Hello from Montreal. My name is Tyler and today I’m thirty years old. I have come to realize a lot happens to a person in this amount of time. They can watch their sucky hockey team get good and then suck again. They can work odd jobs; they can move around; and if they’re lucky, they can learn about love, music, art, and what not to say at a Jewish funeral.
The first 14 years of my life are a blur. I mostly experimented with matches, played street hockey, and raced hot wheels cars with my younger brother, Ben. But at the age of 14, I strapped a guitar to my hip, put my head down, and started to play music. 16 years later my telecaster is still with me and it has steered me and my life a lot like a compass would. I’m gonna tell you now the story of all the people I’ve met and floors I’ve slept on in the last decade leading up to the formation of Tofu Stravinsky.
I paid my dues slugging it out in the rural AB high school punk rock scene. This consisted mostly of hanging out on weekends with my band, Mile High. The band would gather in the tool shed that the parents of drummer Kevin Johnson (Enso tattoos) let us use and we would try desperately to acquire beer. We would also write the odd song. We did that for a couple years before recording a wonderfully terrible cd in Red Deer, knowing we were destined for greatness; particularly on the day local legends Darryl’s Grocery Bag asked if we wanted to play a show together in my hometown of Olds, AB.
Shortly after graduating high school, Mile High disbanded and I teamed up with the boys from DGB who were on the hunt for a new guitarist. We quickly changed our name to Sons of Daughters and a year and a half later changed it again to The Rocky Fortune. We spent my first 5 years out of high school living in Calgary, trying to make the best music in the universe. There were a lot of fun nights, we traveled around, and during this time made a lot of really good friends. The Fortune recorded two albums (to date).The first album ‘Sway‘ was done with Dave Alcock (Chixdiggit, Falconhawk), and the second album “Back of the Beeside” was done with Calgary’s most mobile of studio engineers Josh Gwilliam who accompanied us on a troubled 747 to Austin, TX where we mixed all-analogue tracks at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales studio.
The Fortune toured Western Canada a couple times in a rusty blue Suburban with sound tech Will Schatz (Madcowboys, No Means No) Mark and Darren Collins (aka “the brothers”), roadie Brock McAndless (the Browns), and fun maker Kyle Knapp (Said the Whale). We saw and did a lot on the road. These experiences range from great – hanging out in Banff playing music with Hawksley Workman – to not so good – bandaging up a Lethbridge bar owners face at 5am after a particularly cranky patron took a bite out of his cheek. This is also the period of time that SAIT scholar Brendan Kane (aka “4 dart night”) was hitting the scene with his fierce brand of music journalism and rock show promotion. He and his friends made every Rocky Fortune show fun and among his entourage of hilarious people was Mike “Boots” Corbiell (future lead singer of the Bitterweed Draw). We put together a street hockey team – this included TRF brother Craig Florence, Mark “brother” Collins, and my brother Ben Toews – and then we won the University of Calgary’s prestigious Slurpee Cup. Suck it Hi-Fi Club.
One morning while sitting in a Toronto hotel lobby after a showcase at Canada Music Week, The Rocky Fortune broke up, hired a limo to the YYZ airport and flew back to YYC. It seemed fitting. Shortly after getting off the plane in Calgary, I hopped onto another one and flew to Peru. I arrived in South America and started wandering. There I learned to speak Spanish, spent time jamming with rowdy Peruvian party musicians and went through a pretty heavy “Andean pan-flute” musical phase. I also learned what rhymes with orange. Time away from home taught me the meaning of “depaysement” and helped me to figure out what my next move would be. When I returned to Canada I was doing so to study at the Selkirk College of Music in Nelson, BC.
Nelson is a beautiful little town nestled in the West Kootenays of British Columbia. All roads in Nelson run (steeply) downhill towards the Kootenay Lake and it is home to some of the best back country powder skiing in North America. The place is packed with “joie de vivre” and there, I played a lot of music. There were in fact times when I was playing in four active bands at once. Because of this I became good friends with a lot of ambitious, passionate, and musically gifted people and we did some really cool things together. While based in Nelson I toured across Canada, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands (birthday in Amsterdam!) and Germany with Miss Quincy, wrote songs and toured oil country with Locomotive Ghost, headlined the Shambhala music festival with 80’s tribute band Val Kilmer & the New Coke, and headlined the Starbelly Jam festival with my current project, Tofu Stravinsky. Once, after a show at the Royal (rip) with my talented and beautiful singer-friend Erica Dee a guy I had never met before shook my hand and said he liked the show. I said “thanks, what’s your name bud?” and he said “I’m Skrillex.” I also spent my days talking shop with my roommate Peter Mynett (Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra), jamming with the Party on High Street – at that time the band included Alyssa K of Snow Owl – in the infamous Gingerbread House and formed I Heart NY (the hottest band you will never see) with Nils Mikkelsen (AM Static), Melissa McWilliams (Devonian Gardens) and Simon Joseph (Mindwaves). After five years in the scenic snow-globe that is Nelson, I packed up and tour-moved across the country to Montreal with my band Tofu Stravinsky.
Tofu Stravinsky is huge part of my life and the music we make – for my part – is an expression of joy drawn from all of the places I’ve ever been and all of the people who have touched my life. The band sprung from the working relationship between myself and lead singer Sarah Orton in 2011 (Sarah is also an amazing painter). Sarah and I would get together whenever we could to hang out and invent songs. By the winter of 2012 we had the blueprints for a batch of songs drawn up, so we recruited the best players we knew and started playing shows: First in Nelson, and now in 2014 across all of Canada. The band would still be a lonely dreamer’s dream if not for the talents of guitar luthier, Jon Perry who handles all things synthesizer, Edward T who drums in three different languages and keeps everyone sane, Winnipeg’s finest sexport Pat McTaggart on bass, and Desiree Armstrong who smooth-talks promoters, handles all things merchandise and co-manages our online presence. The goal from the start has been to work hard and make good music that is true to who we are and what we feel. Moving to Montreal became our plan once the band started to feel stagnant in the interior of BC and it has taken 40-odd shows in the last year to get us here. I couldn’t be happier about it all.
If you are one who already enjoys welcometothewest.ca you may have recognized some or all of the bands I mentioned in this story as artists who have collaborated in one way or another with Brendan, Chad, Nils, and Charlie. If this is your first time here, welcome to the west. The summer of 2013 for Tofu Stravinsky was bookended by two live recording sessions done with these boys and from our cozy Quebequois 1 ½’s we are excited to share some of the music we make as seen through the eyes of Welcome to the West; Canada’s premier independent music video experience. Jouir.
Words by Tyler Toews
Photography collection from Tyler Toews and Brendan Kane