Fabulous. Fantastic. Amazing. Those are the words you will constantly hear about the Toronto band Parkside Drive. On guitar - David Barnes. We spoke with David about his group.
Q - David, from what I gather on your website
(www.ParksideDrive.ca), Parkside Drive is primarily a wedding band. Is that accurate?
A - Yeah, weddings and corporate events. That's right.
Q - So, you recently played Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York. Were you playing a corporate event there?
A - No. It's still like a club booking. There's a lounge on the gaming floor and we played that.
Q - Are you the guy who put this group together?
A - Yeah. That's right. Most of the band went to Humber College, which is like a big jazz school in Toronto. We basically, out of school, decided we should start a band and try to pay the bills I guess.
Q - How long has the band been together?
A - I guess we started around 2007. So, we're coming into our sixth year now.
Q - When you put the band together, was the emphasis on weddings?
A - We started out as a club band. We'd just go to local dance clubs and played there. That's sort of where we got started and we started getting a lot of requests for weddings. One of the things about our band that a lot of bands weren't doing, or still are doing, is playing some of the modern music. For a lot of bands, Stevie wonder and Michael Jackson is about as modern as it's gonna get. We came in and said we should definitely do some of that stuff because that stuff is awesome, but then we should also be playing some of the stuff for the younger crowd to connect with, the 19-year-olds, and probably if you are not a big music fan, doesn't have a big relationship with "I Wish" or "Duke" by Stevie. It's just not their bag. We decided to do something with that. We'll do some Black Eyed Peas and some Lady Gaga too. We started there and since then we started getting a ton of requests for weddings and corporate functions. Basically over time we moved more into that direction.
Q - I guess what surprised me is 19-year-olds are getting married?!
A - (Laughs) 19 to 25-year-olds I guess. They were 19 at that time. Now they are 25 or 26. One of the things that's interesting is we all went to music school. A lot of musicians will come out with the interpretation that the music of the late '60s, '70s, was the greatest music ever written and everybody knows it. We found that most often, people that haven't made music as a career or are super passionate about it, they don't know any of those tunes. I challenge if you go stand on the busiest street corner of any city, in any state, and ask people that walked by, "Who wrote 'I Wish'?" They'll have no idea of what you are talking about. You turn around and say "Who wrote 'Wild Wild West'?", which is Will Smith, which is just 'I Wish' redone. We just found there wasn't that much of a relationship for what most bands were playing and what the average consumer wanted to hear.
Q - So, when you play a wedding you really have to play the music for the people who are getting married, not the parents.
A - Right. Exactly. Of course, you gotta do both. We definitely do a lot of both.
Q - What's the significance of your name Parkside Drive? What does that mean?
A - Basically, just the name of a street near my house in Toronto. We needed a band name, rolled down the street and said "Hey, this will work!" Not too much beyond that. We just happen to be in the right place at the right time.
Q - What's Toronto like for a band like Parkside Drive? Is there a lot of work?
A - Yeah.
Q - Weddings and clubs?
A - It's a mix. Any major metropolitan city such as Toronto, it's going to be heavily competitive because there's going to be lots of great musicians that come here to play. We get a lot of weddings in Toronto and the surrounding areas. Even in upstate New York we get tons of weddings. I make my living solely off running this band. Most of the other band members are pretty heavily I guess subsidize by what they make off working in this group. A musician that can play and make a living, I think is doing all right. Typically the avenues are either teaching music or maybe opening a music store. These are some of the things that other musicians will do. We just play for the most part. We can just survive within the wedding scene I guess.
Q - How are you getting the word out about your band?
A - Well, in addition to Google, things like Turning Stone Casino are done by; we had a couple of agencies in Toronto that have partnerships with certain US venues, certain casinos. For Turning Stone, one of our agents just made the call and we went down there. It went really well. They have a few other Toronto bands and there's casinos in the Motor City, obviously that's Detroit. There's a few other casinos closer to Canada. Because our agent works with other agencies, they move around bands that way.
Q - That you are able to make your living exclusively by being a musician is something you don't hear anymore.
