The Once Play With Your Musical Expectations: Is it Folk, or Pop, or Indie or . . .

by Carey Rutherford

Here The Once proves they’re from Newfoundland by standing in the cold by the water: sometimes it’s sunny! Photo by Tom Cochrane.

It occurs to MUSICAlive! afterwards that we never asked Geraldine Hollet, lead singer for The Once, the significance of the band’s name. Sure, “once” is an adverb meaning “on one occasion”, or “for one time only”; but as a noun it becomes capitalized as their bandname and means “a Newfoundland-based folk-pop trio who have been combining 3-part harmonies and acoustic guitar and keyboards to confound those trying to categorize them”.

Not that we’re complaining, really.

“Categories!?” Geraldine exclaims, and then goes hunting: “No, it’s not roots at all! Well, I suppose, I mean . . . Folk first; then a little indie; and a little, uh, a little rootsy. It’s acoustic! Is there a The Once category?” she laughs. “Because I think we should put it there.”

Not very helpful, Geraldine, we point out. So you don’t know what you are.

“But we know WHO we are! The world doesn’t know where to put us, and there’s a lot of us out there. And we don’t get played on big-time radio because big-time radio’s scared of us, I think . . . They’re looking for structure: gimme a break!

“You do (as a band), and you do what you want: you tell me Led Zeppelin had structure!” (we laugh again)

“When we first started out it was very traditional because those were the songs we knew, and we kind of got tossed together at a festival. So we knew a whole lot of traditional (Newfoundland) songs, plus some contemporary tracks, because we got asked to do Leonard Cohen; and Amelia Curran back home had a song she wanted to give us.So we put those songs on the record. 10 years later, ‘Who are we? What are we?’ The whole conversation has been since then: what do we want to be?”

“I guess it’s pop music: we love pop music! We love country music! We love indie-folk! All those things we listen to ALL the time!”

So, The Once’s lead singer REFUSES to categorize them AGAIN! But we laugh a lot! MUSICAlive! begins to investigate the album, Time Enough, which Geraldine admits is both their 4th and 6th release (after we browbeat her into it), and we inquire about our favourite tune in the collection: “Another Morning”. It’s an emotion-filled postcard of a thought, longing for someone who’s not around.

“I love (that song) too, and when we do it onstage it’s really powerful, and when we did it onstage here at the folk festival in St. Johns it rained (during the opening line: ’Raindrops drummed on the tin roof of my room.’ and then it stopped for the rest of the song! I love that stuff.”

Both of us agree that there’s nothing to it, but it’s cool anyway. And the Once sings around metaphysics a few times.

“(The last song on the album) Tim Baker gave to us . . . There’s been a few people in the community that have lost (people and) battles with things over the past few years, and Tim was really inspired to write this song: he had (The Once’s) Phil and his (recently deceased) mom in mind, and it’s this little piece about feeling the presence of people even though they’re gone, and whatever the hell that means.

“We were so floored that he even thought of us at all, and he was like ‘I thought this would be good for you,’ and boy was he ever right! We love it: we had to put it on the record . . . It is so beautiful.”

The irony about all of these deep, soul-searching conversations Geraldine has with us is that we’re laughing half of the time: if the band is half as cheerful live as their lead singer is, you’ll be having a ball when they arrive in Calgary at the Bow Valley Music Club on November 3rd.

We do, however, discuss the 2-sided nature of most of the songs on their latest release, Time Enough. Nothing is as it first appears: from the ‘maybe there/maybe not there’ reflections of the closing track, “Some Lies”; the ‘get over your nostalgia’ remonstrations of “Before the Fall”; or the unexpected ‘get your shit together’ internality of “Can’t Live without You” (she’s looking in a mirror).

“(That piece) seems like this love song, (like) 2 people in this relationship had a fight, but it’s actually about talking to yourself: we all get that voice in our head that’s just . . . a brazen arse! This voice in your head that tells you ‘Ah that was stupid! What you said there was dumb! Why did you decide to wear that?!’ I got to meet some younger girls (while touring) who were feeling a very low self-image . . .

“My advice is to just talk to yourself in the mirror: get yourself cornered so you can’t leave. (When I did it) I just went ‘You don’t get to talk to me like that!’ I just stole my self-worth back from it.”

And that’s the “pop” song on the album! All couched in opulent 2 and 3-part harmonies. Catch them on tour, and enjoy the beautifully unexpected:

Oct 09 – Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL: Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre
Oct 10 – Labrador City, NL: Arts & Culture Centre
Oct 12 – Stephenville, NL: Arts & Culture Centre
Oct 13 – Corner Brook, NL: Arts & Culture Centre
Oct 18 – Grand Falls-Windsor, NL: Arts & Culture Centre
Oct 19 – Gander, NL: Arts & Culture Centre
Oct 20 – St. John’s, NL: Arts & Culture Centre
Oct 23 – Winnipeg, MB: West End Cultural Centre
Oct 24 – Saskatoon, SK: The Bassment
Oct 25 – Edmonton, AB: Festival Place
Oct 26 – Hinton, AB: Hinton Performing Arts Centre
Oct 28 – Canmore, AB: Communitea
Nov 01 – Penticton, BC: The Dream Café
Nov 02 – Vancouver, BC: The Rogue Folk Club
Nov 03 – Calgary, AB: Bow Valley Music Club
Nov 16 – Toronto, ON: The Mod Club
Nov 17 – Montreal, QC: Petit Campus
Nov 20 – London, ON: Aeolian Hall
Nov 21 – Hamilton, ON: Mills Hardware
Nov 22 – Peterborough, ON: Market Hall Performing Arts Centre
Nov 23 – Ottawa, ON: National Arts Centre – Babs Asper Theatre
Nov 24 – Newmarket, ON: Royal Canadian Legion
Nov 27 – Charlottetown, PE: The Mack
Nov 28 – Riverview, NB: Riverview Arts Centre
Nov 29 – Halifax, NS: St. Matthew’s United Church
Nov 30 – Fredericton, NB: Wilmot United Church
Dec 01 – Pictou, NS: deCoste Entertainment Centre