“There is usually a common thread that ties the song together, but there are many branches to the same story,” says Ray Proulx, lead guitar and vocals for the local rock band Downwater Union (DWU).
Other members of the group include Trent Ernst on drums and Blaine Broderick on bass.
Proulx writes many of the songs, however all members of the band are usually in some way involved in the process. Be it humming a tune, playing a riff or coming up with a song title.
“The first song I ever wrote was from a song title that Trent had,” explains Proulx.
“I had a song I wanted to do and it was called Jar Jar Binks Must Die. It was supposed to be just this fun little da-da-da, and he came up with this song that was way too complicated for what I was going for and I had these lyrics that didn’t really go with the music and so he wrote other words for it,” says Ernst giving subtle praise to Proulx skills with his axe.
The band has been together in various configurations for about 12 years.
With the loss of band mate Marco Milankov, the band name Heavy Things didn’t seem quite right anymore and thus, Downwater Union was created.
Heavy Things came together in our first iteration in 2005, and a few months before Trent joined, we originally started coffee housing here in Tumbler. I came back from university and met Trent through my neighbours, who are friends with his sister. A weird guy showed up with long curly hair. There’s quite a bit of history here.”
The band, though from Tumbler, has played more regional shows than here in town, including gigs in Dawson Creek, Chetwynd, Fort St. John and the farthest the band has travelled for a show was to the northwest corner of BC to the Kispiox festival, where they have performed twice.
Proulx says, “We were headlining one night. That is kind of our big musical experience. There were hundreds of people. That was a pretty rock star experience and a high note for sure.”
Proulx has always been a song writer for the group, however, Milankov used to be his song writing companion. “Over the years, I have started writing more and more. Marco was my crutch in terms of volumes of songs, but also lyrics and vocal melodies, that is the hardest part for me, but it’s getting easier,” says Proulx.
So what does the band like to sing about? Well, life of course, with some spice.
When asked about what inspires him to write Proulx says, “Snippets of observations of life, or a story that I want to tell from my perspective. Usually there is a phrase that comes out, a chorus or a verse. It’s that anchor piece that you branch out from. I was finishing up the final installment of the Game of Thrones series that has all these pieces of characters. It was funny, I needed another verse and I started to think about that book, I took one scene from the book and I had a whole verse.”
When it comes to writing lyrics, it takes a special zest for words, and sometimes the words don’t mean what they seem. Proulx explains, “Writing lyrics and writing essays and stories is very different. I am a very good writer, I can write academic papers and newspaper articles all day but that is not not something you do from a lyrical point of view. Bad Religion can get very literal, but also very abstract at the same time. I love that marriage. Then there’s Gord Downie from the Hip and you know, ask five people what that song’s about and they’ll all have a different opinion. It doesn’t have to make sense.”
Another thing that doesn’t make sense is why we don’t have more bands coming through Tumbler. Something that is improving and which DWU hopes continues to grow.
Ernst says, “Two years ago if you asked me, I would say the only live music is Grizfest. We’ve been here since Grizfest started and that’s why we were there because we wanted to see a live music scene in TR. It took the better part of a decade, but suddenly people started saying at the legion, ‘we can bring in people with acoustic guitars’. Over at the Coal Bin they started saying, ‘we used to bring in music when the town was booming’. There are all these places that are opening up to the idea and it’s not a bad thing. For a local band however, it can lead to almost over exposure.”
Proulx continues on Ernst’s thoughts, “This steps up the challenge for us and we have to ride the balance which is good because we talk about us in the early stages, we had to leave town to get some love, a local band how good can they be? I think the last few shows people have thought ‘holy shit, these guys are alright.”
He continues, “It’s getting people used to different forms of entertainment. People have gone to TV and getting their music and their sensibilities for what music should sound like from American Idol and these instant star bands. That is how a lot of people have gotten used to consuming their music. Come out and hear a band that is rough around the edges and are experimenting and trying new things and don’t exactly sound like a set artist. We are not playing Nickelback songs and we’re not a jukebox. We’re here to play what we’ve rehearsed and we hope you like it.”
DWU is one example of the great musical talent found here in the north, it’s just a matter of setting up the network to get some more of it rolling through town. Ernst says, “That was the lesson from last year’s battle of the bands. Just the phenomenal talent that is available within 500 kms of here. With a few exceptions, most of the bands playing there could have had their own hour long set. I thought that was an eye opener.”
So what’s next for this group?
Well, unfortunately no Grizfest as two of the three members are gone, however they will be playing a show on June 21st, that’s right, Summer Solstice, at the golf course. DWU is hoping to get a few other local or regional bands to come and play as well.