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"For the cool kids, and the crowd, too" by Carsten Knox

It flummoxes record company marketing divisions and radio programmers, but some bands just don’t fit into easily definable categories. To be safe, you could say “pop” or “rock,” or some sub-genre of either, but there are the bands that just won’t sit under any comfortable label. Internationally, think of Radiohead or Beck, both defying easy description.

Caledonia is one of those indefinable bands. Variously described as alt-country and new wave, the group continues to fly it’s own hybrid tapestry freak flag. Consisting of Steve Gates on guitar, mandolin and lead vocals, Zac Crouse on bass and vocals, Ian Bent, keyboards and vocals, and Steve Reble on drums, the four-piece is open about its influences (sixties rock grooves, eighties new wave, folk, reggae and dance music) but in no hurry to pigeonhole its sound. That’s part of the music press’ job, which will be happily deferred here.

What can be easily told is that the band has latched onto a loyal following in the over three years its been together by playing consistently solid live shows and releasing a debut album, Lost Balloons, in 2004. Regular airplay on both college radio and the CBC followed, and a distribution deal with Maple Music. October 10th will see the release of their follow-up, an EP called Waiting To Burn, and a tour that will begin in Antigonish and take them through points west.

Catching up with bassist Zac Crouse, who spent the summer sea kayaking around Newfoundland, he’s excited to be playing again with his band. Things look pretty good for Caledonia and their next big adventure. This time, for Crouse, it’s overland.

This is your second album. Why an EP?

We did about ten, maybe 11 songs, and we picked our favourite eight, and then we narrowed it down to the five that we figured gave a hint as to where we’re trying to go. We’re trying to incorporate more reggae. (A musician friend of ours) describes us a “post-rock.” That sounds a little bit pretentious, so I call it music you can dance to but you’ll still respect us in the morning. We want to make the cool kids respect us, and play to the crowd, too.

I can definitely hear The Police in your bass lines, and the choppy guitar.

That’s definitely a big influence. We’ve been listening to a lot of The Clash, Interpol, but then you mix that with… Ian’s got his masters in classical music composition, so he really fucks with things a lot.

How do you share songwriting duties in the band?

We all do it. We’ve got a really good system going. Someone will come with a riff or a chord progression or some lyrics. We’ll basically workshop a song to death if we think it’s cool. And then we’ll let it sit for awhile. Ian can write a bass line for me, and I can suggest a way to play the piano, and we can all contribute to the lyrics, but the rule is, if it’s your instrument, you get the final say. It allows everyone to have input but no one gets their feelings hurt.

The big difference between the first (album) and this one, the last one the songs were all Steve Gates’ songs, and we all helped on the arrangements but they were all his tunes. This one is definitely a four-piece effort.

I read that you actually play piano.

Thirteen years of classical.

You never feel like going back?

Nope. Royal Conservatory cured me of that. It’s the worst program I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. They take the fun out of it. It’s too bad, but I found bass and banjo, and now I’m playing ukulele, because it fits in the back of a kayak.

Have you toured across the country before?

No, this is our first. We did a Fuck-The-Prairies tour, where we'd do The Maritimes, Ontario, and then get on a plane to BC, and play there (laughs). For three summers now we’ve toured Ontario with stints in BC, but this is the first time we’re playing out and we’re playing back. We bought a van, basically. We can do it now, where before we were using my Ford Escort.

You guys are going to play in town on the end of your tour, right?

November 25th (at The Seahorse). We’re going to make it the coolest night in town. We want to pack that place. We’ll be really tight.

On the poster for your show in September, you could get a discount on your ticket price if you came in formal attire. What was that about?

Every so often we try to do a special show, not just your typical rock show. We recognized with students, people have different incomes. Personally, I have a hard time paying more than $10 bucks for a show. We feel we’re a ten-dollar band, but some people need a break sometimes. If you put a little effort into it, then we have no problem giving you a discount. It worked out really well. Ninety-percent of the people there dressed up. There were so many sexy girls in there. Fishnet stockings, one lady had this leather corset on. It was hot. Anything to get girls in skirts, really (laughs).



2006-11-25, Entertainment
Chronicle Herald

Caledonia plays Seahorse

Halifax rock and roots band Caledonia returns home from a nationwide tour to perform at the Seahorse Tavern tonight. The innovative quartet has been coast to coast playing shows in support of its new CD Waiting to Burn.

Joining Caledonia on the bill is spoken word artist/songwriter Tanya Davis whose recent CD Making a List is a campus radio favourite, and who recently appeared onstage at the Nova Scotia Music Awards in Liverpool performing alongside Jenn Grant.


Live Review from Nemo Festival in Boston

From Halifax to D.C. To Cambridge in One Night
September 30, 2006

-Sarah Rodman

I took the meandering approach to the second night of the NEMO Music Festival, deciding to stop in places I like, to hear what I could hear. And it's a testament to the festival's bookers that I only intended to stay in each place for a few songs and ended up hanging out for almost full sets.

The Abbey Lounge played host to the "Halifax Explosion," a full night of bands from Nova Scotia. I caught Caledonia, who played a mix of modern rock, reggae and country wearing classy influences like the Police, Luna and Elvis Costello on its nattily attired sleeve. They even did a spot on version of Costello's "Watching the Detectives," which gives you a sense of both their chops and what their own sense of dynamics are. Each of their originals had a sense of structure and craftmanship. Special props to bassist Zac Course who laid down tasteful, bubbly grooves under lead singer-guitarist Steve Gates' skewed licks. Really good stuff.



