You'd be hard pressed to find a more collaborative and unabashedly brilliant Canadian band than 1960's heirlooms The Band. Beginning with 1968's Music From Big Pink, Robbie Robertson and co. created a series of seminal works that plumbed the depths of Americana to create a sound that was thoughtful, intelligent and, most importantly, timeless.
It might be a stretch to suggest that Toronto's Frontier Index will ever approximate The Band's level of notoriety. Yet if the last couple of years are any indication, Frontier Index might just possess the yams to etch themselves a legacy to call their own. They've even got their very own Levon Helm in drummer/vocalist Mick Jackson, who recently sat down with Soul Shine to review the story of Frontier Index.
"I took the drums by default, even though I was one of the singers," says Jackson of the band's salad days. "Corey and Matt had their instruments so I ended up on drums, drumming and singing together. It's just natural for me at this point."
The Corey and Matt in question are Jackson's high school chums Corey Hernden (guitar/vocals) and Matt Francis (bass). The trio met in localized theatre mecca Stratford and immediately, clicked over a shared admiration of The Band, The Beach Boys and Gram Parsons. Yet it wasn't until a move to Toronto, and the addition of lead guitarist and fellow Stratford ex-patriot John Hunter that Frontier Index was hatched. This was early 2003 and the group has yet to look back.
From the onset, Frontier Index's immediate brand of "cosmic-country-soul" found takers within Toronto's gauche indie rock circles. And before long, the Index found themselves knocking back suitors left and right. It was that easy. There was even a faithful gig where audience members stormed the stage during the band's set, which in Toronto, is paramount to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Luckily, the band had a solid supporting cast in place from absolute zero, which allowed such uproars to unfold with minimal blood loss.
"There have been pretty huge expectations on this band since our very first gig," confirms Jackson. "Dan Burke booked our shows early onóhe really enjoyed our music and worked really hard for us. Eventually, he passed us over to Craig Laskey at The Horseshoe, who also really liked us and got us all these great opening slots. We're almost like a 'house band' at The Horseshoe at this pointóthe bartenders know us and we like to drink so it sure seems that way at times."
Indeed, Frontier Index has shared the Horseshoe stage with such luminaries as The Sadies, Lowest of the Low and The Preston School of Industry, led by ex-Pavement twiddler Scott Kannberg. In the soil of these gigs and others, seeds were planted and ultimately germinated in the form of a recording contract with foppish Manhattan-based indie Rainbow Quartz. Known for their jangly guitars and colourful artwork, the label is a solid fit for the Index's classic singer/songwriter spew.
"They came after us; a friend of a friend had come to see us and he ended up working for Rainbow Quartz," says Jackson. "We were talking with some other people at the time but they were definitely the most anxious and excited about working with us."
But what about the tunes, man? The bloody tunes? Well, those are coming, and soon. The Index spent the first weeks of 2005 hashing out material in London with renown push-button deity Andy Magoffin (Royal City, Constantines, Hidden Cameras). So by the time you read this, the mastering process will be underway with an intended June street for the band's Rainbow Quartz debut. It's thenóand only thenóthat the true power of Frontier Index's "cosmic-country-soul" will take full effect. But until that time, barbarianism begins at home, and Jackson is thankful for the solid roots his band has sprouted.
"We didn't even know that many people in Toronto when the band formed but the city's been such a great environment for us the last few yearsóreally supportive and caring. We've discovered it's really not that big a city when you think of it in terms of a musical community."
Catch Frontier Index live on the following dates:
February 4: Toronto, ON El Mocambo (w/ The League Champs, Beneath Augusta)
February 5: Ottawa, ON Babylon (w/ Cuff the Duke)
March 5: Toronto ON Healey's (CMW showcase w/ Telepathic Butterflies, High Dials)
For more information on Frontier Index, please visit their official web site at: www.frontierindex.net
Writer: Cameron Gordon