Battle of the bands: Unpacking Kingston-born bands

How The Codas, The Empties, Kasador, and Kings of Queens conquered Kingston

Kingston bands are back to playing original songs for live crowds.
Supplied by The Codas

There’s a classic pub on Princess St., around the corner from the late-night 7-Eleven. You might know it: The Mansion.

It’s the kind of place you find bright, young musicians looking to book their first big show to a crowd of over a hundred people.

It’s also a place where Kingston-born bands like The Codas, The Empties, Kasador, and Kings of Queens performed, while singing songs about youth and fools in the sweat-induced scene of Indie-rock, blues rock, punk, funk, jazz, and fusion rock to animated schooner-loving audiences.

Bands are born in Kingston and leave it a child, to one day make it big in the world. However, no matter how many sleepless nights and frenzied shows occur, every band has a hometown somewhere.

“Music is a huge piece of the city’s identity and there’s a little hometown pride Kingston has in that,” Moira Demorest, ArtSci ’05, music commissioner with Tourism Kingston, said in an interview with The Journal, looking back at the Golden Age of Kingston music.

When she entered the music scene in her first year of Queen’s in 2005, punk and metal pulsed through clunky speakers. She reminisced about the legacy of The Tragically Hip, Sarah Harmer, and The Headstones, who dominated the 90s music scene.

“Some of them are still creating music, they’re still doing amazing things and still touring.”

Her enthusiasm for local bands and entertainment continues today. She considers Kingston a city for beginners—where lots of musicians get their start.

Imagine, it’s the early 2000s, exposed hips in low-rise jeans are dancing to Beverly Hills by Weezer, and Demorest is transported to her first live band.

“I look fondly on moments when I was starting a band and being part of a scene. All these things were happening, and it was a really exciting time.”

Reflecting on the past is a key part of Kingston music culture.

“I think every generation and every genre and probably every venue in Kingston has its own golden time. The best is yet to come and we as a city are beginning to talk about music and its importance within a cultural and social context.”

Demorest believed the new crop of singers and songwriters are doing “really cool things,” specifically referencing to Kasador and The Empties.

“I think they’re just on the cusp of breaking out.”

The Codas

Drinking foamy cappuccinos with the smell of ground coffee beans lingering in the air of Balzac’s, The Codas explained the creative experience of starting a band just before COVID-19. The band initially formed in 2019, but the pandemic stalled their progress.

Braden Elliot, lead vocalist and guitarist; Angus Fay, drummer; and Taylor Adams, bass; talked of lyrics as sculptures, punk rock Ottawa clubs, and the capacity to transform themselves as a band and as artists.

“This summer, I feel like we’re almost just starting out as a band. Now that we have the members that we have, it almost feels like this is our beginning,” said when glancing back at his musical journey of the past four years.

During the unplanned time off in the summer of 2020 right after the pandemic hit, the band wasn’t actively playing at big venues or meeting up to talk about music. Instead, Elliot spent his pandemic days writing songs in snowy Kingston, thinking of new sounds to build a fresh start.

2019 was a momentous year for The Codas, releasing their first EP, “Chasing Sun” featuring songs “Anomaly,” “The Idea of You,” “Andromeda,” and “A Refrain About Love.”

However, 2022 was in some ways more meaningful than their debut, Elliot said. It brought new beginnings for the band to reject their old music and gave them time to create a new focus on a diverse set of genres.

After deleting old songs from Spotify and Apple Music, and shedding old bandmates, The Codas experimented with different chords, keys, and tones to find their new home.

While dabbling in rock and soul, R&B, and raw cinematic pieces, they came across a rhythm founded in rock, where putting sounds together became a cohesive piece. Despite removing previous songs that no longer represented their band, Elliot still couldn’t decide his favourite song.

“I feel like it’s tough to choose from. You treat them as your babies, so favorites, I don’t know.”

Similar to babies, their songs have individual personalities, shining and performing their best in different environments under the bright lights on stage. Elliot said, before he gets on stage, he has an idea of where the performance will go, but the second he has the guitar in his hands and the lights blaring down, the stage becomes its own show.

“It almost doesn’t feel like you’re performing, but you’re just playing. Just making music.”

