The annual Kingston Holiday Rock Show, this Thursday at Stages, is a benefit show that has been running for the past 23 years, founded and organized by former Weeping Tile bandmates Sarah Harmer and Luther Wright. It’s a gig that pretty much every Kingston band would want to play: it’s for a great cause (this year it’s Martha’s Table, Dawn House Women’s Shelter, and AMHS-KFLA), there’s always a great crowd (a large chunk of whom are other local musicians), and it’s become a Kingston holiday tradition. Local alt-rock trio Oakridge Ave. will play this year’s event for the first time.
“We go every year, it’s something we always look forward to,” says drummer Harrison Stewart-Juby. “And Stages is actually a really great venue. I wish they did more live music there.”
It’s been a busy year for Oakridge Ave. Their second album, an EP entitled Lost & Out of Place, came out in June. They did a two-week east coast tour, and started work on their next album, their second full-length, due out in 2019.
“Lost & Out of Place has been getting a lot of love at CJAI,” says guitarist and singer Sean Patterson. “It’s somehow been on the charts for eight months.”
“It’s the perfect thing to say,” adds bassist Alex Amey. “‘We’ve had a number one record for six months!’”
The band is now five years old, but has been performing in their present lineup for just over a year. The co-founder of Oakridge Ave., incidentally, is no longer with the group. Stewart-Juby asked Amey to fill in for one gig, and Amey never left, and guitarist Sean Patterson joined the band shortly after. It’s also worth noting that none of the band members have ever lived on Oakridge Avenue (near St. Lawrence College). For them, it’s the place where all the members, past and present, hung out in high school “making music, writing songs, getting into trouble, and a few beverages here and there,” according to Stewart-Juby. “When it came time to pick a name for the band, we just picked the street name because we became friends there. And the Oak Ridge Boys was already taken.”
Playing music is not quite a full-time occupation for the three musicians. Stewart-Juby and Patterson work in the trades, while Amey is a full-time student and part-time bartender.
“Eventually, we’ll break free,” says Stewart-Juby with a laugh. “That’s what next year is all about, breaking free from our jobs.”
The band will start 2019 with a nine-day stay in Toronto, where they’ll record the bulk of the expected 10-song album. They had often fantasized about working with famed Canadian producer Ian Blurton someday, who has produced records for The Weakerthans and Rheostatics, and who was also the frontman of Change of Heart and Blurtonia. The guys in Oakridge Ave. had a chance encounter with Blurton at the Wolfe Island Music Festival this past summer.
“He said ‘you need a producer? I do that kinda thing,’” says Stewart-Juby. “And we were like ‘Oh, you don’t say? Well, maybe we’ll get in touch.’” A week later we followed up and he agreed to work with us.”
While the band has had support in the studio in the past, it’s largely been from recording engineers as opposed to record producers.
“It’s the first time we’ve done a record with a producer,” says Amey. “He’ll be pushing us harder than we’ve been pushed before. It’s a much more hands-on approach with respect to the songwriting and arrangements.”
Patterson was amazed by the efficiency of Blurton’s pre-production work.
“We’d already sent him six or seven demos,” explains Patterson. “In less than a week, he’d spliced them up and changed everything about them.”
Oakridge Ave. plays regularly around Kingston at local venues like The Toucan (where Amey’s father, Art, has been a bartender for years, and Stewart-Juby’s uncle, Jonathan “Bunny” Stewart has played hundreds of times), The Mansion, and The Grad Club, but once the album is recorded, it’ll be time for the band to hit the road.
“Playing around town has been great for us for the last year or two,” says Patterson. “But moving forward we’re going to look to expand outside of Kingston. 2019 is going to be largely about making the record and supporting the record.”
While touring is on their mind, Oakridge Ave. plans to stay a Kingston band.
“I can’t see us leaving Kingston as our home base,” says Patterson. “A lot of bands, when they get to a certain point, head to Toronto to try and make it, for a number of good reasons, but Kingston suits us far too much.”