Five Questions With… Pretty Archie's Colin Gillis
The eclectic Cape Breton roots combo has a new album out. Here its bassist/vocalist reflects on the group's artist evolution, the joys of touring internationally, and a fun Habs encounter.
By Jason Schneider
With the recent release of their latest album Hanging On (Curve Music), Cape Breton’s Pretty Archie offer a genre-bending mix of folk, bluegrass, country, rock and vintage soul, all underpinned by the band’s east coast roots.
Recorded in Sydney, Nova Scotia at Soundpark Studios and co-produced by Pretty Archie and Jamie Foulds, Hanging On captures the five members’ lust for the road and the unique musical connection that’s grown out of a lifelong friendship and their four previous records.
From stem to stern Hanging On is populated by characters every listener will recognize: long lost lovers, the best friend you always planned to run away and take on the world with, and even the person at the bar who’s perpetually on their last cigarette.
While Pretty Archie’s music blurs the lines between multiple genres, all the ingredients of their sound have been nurtured by the setting they grew up in. Even their name was sourced locally – in tribute to a local street musician the band says embodied their own love of playing and performing.
Bassist/vocalist Colin Gillis spoke to us as the band released a new animated video for the song “Stay The Same,” and is getting prepared to showcase at the 2019 East Coast Music Awards in Charlottetown during the first week of May. Find out more at prettyarchie.com.
What makes Hanging On different from your past work?
I’d say in a few ways. The songwriting is more of a group effort now. Since we have been touring for the past six years, we have similar experiences, but we all have a different perspective, so it’s nice to have lots of material about a particular topic. I also dare say we are better musicians than we were for our previous releases, so having more ability and experience helped us along for sure.
What songs on the record are you most proud of and why?
We are very proud of “Stay The Same.” The licks, the harmonies, and the hook make it a complete song for us that we love to perform. It’s about running into an old friend and picking things up where you left off, and I think we all can relate to that feeling. We also really enjoy “No One To Blame.” It’s a sad country song about losing a loved one and finding the motivation to keep going. I love the lyric, “In the back of my mind I’m hoping that I do you proud, I've been working so hard lately you should see me now.”
How would you describe your artistic evolution so far?
We started as a band with one songwriter and four chords, and have evolved into a five-piece group with electric guitar, mandolin, banjo and whatever else the guys can find with strings! We have tried to ignore the lines of genres and have created some blends that feel natural to us. We don't try and write a country song or a blues song; we use the lyrics to tell the story, but we also try and make the music work together with it to guide the overall feeling.
What's been the most significant change in your life over the past year?
The past year has been great for us. We have grown our following, released a new record with a manager and a label, traveled overseas to perform in the UK and Europe and have secured some great shows for the future. The most significant change, I guess, is that we are playing in front of larger audiences and we are feeling more like we deserve to be there. With so many great bands and acts all over the place it can be overwhelming, but we are doing the best we can to stand out, and we are working hard to help people have a good time at our shows and make the best music we can.
What's your best touring story?
Well, one night in Copenhagen…
No, I can’t tell that one because our families may be reading this! I guess our best tour story would probably be meeting and jamming with a few of our favorite artists in Denmark at the Tonder Festival. The backstage for the artists was like a big outdoor pub patio, and there were so many talented musicians and dancers it was surreal.
There was another time when a few Canadiens came to our gig in Montreal. We are pretty big hockey fans so to get to meet a few NHLers was pretty awesome. Of course, the best part was they picked up the tab! With five east coasters, it’s hard to have a bad time anywhere we go. We consider ourselves very lucky to have met so many great people along the way.