Canadian Artists Relive Their Awkward Stages in Photos

Show & Tell

Tim Baker, Magi Merlin, cleopatrick and more reveal their embarrassing past selves

Photo courtesy of Fortunate Ones

BY Alex HudsonPublished Jun 29, 2022

No one is born cool. Even musicians who carry themselves across stages with self-assured swagger go through a nascent awkward stage — which is why we asked artists from across the country to share photos of their regrettable past phases.

From teenage Tumblr cringe to accidental matching outfits to conga-bopping early bands, Canadian musicians obliged by sharing some embarrassing photos of their past selves. And really, what could be cooler than proudly embracing your regrettable early stages?


Photo courtesy of Adam Bentley

Adam Bentley and Jordan Mitchell make electronica in the Hamilton-based duo Allegories, and this spring released the comeback album Endless, but this isn't their first project together. Their old high school band wasn't quite so good at following through on their ideas. "Our idea was to make one 50-minute song," Bentley tells Exclaim! "I think we got up to like 12 minutes, and then the band broke up. Mostly the band involved us ingesting terrible alcoholic combinations and making faces like this."

Tim Baker

Photo courtesy of Tim Baker

This photo shows former Hey Rosetta! vocalist Tim Baker where he spent much of his adolescence: at the piano in his parents' house. The singer-songwriter, who recently returned with the sweeping singles "Some Day" and "Lucky Few," tells Exclaim!, "You can see my newly purchased fully-jet-black Peavey Predator in the background, ooh baby! I'm still facing the old piano though. The hair I honestly cannot explain — I guess, like the zits, it was all part of some unfortunate phase. Somehow, though, I look at this and I still feel the same." These days, he says, he's "in some other unfortunate phase now, I suppose. Happy just to be playing through it still."


Photo by Mrs. Farquharson

Growing up in Cobourg, ON, Ian Fraser and Luke Gruntz's friendship was cemented at the age of five (circa 2001) when they showed up at school wearing identical outfits. "Ian and I had just begun our best-friendship and arrived at school one day to find our respective moms had unknowingly dressed us in matching sweaters," Gruntz remembers. "Maybe an embarrassing circumstance if we were adults, but this was beyond exciting to us as five-year-olds. I can't speak for Ian, but personally my mom dressed me for a lot longer than most kids. I'm pretty colour blind and she was very concerned about my clothing combinations. I've got that stuff figured out now though — for the most part."

That matching moment was immortalized on the album cover of their 2021 album BUMMER, and they sent along the original photo (minus the blacked out eyes from the cover art) taken by their kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Farquharson.

Fortunate Ones

Photos courtesy of Fortunate Ones

Newfoundland's Fortunate Ones make tender folk music together, as heard on the newly released album That Was You and Me. Before finding one another, they had their own musical pursuits: that's Catherine Allan circa 2005 with her first band, the West Coast Jammers ("Big dreams and more hemp bracelets than a Hootie and the Blowfish concert," she says), and Andrew James O'Brien in 1997 with his Fender Stratocaster "in the throes of Grade 7 pubescent discomfort."

Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes

Photo courtesy of Carey Mercer

We asked Vancouver-based Frog Eyes songwriter Carey Mercer for an old photo, and keyboardist Shyla Seller saw this one sitting out on kitchen table and insisted that he submit it. It comes from an old tour with super-trio Swan Lake. Rather than try to paraphrase, we're going to present Mercer's story about friendship in its complete form.

Take it away, Carey: "[We were] playing in Ljubljana, in an arts complex that used to be a political prison, and the sound guy was 14, and our common language maxed out at very offensive drummer jokes. He insisted on eating at our table during the evening repast, and butted in at several occasions, making these offensive drummer jokes while looking straight at Melanie, the drummer. I remember her steely gaze willing him to shut it, and then we played, and it was the night after Carnival, and the din was beyond bearing for everyone involved, and then we retired to a cell. A former cell that the Soviet Slovenians had used, or built, I am unclear about the exact history of the complex, except that it was a former Soviet political prison now turned into a Berlin-meets-Austin funhouse, but loaded with Australian conceptual artists lounging by the ping-pong tables, reading, you guessed it, Žižek. I woke up in the middle of the night and looked out the little window and felt tremendous fear and horror, and so did Dan [Bejar] and Spencer [Krug] — not pictured but definitely like in the picture — but for different reasons, as our driver, a sweet little fellow, had a bad case of 'night terrors,' and Dan and Spencer, of course, spent every night trapped in a cell with a man who would wake up moaning about cobras and pits and all kinds of terrors, a nightly bouquet of terrors, and this photo seems to pre-sage a lot of foul/fair. But, I have to also say that having a friend is a miracle — any friend in any moment, but also to have a friend who knows the struggle of the long-distance march, who knows how long it can feel, who can share in the sorrow as the paths putter out and lead into some trackless nothing swept clean by the algorithms. It's a sweet thing, indeed." 

Speaking of sweet things, Frog Eyes reunited for the new album The Bees this spring.

Domanique Grant

Photo courtesy of Domanique Grant

These days, Toronto artist Domanique Grant makes soul pop, as heard on her recent EP QUEEN/DOM. As a preteen, her music interests manifested in an obsession with boybands, and she tells Exclaim! that she "couldn't decide whether B2K or Aaron Carter would be her dream date." Looking back now, she feels "both bashful and proud" about her oversized clothes and the shoelaces in her hair. She adds, "Let's all also be honest: my poster collection was everything!"

Janette King

Photo courtesy of Janette King

Anyone who knew Montreal's Janette King as an adolescent will recognize these pants, since they're the only ones she wore for a long time. "When I was younger, it was harder for me to find pants that would be long enough to cover my long legs," she explains. "These were the only pants I had that did that and so I wore them everyday for like two years." That's not a bad thing, she adds: "They made me feel like Ashanti, and I really loved that." King continued to channel Ashanti's R&B influence — along with house and electronic pop — on her danceable debut album, 2021's What We Lost.

Magi Merlin

Photo courtesy of Magi Merlin

These days, Magi Merlin makes hip-hop-inspired electropop, as heard on her recent Gone Girl EP on Bonsound — but back in her teen years, the Montreal artist could frequently found clutching an acoustic guitar. "The look that had really stuck with me through my teen years is something I like to call the 'indie girl acoustic guitar hero' look," she tells Exclaim! "I will say this though: I am unashamed! The epically powerful Tumblr cringe that possessed me from ages 13 to 18 shaped me as a person and I wouldn't change it for all the studded jean jackets and American Apparel headbands on Planet Earth."


Photos courtesy of Sauna

Can you spot who's who? Here's Toronto synth-rock trio Sauna playing in their early musical projects, long before releasing the album Dose Yourself this spring. That's singer-guitarist Michael le Riche with his high school band in the black-and-white photo, and he points out that they decorated the stage with My Little Pony dolls. As for Sauna's rhythm section, le Riche explains that Braeden Craig is the one "playing hand drums and wearing a beanie like he's at Burning Man," while Zach Bines is "finding his footing on guitar before landing on playing bass." Admits le Riche, "Bad hair, bad bands."

Sister Ray

Photo courtesy of Ella Coyes

Sister Ray's new album is called Communion — a title that takes on new layers when Edmonton songwriter Ella Coyes explains that they used to go to church a lot. This picture comes from that time. They tell Exclaim!, "I don't know how much I cringe at this, but more so think, 'Wow, really going for girl here,' kind of situation. Once I started playing music, I was met with some pressure to present in a more feminine way, and I gave into it on and off for a long time." 

Communion is one of Exclaim!'s favourite albums of the year so far.

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