Elliot quoted the “legendary producer Rick Rubin” from an interview where Rubin said, “don’t make art with anyone else in mind.” These words influenced his philosophy as a musician.

Following these words while he strums his guitar, Elliot makes the effort to never compromise his integrity—to always remain genuine. Elliot knows how to follow his own advice and continues to pursue his music with authenticity.

Elliot said authenticity is a core feature of The Codas, and the introduction of their new bass player demonstrated this devotion to their craft.

Taylor Adams, their newest member, entered the band as an avid fan, watching from the sidelines of their shows. Now, he’s their newest bass player. He joined The Codas at the beginning of the summer and Eliot described this instant chemistry between him and Adams.

“It was kind of one of those situations where it’s like right in front of your face. We just need a bass player so bad, and Taylor is kind of there jumping up and down waving his hands.”

Despite making lighthearted jokes about a band resembling a marriage, and 50 per cent of marriages ending in divorce, there was something natural about working together that went beyond musical talent.

This Thursday, beside red and blue foosball tables and foaming student beer, Adams performed live for the first time with the band at a Queen’s classic—Clark Hall Pub.

After two years of marking sheets of paper with black inked lyrics in silent rooms, Elliot knew, “it was go time now.”

Kingston is a scene where The Codas are ready to share their music with people and engage with their audience in live performance again.

The Empties

The Empties are ready to move to a world of subways and streetcars, while performing live at Toronto music festivals.

While sipping boiling chai tea and sugary orange juice, the band told The Journal about their stage presence in front of a new crowd while slowly showing original singles.

Zeke Wilson, lead vocals; Ethan Flanagan, lead guitar and vocals; Ben Hagedoorn, rhythm guitar and vocals; Nic Pagé, bass guitar, Liam Moore, keys; and Noah Cummings, drums went from amateur band to professional players.

Anxiety-induced performances and perfectionist tendencies are less of a concern after countless shows and the performance becomes something of a dynamic spectacle, Flanagan eagerly said.

Dynamics mean anything different to engage the crowd and “curate” new shows for the audience to watch.

“Let’s force the crowd into an acoustic period after a rock song, and maybe it’ll be slightly uncomfortable. And, maybe that’s not what people’s bodies want to do in that moment. But it’s sort of captivating,” Flanagan said.

Repetition is a thing of the past and alongside music composition, the band enjoys creating an individual experience for each audience. Artists in their craft they compose songs like “Fool’s Gold” and “Quicksand” to express alike ideas in different ways.

Despite “Leave Me Be” and “Fool’s Gold” convincing you “to make a fool out of dreams,” they both symbolize a different kind of deception.

 ‘“Fool’s gold’ is saying, checking in and lying to yourself can come back to bite you, but the fool in ‘Leave Me Be’ is the idea of going for something ridiculous and making dreams of something everyone says is silly” Wilson said.

Of their three released singles, Moore praised “Quicksand as his favourite single because it’s a great opener and a “really neat groove.”

Moore continued with “I also get to rent a solo halfway through, which is great.”

After Noah Cummings, drummer of the band, let his Kingston mates crash on his cozy couch in Oakville, the boys got ready to perform for the masses.

The band agreed their best performance was at Cork Town Pub in Hamilton. With half the band being Queen’s or McMaster students, half the band embraced the endless energy of the familiarly unfamiliar crowd.

While belting unreleased original singles under the hazy lights of an old student pub, they felt an outpouring of positivity from the fans.

“There’s a great young art scene here, and it’s grown for sure but at the same time it’s very comfortable for us. You know that feeling of uncomfortableness, I crave it for our band, and we are very comfortable here” Flanagan said in response to future plans for the band.

Though Kingston will always be a place of home for The Empties they’re ready to move out and find their passion in a new unknown city.

If you want to see the band perform for a live audience drive down to Toronto on June 5 to 10 for the Canadian Music Week Festival.


From practicing in a small room on Division St. with the Queen’s Music Club, to performing in lively Toronto music halls, to finally coming back to their home base in Kingston, Kasador explained their evolution as a band and the significance of their new single, “Youth.”

Cameron Wyatt, ArtSci ’15, vocalist and guitar; Boris Baker, Kin ’16 and MSc ’18, bass; and Stephen Adubofuor, drums; explained the turbulent years of a rotating rhythm where everything changes from song to song.

