East Coast Convergence: Dylan Menzie + Thomas McCallum + Mary Stewart
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The oft-repeated music industry talking points have turned into clichés – “There’s more music being made today than ever before” or “There are many more artists today competing for a piece of the same pie,” or some variation of either.
And though they may still carry some truth, singer/songwriter Dylan Menzie pays them little mind. The only person he’s accountable to, that he feels any need to consistently one-up, is himself.
“That’s just been me for as long as I can remember,” says the hard-working troubadour. “I’m very competitive and self-critical, but that just forces me to keep growing as a songwriter and as an artist. Standing still creatively just doesn’t appeal to me. At all.”
The fact that he’s his own harshest critic is simultaneously a struggle and the very trait that’s propelled him up the ranks of the Canadian music scene, and considering all he’s accomplished in a relatively short amount of time, it’s clear that stagnation just isn’t his strong suit.
With a sprawling vocal range and compelling approach to composition, Menzie made an indelible mark in the talent-rich Atlantic Canadian music market with his debut EP, Heather Avenue, in 2013. The release – which earned Music PEI Award nominations and acclaim from industry influencers – led to high-profile performances throughout the Maritimes, including opening slots for City & Colour and Ron Sexsmith.
In 2016, Menzie was a finalist in CBC’s annual Searchlight competition on the back of his breakout single, “Kenya,” which then spent two weeks at number one on CBC Radio 2’s Top 20 leading up to the release of his 2016 album Adolescent Nature.
The record, anchored by the strength of songs like the aforementioned “Kenya” and follow-up single “Talk to Me,” showcases the pure emotion one can extract from simply a great voice and keen sense of dynamics.
“I started out writing everything on acoustic guitar, though more recently, I’ve been bringing everything down to basic piano chords, and if the song can still move me and move people, I know I’m onto something,” he reveals about his creative process. “Once I’ve got that solid foundation, everything else is just colour and texture.”
Drawing clear influence from the likes of My Morning Jacket, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, and Joel Plaskett without being derivative of any one, the quality of these songs heavily belies the young artist’s age.
In fact, the lyrics – as the album title might suggest – are the only thing here that could clue one in on Menzie’s youth. “I didn’t really see what tied these songs together until I was looking for an album title,” he admits, “and that theme seemed to envelope them all – the idea of finding yourself, where you want to go, and who you want to be in that confusing time of life.”
Since Adolescent Nature’s release, Menzie has been in even higher demand, earning one of two spots in the inaugural East Meets West collaboration between the ECMAs and BreakOutWest as well as slots at prestigious events like the Edmonton Folk Festival, Canadian Music Week, Folk Alliance International, and others.
But even as excitement behind his breakthrough continues to mount, Menzie already has his sights set on what’s next – another product of his self-competition and refusal to rest on any laurels. And if he continues on his current trajectory of each new song, each new release eclipsing its predecessor, he’ll soon be impossible to ignore.
Everybody has an opinion – especially when it comes to music – but few are as critical as Dylan Menzie, and that’s worked out for him pretty well so far.
Hailing from Six Mile Brook, Nova Scotia, Thomas McCallum likes things to be cut and dry, though this is seldom the case. Take him or leave him, you're likely to run into him again: putting a tune in your bucket or meandering home.
Born and raised in Pictou County, Thomas McCallum grew up in Six Mile Brook, and sang in several local choirs, including the Pictou District Honour Choir. He released his first CD of original compositions in 2014.
The man bent over his guitar, A shearsman of sorts. The day was green. They said, "You have a blue guitar, You do not play things as they are."
Mary Stewart isn’t a singer songwriter. Well, she does sing and she likely writes more songs than anyone you’ve ever met, but if you’re picturing a sullen woman perched atop a wooden stool, playing depressing songs on her oversized acoustic, you’ve pegged her all wrong.
In fact, Mary has never sported an acoustic guitar during a live show and prefers to strum along on her Gretsch, singing clever pop songs, and sharing anecdotes about her love of baking, cats, and hopes of becoming Sidney Crosby’s wife.
Hailing from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Mary grew up consuming an incredible range of genres from folk and pop to opera and hair metal – true story. Before her pop days, Mary was classically trained in opera. Her mother sang in hair metal bands and her dad was a sound engineer.
“My parents would bring me along to gigs because it was easier than finding a babysitter,” says Mary.
She really didn’t stand a chance to fall in love with any career other than music.
At 16, Mary had her first recording experience and shared it with fellow New Glasgow native, George Canyon who has since become a long-standing supporter of Mary’s music.
Canyon isn’t the only heavyweight Mary has had the chance to work with. She’s opened for acts like Jill Barber, Wintersleep, Jenn Grant, and Blue Rodeo. A huge fan of Jim Cuddy, Mary giggles, “I almost wore a wedding dress on stage.”
Among her many accolades, Mary was nominated for Music Nova Scotia’s Female Artist Recording of the year in 2009.
Mary currently uses Toronto as her stomping grounds, performing at famous venues like The Horseshoe Tavern and The Drake and is rarely not on a bill somewhere. She recently played a packed show at Canadian Music Week and is gearing up for the release of her second album Chances are I like you.
The record is the result of a hugely successful yearlong project where Mary wrote one song each day, allowing website statistics and fan votes to dictate which of the 365 songs would make their way onto the album. Because of the unique conception, Mary says that the album doesn’t really have a conscious theme. Instead, it is a snapshot of a year – and not necessarily a good one.
Mary wrote through sickness, surgery, tours, and anything else this particular trip around the sun threw at her.
She jokes that the record sounds like, “Your hair after four days of not washing it, but not five – five would be too much.”
The tunes have that gritty and wonderfully natural feel, but still rely heavily on Mary’s pop sensibilities that make her immediately pleasant to listen to.
Produced by Jason Ball (The Heavy Blinkers, The Guthries, Hopeful Monster), the album features a ton of Canadian talent like Luther Mallory, PJ Herrick (Crush Luther), and Andrew La Tona (Big Stereo). Fans can catch a sneak peek of the first single, “Go at anytime” online.