As a fan of most genres of music, and Canadian talent in particular, I was excited to attend this year’s Canadian Music Week from April 18th to 23rd and check-in with a few bands I was excited to see live. Canadian Music Week, or CMW for short, showcased a plethora of local and international artists that were either up-and-coming, or seasoned veterans. After a long, luxurious Easter weekend where I nearly sent myself into a food coma, I was geared up for the long week ahead, mentally and physically preparing myself for long days at work, followed by late nights in different Toronto concert halls.
I began my week on Tuesday at Adelaide Hall, where I planned to meet up with the London-based band, Texas King. Formed in 2012 by front man and lead-singer, Jordan MacDonald, Texas King soon grew to be a four person collective with Colin Gray as lead guitar and back-up vocals, Phil Spina on bass, and Rob Shipway on drums. The band holds a regular slot at CMW as this is their fourth or fifth year playing the festival. Along with Canadian Music Week, Texas King has played NXNE, Scene Fest, and KOI Fest.
I tagged along with Jordan, Phil, Colin and fill-in drummer, Mark Swan throughout the night and dished on music, their early history, and what its like to be an independent artist.
Once meeting up with band members, Jordan MacDonald and Phil Spina, we began to walk over to Adelaide Hall. I had known Jordan since my early years in high school and ever since then had followed the success of his band. The first Texas King EP holds some of my favourite songs to which I know all the lyrics. While the EP was released in 2013, it currently stands as the main source of music currently available to the public by Texas King. Before chatting with Jordan and Phil, I had expectations of hearing the EP in its entirety at the show, but Jordan confirmed that, while it is a classic, the band has created an onslaught of music since then and has their debut album ready to be released at any moment.
As we walk over to the musical hall, I ask if the band is currently seeking representation, especially in regards to the release date of their new album. Jordan responds, “We’ve been shopping [the album] around different labels and stuff. Then we kind of hit this standstill with this one label we were talking to, so now we’re just kind of doing this final showcase thing.”
On April 29th, the band is performing a showcase at the Horseshoe Tavern. While the band has performed at the Horseshoe prior to this show, they are hoping to use this specific showcase as a way to gain recognition and attention of certain label representatives who frequent this venue.
I comment on the importance of the Horseshoe Tavern as a music venue. Jordan agrees and adds, “it’s good for showcases too because industry people know that bar and they know that you’re not going to be able to play there if you’re shit.”
We laugh, and Phil adds to the conversation by stating that with, “certain venues it’s hard to get people out to. Nothing against those venues, but there are certain venues that people like to go to. If you play somewhere cool, like Sneaky Dees, odds are, people will want to go there anyway and they’ll decide to check us out. As opposed to a smaller place, where people don’t know where it is, or sometimes the bands are hit and miss there.”
Photo: Courtesy of Texas King
As we continue walking, I try poking around and getting more information about their upcoming album. While they answered all of my questions, they still are keeping most of the information on the down-low in order to build suspense and allow for the work to be interpreted when the time is right. I asked if the album had yet been mastered, to which Phil replied, “Yeah, it was mastered a few months ago. It’s pretty much all done. We’re in the art stage, it’s the only thing left. We just need to get artwork and then it will be ready to put out.”
I then asked if the band was currently looking for for artists to submit their work and if they were shopping it out that way. Phil noted that their drummer was responsible for handling the band’s graphics. He was responsible for their website design, and their merch design, because of this, he assumes that Rob will probably create their artwork for the album.
Photo by: Kimberley Drapack
Once we entered the venue, another band, The Honest Heart Collective was currently in the middle of their sound check. We hung around and listened to part of their set. Texas King is currently touring with The Honest Heart Collective and urged me to check out their music. The two remaining band members, Colin and fill-in drummer, Mark, soon joined us after struggling to find parking.
Texas King soon took the stage and settled in quickly to their designated roles. After plugging in their equipment, and making sure they had everything in place, they began their sound check which brought a sense of nostalgia to the small space. The band played two new songs off their upcoming album, along with an older song, titled “Come Find Me” from their 2013 EP.
After a quick sound check, I tagged along Jordan and went outside for a smoke break. I asked if he was still the main songwriter of the group, to which he replied, “I still write all the songs. There’s a couple exceptions – a couple tunes where someone will come up with something, but for the most part, I write the tunes and bring it in still skeleton like. I still write most of them on my acoustic.”
Jordan finished the last drag of his cigarette and added, “I still imagine it in my head and then bring it to the band room.”
After sound check, we had some time to kill before the band’s slot in the showcase at 11pm. Around 6:30, I tagged along with Colin, Phil, and Mark, in search of some sort of food before our long night. I asked about the whereabouts of their resident drummer, Rob, to which Phil replied: “He was supposed to be back a couple of days ago, but work sort of fisted him and said we’re adding another day. He told work that he can’t stay, but they’re making him.”