“We always felt the need to rebrand, and I think the type of music now is vastly different but lives in a slightly different sub-genre,” Baker said in an interview with The Journal.

During this period of experimentation and graduation Wyatt and Baker set off by themselves in different directions before coming back to Kingston.

Wyatt, a previous Queen’s student, moved back to his hometown of Ottawa after graduation, while Baker wrapped up his Master at Queen’s and moved to Toronto for a brief period. Eventually, the two of them ended up in Toronto.

Oversaturated with music, the city was not as approachable to them in the way Kingston was.

“It’s more affordable and easier to get around, it feels comfortable to be here […] It’s very vibrant because there’s so many schools, there’s injections of youth and new life that you don’t always get at more insular cities,” Baker said.

Once their short time in Toronto came to an end, they returned to their Kingston roots to become a band again.

After years of building both a student and professional network, they created a community where they can ask someone like Brett Emmons of The Glorious Sons—also Kingston-born—to see if he wants to do a writing session.

They bump into people who can open doors to the type of industry and music they’re looking to make their mark in.

Similar to The Codas, Kasador expressed the difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone feels like they lost a few years of their life. And so, I think it’s like the loss of time or even youthfulness you may have had before felt like it was taken away from you and you were only able to experience that at a certain point in your life.”

Wyatt reflected on the melancholy of passing youth isolated in empty rooms and said this experience is different for everyone.

He connected the themes of youth slipping through your fingers with wasting time in haughty cities—which inspired the band’s new single “Youth,” now streaming on Spotify and Apple Music.

“There are a lot of people that love a city, but the city won’t ever love you back and instead of serving a city, Kingston definitely serves bands,” Wyatt said as a last piece of advice.

Kings of Queens

Energetic, edgy, and new to the Kingston music scene, student band Kings of Queens expressed their desire to bring an effervescent individuality to the Kingston Alternative Rock scene and hopefully release their own EP.

Cramped in a Stauffer study room meant for four, Lachlan Pope, ArtSci ’23 and lead guitar; Coleman Campbell, ArtSci ’23, and keys; Sean Pollen, Sci ’23, and drummer; Nico Paré, Sci ’25, bass and vocalist; and Stephen Swim, ArtSci ’23, lead vocalist and guitar talked about serendipitous barbeques and beer-filled guitars.

The band explained how they came together to form Kings of Queens.

Swim said their music has a fluidity that’s both cohesive as a unit, but without a defined form. Their interests blend into an array of genres all originating from the five-piece band’s musical backgrounds. 

Campbell’s gospel music merges into Swims Country roads, which gives way to Paré’s ’60s invasion rock, then settles into Pollen’s folk rock to end in Lachlan’s metal shred.

Meeting up in makeshift writing sessions, they write original lyrics and melodies from their personal experiences and observations.

Cold feet and almost moments show the consequences of complacency in band’s original song “Crystal Ball.” Swim acted as the central lyricist to the song and said the speaker “should have trusted the crystal ball.”

“They don’t know what’s happening and they don’t do anything about it, so the main verse goes ‘show me why you got cold feet,’” he said.

With their loyal fans mainly coming from the Queen’s student house party population, Swim wants them to come out and listen to music from bands like The Stokes and The Tragically Hip in a high-energy setting.

“We want people to feel like it’s a party, and just have fun,” Swim said.

Kings of Queens said they learned many lessons playing as a band in Kingston and feel Queen’s is the thing that brought them together. Through all these experiences they learned to absorb the advice from others in order to thrive in such a vast industry.

While studying the piano at a program in Boston at Berklee, soft-spoken and classically trained Campbell learned to shatter his knowledge systems to enter the creative industry.

“He basically convinced me to drop everything I knew about music theory and relearn music to get rid of the structure because I learned classical music theory, which is really structured with not much room for creativity,” Campbell said of one of his teachers.

Pope learned to listen to his audience and connect with what they want to hear, while Swim learned to play music honestly because, he said, that’s where the artistry comes out.

Kings of Queens, the youngest of all the bands The Journal interviewed, reflects the heady whirlwind of starting a new band in the Kingston music community.

Prone to performing sweat drenched and with perfect pitch bars, Kings of Queens will be seen again on Feb. 9 at the Mansion.

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