A - It's definitely hard. It's a mix of trying to look at the bottom line of things, look at the actual finances and say we need to do this many weddings this year to make a living, or play this often and then balance that with some original projects. Many members of the band are involved in original projects. Personally, I do this group so much, I work on it so much that it doesn't leave a lot of time. I'm hoping soon to go into doing some more writing. I feel most musicians should at least do a little bit of just getting out there and playing for an audience. Coming out of a music school, there's some really self-indulgent music that comes out. A lot of musicians don't understand why no one's coming and a lot of the time it's because very little effort is made to connect with any kind of audience beyond "My music is great, you should love it." That doesn't really work. You have to do a little bit more than just think your music is great and play it. You've got to try to entertain a large group of people who may not know you. I think that's one of the hardest things. This is where playing people's music that is a little bit more famous might be a step in the right direction, at least in terms of building an audience. If we had a big pack of originals we could play, we would probably be packin' 'em in. That would go a long way in terms of trying to connect with a broader audience.
Q - Since you are a graduate of a music school, do you laugh at the simplicity of the songs like "Satisfaction" or "Sweet Home Alabama"? Or do you prefer the songs of a group like Yes or Emerson, Lake And Palmer?
A - It's definitely a mix. A good musician should always keep his mind open to everything. I've always hated talking to musicians who say "Anyone can write a Justin Bieber hit." It's like, well you should really spend a couple of weeks doing it then. Go get five million and do it. Write "Sweet Home Alabama". It'll take you two minutes and you'll be a millionaire. It's not easy. It's almost impossible to write a hit. The elements involved are incredibly complicated to be able to capture what the mass public wants to hear. If it was so easy, I don't understand why everyone wouldn't be doing it. Conversely, I love listening to John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Yes, Rush, or any of the bands that I really like that are really progressive and write more difficult music, but certainly not lost on me is why they don't have the sales of Katy Perry or Nickelback. Writing a great hook with a huge cache is going to connect with a larger audience. Balancing both sides is what a good musician should strive for.
Q - When you got out of college, what did you think you were going to do with your degree?
A - I didn't know. (Laughs) Even at school our professors were pretty much telling us... Most of our professors came out of the '70s and '80s scene. I went to school in early 2000, 2003. They all kind of said "Guys, the party is officially over. We know because we were there when the party was raging." Apparently in the '70s and well into the '80s, you just worked seven nights a week, no problem. The money was good. The phone was always ringing and it was a great time. I guess the '90s hit and the laws changed to a certain degree. In Canada we have a smoking ban. All the clubs went non-smoking. The Internet came and TV came in and got way better, and people just started staying home. I think that had a profound effect. Even at school we were being told "You guys aren't going to have any career." Although I wasn't in the class, Rik Emmett of Triumph apparently taught a business class and started every class every year by saying "Okay, so everyone raise your hand. Three of you will have a career in music." And it would be like 60 people in the class. That was the beginning of the class. When I heard that, I thought, well, I might not be Triumph, but there's lots of opportunity. Every person I know from Humber that was serious is still playing, still making money and still making a living doing it. The facets have gotten a lot wider. Overseas work is huge. You can go and do cruise ship contracts if you want to. Teaching. I think about every musician I know was a teacher at some point at either a local music store or some have gone on to high schools or college. I definitely think there are options for musicians getting into it. If your goal is to be super famous, that's pretty unlikely. I don't really think there's any one way to get there. It just doesn't seem like a likely path and that was never my goal. I always went back to the Ray Charles quote, "I never wanted to be famous. I just wanted to be really good." That's the most noble thing a musician can do. Try to be really good at your craft. That's all that really matters.
Q - Did college help you with your guitar playing or could you have picked it up on your own?
A - That's the kind of thing you can never really know. The stuff I got out of school, I still work on to this day. I got a ton out of it. I definitely recommend lessons because I feel that kind of guide is just going to be so helpful. It's allowed me to really zero in, if nothing else, on what it is I really want to do with the instrument and what I want to get out of the instrument. Basically I know two kinds of guitar players that play professionally. There's the ones that I think are really good, which are few and far between, and there's the ones that play really fast, which I think don't really know very much about what they're doing. When I hear Eddie Van Halen play, that guy is really fast and he knows what he's doing. He's hearing it all. He's putting it out there. Most guitar players I see get out there, they fledge their way through the first part of the tune, they get to the pentatonic scale and they rip that scale as fast as they can for as long as they can. Most people in the audience will go "Wow, that's the greatest guitar player I've ever seen." I'll be in the audience thinking, it doesn't really sound like you know what you're doing. It sounds like you're trying to cover up for the fact that you have no idea what you are playing. That's my personal opinion. That's my personal taste. I like to believe there are guys out there who made a name for themselves through practice and hard work. I don't have any God-given gift to play. I just work on it and hopefully get better. I'm sure there are guys out there who are natural virtuosos and just started that way.