Q&A with Canadian band of The Actual Goners (Tristan Armstrong & Duncan Symonds) rootsy rock kind of sound

"Music has a great power to transcend and allow people of differing viewpoints to find common ground. A  song can insight a similar emotional reaction for people across varying walks of life. Bridging the gap between divisions seems like an important thing to be working on at this point in time."

The Actual Goners: Roots Rock Highway

The Actual Goners began as award-winning Canadian songwriters Tristan Armstrong and Duncan Symonds (VIMA Country Recording of the Year). With a passion for live performance that drove them across the country, from Vancouver Island to their current home base in Toronto, the longtime collaborators deliver personal and ageless tunes that capture and celebrate the compelling moments found in the unglamorous day-to-day. Stints in Nashville and New Orleans influence their sound that carries on the lineage of Canadian Roots Rock. The Actual Goners officially formed in March 2017, shortly after Duncan moved to Toronto after living, studying and playing music in New Orleans, LA. They began performing shortly after in venues around Toronto including Rivoli, The Cameron House and The Dakota, and The Horseshoe Tavern among several other sold-out shows. A roots rock band through and through, listeners can expect to hear swaggering guitar, ethereal pedal steel, and vocal harmonies. As avid music lovers, inspiration is found all over including from rock bands like Bruce Springsteen, Wilco, and Matt Mays; the lyrics of Lucinda Williams, Gord Downie and Jason Isbell; and the great guitar playing of Daniel Lanois and Sonny Landreth.                   (The Actual Goners / LP Photographs)

Their first recording Henhouse Sessions was tracked and mixed at Canadian producer Steve Dawson’s (Music Makers and Soul Shakers Podcast) Nashville-based Henhouse Studio. Since 2019, the band has put out 5 independent releases. At present, they are months away from releasing their first full-length album as they look at how to best adapt to the new industry landscape (due to COVID-19). This past fall they recorded new music with engineer/producer Aaron Goldstein and began a relationship with Glenn Milchem of Blue Rodeo who played drums on the album. Their efforts are currently focused on the release and promotion of their debut full-length album Lost Highway on vinyl and across digital streaming providers on May 6, 2022.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Roots Rock music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Duncan: Life is better with a good soundtrack.

Tristan: Something I’ve taken to heart from Roots Rock music is the value and coolness of being humble. There can be a sense of bravado and self-importance that is a big part of being a performer in other styles of music. I can certainly enjoy many of those artists, but I feel there is a degree of acting tied in with their craft as a musician. To me, roots music is all about putting your true self on the record and on the stage.

How do you describe band's sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does band's creative drive come from? What is the story behind band's name: The Actual Goners?

Tristan: We were going for a name that has a similar sentiment to Dire Straits. There’s a sort of comedic relatability to being completely screwed.

Duncan: We try and funnel the music that inspires us into a rootsy rock kind of sound. Whether it's catchy hooks, interesting lyrics, melodic guitar or good grooves. Capturing and reworking the aspects of music which excites and speaks to us.

Why do you think that the NOLA music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Duncan: To me, music from New Orleans is an ever evolving folk music tradition. It conveys the history, and experiences of all the cultures  that had influence on one another. It can be celebratory, mournful, funky, sophisticated, sacred, secular, deeply rich music.

"Toronto is a big place, and as such, it contains people of many backgrounds and many walks of life. It’s about as diverse a place as you’ll find in Canada. Just as there are pretty much endless options to choose from for what you’re going to eat for dinner, there are so many different kinds of really great music you could choose to go out and see on a given night." (The Actual Goners / LP Photographs)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Duncan: Playing the Horseshoe Tavern felt like a big welcome and quintessential Toronto music milestone.

Tristan: The first recordings we did as a band were with Steve Dawson at Henhouse Studio down in Nashville. We decided to drive straight down from Toronto (I wouldn’t advise it, but as an independent musician you do what you gotta do.) The clutch in my 2003 Mazda Protege5 was pretty much shot, so we were driving 10 under the limit for most of the drive. That no doubt added some hours to our journey. Once we arrived at Steve’s studio, things were all good. We had a great time chilling and recording in his amazing space. I had never been to Nashville, so it was an eye opening experience to go out on the town and take in some of the music happening there. Very fun place. Amazing musicians everywhere you turn.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Duncan: Last week I read an article on the disappearance of "the band", and how they've been replaced by the solo artist. The concept of a band is appealing to me and feels more fun, and more honest, especially live. I hope people get excited about live music and see the importance of it.

Tristan: There are a lot of things I miss about the way I listened to and discovered music in the past. Having stations on cable television dedicated to music and musicians was a very cool thing to have grown up with. Things are just different now. The experience of television is different now, and radio similarly. With streaming, people have the ability to be more selective with what they choose to watch or listen to. As such, I feel that the scope of what a person is exposed to is much more limited when they have total control over it. Overall, I see expectations for different styles of music becoming narrower and more specific. I’ve always been annoyed by over-categorization, and overly dissecting genre classifications, but I fear that things are headed in that direction as everything becomes increasingly more niche.

"We try and funnel the music that inspires us into a rootsy rock kind of sound. Whether it's catchy hooks, interesting lyrics, melodic guitar or good grooves. Capturing and reworking the aspects of music which excites and speaks to us." (The Actual Goners / Photo by Ariana Mount)

What would you say characterizes Toronto music scene in comparison to other local Canadian scenes?

Tristan: Toronto is a big place, and as such, it contains people of many backgrounds and many walks of life. It’s about as diverse a place as you’ll find in Canada. Just as there are pretty much endless options to choose from for what you’re going to eat for dinner, there are so many different kinds of really great music you could choose to go out and see on a given night.

If we’re talking specifically about Root Rock music, there is certainly a well established lineage of musicians that were established here in Toronto at one time - The Band, Neil Young, Blue Rodeo, Cowboy Junkies, The Sadies to name a handful.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Duncan: This is a big question! Probably too big to get into typing on a cell phone. I'll answer part two. Hopefully the listener wants a second listen.

Tristan: Music has a great power to transcend and allow people of differing viewpoints to find common ground. A  song can insight a similar emotional reaction for people across varying walks of life. Bridging the gap between divisions seems like an important thing to be working on at this point in time.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Duncan: Always stay open to letting yourself be excited by music.

Tristan: Seek out new and exciting things to appreciate and enjoy. There is so much to take in. The journey of self-improvement as a musician and as a person is a lifelong process.

The Actual Goners - Home

(The Actual Goners / LP Photographs)

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