It is hard to believe Gaetz Ave. fronted by Danielle Heykants and Ben Mullen had their coming out party with the official release of their self titled CD, just a few months ago (February). Approximately 800 people were on hand that day in Red Deer, Alberta, to cheer on the talented Heykants and Mullen as they performed with a backup band. Since that day Heykants and Mullen have toured eastern Canada, with stops in Quebec and Ontario, and by the time you read this will have been in the midst of a British Columbia wide tour.
The duo, who grew up performing together in the Word of Life Church in Red Deer, both have done a good job of blending Heykants pop / rock style with Mullen's R&B work on the keyboards. Heykants is the stage mamma that provides the passion and works the crowd. Mullen at times reminds one of yet another young star on the Canadian music scene, Greg Sczebel.
Gaetz Ave. cleared another hurdle early in their ten month career by picking up a record deal with Slyngshot Records and Slyngshot later got a CMC distribution deal for the band.
Martin Smith from CMC decided to jump on board with Gaetz Ave. before hearing their CD. Smith says, "Originally it was a high belief level in Danielle and Ben having seen them in action, dealing with people and their personalities. I had heard some songs that Danielle had written and ironically they weren't even on the final album. It was just a high belief level in them that when they got out working in churches and performing in front of people that they would just be great people to stand behind."
What does Smith think of them now that he has heard them and seen the two in action? He says of their music, "It is very current. It can be compared to things like Black Eyed Peas. It's a nice mix of pop and R&B."
This marks yet another success story for the little studio that could. Slyngshot Records out of Calgary also launched the careers of the famed band, Downhere. This is a studio that does a good job of fast tracking the careers of artists.
The first track on their album, "Here I Go" works well as a show opener and highlights the perfectly blended harmonies of Mullen and Heykants perfected during their days performing together with Youth Alive, a Hillsong ministry.
The number two track "Real Love" co-written by Heykants and Mullen demonstrates they have already learned the value of including good hooks in their songs. The song really highlights Heykants alto vocals and allows you glimpses into the greatness destined for Mullen as he matures as a musician.
Heykants and Mullen have written or co-written all the songs that appear on this CD. What is even more striking about that fact is they come from completely different music backgrounds. Mullen studied classical piano up to grade nine with the Royal Conservatory. He says, "For me the thing that comes naturally to me is music. I can write music to anything. I'm always learning and getting better. It's a learning process for me to write lyrics. I think that the music is something that is very natural to me. The structure of a song and the format of a song is something that I like doing."
Heykants on the other hand has never received formal training in music. Her vocal talents and songwriting skills have been acquired through years of singing and performing with Youth Alive and in their church. Hey, it has worked well for many Christian and mainstream artists who developed their skills singing in church.
Heykants sounds reminiscent of Sheryl Crow on "Say It Loud", proving she can sing with an edge to her voice.
"Trust You" another track from the debut CD is a curious blend of Urban with R&B overtones.
Gaetz Ave. was never in the plans of either Heykants or Mullen. Originally a plan had been hatched to have them record an album with Youth Alive. Slyngshot Records was excited about their potential, prompting President and CEO Leroy Harder to compare that potential as the same that he recognized in Downhere several years ago.
Although both know they will pursue different musical paths in the years ahead, Heykants says, "I feel like it is definitely the right thing for me. My life and future plans haven't changed. I still want to do it on my own when the time comes or however it happens. I think this is definitely of God and I enjoy working with Ben. I think he is really creative and a wonderful person. I am just honored to have this opportunity. We both feel that God will eventually take us in separate directions but for now this is definitely what we want to do together and we're going to do it with all that we have to make it successful."
Mullen looks back and jokes about his approaching Heykants a few years earlier and raising the possibility of the two of them working together someday. He remembers her saying, "No way. I don't ever want to work with you."
He says, "We were good friends and she was pursuing her own thing and I was pursuing my own thing too. I thought it might be cool to do it with somebody else. That was a few years ago and I totally forgot about it."
Heykants adds, "I think in turn making this successful will launch us. I know I'll be involved with music but who knows. I love worship too and I want to be involved in that one day too."
As they reflect back on the events leading up to the formation of Gaetz Ave. Heykants laughingly says, "And that's how we became Sonny and Cher."
Most Albertans or former Albertans like me won't take long in figuring out where the name Gaetz Ave. came from. Gaetz Avenue is the main street running through Red Deer. What most may not know is Red Deer was founded by a Rev Gaetz. The two wanted to put a stamp on their name that said something about the city in which they were raised.
For two young musicians on the road for the first time it could be a temptation to get caught up in all the hype and lose their focus but Gaetz Ave has thought of that as well. "We call our pastors all the time and let them know what is going on. We definitely want to stay under their covering. It's not hard when you are talking to them all the time and when you are accountable to them. You just make a point of it to make sure your pastors know and that you stay in the right heart. I think that it is very important," says Heykants.
Writer: Joe Montague