Meet The Town Heroes: a Halifax based Alt-Rock 4-piece. They have become known for two things:
1. Their music
They've toured the world, released three critically acclaimed albums and won an array of industry awards. Anthemic choruses, 3-part harmonies, tender falsettos and big drums highlight their riff driven, dirty-yet-nuanced barrage of sound. On stage they move like intense caricatures – soaked in sweat, pushing every chord, note and beat to the limit. A structured wall of sound emerges; familiar yet distinctive. Camaraderie shows in their musicianship, their song-writing highlights what they are: friends playing music for the love of it, in it for the long haul.
Musically, T.T.H. are reminiscent of the 90’s Alt-Rock bands they grew up listening to. Lyrically, at the root of every song is a passionate exploration of the things that make us all human. Whether good or bad, they’re the things that make us who we are: heartache, longing, society in the modern age, dreams and family.
2. Their ability to entertain
Through comedic videos, social media hi-jinks, blogs, unexpected wardrobe, late night sandwich stands at music festivals, amusing acceptance speeches and interviews, the band has earned a reputation for making people laugh.
Though vastly different, the band has found a way to balance these two sides in a seamless, cohesive manner. They see it as a crucial, necessary part of what they do. In a world where so much negativity fills the news, where the media endlessly focuses on the bad, The Town Heroes want to bring something positive into it all – as small as it may be. They see it as necessary because it is – it’s who they are. That’s something they’ll never change.
For the past 6 years, T.T.H. have played as a duo – Mike Ryan (guitar, vocals) and Bruce Gillis (drums) – captivating audiences with their remarkably full sound and energetic performances. With a desire to push the envelope even more, in November 2016 the band expanded to become a 4-piece, adding additional guitar and bass to the band. The new lineup reflects and effectively captures the growth, vision, and musical progression of the band.
“Everything (will be fine when we get to where we think we’re going)” will be the band’s 4th full length release and first with the 4 members. Merging modern pop-sensibilities with their alt-rock influences, the band has crafted 11 beautifully hook laden tracks oozing with hit potential. There’s a maturity in the album, both musically and conceptually – a growth that can only happen through a dedication to their craft, through hundreds of live shows around the world and an unrelenting belief in what they’re doing. The album is simultaneously fun and thought provoking, danceable arrangements coupled with contemplative self awareness and social conscience. At heart, a perfect soundtrack for contemplating life with a bounce in your step.
As a duo, the band’s remarkable sound was, in part, crafted by their minimalist set up. With “Everything”, the band has found a way to expand even further. “We wanted to give ourselves the opportunity to create without limitations...in the studio or live,” Mike Ryan says. “It opens up an entirely different world for us. We can take a song in any direction and let it become what it’s supposed to.”
As always with The Town Heroes, their catchy, sing-along, hit-worthy ear-worms have a multitude of layers to them. Embedded between the wordplay, reverb, and 4-on-the-floor beats, there’s a provocative existential analysis. “I just try to be aware of what’s happening in the world and write about things we all go through or feel,” says Ryan. “I can’t just write a song to write a song. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing, but I need to have felt it myself to capture it. That way, no matter what I... or anyone... thinks of the song, I know that at least it’s real. And that’s more important to me than anything.”
Making music is what drives The Town Heroes. Having the ability to influence others in a positive way because of it is all the better. If they can make the world – even a tiny portion of it – better by doing what they do, they’ll never stop – they’ll always be who they are.
••• KEEP READING FOR A MOUNTAIN OF FAIRLY USELESS INFORMATION •••
Well... that about sums up the general big picture of the band. Hi! I’m Mike Ryan and I’ll take it from here. While that little blurb certainly captures the overall aesthetic of our group, I’ll go into a little (or a lot) more detail and give you as much of our full story as possible. Pour a cup of tea, a glass of whiskey, a cold beer — or even a hot one if that’s what you’re into— and grab a seat. Here goes:
As a duo, we’ve played together for about 7 years. Myself and Bruce Gillis put quite a few miles on the road. We’ve been to Germany three times, Austria, Finland, Iceland, Scotland, England, The U.S., and crisscrossed Canada on numerous occasions. We put out three albums, won some awards, played some super cool shows, yada yada yada — lots of good times for sure. The full story of the band begins a long, long time ago, way back on Christmas Eve, 1982. On the same day that my father purchased a brand new lawnmower on sale at the local Co-op in Inverness, I was born. This lawnmower — which still runs and operates today — would ultimately, and ironically (in the Alanis Morissette sense), become a crucial part of my adolescent years and serve as a means for my summer job: cutting grass on the hot, endless summer days on the West Coast of Cape Breton Island. The smell of freshly cut grass still lingers in my nostrils. The memory of it all distant but never forgotten. Often when I reminisce of my carefree lawn-mowing days as a young boy, my eyes swell up with the remembrance of what one might consider to be my “Glory Days” — which was aptly the title of my Grade 12 Yearbook.
