Openhearts Society may be the very first band formed over shared concerns about wind-turbine construction.
Certainly the trio, which includes a couple of familiar names in Bourbon Tabernacle Choir founder Chris Brown and Spin Doctors’ co-creator Eric Schenkman and begins a weekly September residency at the Piston this Sunday, wouldn’t have gotten together if it wasn’t for questions surrounding the environmental impact of Wolfe Island Wind Farm, an 86-turbine installation located near Kingston.
“We were witnessing some pretty cavalier activity taking place on Wolfe Island in terms of land grabs and clandestine agreements and improper placements,” explains Brown, who co-owns a Wolfe Island recording studio with Openhearts Society singer Sarah McDermott, the third cog in the wheel.
“Wolfe Island is an incredible gem. It’s what’s designated as an IBA 4 – or an important bird area, and there’s not supposed to be any construction on it.”
McDermott had launched a futile appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board to try and delay the project, and Schenkman, who owns a farm in Prince Edward County “about an hour down the 401,” entered the picture after he saw Brown and McDermott being interviewed by W5 on the subject, and faced a similar turbine project being contemplated for his area.
“He came over to the island, we started playing and all these songs started to develop,” recalls Brown, who initially knew Schenkman when both were teenagers.
“We blinked, and suddenly we had a mess of songs, playing regular shows at the Mansion in Kingston.”
The nine songs that comprise the new album, Love In Time, boast a sound that, in a separate interview, Eric Schenkman describes as “rural folk boogie.” For Schenkman, it’s the antithesis of the albums the Toronto guitarist has recorded with Spin Doctors, including Pocket Full Of Kryptonite, the band’s breakthrough album that is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary.
“It’s polar opposite, like south to north,” Schenkman states. “I like that very much about it. We have three-part harmonies and different instrumentation. Now we’ve added a rhythm section, expanding to Luther Wright (on bass) and Gregor Beresford (on drums) for this month, so now I get to play a little electric guitar.
“And it’s a little bit ironic, too, because the Spin Doctors name itself was derived from politics, but we’re a totally non-political band. Openhearts Society, just by virtue of what it is, gives a voice to something that might have its voice taken away. Anybody’s welcome to be a part of it.”
Those who listen to the bluesy country strains of “Boat Builders” and “Pass The Buck” will get the message, Brown says: “All of the songs stem out of a sense of engagement with nature, and the joys and tragedies thereof . . . ostensibly, when I heard that windmills were coming, I was happy.
“But Sarah said, ‘Look at this – they had secretly placed 86 of them without telling anybody where they were.’ They destroyed habitats, and literally divided families, because people were making secret-money deals, some making much more than others . . . it’s like a corruption of something that should be celebrated. For me, it’s been a real social education.”
For four consecutive Sundays starting Sept. 4 at the Piston, Openhearts Society will launch Love In Time with different special guests each week, including this weekend’s mini Bourbon Tabernacle Choir reunion.
After this residency, the band will aim for a similar gig in New York, where both Brown and Schenkman spend much of their time. The latter says he wants the band to “build a catalogue of music over the next few years and continue to write about whatever’s going on around us.”
Just the Facts
Who: Openhearts Society,
Where: The Piston, 937 Bloor St. W.
When: Sunday, Sept. 4, 9 p.m.
Admission: $10 at the door
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