to stay busy creatively. I also find it amusing when an audience collectively yells out “FRUIT!” at two blatantly heterosexual males. It’s the small things you know?
There was a deluge of writing a while back. Nate and I wrote parts of a tune called Maybe while hanging out at his Oceanside cabin in Nova Scotia. It has some of his coolest opening riffs to never see the stage. Paul has an incredibly understated song from that period which will be featured on SPS called Hard Place to Reach. It is so well crafted… It belongs on a TV soundtrack or in a movie. After he listened to the SPS singles I was approached by the owner of the Fleming Entertainment Group in Halifax about the possibility of individual publishing deals for those exact purposes.
Nathan McGrath: Most of the time we are like those furry aliens on Sesame Street. B………..ig, B……ig, B…..ig, B….ig, B…ig, B..ig, B.ig, Big.
Paul McGrath: Great lines are usually all it takes and I try writing a story that seems to fit the first line.
ECN: What song(s), album(s) or artist(s) have you been listening to most lately?
David Dowe: The Foo Fighters – Skin and Bones concert DVD. The arrangements for their tunes are fantastic. It is definitely a great concert for those who enjoy live acoustic gigs. The Jimmy Swift Band and Phish are inspirational. There’s nothing like jam bands that really have their stuff together. Kings of Leon have incredible tunes, like those off their latest album, Come Around Sundown. The music is not terribly complicated to play, but the arrangements and moods created by their collective work ethic are wicked.
I’m pretty much open to listening to many styles of music, as long as they sound well crafted.
Stephen Richardson: I am obsessed with Porcupine Tree’s Fear of a Blank Planet and their DVD Anesthetize. I have those albums in my home stereo and DVD player. I love well rehearsed, well crafted concept albums. Queenryche and Floyd were the masters. So good… So well mixed…. My manly iphone phone is loaded to the hilt with Miles, Coltrane, Frisell, etc. etc. Playing in the 5 CD changer of my JEEP are Keith Mullins – Localmotive, The Tragically Hip’s—We Are The Same, AIC – Black Gives Way to Blue, Billie Holiday – Gold, and Sigur Ros – Takk. The Mars Volta, Tool, Jeff Tweedy and KOL are always playing in my head. I intend on picking up some Wilco, Jamiroquai and JSB when I am recording in Vancouver this month. It is hard to find a CD store anywhere these days. Right now I feel like putting on the re-mastered Def Leppard – Hysteria. “Layyyyyyyyyyyyy it on the Liiiiiiiiiiiiine!”
Nathan McGrath: I love the Trews Live Acoustic DVD.
Paul McGrath: …Bob Dylan and Iron and Wine.
ECN: What do the next few months hold for the band?
David Dowe: Having recently upgraded to Pro Tools 9, we are intent on making lots of progress on Sock Puppet Serenade. A vision for the end product is already here, and now it’s ‘simply’ a matter of going through the musical motions. Stephen and I are also working on another musical side project called FRUIT, which he already mentioned. I have also recently collaborated with an old East Coast friend (Tron McFinger) now living in Dusseldorf, Germany. We used to write and record some manly heavy stuff with light lyrics, and now we’re testing that ability 20 years later through cyberspace. Ah, the miracles of technology.
Stephen Richardson: Dave and I will go hardcore on getting the remaining mixes of Sock Puppet Serenade finished and out to the hard paying fan. Paul and Nate are on eYe-atus so I want to hone the FRUIT concept and keep gigging. I recently bought the set props and a High Definition underwater video camera to film the official video for the single Dream Radio. I am going to shoot some footage this month in Vancouver and by summer have it streaming on the 3-A-D-E YouTube site with a link to download the track of iTunes. The video is going to be quite the outrageous Manly spectacle.
I also received an endorsement from Samick Guitar. The details have been about two years in the works. Amazingly I will be receiving a new Rose Anne model designed by JT Riboloff. He was the legendary Gibson luthier that designed guitars for Slash during Velvet Revolver, guitars for Richie Sambora and guitar pick-ups for Tony Iommi. This sweet instrument will thicken/Manify the remaining SPS tracks beyond our standard manly soundscape.
Nathan McGrath: They be mixing Sock Puppet Serenade.
ECN: Any chance we’ll be seeing you guys tour the east coast sometime?
David Dowe: 3-Across-Dee-Eye would LOVE to! Would you like to send an invitation with dates, times, and gigs lined up? The immediate future is focused on completing Sock Puppet Serenade and ripening FRUIT. But don’t be surprised if we’re spotted astride a calcite knoll on Marble Mountain jamming out Sock Puppet Serenade (the tune, not the album) from an upcoming third 3-Across-Dee-Eye album…
Stephen Richardson: We played once in Halifax (for a wedding that ended in failure) but I have really wanted to play Evolve. I contacted my old friend Jay Cleary, who is involved with the festival, about Dee-Eye’s interest. So it is a possibility but our focus will remain on completing this album and starting the next.
Nate McGrath: If the world survives 2012 we may find our way to the deluge that will be the East Coast.