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Q & A with
Photo (left) by Curtis Delaney
Ottawafocus chats with Ben Welland, the creative mastermind behind Ottawa indie-rock powerhouse Sadie Hell. Ben shares his thoughts about his ever-changing sound, his successful debut record and his future plans for the musical project that defies boundaries...
Ben, how did Sadie Hell first form? What is the origin of your band name?
Sadie Hell was a band name that I came up with for a punk band that I was trying to form along with Peter Jurt, Christian Yurt, Josh Roy, and Luc Ranger back in 2004. I based it on the name of the downtown Ottawa neighbourhood called Sandy Hill. I just like the sound of those words together. We rehearsed once a week for almost a year, and we came up with quite a bit of material, thought we never played a show.
The first gig in which I decided to perform as Sadie Hell was actually a year later. My brothers' band, No Other Way, needed an opening act for a last-minute show they'd booked in Kentville, N.S. during a 2005 east coast tour that they were doing. I was on the tour with them as a roadie, so I decided to workshop some songs as an acoustic solo set.
Sadie Hell play at Mavericks. (Photo by Petr Maur)
What have been the major changes you've gone through? You've got quite a varied roster of band members who have come and gone over time.
Let me be clear, we've never really had a lineup change. In fact, we've never really had a lineup! The band is my thing. I enjoy performing my songs lots of different ways with lots of different people. There've been very few sets that sounded much like any other set. There've been several two-piece sets. Guitar and Djembe. Guitar and Cello. Guitar and Drums. Guitar and Glockenspiel. Guitar and backup vocalist.
fter that, the various permutations of three-piece, four-piece, five-piece, six-piece, seven-piece, and eight-piece sets that I've done start to blur together. I'm the only constant contributor. Well... Me and my guitar. I like to think that the plinkity plunk sound of my 1961 Hofner Archtop defines the band's sound as much as my voice and songwriting style does. I like to think that. I'm wrong of course. But I like to think it!
Was there a defining moment when you knew that you wanted to make a serious project out of the band, and that you had something unique and awesome going on?
Yeah. Way back in 2004 when I first started writing songs again. A few of the songs that I wrote (and co-wrote with Peter Jurt) from 6 years ago are still some of my favourite to play live. And the debut full length LP certainly wouldn't have been the debut Sadie Hell record without them. I really love the songs that I've come up with. I think the melodies are strong, and I've always felt that they deserved being done justice (both live and on record).
Photo (left) by Mike Norton
What inspires you to write new material?
I usually write songs when something happens in my life. Usually a change that I have a hard time dealing with. Sometimes I write about heavy issues like the war in Iraq, slave labour, globalization or teen suicide, but most of the time my lyrics are about things that have happened to me.
The constant is that they're all about rather strong feelings and/or convictions that I have. Hence the passionate sense of urgency in my delivery of the words when I sing.
You describe your sound as indie orchestral post-punk rock. What do you do to mix things up and always keep your sound fresh and interesting?
I experiment with genre-lines. I love listening to both punk records and Canadian indie-rock records. Plus classic rock. I'm not afraid to jump from one of these genres to the next and then to another within the same song. People have compared parts of the songs to specific artists, but most folks have a hard time comparing the whole album or even a whole song to any one other band or genre.
If your music was a drink, what would it be?
Sadie Hell would be Beau's Lug Tread Lagered Ale. Interesting and unlike what people might expect from a local (but still accessable to mainstream sensibilities). Enjoyed by Ottawans but could benefit from better distribution. And... Great packaging design!
2010's lineup in a promotional photo. (Photo by Ben Welland)
Your recent record was extremely well-received. Have you already given though to a follow-up, or are you focusing on other things at the moment?
Being a visual artist (a photographer by trade) I've already got a pretty good idea of what the album art for the next record will be, but have only just began writing parts of songs that could end up becoming completed works. We toured as a six-piece this past spring in Western Canada, and there are no immediate plans to tour again until perhaps the late fall or early winter.
This summer I'm focusing on planning my wedding, as well as photographing other people's weddings! I'm the owner and principal photographer at Byfield Pitman Photography. Due to the nature of my business, Sadie Hell is primarily a winter band.
The next thing that we have coming out will actually be a wintery track entitled "Hoarfrost" which will be released as part of the Ottawa for Haiti compilation disc that's due for release at the end of summer.
Photo (left) by Tony Martins
What's the most fun you've ever had playing a show? What made it stand out?
Bluesfest 2008. I was really interested in watching how many people we could draw over to our stage, and how few of them moved on after only a song or two. It was great to see that this music could potentially have a broader appeal than it currently does.
What are some your favourite places to see and play live music in Ottawa?
Churches! As an athiest, I absolutely love performing in (or being an audience member at) a good church show. Especially with the word Hell in our band name!
But seriously... People aren't drunk at church shows. They're there to listen. St. Brigid's on St. Patrick St. is great, as is The First Baptist on Laurier.
As far as bars go, I think Sadie Hell shows are received best at Barrymores, a bar that starting August 10th will actually be booking live music again! It's about time.
What's your dream venue to play, anywhere in the world?
I'd like to perform at the National Arts Centre in Southam Hall. Ideally on a bill alongside Feist or Arcade Fire. That'd be a good crowd for these songs.
Finally, if you could have any artist, alive or dead, collaborate with you on a track, who would it be and what would they do?
I could go for a good, laser-beam guitar solo by Billy Corgan in one of my songs. I've always admired his ability to create space sounds!
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