Published on March 7th, 2021 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
All aboard! Now leaving for a brighter future!
Three nights ago, I sat in the recording studio of my friend Earl Pereira and sulkily drank a beer as we watched the (our) Edmonton Oilers get dissected like a dead frog pinned to a table. It was the third time in five days that the Toronto Maple Leafs took a scalpel to the Oilers, carving them apart 4-0, 3-0 and 6-1 respectively. It was too hard to watch, so Earl and I engaged in conversation of another topic as he muted the tv.
Our discussions bounced all over, talking about the excitement he felt partnering with a new record label, hopes for spring and summer heath, and the prospect of travelling again this year or next. Ideally, we agreed, it would be travel by train.
I’ve often said that train travel is for people who are in love with their life. I was surprised to hear that Earl also has such romanticized dreams of railway travel, and taken aback to find out how much more time he has spent on trains that I have. It was here that he shared the story of his song Hail In Firenze and how it was a spring-board back into life for him. Before I share a little of what I learned from Earl three nights ago, let me back up and tell you why this story is so important right now. It has to do with life being a sudden surprise from time to time, for the good, and for the worse. This is how to enjoy what you’ve got while you’ve got it, and how risky opportunities are sometimes a necessary part of the climb back up after you fall.
I was working in a Saskatoon record store that is now a parking lot (or maybe a Starbucks?), barely out of my teens, when Earl came in to ask if we would carry his band’s new CD. A little over a year later, in the summer of 1997, that album came out again – but on a major label. Backed by serious money, the production value went from ‘recorded in a rural barn’ (friend of my friend’s uncle, ya know) to ‘Much Music loves it – they want a video for regular rotation!’. Wide Mouth Mason soon became a household name across the country. Their music played in college dorms and at bush parties, across dance floors and from bar room tv’s, from car radios and Discmans. They opened for The Rolling Stones and AC/DC, played gigs with The Tragically Hip and ZZ Top, were nominated for Junos, and toured the world.
Ten years later, I was walking down the street in Montreal and nearly jumped out of my very comfortable skin when I saw Earl walking towards me, waving. Surprised to see each other at random in a city of over 2 million inhabitants, we exchanged pieces of paper with hotel info and agreed to meet up later for drinks. Of course, upon inspecting our pieces of paper, we discovered that we were in the same hotel, two floors apart. At this point, Earl had all but moved on from Wide Mouth Mason to another project he had created, a band called MoBadAss. On that boiling August summer day, we sat in the sun on Rue Sainte-Catherine, Earl introduced me to a beer concoction mixed in an ice-packed pint glass with Corona and bar lime. We poured them down our throats like ablutions until Earl warned me, “You’re going to miss your train!”. I stepped on that train 18 minutes later, covered in sweat, just as it began to pull slowly out of the station.
Another ten years goes by and MoBadAss became The Steadies. Players shuffled, changed and finally settled as Earl (bass/vocals), Justin “Juice” Lee (guitar), and Lexie Miller (drums). Miller moved on shortly after, and Kurtis Schultz took on the roll of drummer, adding more to the sound and production value of the band. Then suddenly, in the summer of 2017, tragedy struck. For reasons only god can understand, Juice died unexpectedly. Hundreds of friends, family and fans were devastated, but perhaps none more than Earl. He was suddenly without his band mate, best friend and writing collaborator. These were perhaps Earl’s darkest days, the ones howling with the absence of Juice. These were the days and weeks before Earl – or anyone – could process the sorrow of losing Juice so abruptly. Life would have to go on, and new beginnings would need to be forged from the ashes. But this is where the story of a new horizon and chapter for Earl really beings.
Since the arrival of covid and that filthy bastard no one likes (yes, I’m talking about you, 2020) we have all had a taste of loss, fear, loneliness or uncertainty. Or all of the above. I can only imagine what Earl went through in the weeks and months after Juices’ death were those same feelings, amplified to an almost unbearable and out-of-tune level of volume. Then, just as suddenly as madness often begins, opportunity springs forth. He was offered a contract as a hired-gun musician with a group touring through Europe, Signs to the City. Tired of not knowing what to do next, Earl seized the opportunity and headed overseas.
