BERWICK, N.S. - Members of Berwick-based southern country rock band Witchitaw said a recent Music Nova Scotia nomination for Country Recording of the Year is an honour and validates their efforts as musicians and songwriters.
The recording that earned the MNS nod is The Ride, a songwriting collaboration among bandmates that marries their southern style with their rural Nova Scotia roots in a collection of tunes locals can identify with.
“Our album The Ride has probably been the one we’ve been closest to, the most proud of, and worked the hardest on for sure,” said lead guitarist Dohn Kendall. “So to see all that – all that hard work – blossom into something like that and get us a nomination is just a fantastic honour.”
Also nominated in the Country Recording category is Ryan Cook for his album Having a Great Time that is packed with the Yarmouth native’s own tunes; Halifax singer/ songwriter Cameron Nickerson for Detours; and Lisa Richard for her EP Tangled Up.
“We’re excited to be up there,” Kendall said of the band’s place with the other nominees. “We’ve crossed paths with Ryan Cook before and we’re excited to be up there with him.”
Kendall noted that The Ride contains a lot of original material and it’s really great to see that that’s recognized.
They recorded most of the album at Hilltop Studios in Nashville, finishing up at the end of August 2017. They did some additional work at Sonic Temple in Halifax with Mike Hastings and were able to release Posse, the first single off the album, in February this year in advance of a May album launch at Union Street in Berwick. Posse received national attention as did other singles.
“Cavendish was huge in that for the first time ever we actually did four stages in two days,” said front man Jason Spinney, who said it was particularly cool to do the Sirius XM stage because Sirius XM was playing their music nationally. They did Halifax Ribfest, headlined at the Yarmouth Exhibition, and did shows with Casino Nova Scotia.
Because of the singles releases and radio play, audiences were already familiar with The Ride tunes.
“People knew the songs already," Jason Spinney said. “That blew me away. When you have people coming up to you and say ‘you guys are the guys we’re hearing on our radio over in Cape Breton’ and I’d say ‘yup, that’s us,’ it blew me away. People hear your song and recognize it live at a concert. That boggles my mind. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Drummer Jamie Spinney said the craft of putting an album together is a very personal thing.
“We work really hard as a unit, put forth ideas that are coherent with the album, not just one song, two songs, three songs – we want it to be a cohesive package,” he said. “The whole way through we think of it that way. So when you put it out as such, as a thing that’s one particular idea all the way through, having it recognized in any way is gratification. You like hearing someone else say ‘Yes, we do think it’s OK.’”
Kendall, who belts out East Coast Country Side Roads near the end of the album - with all its hard-drivin’ guitar riffs - thinks the songs on The Ride mirror the lives of many of their fans.
“The two final songs on the record, which are East Coast Country Side Roads, a very driving tune, and Whiskey & Waylon, which is an almost ballady story song – those two songs stuck with us not just at the end of the record but at the end of every set we’ve done pretty much. We save those two and both of them have got just an amazing response.”
He said people tell them that what’s in those songs is what they feel.
“I think this music, for me, feels like it’s connecting more with our audiences than previous recordings, and that might be the fact of the amount of effort we put in, but it finally feels like Witchitaw,” said Jason Spinney. “When we write something, it’s us. We’re not trying to make it something else, it’s just what we do, and that’s the connection that people say we have ‘you write southern country rock music but you’re talking about the East Coast.”
Jamie Spinney said during the writing process when a band member brings a piece of a new song to the table and the other members can immediately connect with it – the experience – he knows the audience will, too.
“If it works in the group it’s obviously going to translate to a wider audience,” Jamie Spinney said.
This isn’t the first time Witchitaw has been up for the Country Record award as Kendall recalls. “It was an honour to be up there with someone like Jimmy Rankin, who took the award that time,” he said. “It was in 2014, I think.”
Winners of Music Nova Scotia awards will be announced during Nova Scotia Music Week in Truro Nov. 1 to 4.
Country Gets the Blues
Chances are Witchitaw will bump into bluesman Charlie A’Court in Truro – A’Court’s hometown.
“We’ve run into Charlie several times over both our careers, and a lot of times it was at music awards shows,” said Jason Spinney.
Jamie Spinney said they just formed a connection with A’Court and were always impressed with what A‘Court does.
“I would always joke with him, say ‘man, you would sing the hell out of a country song. We should get together and do a joint show,’ Jason Spinney said. “We’d kick that idea around every time we’d see each other at these shows. We’d take a selfie, put something out on Twitter saying ‘still looking at putting a show together.’ The last time we saw him was at the ECMAs in Halifax.”
When Country Gets the Blues came out of their last conversations and is slated for Jan. 19 at Union Street in Berwick.