Manitoba Music has teamed up with Fresh Radio for a new monthly spotlight on local music, dubbed Manitoba Fresh to introduce audiences to a stellar slate of buzzworthy local artists emerging on the Canadian music scene. Featuring on-air segments and online performances via Fresh Radio, and in-depth band profiles right here on manitobamusic.com, Manitoba Fresh continues this month with award-winning folk/pop trio, Sweet Alibi. Tune in to 99.1 Fresh Radio and stay tuned for so much more...
By Jillian Groening
Some people come of age scribbling in journals and shedding phases like skins while others take to the stage, recording their moments in three-four time. This musical connection to the deep corners of the past can be exposing and vulnerable while at the same time constructive and supportive. Particularly while in the company of friends. This sentiment rings especially true for the women of Winnipeg folk/pop group Sweet Alibi.
Jessica Rae Ayre, Amber Nielsen, and Michelle Anderson have been playing music together since their teen years and have been there for each other through thick and thin.
“I feel like we’ve gotten over a lot of the challenging stuff,” Anderson, who plays guitar, banjo, and does back-up vocals with the band explains. “When you’re starting out there’s so many different ideas and you just want everything to be perfect. But now we generally agree on everything both business and music-wise.”
Having just released their third album to a sold out crowd at the West End Cultural Centre, the eclectic roots group has grown in more ways then their young selves could’ve imagined.
After cutting their teeth playing gigs at the beloved Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club and being featured on Manitoba Music showcase bills from Canada Day at The Forks to NXNE, the multi-talented musicians have gone on to be nominated twice for a Canadian Folk Music Award, had the honour of making CBC Radio 2’s top 100 songs of 2014 with their hit “I’ll Wait”, and were awarded a Western Canadian Music Award for Roots Duo/Group Recording in 2014.
Despite the well-deserved accolades, one thing the group is most proud about is how much their artistry has grown.
“The writing is quite different,” Anderson says of their newest record, Walking in the Dark. “The themes are much more mature.”
While the group’s songwriting is usually a collaborative effort, certain tragedies inclined the women to dig deeper and take a more personal approach to the creative process. The title track off their new record, which was produced by Murray Pulver (The Bros. Landreth, Crash Test Dummies), was written by lead-vocalist Nielsen about the recent passing of her mother. The darker, soulful track adds to the moody ambiance of the album and features the trio’s poignant harmonies at their finest.
“I don’t know how Amber gets through performing ['Walking in the Dark'],” Anderson says. “It’s such a sad song. Sometimes I’ll look at her and she’ll be a little choked up but she just keeps singing. Everything about the set is so much more heartfelt.”
Even the musicians’ pre-show routine bears evidence of an in-tune awareness. They’ve recently started doing vocal warm-ups which allows the three singers and their accompanying musicians to connect in powerful, ephemeral ways.
“And even if it doesn’t make us all one, at least we’ll be singing in tune,” Anderson says with a chuckle.
The band, who recently added bassist Alasdair Dunlop, drummer Jake Bell, and keyboardist Alex Campbell to fill out its sound, posses a grounded yet catchy tone which forms a delightful dichotomy. As the musical group flourishes, playing showcases and rocking the socks off venues from Nanaimo to Halifax, a Main Stage show at Winnipeg Folk Festival in 2014 remains to be one of Anderson’s career highlights.
“It sounds so cheesy but it was kind of a dream come true,” Anderson explains. “You’re up on stage and all your friends and family are in the audience and it was just so fun. We’ve played festivals like that across Canada but it’s just not the same when it’s not your home.”
Once the highways clear of snow, Sweet Alibi plans to tour Canada before doing the festival circuit in the summertime, followed by heading overseas for the first time in the fall of 2016.
“It’s all so awesome,” Anderson says. “It’s kind of crazy ‘cause you have this business side mixed in that you don’t always agree with each other about but it’s definitely made our relationship stronger.”
And that can be the most important part.