With guests Shawn Hook and Prisoners
"Feel my fire reach for you, flames draw high out to you, streetlight shines through my window. Take my heart, there you go, London's wild but I'm alone." - Atlantic
This new album is going to surprise you. And it’s an album, not a bunch of random songs. On Paris or India, The Midway State have aspired to make music that matters, challenging themselves as musicians and storytellers and thereby cementing their path as one of the most exciting and important new bands in Canada.
Their gift for creating music with honesty and soul has never been more evident. Paris or India is big, lush, sad and joyous. It is also the sound of a band not letting anyone dictate who they are. "The album’s about coming-of-age, my transition from boyhood to manhood," says singer Nathan Ferraro, 25, the group’s identifiable lead singer, who has become known all over the world in the last few years from touring with likes of Silversun Pickups, Kate Nash, and Death Cab For Cutie.
Hailing from the drowsy Great Lakes resort town of Collingwood, Ontario, the Midway State are informed by nature, friendships and the lake behind their parent’s houses where the boys grew up. The group -- Ferraro with Daenen Bramberger, Mike Wise and Mike Kirsh -- approach their second record from an unusual vantage-point: they were only in their teens when they first moved to Toronto and basically become stars while still learning their craft. "I had no understanding of anything, except for the fact that I love to write songs," says Ferraro, one of eight children who’s still very close with his family.
Suddenly, everyone was promising the teenagers the world. "We had A&Rs flying us all around and telling us all these awesome things," says Ferraro, who was simultaneously coming to terms with his life’s first big heartbreak, and beginning to study the intricacies of rhythm and the craft of writing a great tune. Ferraro began to explore music’s furthermost trenches and eschewed all the trappings that were being dangled his way.
“There’s very few 18-year-olds that are confident enough or who understand the deepness of the art that they’re making to have a footing,” says Ferraro – who’d written some 500 songs of his own by the time he blipped across the music-industry radar – with utmost even-handedness.
“At that point, I was just all ears. I didn’t know who I was as an artist whatsoever. Those were just the songs I was naturally inspired to write. I sat at a piano and I wrote those songs, we got a record deal and made a record. It just kind of happened. It was put in other people’s hands, into A&R and the producers’ hands." If the group was going to survive as musicians, they couldn’t chase after fads or wait on music industry hucksters – they had to roll up their sleeves and get down to work.
They plunged forward and released their 2008 debut album Holes, which wowed and won over fans and critics alike. Since their debut, the band won a pair of MuchMusic Video Awards for Favourite New Artist and Best Independent Video; were nominated for two JUNO Awards for Pop Album of the Year (for Holes) and Songwriter of the Year for frontman Ferraro; received a GOLD single for their hit "Never Again".
Still, even though the boys are humble, it’s impossible to talk about the band's past without mentioning their duet with Lady Gaga. A collaboration of "Don’t Give Up," which was originally recorded by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, the song is a sexy call-to-arms hope manifesto, which Ferraro says was a blast to record. "She was just coming off 'Let’s Dance' and eager to show people that she had a voice," says Ferraro, who met with the pop star in New York, Toronto and, finally, Los Angeles, where they cut a video for the track. The song was never featured on an album – it leaked on the internet before it was finished and Lady Gaga’s camp pulled the plug – but it was a good education in the upper echelons of the music business. "It’s more a feather in our cap than anything, but it was really cool to work with someone that huge," adds Ferraro.
For Paris or India, the band cut everybody off when they recorded and luckily found a willing co-conspirator at the right time in producer Thomas “Tawgs” Salter (Lights, USS), who served as a de facto “fifth member” of the Midway State. "With radio going completely rhythmic and R&B-based, people were pushing us in all kinds of directions, and we had to decide who we were on our own," reflects Ferraro.
"I like our first album and it was amazing to get so much attention, but we knew on this album we really had the chance to come together as a band." Songs like "Lightning," based on a poem that Ferraro recently wrote, were quickly revealed as the band locked themselves away in the studio and jammed. "The music came out inspired. It came from these truthful, honest and even beautiful places, and I found, through the tracks, a way to cut through the mess," says Ferraro.
Drawing influences from a wide array of sources, everyone from U2 to Sigur Ros and Michael Jackson to Radiohead, the group collaborated as never before, playing into the wee small hours at an inexpensive studio in the forest where they practically lived for the past year. "I sometimes drift toward the darker and more melancholy side of music, but [guitarist] Mike [Wise] added all this great colour and light to the album," says Ferraro. "The new songs are more up-tempo and light-hearted. It’s still pop music, but its aim is to capture the innocence of youth and the freshness, the ebullience, of the outdoors."
Paris or India revels in uncertainty, but also oozes an audible, celebratory delight at Ferraro’s many self-discoveries. “I’ll be leaving in the morning, I just don’t know when it’s coming,” he sings on “Paris or India,” a song that turns the prospect of “finding my own road” and sussing out “where do I end up now?” into a goosepimply rush of good feeling.
There’s a lot more joy on this record, too, and most of it stems from the freedom found in being open and trying to figure out the mysteries in life. "Alive" kicks the album off revealing a confident band, lyrically and musically alive and ready to take on the world. First single "Atlantic" is guaranteed to play a significant role in the Midway State story for it is the type of song that can literally transform your emotions and alter your entire day. The haunting and beautiful "Hartley Salters Kite" has a subtleness that pulls you in and mesmerizes you more with every listen.
