It seems everyone in Canada’s indie music scene should have met, heard, or performed a show with Jon Hynes by now. Since leaving St. John’s (as singer/songwriter of the acclaimed band Trailer Camp) for Toronto in 2008, followed by a move to Ottawa in 2011, his back-up vocals, guitar, bass and percussion abilities have assisted an impressive list of already innovative musical acts, including Betty Burke, Gentleman Reg, Matthew Barber, Hidden Cameras, Hey, Rosetta!, and Jeremy Fisher. Just back from this summer’s Dawson City Music Festival as drummer of Evening Hymns, and about to split after Ottawa’s Arboretum Festival in August for 9 weeks to play bass for The Wooden Sky across Europe this autumn, it’s difficult to keep track of what he’s doing lately and for whom. He managed somehow to also fit in his own debut album launch in Ottawa on Friday, July 25.“Ain’t it the greatest when you don’t go? Makin’ it easy is the only thing to know. I’ll get to me when me I’m done, we are the later ones.” – ‘Later Ones’, from the Jon Hynes album “Watchful Creatures”
For many emerging artists, a self-promoting eagerness to impress through the social trap of name-dropping becomes a forgivable and necessary evil. As I talk to Jon about his career path and the upcoming CD release of his debut album “Watchful Creatures”, he appears most enthusiastic to instead describe other people’s talent or even his favourite parts of their song lyrics.
To begin, Jon shares openly how Joel Gibb’s conductor-based approach to musicians such as Shaun Brodie and Lief Mosbaugh of Hidden Cameras brought new insight to his own band arrangements and how to tell people directly what sounds you’re looking for.
Then, Jon will refill your cup of tea and explain why it was the recent album by Evening Hymns’ Jonas Bonnetta that showed him how writing songs from the other person’s perspective can be a form of healing or empowerment. Throughout, he remains gracious and shy to mention how connections keep him such a reliable fixture of the St. John’s, Toronto, and now Ottawa music communities.
Take Kathleen Edwards, for example, his most prominent and visible Ottawa side-gig to date. I ask him about his role as backing guitarist at the 2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, rumoured to be her final live performance. He shares his joy at the roar of the crowd as she walked onstage, and, when I ask what his hopes were for that appearance, his motive was clear: “Stay under her vocals. Step in when I need. The songs are already so good and with her voice … you’ve gotta serve the song.”
These and other backing experiences also served Jon’s writing and song arrangements, giving him the ability, he says, to “learn how to make space for myself, think about where the song was going.”
It’s only as Jon brews slowly over the details behind the making of “Watchful Creatures” – his 3-year long collaboration with co-producer James Bunton-, that his obvious talents, work ethic, professional planning and confidence as a writer and band leader start to quietly filter into the conversation.
Then again, when asked about the order of songs on “Watchful Creatures”, which allow his themes of generational aspiration, loss, darkness, nature and the lessons of time to be introduced and somewhat resolved, he doesn’t admit to anything: “I definitely didn’t think of it in terms of lyrical content, but I’ve always always been a fan of albums that do nice arcs.”
The result of his process and singing style is a caring and carefully-orchestrated blend of alt-pop and rock that ranges from infectious and radiant to introspective and character-driven. Open-hearted personal anthems of the displaced manage to hold on and shimmer next to sweeter summer rock songs. The arc of the album is heightened by occasionally darker, experimental flourishes and slow drones that show off renewed musical maturity and focused artistic direction. Not bad for a guy who, outside of guitar on two tracks by David Banoub and horns by Shaun Brodie and Mara Pellerin, wrote and performed almost every instrument on the recording himself. Jon is quick to credit James Bunton for helping create that consistency and for letting him know when a song was done.
Now that’s he’s a fixture of the Ottawa community, I have to ask Jon if his drive has changed since Toronto and as he settles into this new stage of life. “It’s a different kind of drive. You need a different drive to keep going. Now I think about little notes a lot. That’s why it’s so important. I’m healthier than I was – more methodical.. I still love playing with other people, I need that plus my own stuff. Having this to work toward was a good goal.”
This slow path to his creative confidence is made clear as Jon expresses his concerns about playing the songs live at the July 25th launch, especially the stirring “Opinion Piece“, whose chorus includes members of Hey, Rosetta!, Secret Connection, along with other friends that are prominent St. John’s musicians. Although Jon admits he still gets goosebumps when he hears his friends back him up on the recording, he blurs the line between performer, collaborator and composer for a moment, stating only: “I just don’t want to do the song injustice, that’s my fear.”
With plans in place and not shy of his spotlight, Jon Hynes launches “Watchful Creatures” into a new community, with a band of friends each with their own Ottawa musical pedigree, including Pat Johnson and Rolf Klausener of The Acorn, Sarah Bradley of Fevers, and David Banoub of Yuma County.
Jon also hopes you’ll help sing along. You can stream the album (and learn the lyrics) in advance at http://jonhynes.bandcamp.com/.
After all, as the Ottawa Rock Lottery reminds us each year: “Why have a scene when you can have a community?”
Jon Hynes “Watchful Creatures” album release show is Friday , July 25, beginning at 8 pm at Pressed Cafe , 750 Gladstone Ave, Ottawa. Opening acts for the show will be Jonathan Pearce of Winchester Warm and Callum Runtziman of Grime Kings.
OUTSIDE VOICE is a new feature, following musician and writer Glenn Nuotio as he chats with artists, musicians, news-makers and community builders. This column is published at OttawaMagazine.com.