Laviolette takes a chance, makes friends & music

Out of Guelph’s close-knit community, musicians collaborate to forge record label

Guelphite Richard Laviolette, left, plays with friend Chris Yang at the Sleepless Goat tonight.
Guelphite Richard Laviolette, left, plays with friend Chris Yang at the Sleepless Goat tonight.
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Tonight’s concert at the Sleepless Goat is an indication of the value of building friendships through common interests.

Richard Laviolette, Chris Yang and Jordaan Mason are friends first and fellow musicians second. Their performance tonight will kick off their seven-week tour of Canada and the U.S.

For Laviolette and Yang, this tour is a return to their old ways. The two singer-songwriters have been touring together on and off for almost two years across North America.

The two met by virtue of being part of the close-knit music scene in Guelph.

“We had been put on a lot of bills together at various places around town,” Yang said.

Around that time, Yang played a show with a band from New York called Cheese on Bread, who subsequently invited Yang to play with them in the States. When Yang discovered Laviolette had a car, he asked Richard to join him in New York.

“We took a chance on each other and really got to know each other,” Yang said.

Since then Laviolette and Yang have toured together, memorized each others’ songs and become housemates. Their newest joint effort is an EP called Hands and Feats.

“Being involved in that creative process again was something I was longing for,” said Laviolette, whose last album A Little Less Like A Rock, A Little More Like Home came out in August 2006.

“[The record] just seems fitting for Chris and I and the wonderful relationship we’ve been cultivating. It came naturally.”

The recording process has been really relaxed Yang said.

“We’ve been recording it in our living room. It’s turned out really good. ... It’s really easy for me to work with Richard.”

The split EP, which, as of last Saturday, is somewhere between the recording stage and the mixing stage, compliments the musicians’ friendship as well as their talents. Hands and Feats features songs written by both Laviolette and Yang.

“It’s a mix and mash,” Laviolette said of the EP. “Some of the songs are more of a shared experience, a little more layered.”

There’s a good chance the EP won’t be ready for their show tonight, but Yang is optimistic. “We’re going to try really hard.”

When called for an interview, the housemates were in the middle of silkscreening another round of album art for May All Yr Children Be Dragons, Yang’s most recent album, which was released last February. The album is a collection of songs he wrote while living in Beijing to learn Mandarin. They touch on his reflections on cultural identity.

“I’m half Chinese but I don’t speak any dialects,” Yang said. “The album is about being away and being somewhere new.”

Yang is the co-founder of Burnt Oak Records, the label that releases both his and Laviolette’s albums. He started the label with Ryan Newell of fellow Guelph band Households and Brad MacInerny while they were living in a house in Guelph.

“There were nine of us [living in the house], and five bands practicing regularly,” Yang said. “Ryan and I ended up putting out our own CDs at the same time. ... Our friend Brad threw out the idea to start a label and we all got on board. I was getting better at screen printing. Everything fell into place.”

Although they had never run a business before, Burnt Oak Records has been, by all accounts, successful, with eight bands and musicians on its roster, and more than 10 releases since 2005. This is perhaps due to their shared goal of having a collectively run organization.

“Sometimes having so many people on the label can be a bit stagnating,” Yang said. “But we try to keep it in line with how we want music to be produced and received.”

Burnt Oak takes care of everything from the recording to the production, from the album artwork to booking tours.

While Yang was busy touring for May All Yr Children be Dragons, Laviolette started a band. He began touring as Richard Laviolette and His Hallow Hooves last summer and discovered the key to being a part of a group is making compromises.

“It was a little weird because I had just gotten off tour with Chris, for [May All Yr Children be Dragons],” Laviolette said. “I had been playing three weeks of just solo shows ... just myself and a guitar, and I can take complete responsibility for everything on stage.”

Laviolette admits he was initially apprehensive about bringing a new song to the table and letting other musicians have their way with it. Ultimately, he explained, it was all about, “trusting other musicians to make something beautiful.”

“You often have [a] somewhat specific idea ... and you get a little posessive with some songs. I’ve come to learn ... that these relationships you have with people come first, and you’ve asked these people to share space with you, to come and contribute their talents to your music. It’s really important to bring a friend, and to trust as friends that they’ll do their best to it.” Laviolette’s current tour will see him reuniting with Yang on stage—perhaps the person he enjoys making compromises with the most. Jordaan Mason, a friend of Laviolette and Yang’s, will join them.

Mason met Laviolette and Yang at one of their shows in Guelph, shortly after Yang got back from Beijing. Keeping in touch wasn’t a problem for Mason, who is somewhat of an expert on the subject since he created a label for such a purpose.

Mason started writing music in 2003, while attending the California State Summer School for the Arts.

“I met a bunch of people there who were really awesome that I started to make music with,” Mason said.

They formed a band called Communist Daughter and toured around California. When it came time for Mason to head back to his native southern Ontario, the musicians started label Oh! Map Records to keep in touch.

Mason’s label grew out of a very similar organic spirit as his friends Yang’s and Laviolette’s Burnt Oak Records, but it extends to more than one area.

“Most labels are based out of one city,” said Mason. “We wanted one based out of everywhere.” Indeed, Oh! Map Records boasts a roster of musicians from all over the U.S., Australia and Canada such as The Sarcastic Dharma Society and Shelby Sifers. According to its website, the label’s focus is simple: “Oh! Map records is friends making music everywhere.”

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Richard Laviolette, Chris Yang and Jordaan Mason will perform at the Sleepless Goat starting at 8 p.m. The event is a pay what you can.

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