A & E MUSIC | Riding It Out
Ten years on, Hamilton's The Reason still has enough faith to carry on
By David McPherson
Sticking it out for 10 years in any job these days is admirable. What's more impressive is slogging the tough road of an indie musician for that same length of time. From the outside, a "rock star's" existence looks glamorous, but for those living this so-called life, it takes its toll. With so many twists and turns, ups and downs and an ever-growing debt, it's no wonder that many musicians follow these lines from one of my favourite Shannon Lyon songs: "Most of my friends have moved on/Dollar bills replaced their songs."
Songwriter Adam White relates. The musician fronts Hamilton- based band The Reason. Joining White are core members: "Ronson" Armstrong on bass and James "Cubby" Nelan on guitar/ vocals. The group celebrates its 10-year anniversary in 2013. To mark this milestone, this past January, The Reason released Hollow Tree — a six-song EP produced by Howard Redekopp (Mother Mother, Tegan & Sara).
On an early March morn, I catch up with White. I find the musician in a reflective mood. We chat about the new EP, the death of the CD, the band's 10-year rock ride, The Reason's anniversary plans, and the struggle to keep the faith in the ever-changing, fickle business that is that thing we call "the music industry."
"As a band, we've never set out to make a million dollars or to change the world."
Despite a decade as a band and much success, including: nationwide radio play, numerous awards, a high-charting single A&E Music
on the Canadian Billboard charts, loyal fans, and five studio albums, White says it sometimes still feels like The Reason is starting over each time they go into the studio, or hit the road. Ten years on, the band is about $100,000 in debt, all the core members still need a day job to make ends meet, they've burned through three tour vans and several group members have come and gone. Somehow, through it all, they've kept the faith.
"It's always been a steady slow incline," White explains. "Anytime we've had momentum, we've lost it. It's a situation where we always have this debt looming over our heads and every time we've put something out, there is never enough of what they call 'meat on the bones.' Sometimes, I'm like, 'What else can we do?"
While White admits the potential still exists for a few "lucky" bands to achieve overnight success, that's never been The Reason's modus operandi. Rather, they epitomize "the hardest-working band in show business" philosophy. The musician frequently wonders where the past decade has gone. The day we chatted marked yet another milestone. It was the sixth anniversary of the release of Things Couldn't Get Better — The Reason's sophomore record. White remembers every moment of that release; it feels like just a couple of years ago, not half a dozen. In that time, the music industry and how people consume music has dramatically changed.
"Six years ago people were still buying CDs, the iPod was the big bulky one, and there wasn't an iPhone yet," he says. "To us, it flew by. What hasn't changed is that we are still making music…but you still have those times when you look back and think, 'how much more of this do I have left?'"
This questioning of what's next permeates the new EP. Titles such as "Grow Up" and "Over Now" are obviously about self-reflection, says White. Even the title — Hollow Tree — alludes to this disenchantment. "When I wrote this batch of songs I was looking back on the last 10 years touring and playing and seeing it for what it is," White says. Besides the death knell for the CD — White admits he hasn't bought one since 2005 — and the amalgamation of record labels, there's always a sense of wondering whether Hollow Tree is the last record for The Reason. "Don't Fail Me" captures these mixed emotions.
"I wanted it to be a metaphor for the band and for this record in particular," White explains. "You know that feeling of putting all your faith into something and at end of the day it not doing what you thought it would do? This song speaks to that and to the question: 'Is this it?'
"I'm not saying by any means that this is the last record we are ever going to put out, or if nothing happens with this record that's it … but that's just how it feels sometimes."
Despite mounting debt and the never- ending feeling of taking one step forward, two steps back, White remains optimistic there are enough reasons for The Reason to continue its rock ride for a long time to come. He's especially excited about the anniversary plans arranged to promote Hollow Tree.
Thanks to a whack of corporate sponsors, the band is set to cross the country by train and film the experience. The footage from this adventure, along with shots from an anniversary bash planned for Hamilton in May, will all add up to a rock documentary about the band's journey.
"We wanted to do something different," White explains. "We've seen the country 25 times by driving, but never travelled as a band by train. We are doing a promo tour, in conjunction with radio stations across the country. Called 'A House Party,' each station will hold a contest; the winner gets the band to come and play an acoustic set in their living room for a couple of hours."
Besides the band's journey, the documentary of this 10th anniversary tour will also touch on the music industry, the misconceptions about fame and the perceived charmed life of a "rock star."
While the music industry has evolved, and White, Ronson and Cubby have all matured – both personally and musically – to some degree, at the end of the day, The Reason are still just a bunch of 30-something baseball-loving dudes doing what they love and having fun.
"I still play music on a regular basis and have fun doing it, which is the whole reason I got into this business," White concludes. "I also do it well. There are other things I could do, but I wouldn't be as happy and I wouldn't do them as well. As a band, we've never set out to make a million dollars or to change the world. We just want to write good songs, have fun, and be dudes!"
For more information, visit thereasonmusic.com.