By Jen Zoratti
Cannon Bros. may well be the most buzzed-about Manitoba export since The Weaktherthans.
It’s a bold claim, but bespectacled indie-rock prodigies Alannah Walker and ColeWoods (ex-Playing Cards) have made quite a name for themselves with their incendiary full-length debut, Firecracker/Cloudglow. Since hitting the streets last November, the album went on to receive glowing, ‘you-gotta-hear-these-guys’ reviews from press across the country, snag spots on more than a few Best of 2011 lists and, earlier this year, get longlisted for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize alongside releases from such heavyweights as Feist and Leonard Cohen. Not bad for a ﬁrst record.
“It was very awesome — we deﬁnitely weren’t expecting it,” says Walker, 21, who splits drum, guitar, and vocal duties with Woods, also 21. “We were really surprised. It’s really exciting. When we played the salon in Winnipeg, a few people were talking about it but I thought that was far as it was going to go. (When we released it) I wasn’t expecting anyone outside of Winnipeg to listen to it.”
Happily, Firecracker/Cloudglow did reach ears outside the Perimeter. East Coast music blog Hero Hill wrote, “Cole and Alannah explode out of the box with a debut LP that will stand the test of time and certainly stands own its own merit. Every song sounds fresh and crackles with electricity and energy,” while Exclaim! called the album “an incredibly impressive debut and one of the best Canadian albums of 2011.”
Spring 2012 saw Cannon Bros. hit the festival circuit for the ﬁrst time, playing South by Southwest, Sled Island, and more. SXSW proved overwhelming for the young duo — “there was a lot less people at our shows and a lot more going on,” Walker says — but Sled Island felt like home. “It was really fun. All the shows were really well attended.”
Reﬂecting on the last few months, Walker is understandably a bit incredulous. “I didn’t have any expectations for the record,” she says. “I was just hoping people would like it.
The story is familiar to most Manitoba music fans by now: Walker wrote off the band’s van on the way to work one day (it was the other driver’s fault), and the pair got some money for it. Torn on whether to spend it on gear or lay their ’90s-indebted brand of indie rock to tape, Cannon Bros. opted to cut a proper EP. (Their last release was a lo-ﬁ basement recording that got some love from campus radio.)
Plans for an EP changed to an LP at the behest of singer/songwriter Greg MacPherson and sound engineer Cam Loeppky. MacPherson and Loeppky saw a pile of potential in the young band — “It was something I hadn’t heard in a long time and I liked it,” Loeppky says — and pushed Cannon Bros. to apply for a Manitoba Film & Music grant to record a full-length album. Walker and Woods wrote six more songs and, when the funds were secured, headed into Prairie Recording Co. with Loeppky to record Firecracker/Cloudglow. (The album came as the second ofﬁcial release from Disintegration Records, Loeppky and MacPherson’s ﬂedgling record label. Formed in fall 2011, the imprint is an avenue for Greg MacPherson to release his own albums, as well as releases by exciting young bands such as Cannon Bros. The label’s next big release is Nova’s debut.)
Both Walker and Woods play in other projects; Wood’s in practically every band on the Disintegration roster — including MacPhersons’ — and Walker is in Departures, which is gearing up for the October release its much-anticipated, Howard Bilerman-recorded debut, Still and Moving Lines. (It’s a record that could go the way of Firecracker/Cloudglow; the ﬁrst single has already received a thumbs-up from the hard-to-please tastemakers over at indie music bible Pitchfork.)
Still, while Walker will be touring with Departures later in the fall, Cannon Bros. remains a focus. The band went to Germany for a trade mission in September that included a networking event at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin in partnership with Manitoba Music and the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) as well as conferences, individual meetings and networking events at the Reeperbahn Festival and Campus in Hamburg.
And, according to Loeppky, the band has “tentative plans to record in the winter.”
“We’ve got tons of new songs,” Walker conﬁrms. She says they’re not a wild departure from the fuzzy goodness found on Firecracker/Cloudglow, but that the band is feeling more conﬁdent in their abilities as players.
“I think there’s more maturity,” Loeppky says. “They’re hits, all of them!”
Strategic Help: Cannon Bros.and Disintegration Records Leverage Programs to Build International Markets
As Cannon Bros. knows, having a blistering live show and a killer debut record will only take you so far. You need to play in front of new people and you need to get your album into new ears in order to develop the relationships that form the basis of a sustainable career.
To that end, the duo has made use of Manitoba Music’s Market Development and Market Access programs — which, by design, put emerging artists in front of key industry players (from publicists and label reps to tour managers and booking agents), with the hope that relationships will be built between the two.
Last November, around the release of their debut, Firecracker/Cloudglow, Alannah Walker and Cole Woods played an industry showcase at Winnipeg’s The Lo Pub alongside Federal Lights, Alfa, and Mitten Claps. In attendance were Nick Blasko & Piers Henwood Artist Management co-owner Nick Blasko (Tegan & Sara), Mike ‘Parkside’ Renaud of Upper Management/Hidden Pony Records (Said the Whale, Odds, Brandon Pacheco), and Coalition Entertainment’s Liam Killeen (Hail the Villain).
“(Showcases) are deﬁnitely a great way to play for people that otherwise wouldn’t be in the audience,” she says. “We’ve deﬁnitely made good contacts in the past.”
Having played showcases at South by Southwest, Toronto, and now Reeperbahn in Germany, Cannon Bros. has also learned that showcases are a good way to practice a facet of the industry that many musicians struggle with: the schmooze. Manitoba Music-presented events offer a safe, supportive environment for networking.
“If I’m introduced, I’m ﬁne — it’s nice when Cam (Loeppky) and Greg (MacPherson) can be there to make the initial contact,” Walker says with a laugh. “Showcasing has helped us a lot with that. I feel weird talking about myself, but it’s something we’re working on.”
Of course, Manitoba Music’s programs aren’t just for musicians trying to break into the industry — they also help ﬂedgling companies, such as Cannon Bros. label, Disintegration Records, get up and running. Loeppky and MacPherson have participated in the Strategic Consulting program, which offers Manitoba-owned music industry companies an important opportunity to connect with business development consultants to identify ways of growing and strengthening the company’s capacity.
“We worked with Rob Krause from Smallman Records — and he’s a genius who knows everything,” Loeppky laughs. “Greg and I — it’s not that we didn’t know what we were doing, but sometimes we had questions. Rob could say, ‘Yes, do this’ or ‘Try doing it this way’ or ‘No, don’t do that at all.’
“We had all these delusions and he put it all into perspective,” he says. “All the advice I give to Alannah is second-hand advice from Rob.”
Both Loeppky and MacPherson have attended Market Development initiatives, including Manitoba Music’s September trip to Germany, in a label capacity to promote their roster of artists. For Loeppky, participating in such events is a no brainer. “The more people in the industry a band can play for, the better chance they have for success,” he says.
Originally published in Manitoba Music’s Newsletter vol 21.3