Published Feb 10, 2011In Canadian music terms, you could make a case that new Toronto roots rock band the Heartbroken are something of a supergroup. Lead singer Damhnait Doyle earned multiple East Coast Music Awards and a Juno nomination for her earlier solo albums, as well as achieved national popularity in pop trio Shaye. Drummer/vocalist Blake Manning, a former member of Blue Rodeo, plays with the likes of Justin Rutledge and Ron Sexsmith. Guitarist Stuart Cameron (son of East Coast music legend John Allan Cameron) is an in-demand accompanist for the likes of Matthew Good and Sexsmith. And bassist Peter Fusco has played with such artists as Rutledge and Sarah Slean.
However, this doesn't mean the Heartbroken will be simply cashing in on past reputations to fuel the hype machine. "We want to go about things in a very grassroots way," says Cameron in a recent Exclaim! interview. "We've all been involved before with different bands where there is the big media splash, the media tours."
They're determined that the band succeed on their own merits, and to prove their commitment, they're piling into a van to tour Western Canada in the height of winter, kicking things off tonight (February 10) in Calgary (see full tour dates below).
"I'm not sure why people choose to tour Canada in winter, but it definitely makes it exciting," says Doyle.
The gigs will promote the Heartbroken's recently released debut Tonight Tonight, an album that would have arrived much sooner had previous commitments not got in the way.
"We're all the best of friends, and we'd actually tried something about five years ago, until family things happened, and it was 'let's try another time,'" recalls Cameron. "This time, it started with the four of us sitting around a table, with a few bottles of wine and a few guitars. We just started writing and it happened very naturally. When the songs started, all four of us were involved in the writing process, with four acoustic guitars around the table, and we've kept working in that fashion."
After a songwriting retreat at a lakeside cottage, the Heartbroken whipped the songs into shape at Johnny MacLeod's Toronto rehearsal space, then workshopped them at an acoustic residency in small local bar the Three Speed (owned by Jed Ruhl of the Beauties). This led to another residency at honky-tonk haven the Dakota Tavern, followed by recording sessions a year ago at the Bathouse, the Tragically Hip's famed studio in Bath, ON.
Recorded in nine days, the album is self-produced, with Stew Crookes (Hawksley Workman, Justin Rutledge) on hand to engineer and mix. As Fusco explains, "After writing all the songs, we had a good idea of how we wanted them to sound. We had a pretty definite vision and we went with it."
The only outside players on Tonight Tonight are Crookes and fiddler James McKie. Given the group's connections, they could have loaded up on famous friends as guests, but Doyle says, "We made a conscious decision not to do that. It is about building the identity of the four of us as a band."
The members of the Heartbroken are also quick to stress that this is a real band, not "Damhnait Doyle and Friends."
"It is definitely four equal parts, in the whole spectrum of what is going on musically, the direction of the band, even the driving," Doyle says. "It's not just a fun side-project either... It really does feel like everything we've done in our respective careers has led us to this point, almost in a new agey kind of way. We are laying the foundations for a career we're going to have for a really long time. It is an amazing feeling to be onstage, looking around, and knowing we're all here for exactly the same reason."
Now out braving the harsh Canadian winter, the Heartbroken aren't expecting any tour-van friction. "We've all been on the road together a million times in different configurations and with different bands," says Cameron. "We all know each others moods and habits. If there's ever a problem, it's nothing a glass of wine won't settle."
2/10 Calgary, AB - The Palomino
2/11 Edmonton, AB - Cook County Saloon
2/12 Grandview, AB - Grandview Stage Resort
2/13 Lethbridge, AB - The Slice
2/16 Jasper, AB - Royal Canadian Legion
2/18 Grande Prairie, AB - Dukes
2/19 Grande Prairie, AB - Dukes
2/21 Kelowna, BC - The Minstrel Café
2/22 Vancouver, BC - Media Club
2/26 Cadillac, SK - Cadillac Hall
2/27 Moose Jaw, SK - Golden Nugget Centre