Colin laughed and chimed in, “Imagine how badass it would have been if he did fly in and arrive just in time for somebody to pick him up and drop him off at the venue, and as he walks in, someone throws him a pair of sticks and he catches them out of midair.”
Phil replies, “That would be bad ass, but that would give me the worst anxiety all day.”
Photo by: Kimberley Drapack
We then move onto the topic of work outside the band. I ask each member what job they currently have to be able to support the job they actually want to do. It becomes a funny conversation, the notion that in order to pursue a creative role, one must find another, (and sometimes multiple) job(s) in order to support their passion projects. Phil states that he works at a venue in London, and Colin replies that he has plays other people’s music, rather than his own.
Upon topics of origin stories, we recounted the early years of the band and how they formed their collective. Phil replied, “when we originally started with our first drummer, we were all in Fanshawe, and then our original drummer left 8 months or a year in. Our current drummer also went to Fanshawe, but we didn’t meet him there. I played in a band with him before. But the three of us met in the same program.”
Jordan and Colin got started in 2012 in their first year of college as an acoustic duo, and later, Phil and Rob joined the band to create the rest of Texas King. While finishing their final year of college, the band released their debut EP. Colin adds, “we released the it right during the end of exams.”
We returned to the venue and chatted with other band members playing the showcase that night. We laughed at a typo on the CMW handbook that said, “Mississausage Showcase” rather than the intended, “Mississauga Showcase.” One member of a Montreal band playing before Texas King stated that he used to play in a band called, “Crushed Luther”, and were once billed as “Crushed Leather.” Conversations like these had me triple checking my notes to make sure I had my own facts straight.
During our downtime, I chatted more with the band to get a sense of what Toronto venues they had under their belts. Phil listed off, “The Horseshoe Tavern, Sneaky Dees, The Drake, The Bovine Sex Club.” Colin added, “we’ve played a lot of places. You name anything on Queen and we’ve done it.”
Photo: by Kimberley Drapack
In comparison to the previously listed venues in Toronto, Adelaide Hall, which they were playing that night, had a promising set up. Audience members can get pretty close to the stage and right into the action. There’s even the chance of creating a pit. I asked if they encouraged this type of behaviour and Colin chimed in: “Yeah. Well, not like a pit where they kill each other, but Jordan is good at getting people to come up. He is charismatic and gets people who are bumming around the outskirts to come closer when the show starts.”
Along with Jordan’s ability to get the crowd amped up, the band has a great set time for their showcase. Phil recalls an earlier CMW where they had a great deal of luck as well: “We were at the Hideout, our very first year at CMW and the show was on a Tuesday around 8PM. We thought that no one is going to be here, but it was pretty packed. That’s when we realized that with CMW, it goes out the window. Just because you’re playing on a Tuesday or Wednesday, it would normally be kind of shitty, but that year, across the street was tattoo rock parlour, and the show started later, but it was with, “Stuck on Planet Earth, The Dirty Nill, and The Reason.” A lot of people ended up coming to the Hideout for our show at 8PM, and then at 9:30PM, they went over to see the shows at the other venue. Jeff from Teenage Kicks came out and saw us and then after we were done as the night went on, everyone went across the street. So, it’s very much about when you play versus what other is going on that night.”
We circled back to the discussion of the much anticipated album. I asked when exactly it would be released. Phil stated that they were trying to keep most of the information low on the radar, and as far as naming the album, they were “tossing around a couple of ideas, but I don’t think we’ve settled on one yet. We usually just tell people “it’s coming.”
That’s sort of the general music rule within music: you’ll get it when you get it and until then, you’ve got to be patient. Phil agrees, and adds, “I don’t usually feel like explaining to people that there’s so much more behind it than just releasing music.”
Photo by: Kimberley Drapack
As the showcase began, we huddled backstage and tossed around stories as the bands playing before them set the tone for the evening. We got on the topic of funny tour stories, and Phil recalled a time when he had to get 10 stitches in his hand before a show. Colin piped in, “we were rock climbing in Sudbury on a fine afternoon.”
Phil continues retelling the story and says, “we were going from Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury, with plenty of time. On the sides of the roads, there’s a bunch of boulders – huge rocks, that are loose. After going and checking out a river, we decided we should leave, because we had to get loaded and get ready for soundcheck…”
Colin adds again, “after having a great day…”
Phil laughs. “We were 15 mins outside of Sudbury and it was the last show of the tour before going home. We were climbing up the boulders to get up to the road, and one of the ones I stepped on was loose. It slid out and I fell forward and instinctually put out my hands to catch myself and one of the rocks was a corner, the edge of the rock went right into my hand. I cut the artery. I was bleeding a lot and I needed two stitches just to close up the artery.”
