From the hallowed halls of McMaster University in Hamilton to the rock-infused luster of clubland Toronto, Shannon Weir has long been a student of musicology. She moved to Toronto after graduating from McMaster's music program in the late nineties and has spent the 00's searching for that elusive brass ring. Seasons passed and passers seasoned, leaving Weir and her players all that much closer to tonal bliss.
"When I first moved back from Hamilton, there were a lot of Toronto girls with guitars doing folk rock," she says over heated beverages at a local eatery. "That's fine but I think we had a different vibe from the start and yet we were constantly getting billed with those acts. Now that the scene in Toronto is a little more eclectic, we tend not to have those problems as much."
With the able accord of her backing unit, The Even Strangers, Weir plays a melodic strand of piano-driven rock, tempered by glossy guitars and viscous vocals. Along side her long time collaborator, guitarist Robert Hedge, The Even Strangers are rounded out by bassist Mike Robillard and drummer Neil McLellan. The four-piece has only been together mere month but already, Weir and Hedge feel confident enough in pinning their hopes on their fresh-faced rhythm section.
"Finally, playing with Shannon feels like playing with a band," says Hedge with a degree of relief. "Before, it seemed more like a group of players that came together once in a while rather than an actual band. This group is obviously totally committed, which is great."
The quartet evolved through connections with a sprinkling of fate. Weir convinced McLellan to join the band after a chance meeting at a house party (OK, he was a friend of a friend of a friend as wellÖ but work with me here). Robillard, meanwhile, was lured away from the northland for a stab at rock stardom.
"Scott Kaija from controller.controller gave me a call one day," he says. "He told me Shannon was looking for a bass player. I was living in Sault Ste. Marie at the time so I repatriated myself in Toronto and joined the band."
Simple. You know what's not simple? Their music! Sure, it's not rocket science but seeing as Weir's Roland keyboard is front and centre in the band's make-up, there is a level of depth and texture to The Even Strangers' music that you don't find in a bulk of guitar-centric bands. However, the fact that Weir has to remain seated for a bulk of the performances only serves to repress.
"I struggle with that because there are times when I would love to push the stool over, stand up and just sing. We have discussed some instances in the new material where I can do that and these guys can take care of the rest."
The new material in question is numbers recently penned by Weir and the Strangers plus music from an album called Quarters For The Bed, the title a nod to dimestore hotel rooms and amoralityÖ or something. While the album has yet to find any widespread release, Weir and her bandmates are going to be patience in finding a label who can give the record the comeuppance it deservesóHedge says that the album definitely sounds like "a radio album" to him.
In the meantime, The Even Strangers will be gigging around Toronto and further afield, making fans along the way and testing the waters one key at a time.
"It comes down to songwriting," says Weir. "Anyone can play a power pop ballad and it'll be catchy and fun, but it's not sustainable. It doesn't grab you and stick with you over time. That's what we're aiming for."
Catch Shannon Weir and The Even Strangers on the following dates:
December 4: Toronto, ON Horseshoe Tavern - with Staggered Crossing, Shaker
For more information about Shannon Weir and The Even Strangers, please visit their official web site at www.evenstrangers.com
Writer: Cameron Gordon