Those of you who have noticed a lot of country on the show lately are right. I have been interviewing more country bands - Billy Kay last week and Amy Rose before that. No, Music FridayLive! is not becoming a country program, but I do like the way that country, like rap and hip hop, talk about real people and areal problems and real life. And I like the music. So don't worry, we are not becoming Country Music FridayLive!, but do listen to the words while you tap your feet. It's good stuff.
Which brings me to Western Avenue, a confusing band name for my LA listeners who think of the famous Western Avenue in mid-town. Nope, this trio hails from Canada. (Yes, Canadians do country music - remember Amy Rose a few weeks a go). Western Avenue is Niki English on vocals, Keith Robertson and Matt Williams on guitar and bass. Nikki English, Keith Robertson and Matt Williams have been together since 2000 as Western Avenue. The band was nominated in 2013 for the Ontario Country Music Association and twice-nominated International Music and Entertainment Association Award. Western Ave is winning over audiences with its “hot country” sound, including the catchy first single, “Highway Headin’ Out of Town,” which was picked up by Canadian country radio in the summer of 2012. With the release of their new single, “Wherever You Are,” from their February 2013 self-titled debut EP, Western Avenue is taking their melody-driven blend of country and pop music to radio in the US and around the globe. Already they are #1 on the Roots Music Report Pop Country chart and #26 on New Music Weekly.
English and Robertson, who are married, live in Peterborough, Ontario, while Williams is from neighboring Cobourg. The three musicians met through Canadian country artist Tara Lyn Hart, who lived in Port Hope at the time and had a music program in Cobourg. Robertson and Williams were hired as back-up musicians for English, for one of her performances.
Growing up, English fondly remembers her father Frank always playing guitar and singing around their house. He died in 2001 after a battle with cancer. While her father always encouraged her to perform, English had shied away from the spotlight. However, her father’s passing was motivation to give it a shot: “That’s what he always wanted me to do, and I wanted to, but I was a wimp,” she says. “It gave me confidence to do it in his memory. It’s been a challenge because I’ve always been shy. It’s been a lot easier with the band, having people beside you.”
There was always music around Robertson’s household. The Colborne native began playing instruments at an early age and has been playing in bands since he was 12. He couldn’t imagine having another job. “The only thing I can do is play guitar,” he quips. Robertson taught guitar for 16 years, and still does occasionally. He also plays fiddle and “pretty much anything with a string on it." Keith has played professionally with country musicians Tara Lyn Hart and John Landry.
Matt Williams remembers when he knew music was a path for him. He was 10 years old and received tickets from his parents to see Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers in concert:
“As soon as the lights went down, that was it,” Williams said. Two weeks after the Tom Petty show, he took up the guitar. “I had to work really hard at it, but it’s something I persisted at.” That’s a sentiment that the entire band can relate to…hard work and persistence. A line from their debut single, “Highway Headin’ Out of Town” says, “I wanna feel those wheels under our dreams keep rolling.” And apt metaphor for this group - they are rolling.