Credit to Author: Stuart Derdeyn| Date: Mon, 25 Nov 2019 19:00:11 +0000
When: Nov. 29, 8 p.m.
Where: The WISE Hall, 1882 Adanac
Tickets and info: From $20 at ticketweb.ca
Harlequin Gold is fronted by Kelowna-raised sisters Elle and Avery O’Brien. The group released its four-song debut EP Baby Blue earlier this year to universally positive reviews, with songs such as Take Me Home grabbing ears across Canada and down the U.S. west coast.
The working lineup of Avery on bass, keyboards and vocals, with Elle on guitar and vocals, producer and guitarist Justice McLellan, and drummer Jamison Ko came together about a year ago.
Elle O’Brien is quick to note that the connection to music for both sisters is a “lifetime” thing and the two grew up singing and writing songs together, but they had not planned on coming together in a band.
A few years back, Elle was a microbiology graduate contemplating dentistry and Avery was “studying coffee,” working as a barista in Melbourne, Australia. When their brother had a life-threatening dirt biking accident and wound up in a coma, Avery came home and the family united to face an uncertain future.
During this difficult period, the siblings concluded that they wanted to make music together again — it was one of the only things that really made them feel OK in that very hard time. Once that choice was made, things started to move.
“I met Justice at Zulu buying tickets for a Canada Day party at the Waldorf and asked him if he was coming,” said Elle O’Brien.
“After that, we kept on running into each other, in East Van, at the park and so on. After about the eighth time, we decided to go for a drink and that’s when I discovered he was involved in music, and he immediately fit right in with what we were doing music. Now he is over for family dinners all the time.”
McLellan produced the fist two DIY recordings by Harlequin Gold. Recorded in an apartment, Without You Now and Youth both were hits on Spotify. This early positive fan response lead to the decision to become a full band. In short order, the group was getting good opening gigs with bands such as Sunflower Bean at Canada Music Week in Toronto.
“I was working on a solo, electronic EP project,” says Elle. “But I didn’t really have the drive to do it, because singing with Avery just felt so much better and natural. I can’t imagine making music any other way now, actually.”
Produced by McLellan, with input from Mark Needham (The Killers, Imagine Dragons), John Raham (Dan Mangan, Frazey Ford), and Stephen Marcussen (Paul McCartney, Band of Horses), the Baby Blue EP is most certainly not an electronic-based effort. The closest comparison would be what Metric might sound like with two female voices.
From the title track to the hook-filled natural breakout single, Take Me Home, the recording is loaded with intricate and atmospheric guitar and a stripped down and driving rhythm section, all buoyed by the sisters’ complimentary harmonies.
The dual vocal interplay is the standout quality of the EP, and one that both singers admit has long been in the making.
“Even before we were singing or writing together, we were always singing and harmonizing other songs,” said Avery. “It would drive our mother nuts driving in the car as we would start harmonizing to whatever was on the radio, really badly. Nobody ever sang the melody or the lead, we both just kept trying to find interesting ways to harmonize around the music.”
Without question, the sisters found their spaces within the songs. From the almost early folk duets in the title track to rising arena hooks of Want You More and the natural singalong chorus in Take Me Home, the EP is full of accomplished musicianship. The catchy pop got noticed well outside the Vancouver indie scene, leading to the band getting work in the U.S. and dates in Australia for the Big Sound festival.
“Greg Little, who is a booking agent out of Atlanta, heard Take Me Home somewhere online and went out of his way to find us,” said Avery.
“He believed in us right away, and wanted to help getting U.S. work visas and setting up the coming shows in Seattle and Portland. It’s pretty exciting for us, because there are so many places to play down the coast.”
Both sisters are pumped to pursue all the international opportunities available to them, with a plan to hit somewhere in the U.S. every 45 days (as the work visas permit) to build a following. The Baby Blue EP is best viewed as a calling card, as the siblings say that they are sitting on enough finished songs for a full-length album and can easily fill a headlining set.
“We have a good dozen songs we’ve locked down as a band and another section that just need to sort out the keyboards for,” said Avery.
“The idea is to put it between Elle and Justice as she is right-handed and he is left-handed and maybe they can play it with the free hands, upside down and backwards.”
So it’s a typical case of tour and build a market for your music facing Harlequin Gold. In keeping with the nature of how music is consumed today, the members are able to chart where the streams are coming from and use that to determine where to play. It seems pretty certain that Europe is on the list. Both musicians admit that it’s very interesting looking at the metrics behind the music streams, gleaning information ranging from gender to location of fans.
“Europe is where we have the greatest number of streams at the moment, by far,” said Elle. “Specifically, in Germany where we are looking at 60,000-plus streams compared to a tenth of that in all of Canada. The cool thing about social media is that your music can travel so much farther and can find fans and you can decide what to do with that information.”
Elle says that she writes “in clumps,” usually in the morning, which “probably drives the neighbours nuts.” But lately, a lot of the songwriting process is pulling ideas out at band practices and working on them as a whole.
“It’s pretty awesome how our singles have shown the different influences coming into the band, from Justice’s rock style to Jamison’s jazz and Avery’s indie rock and my ideas,” said Elle.
“There is a lot of blending genres, from I Was Your Girl’s folk-pop to Take Me Home’s indie rock. One of our friends stalks us on the internet and says that it’s hilarious how often the genres we are listed under change.”
As long as the comments pronounce the songs as good, Harlequin Gold is ready to shine anywhere the music takes them. The band maintains a rigorous release schedule of performance videos, and keeps fans engaged across social media platforms.
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