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Honesty and guitars

By Kathleen Charlebois, for

Ash and Bloom is much more than two guys with acoustic guitars.

Matt McKenna, who represents one half of  the Hamilton-based folk-rock duo Ash and Bloom, takes the stage at the Outpost on Aug. 13 with another local performance set for the Hope Christian Reformed Church on Sept. 14.

He and bandmate James Bloemendal arrive in Thunder Bay as part of the Ash and Bloom North American tour promoting their first full-length album, Let the Storm Come, which was released last June.

“It’ll just be the two of us, so it’s a really a true duo situation,” explains McKenna.“We play light, fun songs and we play deeply serious songs as well, so it sort of bounces between light and dark pretty quickly.”

The pair is no stranger to Thunder Bay, having toured with Justin Hines on his Vehicle of Change tour in 2013. The pair  flew in for a house concert last year.

“We love Thunder Bay and we’re really excited to be back,” he says.

Since it’s just McKenna and Bloemendal on the road this time, they’ll be bringing other instruments along.

“James and I will be playing percussion and drum stuff with our feet and there will be some looping and we’ll be getting the audience to sing along,” McKenna says.

“Our show tries to be fun but then there’s moments where we talk about the things people don’t talk about.”

He adds that honesty was the big theme behind the songs on the album.

He and Bloemendal wrote dozens of songs with the album in mind. When the time came to narrow it down to just 12, the two sat down with their producers. A song would go on the shortlist when all four of them liked it
“The songs that felt like they were a little bit more magical were the ones that sort of said things that people don’t often talk about and that were very honest and very vulnerable and those seemed to strike a nerve with all of us,” McKenna said.

McKenna and Bloemendal then went to record the album in a cottage on a Southwestern Ontario lake along with their producers, some sound engineers and other musicians.

“We went up to this little place, not in the middle of nowhere, but on a lake,” McKenna says. “It was winter, there was nobody around and we just sort of hung out and made music for a whole week. We knew which songs we were going to do; we knew the way that we were going to play them.”

The isolation helped their musical creativity and got them out of the studio mindset.

“If creativity strikes you at two in the morning or just after lunch, no matter what time it is you can try stuff. You have the space to play.”

The result was ‘Let the Storm Come”, a mix of songs from their self-titled debut EP and brand new ones. McKenna says the titular song on the album speaks to his and Bloemendal’s life philosophy.

“(It’s) this idea that you don’t know when trouble’s going to come for you, but it’s always going to come.... so the way we want to live is a way that says ‘We know who we are, we know that we are surrounded by people that we love and no matter what storm comes for us, we know we can get through it, so bring it on.’”


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