Longtime friends Brian Cathcart, Matt McNeil, Colin Gillis, Redmond MacDougall and recently added Scott MacLean make up the band Pretty Archie. This Canadiana (folk, country, rock, bluegrass, blues) band creates fun tunes that are genuine and authentic in every sense.
I got the chance to talk to them about how a busker inspired the name of the band, what the music scene is like in their hometown of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, their new single “This Whole Town” and so much more. Keep reading to see what they had to say!
For those who might not have heard of Y’all, can you give us a brief history of the band and how you guys came together?
We are Pretty Archie from Cape Breton Island, NS. We have been friends since childhood and always played music together growing up but never pursued it as a band until almost 6 years ago. That’s when we decided to give up what we were all doing for a living at the time to form the band and give the music thing a hook. Since then we have [written] and recorded 3 albums worth of songs and have toured Canada extensively and began our international touring last summer (Tonder Festival in Denmark being the highlight).
I’m totally intrigued by the name Pretty Archie. Where did it come from?
Pretty Archie was an old fella who used to busk outside the malls in our hometowns of Sydney and Glace Bay. When you’re from a small town you don’t see buskers often so everyone knew who he was. He used to stand outside with a hockey helmet on, play a guitar with 2 or 3 strings and yodel [laughs]. He didn’t usually sound great (or ever) [laughs] but he loved to perform and we really thought that he embodied a love of music that we aspire to. When we were first getting the band together, we would joke with one another saying “We better get some rehearsing in or we will sound like Pretty Archie” and it stuck [laughs]. It’s nice for us as Cape Bretoners to have a piece of home in our name everywhere we go.
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. So how would you describe your sound without using genre names? What kind of music do you produce?
The big “buzz” word for us pertaining to our tunes is that we emphasize being genuine. All the topics and themes we write about are things we have dealt with or are dealing with. The same thing goes for our instrumentation and musicality. We never sat down and decided, “Hey, lets make a ‘insert genre here’ band”; we just sit down and make music and this is what we sound like. We have definitely found that creative honesty really resonates with people. One of the advantages of forming a band as friends [was that] there was never any borders put on what type of music we “should” make. What ends up coming out is a mash of Canadiana genres (folk, country, rock, bluegrass, blues) with an added salt water soul vibe. We have been calling it Sea-Billy Rock [laughs].
Going off that, who are some of your musical influences as a band?
We all are influenced and listen to lots of different genres and artists. Its hard to narrow down any specific influences. We like and listen to everything from old country to modern blues rock and everything in between. I think the band as a whole definitely draws influence from alt-country, east coast folk, bluegrass and different types of rock.
You’re from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia — what’s the music scene like there? How much does Nova Scotia play a role in the music you create, whether it be references in the lyrics or just the overall sound of your music?
We are very lucky to be from Cape Breton. Not only because it’s the most beautiful place in the world (shameless tourism plug, but a true one)[laughs], but because it has a storied musical history and people really support and appreciate the arts here. There is a ton of amazing talent around here, some you know, some are just players for fun, but you are never far from a great jam session. Because of its history and the value placed on the arts for a smaller population, we are lucky to have great organizations (like the CBMIC, a cooperative that helps support Cape Breton music) and world class facilities like Soundpark Studios (and other great studios) that we can utilize at home. Cape Breton is world renowned for its traditional music (fiddle etc.) and although we rarely use those specific genre styles the island and the people of the island influence every song we write. We all were born and raised on Cape Breton, and because we love it here, we still call it home, so our music and the Island will always be intertwined.
Let’s talk about your new single, “This Whole Town.” What’s the story behind that song?
‘This Whole Town’ is a song about getting to the point in your life where you start to question if you’re in the right place, making the most of your life. It’s kind of an existential dilemma that everyone deals with at some point. In our case and the song’s case, its about falling in love in a town that needs some love and it’s sometimes easier to pack your things and move on. What is the less popular decision is the one our couple decides on and that’s sticking it out and trying to make a positive change for yourselves and your community.
What was your writing process like for this song? Do you guys like to keep the writing in-house or do you like to collaborate with others?
All of our songs come from different processes. We all contribute to the arranging and writing so they are rarely the same. Having 5 of us to draw ideas from, we don’t usually collaborate with many others. For “This Whole Town”, I (Colin) put the original bones and lyrical ideas together but by the time we all have added our ideas and suggestions it ends up being a band written song. That’s true of the majority of our tunes, one of us comes with a bare bones idea and we add to it together.
What was the recording process like for this song? How long did it take for the final version to come together from start to finish?
The recording process for this tune was great. We recorded it at Soundpark Studios with Jamie Foulds. Jamie is an amazing talent and we have worked with him several times, so we have developed a great relationship with him and that makes for an enjoyable process. Some songs take a long time to really nail down but this one came together fairly quickly. Its hard to give an exact time because after we are done recording we still pick at it for a while adding things or changing things but this was definitely one of the quicker ones!
Were there any major changes made to the song once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
Not many changes were made to this song. That’s definitely not always the case for us but we felt like we knew what we wanted the song to say and sound like. One thing that did take a while to get exactly [how] we wanted was the mandolin riff. We got Matt to try all kinds of different combinations and ideas until we found the sound we knew was the one!
I know you guys are supposed to release a new album, Hanging On, in early 2019. Is it finalized enough yet where you know how many songs will be on it and what fans can expect?
We are so excited for everyone to listen to Hanging On. It’s a 9 song album and it is all finished! We are really happy with how it all came together and think it’s, without a doubt, our best work yet. You can expect the same type of genre-bending mix (everything from footstompers to country soul ballads) that we take pride in, but we tried to focus a bit more on changing the song-to-song dynamic to this record, and I think that comes through in the final product.
You guys are still relatively new to the music game. What are some music industry-related goals or benchmarks you aim to reach in the next couple of years?
Our goals have been the same since we started because the only thing we try to do is always be improving and giving our fans the best music and performances we can. Ultimately, its great to see those goals turn into bigger and better opportunities worldwide and for more people to hear our music. But we always just try to be the best us and the rest usually works out.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd. What is something you nerd out about?
Good question! There’s almost too many things to choose from [laughs]. There’s a couple pretty hardcore video gamers in the band for sure and we really enjoy playing Catan on the road any chance we can. Those are the big ones for sure!