"Lots of bands try for that elusive atmospheric sound but end up with fluff. Caledonia nails it."

—Travis Boisvenue, The Fulcrum

“Waiting to Burn is aptly titled-it’s a document of patience with detailed attention to melody and mood.”

-Johnston Farrow, The Coast

The Leeds Guide review of Lost Balloons (click here for .pdf)


Review of Ontario tour

"With talent, good looks, and a music pedigree so strong you could enter them in the Westminster dog show, Caledonia is a band that should be turning heads. I was lucky enough to catch a three-night run of their easy, graceful sound. Although facing some unknown-band-on-the-road problems (i.e. audiences interested primarily in the main act), Caledonia managed to charm new fans with its folk-laced rock. Who could resist such strong, affable melodies, sweet lyrics, and a vibe that just calls the kids to dance."

-Rachel Levine


With roots stretching across the country, the folk-rock quartet makes a serious run at musical success.
The CoastCaledonia

With roots stretching across the country, the folk-rock quartet makes a serious run at musical success.

The past few months have been busy ones for Halifax-based folk rockers Caledonia. They've released an album, received some props from a national radio broadcast, been nominated for a MIANS award and they've played some pretty sweet gigs around town, including one during The Constantines' recent two-night stand.

Although the band was formed in April of 2003, Caledonia has been a work in progress for several years. Frontman Steve Gates attended school in British Columbia, and started honing some of the songs that would eventually become Caledonia's first album, Lost Balloons, on the west coast. But, he says, the songs didn’t feel right until he came back home.

"I had met a number of musicians in Vancouver's open mic and busking community, but was never able to connect with the calibre of musicianship that I had access to back home," he says. "It takes time to crack a scene, and I had spent years meeting musicians and playing open mics in Halifax - it was a logical starting point. That, and I was totally homesick."

When he came back to Halifax, Gates formed Caledonia with bassist Zac Crouse and keyboardist Ian Bent, and the band worked with several local session musicians, including Jordi Comstock, Rose Cousins, Dale Murray and Benn Ross. With the recent addition of drummer Steve Reble, the group has been able to take a more serious run at the local scene, and has already seen some impressive results.

Aside from their frequent performances in Hell's Kitchen, and with a nomination for the Pop/Rock Recording of the Year at the upcoming Music Industry Association of Nova Scotia Awards under their collective belt, Caledonia was featured as the Indie Artist of the Week on Definitely Not The Opera at the start of this month. The nationally syndicated CBC Radio One program also featured segments on Elvis Costello and controller.controller that week, putting Caledonia in very good company.

"It was totally unexpected," says Gates. "It was one of maybe 10 places that I sent the disc to upon its release in June. I really just hoped that they would play it and I think that the airplay was more exciting than the Indie Artist of the Week thing. That was just a bonus. I was actually out camping when it happened, and then there were all these messages on my answering machine about it. Old friends from across the country, and people wanting to buy the CD were e-mailing us... it was totally bizarre."

-Jon Bruhm


Lost Balloons, Caledonia 2004 www.rismixlive.com

Reviewed by Shael Risman

Not so much lost balloon as hidden treasure. Originally a solo project by Nova Scotia singer/songwriter Steve Gates, Caledonia blends his formidable talents with bassist Zac Crouse and keyboardist Ian Bent to create a tasty melange of some of the best Celtic tinged folk rock this side of Halifax. Melodic yet edgy, Caledonia weaves seamlessly through wistful ballads like "Roll Up The Rim" (I love a good Tim Horton's reference) and rancorous jams like album opener "Houses", barely stopping for a breath in between. Lyrically the tunes are simple and stark, and Gates sings with a voice laced with the emotion of a last breath. Maritime songstress Rose Cousins and ace fiddler Robbie Smith on backup vocals and violin respectively lend notable guest turns to what is legitimately one of the most exciting independent releases of 2004. Buy this record now.




"Caledonia are a diamond in the rough. They have their own blend of folk, alt-country and rock. Their live show is very energetic without getting in your face. They are one of the few bands around where you can sit down and watch them with a beer or get up and dance a bit. Their songs are melodic and upbeat and driven by singer Steven Gates' storyteller style voice."

-Duane MacDonaldHalifax music critic


Lost Balloons Review Halifax Daily News

"...Newcomers Caledonia is casting-off its debut album Lost Balloons with a show at Ginger's Tavern...Unlike most local folk-rooted outifts, Caledonia sports a fulltime keyboard player in Ian Bent (who once held down a house gig at the Lieutenant Governor's swanky residence.) Zac Crouse adds the bass and Jordi Comstock kicks out the beats on the trapset. I plugged into a few new tunes this week, and was pleasantly surprised. The band has a soft-edged alt.country feel, nicely framing Gates's gentle voice. Love the chorus on the title track: "I feel like drinkin' less and dancing more." Spells the end of the bar business, but a great sentiment. Lots of little sonic ear-treats as pedal steel, mandolin, piano, frailed banjo and other warm tones sweeten the mix. Could definitely be a band to watch as they log more stage-time."

-Sandy MacDonald The Daily News, Halifax


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