Another standout, “All Anew” is an engulfing, ecstatic electro-pop thriller brimming with enthusiasm at the prospect of a fresh start. While “St. Paul and the Wolf” finds Ferraro sizing up his experiences of the past few years – “Everybody’s gotta lose sometimes / So maybe I’m lost and I like that” – and smiling with newfound perspective atop an exuberant, percussive clutter - add in a public school music class choir and you've got pure magic. Needless to say, this record threatens to burst your heart again and again.
With the release of Paris or India, the Midway State may very well inherit the crown that was bestowed on them ever since they first started playing together at 14. Throughout the recording the band were in search of nailing that feeling that was inside, of materializing the intangible, recording their honest inspiration. It sounds like a feeling you get from shooting fireworks into the night sky over Georgian Bay until dawn with your friends -- but on tape. The result is an album that is celebratory, emotional and aimed towards the rafters. Paris or India wears its hope on its sleeve.
Shawn Hook’s EMI Music debut, Cosmonaut and the Girl, says a lot about the artist, his direction and the music. Blessed with a stratospheric vocal range, heard right off the bat on the lead track, “Planet Earth,” and particularly on “Rockstaria,” the pianist and guitarist from Nelson, British Columbia shot for the stars on this recording, adding modern electronic elements to his organic singer-songwriter base.
“I’ve always been fascinated by space, astronomy and exploring,” says Shawn. “I was thinking of a cosmonaut and his girl. They rarely get to see each other. I relate to that because I’m never in one place for too long.”
The album, produced by Jon Levine (The Philosopher Kings, Nelly Furtado, Kreesha Turner), is a constellation of electro-spiked pop, like meteors of Paul McCartney and Elton John hurling through space collecting particles of Pet Shop Boys and Muse.
The first single, “Every Red Light,” is a pumping race to get to your girl, while “Dirty Little War” is a darker emotional string-laden piece about a nasty break-up with a slightly bigger political meaning as well. The mechanical and moody “Rockstaria” is a seductive aria for young hearts; “Middle Finger” a buzzing anthem for anyone who tells you “No, you can’t do that” and the heartbreaking “Love Is Patience” is for the loved one of a person with Alzheimer’s. Topics Shawn pulled from the 70 songs he wrote for the album.
He selected 12 for Cosmonaut and the Girl and this ambitious new sound he had always wanted to explore but couldn’t do properly as an independent solo artist without a band and means. He wrote “Fool,” “Rainbow” and “Love Is Patience” on his own and collaborated with numerous writers, including Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin (“Two Shadows”), Richard Harris (“Two Hearts Set On Fire”), and Wide Mouth Mason’s Sean Verrault (“Every Red Light”), but it wasn’t until he got together with Jon Levine that everything fell into place. The pair co-wrote “Planet Earth,” “Dirty Little War,” “Rockstaria,” “So Close,” “One Life” and “Middle Finger” together.
“Jon had a vision for this electronic vibe and I went with it. I trusted him and it inspired me,” says Shawn. “Working in Los Angeles, you can work with so many different people, but to find an identity or a sound is really rare. I was there for three for four years working with as many people as I could and I didn’t find it. Jon came along and this is it!” Perhaps it helped that Jon’s main instrument is also piano and they are both skilled and complex players with a pop sensibility.
Shawn began playing piano at age 4. He often brought little bits of compositions into his piano teacher, but he didn’t start writing lyrics until high school. His highest English marks were in poetry and once he started liking girls, he easily combined the two. “I remember having a few big high school crushes and when I saw them fall for other guys, it really upset me. My natural instinct was to sit at the piano and play what I felt. I’d play piano for hours on end until I felt better.”
Shawn made his first album in 2002 after his vocal teacher at a local music college offered to produce it. It was singer-songwriter style with more rock and was hand-sold to friends and family. A trombone player as well in high school, he also gigged in a disco cover band called Shag, which sometimes netted him $200-a-night. To this day, his says their lively stage show and sold-out crowds helped him develop as a performer. “I started writing a lot after that.”
His parents wanted him to have a solid profession so Shawn attended college for engineering. He spent most of his time in the music department. After two years, at age 20, he made up his mind to go to The Art Institute in Vancouver, a pricey recording arts school. At night, he performed at open-mics. After nine months, he hired a local engineer and armed with 50 originals, he picked the best and recorded another independent album in 2006.
To support the album and make a difference in the world at the same time, he and a friend formed a charity, Feed The Need, for which he performed at regional high schools and collected non-perishable items for the food bank. Today, the charity is registered and rebranded Live To Give. “I’m a big fan of Bono and John Lennon and what they stand for. They had a message and I want to do the same thing with my music,” says Shawn. He has already experienced music’s impact with his poignant piano ballad “Soldier,” which resonated with military families and schools, and led to some interesting opportunities.
Because of that song, he was flown to Los Angeles to showcase and started composing for film and television on a short-lived contract with ABC Studios. Other deal offers came, but before he signed anything foolish, he had the good fortune to meet his current manager in 2008, who started setting up showcases for him in LA and Canada with record labels, as well as the co-writes that appear on Cosmonaut and the Girl.
“Doing this record,” reflects Shawn, “I realize that it’s so important not to settle for anything. Back in the day, I was writing songs just to get them done. This experience taught me to not stop working on a song until it’s right. You feel that in your gut. You just know.
“It’s like it says in the song ‘Middle Finger;’ I feel like I’ve given in myself in the past, where people have had an influence on me and I finally went, ‘No. I don’t have to do it your way. I don’t have to give in. I have a vision and I’m going to do it my way.’ That’s what Cosmonaut is. It’s my way of exploring without ever having gone to space. It’s risky, but it’s something I have to do while I’m still young. I can always go back to just me behind a piano or guitar. But right now, this is fun and everything I envisioned for myself.”