The story of Emerson drive is one of incredible highs – small town Alberta boys who have gone on to success in Nashville including a Grammy award nomination – and heartbreaking lows with the suicide of bass player Patrick Borque, shortly after leaving the band in 2007. It is in celebration of all that they have achieved that the band releases A Decade of Drive on February 8th.
"Ten years have gone by so quick. To look back on it and see the different stages throughout our careers, from moving out of Grande Prairie and attempting to make a mark in Nashville and getting a record deal, releasing songs over the last ten years...I never expected it to get where it is today," singer Brad Mates told GayCalgary & Edmonton Magazine.
"It was just a fun thing when we started this group and obviously a lot of hard work went into it but, it has come around full circle a couple of times for us. The album is about letting our fans know if it wasn’t for some of the clubs we played early on before we had a deal, fans, promoters, everyone who has helped us along the way... It is a thanks to them."
Mates hopes that their success can inspire other artists to chase their dreams.
"When we first started I can remember a handful of artists that had made an impact in the music industry and opened doors for Canadians to take a step stateside and break into that market. I look at those artists as people who were the helping hand in giving us a better start. Shania Twain was one of them; Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Terri Clarke, these people have made a nice mark for Canadians to look back on in the US and [Canada]. I am proud to be able to say that now we are one of those groups that other acts are looking at. How did Emerson Drive do it? What steps did they take? It is nice to know that young people are trying to go after their dream. We came from a small town in Northern Alberta. If we can get out of that mould that is so hard to break, there will be a lot of acts that will be able to do the same thing in the future."
They have also invested in helping to provide opportunities and give back to Grande Prairie.
"For the past five years we have been doing a golf tournament that supports Parkinson’s research. We do a show at the college and have set up a scholarship foundation there. We have raised over $100,000 towards a whole new wing of the college that has a recording studio. We are giving kids an opportunity in Northern Alberta to go into a state of the art recording studio at the college there and have a chance to see that side of the business and experience what it is like to record music. We didn’t have those opportunities when we were growing up there - it was always having to go to Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. I am big on giving back to the community and the people in that area gave us such a good start."
The band marks the release with an extensive cross-Canada tour. Stops in Alberta include Medicine Hat, Lloydminster, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Calgary, and Edmonton.
"We have done a lot of shows over the years in Alberta. For people who haven’t seen us before, we put on a high energy show and we want people to enjoy it from the minute they walk through the doors, and want to see another show. We have been known as a road band our whole career; that is where we made our staple, building fans week after week over the past 16 years. Ever since the music was released 10 years ago, to see that build is a pretty exciting and incredible thing. There is not a night that we go on stage and don’t give 110% because we know that it goes a heck of a lot quicker than it ever starts. People are in for a great show."
This tour will have one challenge for Mates, as it is the first tour he is away from his son, born last year.
"Thank god for iChat and Skype, it is nice to see a face on the screen instead of just a voice on the line. He can’t talk yet but if I can see him on the computer, that is better than not seeing him at all. ...It is going to be difficult, no question about it, because I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with him since he was born. It is a whole new part of life but it drives me a little bit more. It is not just going on the road anymore, it is with another purpose to support a family and have something that my son can look back on in 15 or 20 years and be proud that his dad was part of something that was small at the beginning and grew into something big."
If the name Emerson Drive only sounds familiar, you have likely heard them on the radio or seen them open for acts like Shania Twain. You may have also seen them as the Cabarat performers at the ARGRA Rodeo in 2007.
"We had a blast. It was the first time we played it and it was one of those things where you just don’t know what to expect. We walked away thankful that we had the opportunity to play it. It comes down to people that love music, it doesn’t matter if you are straight or gay. There were people there singing the words from the very first song to the end. If you can have music that hits people in the right way that is a huge plus. None of us feel any different because we all have friends that are gay. To be able to accept and embrace it is a powerful thing. It is nice for people to know we are not out to judge people we are here to do our job and play music. Straight or gay, like it or don’t like it, that is completely up to you."
The album includes the song When I See You Again and its video, which are a tribute to Patrick Borque. He took his own life on September 26th, 2007, one day shy of his 30th birthday. His death affected the band and added another layer to their music that resonated with others who have lost loved ones.
"It comes back to the age we are at now. We got started when we were teenagers in school and signed a record deal in our early 20’s. ...We are now in our thirties and you get to a different place in your life. Things become important that weren’t there before. The music and lyrics that have been written in the past few years showcase what we have gone through in the band, with personal relationships with our wives and children, and losing a member of the band to suicide. These are all building blocks that make up the core of Emerson Drive as a band, character, and sound. ...It adds to the structure and foundation of what we are. We have always been blue collar, hard working Alberta guys and that hasn’t changed. We just have a few more scars to show people and talk about."
The song Moments is in a similar vein, as a man contemplating jumping off a bridge is reminded by a homeless man of the important moments in his life, and decides not to jump after all. The song was the most played country music song in Canada in 2007 and the band received a lot of feedback about how it influenced people.
"It is still one of the most amazing sides of a song, and what it can turn into and become when it hits someone the right way. When the song was first released to the radio it only took a few weeks before we started hearing incredible feedback [because of it]. That is the amazing thing about music and lyrics: sometimes it just takes over, there isn’t much you have to do if it is a great message and if it resonates in people. That was one of those songs where, once it went to the top of the charts, we got e-mails day after day after day, people coming to us at shows and meet and greets and telling us their stories and how they interpreted the song. Everyone has a different situation that they go through and sometimes music can help that person through [their life]. If it is someone in the army, someone who loses someone close in their family, someone who is gay and going through a tough time being accepted, these are all pieces of what people take from music. The power of it is amazing because it can change someone’s thinking 180 degrees, turn them right back around."
A Decade of Drive available February 8th.
February 25th – Century Casino, Calgary
February 26th – Myer Horowitz Theatre, Edmonton