On his last day in Florence while touring the streets by foot, Earl was caught in a fast moving hail storm. As a good ‘ol Saskatchwan boy, he literally ‘saw it coming a mile away’. But such a dark and wretched pelting of ice is rare in Italy, and it took locals and other tourists by surprise. The streets became utterly void of people. They were all crowded in the glowing shops, marvelling at the pouring curtain of pellets bouncing off the stones two feet out the window. The crowds were murmuring concerns (Italy seems a place where such an ominous tempest would likely be explained with something something “…God is telling us…”) and became agreeably vocal about remaining indoors until it passed. Being a good ‘ol Saskatchwan boy, Earl realized that if he didn’t leave on foot in the next couple of minutes, he would miss his train and screw up his trip home. A few minutes later, soaking wet and skin red from being pelted by sleet, he stepped on his train just as it pulled slowly from the stormy station.
Once on board and settled in his seat by the window, Earl pulled out a notepad and pen. Watching the storm disappear behind him as the scenery ahead brightened, he began to write.
I find this video amazing. It looks seriously professional, to the point where the band obviously had a clear-cut vision and production schedule to justify the budget. Right? Nope. This is the magic of film and sound, a series of seized opportunities, good fortune, inspiration and talent. Earl wrote the song on the train, made his flight on time, and returned to Saskatoon. Back home, he was invited to dinner with friends where the young couple asked if Earl and The Steadies would play at their wedding – back in Italy! So Earl – and the band, now consisting of Kurtis Schultz on drums and Jesse James Clark on guitar – flew (back) to Italy a couple months later. They filmed footage for Hail In Firenze on the streets (Earl lip synching to a rough demo on his phone), played the wedding, and then used footage provided by the bride and groom from their reception (that drone footage is mint!), plus the stuff the band shot in the streets, plus Earl’s original footage from his first trip in the hail storm. This is where where I tell you the song wasn’t even finished at this point. Home again in Saskatoon, The Steadies recorded the song in a studio and arranged it together with all the footage they had captured. Hell of a trick, if you ask me. The whole thing looks like it was thoroughly planned from the beginning, even though it wasn’t.
As for the song itself, we’ve gotta go back to Earl on that train. He’s sitting there, looking out the window, notepad on his lap, and the song just falls out him – much like that sudden storm from the sky. I’m not going to analyze and dissect his lyrics – I’m not the Maple Leafs and Hail In Firenze is not last week’s Edmonton Oilers – but I think it’s pretty obvious what the message is: you gotta push on through, even you think you can’t. Had Earl stayed sheltered in that Italian shop during the storm (it was a Tower Records – I asked him) he would have missed his train. Then his plane. Then for sure the invitation to dinner. Hell, Earl might have said no to touring with Signs to the City to begin with, and never gone to Europe, or Italy, or been caught in that storm. And then you and I wouldn’t have Hail In Firenze, and maybe Earl wouldn’t have been so eager to keep recording, to keep playing gigs, and keep ‘pushing on through’. And we would all be worse off. Even though you may not have known him (or him you, for that matter), such a notion would have disappointed Juice. He always cheered for others to be happy, to be better, to live their best life. I fucking miss him.
And now, as 2021 promises to gift an early spring, and talks of covid control and vaccine availability shines through the dark skies that were 2020, we all have to figure out how we will burst through the other side of terrible times. We are all looking for our Hail In Firenze moment to inspire our next actions – something to focus on, believe in, and reward our steadfast work. We all want to be free of our nightmares, and that will take some calculated risk. We will each have to say ‘yes’ to something that our lazy selves wish to dismiss, so as to not remain on the couch with our Netflix and chips. That’s comfortable. But Earl didn’t stay on the couch. No sir, he flew to Europe and emphatically, whole-heartedly, said ‘yes’ to something he was offered, his first enthusiastic ‘yes’ in a very long time.
On March 1st of this year, Earl finally announced publicly that The Steadies have signed a new contract with Bristol Records (partners with Sony The Orchard & Copperline Music Group). So let me make this as clear as a 6-1 NHL pummelling: The Steadies are on the rise again. It’s a new beginning. It means that projects and ideas similar to the Hail In Firenze video will be more attainable and often. It means that new releases and subsequent tours are in the making (Earl says there will be a new album in the fall of 2021). Hail In Firenze, while a perfect encapsulation of how Earl got from the death of his soul-brother to the rich reward of his first record contract in ten years, is really a song that everyone should hear in 2021. It’s a lyrical recipe for how to cook up a plan to get through a dark situation to brighter days (and it’s danceable!). It’s also just one more step in the right direction and maybe now, with the help of Bristol Records, Steadies live gigs are once again on the horizon. I hope the late summer is socially kind to us. I’d love to hop on a train, head to an outdoor gig in the heat and have a couple of those icy Corona and lime pints. I just have to be patient a little longer – things are starting to look brighter.