Newfoundland’s Fortunate Ones are celebrating this month’s release of their debut album, The Bliss on Old Farm Pony Records with a slew of dates in Eastern Canada. You’ll be able to catch them February 24th in Moncton at Plan B and February 26th in Saint John at Magnolia Café.
We’re two small links in a long and winding chain of people that came before and will come after. We were raised to be thankful for all opportunities and that as swiftly as they appear they can be taken away. We never forget that.
I chatted with Fortunate Ones’ Andrew O’Brien and Catherine Allan about their new album and what brought them together in the first place. Their tale is an appropriate one for the St. Valentine’s season. You may know Andrew as part of Music Newfoundland and Labrador Award winners and ECMA nominees Andrew James O’Brien and the Searchers, while Catherine has toured heavily with artists like Amelia Curran and Don Brownrigg.
Catherine and Andrew grew up on opposite sides of the Rock in supportive, creative families. Music was a staple in Catherine’s home, and Andrew came to it more so by “accident”, “I always wanted to play in the NHL but broke my arm in high school and decided to go on to university where I did a degree in fine arts,” he tells me. “Oddly enough, I recently met CBCs’ Ron MacLean and gave him a copy of (The Bliss). The next night on Twitter everyone was saying how he had held up a copy of the record on CBC’s Hometown Hockey and gave it a glowing review. It was a huge honour and likely as close as I’ll get to the NHL I suspect.”
The two came together by chance. One fine evening in 2010, Andrew heard Catherine sing harmony with her brother in downtown St John’s:
“The song was an Amy Winehouse cover called, Valerie. I remember really being taken by the smokiness of her voice and how in the higher register it straddled the line of breaking, like she was pushing it in a really beautiful but controlled kind of way.”
He knew he had to sing with her. He got up the nerve, left her a note, and she agreed.
The move to become Fortunate Ones happened organically when the band made plans to tour internationally. It was logistically tough to travel with the other band mates, who had obligations at home. He and Catherine had been involved off stage and were compelled by the sound and chemistry they were gaining as a duo. The band then officially rebranded as “Fortunate Ones”.
Their creative process seems to happen just as seamlessly. Andrew often comes to a rehearsal with lyrical ideas and rhythmic guitar parts and Catherine’s sense of melody and chord structure is the catalyst for the songs taking shape. The songs are autobiographical and consequently quite personal. The music is based around their current instrumentation of keys, guitar, accordion, and bass drum.
Since the duo operates mostly with Catherine’s lovely vocals as harmony, I asked her if we can expect to see more lead/solo vocalization from her in the future: “I’ve always had harmony vocals flowing through my brain, even when I was a youngster sitting in the car, I’d sing along to songs in harmony! But I’ve been taking some time to get to know my voice lately; sitting down at the piano and singing for an hour or two every day (…) I’ve always got melodies and ideas running through my head.” She’s even already looking forward to a new album, as The Bliss has just come out in the world!
Fortunate Ones were fortunately picked up by Rose Cousin’s label, Old Farm Pony Records. The duo was performing on the Rising Star stage at the 2012 East Coast Music Awards in Moncton when Rose approached them. She was excited enough about their music to describe them as her favourite new discovery. This meant the world to Catherine and Andrew as they had been big fans of Rose for some time. “She is so passionate about music,” said Andrew, “particularly when she believes in the artists”. Rose took on a real mentorship role in their career, lending advice and strategies to progress along their music journey. “When her Juno winning album, We Have Made a Spark came along it felt like the only record we were hearing about and we wanted to figure out how to make our eventual record experience a similar fate.” Andrew says the move to Old Farm Pony Records felt like such a logical step that they immediately said yes.
It’s clear that provincial pride and the culture of Newfoundland has a heavy influence on the band’s musical spirit, as it has for Hey Rosetta and so many other successful artists from the province: “We come from a place where storytelling, song, creation and performance are part of the genetic code of the people. As Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans, we have a fierce sense of pride when it comes to our culture. We’re just two of many people that either pursue their talent as a career or save it for the corner of the pub, around a fire or in the quiet of their homes. If you walk down the street in St. John’s you’ll run into ten people on one corner that could sing or dance their way out of any situation. We can’t help but be humbled by that.”
While it’s tempting to make all kinds of puns about their luck, the band is truly appreciative of the privilege it is to work creatively: “We’re two small links in a long and winding chain of people that came before and will come after. We were raised to be thankful for all opportunities and that as swiftly as they appear they can be taken away. We never forget that.”
The Bliss was recorded with Daniel Ledwell in the studio he built with wife Jenn Grant in Nova Scotia, with accompaniment from Jenn, Don Brownrigg, and Kinley Dowling. Besides Catherine’s touring experience with Don, the two had known Kinley through Hey Rosetta and were fans of Jenn for a long time (aren’t we all?). Echo Lake studio is a beautiful retreat in the middle of the woods filled with warm hearts that make their guests feel at home. Fortunate Ones are sure that this warmth and whole-heartedness found its way onto this record: “We recorded in a little studio in the forest, wind blowing across the lake, ice cracking on the surface of the water, birds chirping. It really was quite a beautiful and serene place and it allowed us to feel completely at ease.”
Fortunate Ones’ are bringing their Folk Pop sweet and lovelies from Newfoundland to New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario through February and March. In addition to birthing a new album, the two are also planning a wedding!
“We aren’t looking back and we owe Rose and our label manager, Michelle Conceison so much! They work tirelessly and we feel like the work is paying off.”
February 20 – St John’s, NL – Holy Heart Theatre
February 21 – Bonavista, NL – Garrick Theatre
February 24 – Moncton, NB – Plan B
February 26 – Saint John, NB – Magnolia Café
February 27 – Hunter River, PE – Harmony House (downstairs)
February 28 – Margaretsville, NS – Evergreen Theatre
March 2 – Halifax, NS – The Carleton
March 5 – Montreal, QC – Petit Campus
March 6 – Wakefield, QC – The Black Sheep Inn
March 7 – Sharbot Lake, ON – Sharbot Lake Country Inn
March 8 – Peterborough, ON – The Garnet
March 11 – Toronto, ON – The Dakota Tavern
March 12 – London, ON – London Music Club (front room)
March 15 – Sudbury, ON – Townehouse Tavern