Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
What a difference a year makes! Yes, it’s been a year since we connected (read it here) with The Unlikely Story, the Toronto indie-rock band composed of Daniel Herridge (bass), Mike Jacques (drums), Wing-Ching Poon (guitar), and Jay Vyas (guitarist). Since forming in early 2015, the band has undergone lots of development. One welcome change? The arrival of a dynamic new talent at the drum set, Mike Jacques. Unchanged? The band continues to perform the energetic gigs that their loyal fan base has come to expect. Several new live shows are coming up this spring, starting with one at The Libertarian on March 24. A 5-song EP is currently in production. All in all, it’s a good time to check in on The Unlikely Story’s unfolding saga.
Guitarist and founding member Wing-Ching Poon explains that the band has remained a fixture on the Toronto live-music scene playing gigs and “perfecting their performances” . . . before he nonchalantly drops that they are also busy with their CD, which they are readying for release later this year. “It’s a DIY approach, so production and mixing will be handled directly by the band,” says Poon. “Hopefully it’ll be an exciting package for our fans who have been waiting for something official from us – as well as a way for us to get out there in the public listening world.” “A year ago I was happily playing covers in a bar band,” says Jacques. “Now I am the newest member of an up-and-coming indie band that just recorded a 5-song EP. Onward and upwards!”
In the meantime, Toronto fans should anticipate no let-up in the dynamic live performances that the band is known for. To the band, what constitutes a great show? “Good songs, obviously” offers Poon: “Virtuosity and proficiency on your instrument can only take you so far if you don’t care about your songs. Bands who can play with conviction are able to connect with their audience.” Jacques agrees that this audience connection is an absolute requirement, and offers that there are many ways to achieve it. Talking to the audience early on is one: “Letting them know how much you appreciate their support is key.” The most potent way is for the performing band to take the audience on a “temporary escape” thanks to their great songs, performed with sincerity and conviction, every time: “(P)eople want to see a band putting their heart and soul into their performances,” emphasizes Poon.
As for the band’s broader artistic journey? It’s busy! With busy work and home lives, the band is swamped . . . but content – pumped by the thrill of a growing fan base and their status as soon-to-become recording artists. Jacques feels the best part of it all is writing and performing original songs that no one has ever heard before. He relishes the challenge…”of continually pushing yourself to write better songs and to apply your influences in a new and meaningful way.” For Poon, the allure is the emotional experience of putting different players, creative talents and ideas together to create a unified piece of art. That said, it can sometimes be tough for everything to “mesh well together” all the time. He recalls fellow guitarist Jay Vyas’ likening the band relationship to “being married to different people,” which requires each member to be “willing to compromise or facilitate as needed.” Through it all, they keep their sights trained on their artistic ideals — and the work necessary to achieve them.
To this marriage, each member also brings unique musical influences and tastes. And the addition of Jacques to the fold has subtly shifted the group dynamic. They have always been a dedicated bunch of artists. But in their answers to my questions this year, I detect a lighter, more laid-back mood. When I ask what each considers a “staple” song that every indie-rock musician should know, Jacques’ and Poon’s unique choices (accompanied by rationale) underline their divergent frames of reference. “A 12-Bar Blues in any key,” answers Poon. “It’s universal and has useful tools to develop one’s musical skills. It’s also a fundamental of rock, jazz and other genres.” Jacques, by contrast, offers signature 90’s glam-rock staple “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns ‘N’ Roses. “You don’t even have to know the whole thing,” he maintains. “As long as you can play the first minute or so, you will be prepared for the inevitable request when it arrives, and it will!”
Through our chat, Jacques and Poon offer a welcome dose of cheekiness . . . yielding some unexpected intel and good-natured ribbing that makes their collective stories intriguingly (and appropriately) unlikely. For instance, Poon reveals that Jacques’ talents start with drums, but do not stop there: “He used to play trombone and sing in a choir,” he reveals. So naturally, the band is trying to get some trombone licks onto their tracks. It also happens that Jacques is a dancer. Of sorts. While lined up for a taping of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, he and his wife were pulled into a different line, “hand-picked” to dance in the background of Outkast’s live performance of “Shutterfly”. “This actually happened,” he insists, sounding slightly incredulous, “although it’s hard to find evidence,” he adds ruefully, no doubt anticipating my follow-up question. “That’s how bad that dancing was!”
As our interview winds to a close, I ask each for one question that I should have asked, but didn’t. I don’t expect what I get…. Jacques asks, “Which band member has the biggest sweet tooth?” He then answers, confessing that, though it’s almost too close to call, “I just might take it, sadly!” Poon asks “What’s your favourite guilty pleasure song?” And leaves it there. Unable to decide whether he’s being coy, thinking of a song that is either alarmingly inappropriate or embarrassing to a rock guitarist, I push for his answer. Turns out, it’s “Some Kinda Wonderful” by Sky. “It was a catchy pop tune back in the 90s,” says Poon. “I remember watching it on MuchMusic for the first time.”
Nostalgic. And unlikely! An optimistic predictor that The Unlikely Story will continue to write new and surprising chapters in their unfolding narrative.
What: The Unlikely Story and Friends
Who: 19 years and older
When: Friday, March 24, 2017
Where: Libertarian Public House, 235 Queen Street E, Toronto, ON M5A 1S5
Information and Tickets: RSVP here
© 2017 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya