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Words and photos: Barry Strader
It was June, 2015, at the Bedroom Bar on Rivington Street in London, England. By complete fluke, two musical acts from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, appeared on the same bill: Colleen Brown and Scenic Route to Alaska.
While Brown had long established herself as one of Alberta’s biggest talents, Scenic Route, a band consisting of three childhood buddies (the boys have just moved in together, but that’s a whole other story) had been making a name for itself as well. In fact, on this night, Scenic Route was the headliner. Perhaps that’s what gave Trevor Mann (lead vocals and guitar), Shea Connor (drums and vocals) and Murray Wood (bass) the confidence to approach Brown and start up a conversation. Quickly, there was talk of collaboration.
“I don’t know if she knew at the time how excited we would be for that,” said Mann. “We didn’t want to be all fanboy over her.”
Mann, Connor and Wood kept their cool. Enough so that Brown, well aware of the trio’s talent, offered the musicians a chance to record a song or two with her on a new album she was working on. The band assumed they were to work on the entire project and recorded three songs with Brown in their first session.
“It was ignorance, not arrogance,” laughed Connor.
The artists gelled so well during the recordings that Brown just went with it, and the next thing they knew, the album was all but recorded.
“Colleen would show us a song, we would start playing halfway through and by the end we’d all have a clear direction we’d like to go,” said Mann.
One of the songs they recorded, Motherland, inspired by the results of Alberta’s 2016 provincial election, was entered into ATB Financial’s All-Albertan Song Contest.
And, like the New Democrats, it won.
That earned the quartet not only the $10,000 first prize, but also the chance to perform a live show—for the first time ever—as Major Love at the Ritchie Community League in Edmonton.
It was a complete sell-out. And a complete success.
“I was nervous,” said Brown. “I could feel the whole band was excited. We’re all pretty comfortable playing on stage, so it’s not so much that. But there was still a little question mark whether people will like your music or not.”
Connor could feel the butterflies as well.
“You feel vulnerable when showing new songs to people anyway,” he said. “Even when you throw one new song into your set, when you play that song, you’re a little off. You’re focusing more than you do with every other song. To play a whole set like that, that’s when the nerves really start rolling.”
As the set began, the packed house sat back, unsure of what to expect from this musical experiment. By the end, they were shaking their hips and fully engaged.
Brown called the night a “love fest.” It was, after all, the night before Valentine’s Day.
“That’s what we were looking for, something love-filled, familiar. There was a communion between us and the audience. We were sharing something. It’s very human.”
After Major Love’s energetic set, Scenic Route brought the show home. And with a new Scenic Route album also on the way, the boys threw in a few more new tunes to cap off the night.
“It was a full-on experimental kind of night,” said Mann. “I love playing new songs because they seem a little more relatable at the time than songs I wrote five years ago, so you can put a little more honest emotion into it.”
With both Major Love and Scenic Route’s albums set for release this fall, you can expect tour announcements soon. You might even see Colleen Brown, Scenic Route to Alaska and Major Love all perform on the same bill. And Mann can’t wait to get on stage with Brown again.
“When she writes a song, with her beautiful voice behind it, it’s pretty hard to screw it up.”