I asked if they had flown into panic mode as soon as the injury happened. Phil stated that he knew right away that he needed stitches and Colin added, “Robbie ripped off his shirt in a heartbeat and wraps his hand. Jordan was in the van already and we were yelling, “start the van!”
Phil continued the story. “Jordan was sleeping. We made it back to the van, and Jordan is just waking up from his nap and there I was, gushing blood.”
Colin ended the saga by stating: “when we got to the hospital, the nurse wrapped his hand and said the wait would be around 20 minutes, a pretty reasonable time, and we got out to the waiting room, and within 4 minutes, it was already completely soaked in blood and dripping. We had to go back and be like, can you re-wrap this? They then rushed us to the front.”
I fished around for more stories, as I knew they had more to tell. Colin retells a story during one of their earlier years at Canadian Music Week. “Another time during Canadian Music Week, were at the Dakota and drinking with an industry guy and we were having jäger bombs, having a great time. We were new to this whole CMW thing but we knew this guy from another conference we were at before and he took us under his wing and brought us to an after hours party at the Bovine Sex Club. We walked in and I remember there are all these people… two members of The Trews, the guitar player from Billy Talent and John Lennon’s son, who does a solo project. It was sick, we were welcomed and then that night, we were doing a funny snap story together, cracking beers with a bunch of people with our arms around them, and seeing who we could get on the story. We got the bass player of The Trews to get on a snap story with us and crack a beer. He didn’t know: we were just like, “hey man, get on this snap story with us!” and we cracked a beer and took a sip together. It was probably our coolest snap story to date.”
At this point they are getting ready to perform and Colin ends with: “Another time, we forgot Robbie’s drum kit. But you probably should add that.”
Photo: Courtesy of Texas King
Later after their set, Jordan and I stand outside the venue and reflect on the show. The energy was incredible, just as I remember it being, and as audience members trickle out of the venue, Jordan gets many words of praise.
He told me that in between sound check and their show, he went over to a bar close by where they claimed to have drinks for $2.50. After ordering a double bourbon, the bartender asks for $19.50. We laugh, and after asking why he didn’t ask the bartender about the mix-up, Jordan claims that it wasn’t the right time, as there was a crowd of guys standing around him in suits who were next up to get a drink. He adds, “yeah, they were just there, being rich, and as soon as I heard the price they were looking at me like, “you got a problem with that? Is it too much?” So, I just had to be like… just take half the money I have for the whole week.”
It was now around 12AM and I was ready to start my long journey home. Jordan told me to hang out, but I politely declined and as I had a train to catch. Before leaving, I had one last question that I was surprised I didn’t know the answer to. I asked Jordan to tell me the story behind the name of the band.
Jordan put up his right hand and said, “It’s from my adoptive name, Austin James. It’s a little word flay with the fingers. If you go Austin Texas and King James, then in the middle there, is Texas King. It’s dumb, but it seemed clever at the time.”
He explains that he was renamed Jordan Andrew MacDonald. “Yeah, my parents switched it up. You can do that with dogs, and apparently, people too.”
I ask what is next for Texas King. For now, if a label doesn’t work out, they plan on releasing the album independently, as they’ve done from the beginning with their music. “We’ll do it indie as we’ve done with the EP and stuff, tour it out of the van, make our own copies.” The first EP was self-produced and self-recorded and anyone who has self-recorded and self-promoted their own music knows that it requires a lot of time, manpower, and money, which isn’t always abundant during one’s early years.
With their debut album, they did things a little more professionally, while still having a hand in every part of the process. As of this current moment in time, Texas King remains independent and and without any external industry help.
Photo: Courtesy of Texas King
Another goal on the horizon is getting Texas King on the radio. “We’re putting out a single,” says Jordan. I wondered if it was one of the newer songs I heard this evening, to which he replied, “no.”
Artists like Jordan have a pile of songs at the ready as his creativity never stops. I wonder then, in the current climate of awaiting a record deal, do artists often fall to the wayside, their creativity tested and tried over again, while they relentlessly self-promote their work that deserves a higher recognition? Bands like Texas King are doing extremely well, upping the roster at CMW and as I’m sure we’ll eventually see, headlining shows, and occupying prime spots in the showcase.
Jordan refers to a song they debuted tonight, titled, “Small Towns.” Along with this single, they have a few more in store, but they are not playing them quite yet.
On the other side, there is a cool self-starter vibe with Texas King where being independent is a large part of who they are. Jordan states that it’s “cool being indie because then you get to make all your own money, but I just wish there was more to make.” I add the fact that you also get to own your own music – your masters, what you release as your single, and so forth. Jordan agrees with this point and we call it a day.
Keep an eye out for Texas King‘s debut album coming soon and continue following our arts & culture coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.