Meanwhile in Mabou, less than a year after my father had fatefully purchased the lawnmower and I came to fruition, Bruce NO MIDDLE NAME Gillis was born on November 29th, 1983. And although he was only 15 minutes away, even though his mother cut my mother’s hair, we both mowed lawns for summer jobs, our fathers graduated in the same class together (Inverness Rebels, 1972) and we both played music, our paths were not destined to cross till many years later.
Unknown to the other, we grew up in our individual small towns fifteen minutes apart. Within the rural confines of our Cape Breton home towns — and likely the majority of rural communities across the globe — exist a staggering number of interesting people and characters. They usually have nicknames. They often like to drink. They have a near infinite amount of novel worthy stories and legendary accounts centered around their escapades. We called them town heroes. Our adolescent years were both influenced and inspired by the town heroes in our individual communities.
I started to play guitar when I was 13. I had an old, decrepit no name acoustic that couldn’t play past the 7th fret and had no tuning gears. I kept a pair of vice grips on the head stock that I used for tuning. By the time I was 14 I had saved enough money from mowing lawns with the lawnmower that was purchased the same day I was born and bought a 3rd hand Mexican Strat from one of my good friends. (Note: his father had, and presumably still does, the world record for amount of K-cars owned by one man). To this day, that Mexican Strat — now covered in duct tape and rusting out of control — has been with me on stage for every show I’ve ever played; every country, every bar, every good and bad moment.
Meanwhile, fifteen minutes away in Mabou, Bruce started drumming when he was 16. Coincidentally, with money saved from his own illustrious career as a professional lawn mower, he turned to the infamous Maritime Merchant and purchased a drum kit from a clown in Antigonish.
Yes, you heard that right.
In his own words: “He's the first and only real clown I've ever met to this day and will probably ever meet for however long I live.” Bruce began to fall in love with all the aspects of playing music and hitting objects with sticks. The drums he purchased from the real life clown are the same ones he plays to this day. Again, I’d like to just reiterate this fact one more time because it’s important: Bruce Gillis bought his drums from a clown.
Back in Inverness things were progressing in a similar way but unfortunately sans clown. When I was in grade 9 I played my first show, a variety concert at my high-school. We played 2 songs, one we wrote ourselves and a cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In a Free World”. I was more nervous than I’d ever been and stood still as a statue up there. But something magical happened. That feeling was mesmerizing. Bringing songs to life with your best friends and hearing the audience’s applause was unlike anything I’d ever felt.
After that I was hooked. Like a drug that worked its way into my blood, I couldn’t stop. I had no idea what it would do or where it would take me but I had to see. I wanted to be on stage and I wanted to create. I practiced daily and tried to learn as much as I could about music from Columbia House subscriptions and blurry music videos on Much Music.
By the time I was 19, I played in a band that was beginning to gain a small (very, very small) following in Western Cape Breton. (Note: At this time, I had a cat who could use the microwave. Once, while repeatedly practicing a song for our first ever appearance on “Breakfast Television”, we had to time our song to be sure it was under the stipulated time of 3 minutes and 30 seconds for the T.V. broadcast. This was years before the technological explosion of smart phones and their various technologies that conveniently exist in our pockets at all times. The only viable option we had to time the song was with the microwave. While we practiced the song in my basement, my father was upstairs continuously setting the microwave to 3:30 at the start of the song to see if it fell within the predetermined time constraints. Earlier that day and unbeknownst to him, my mother had cooked a batch of incredibly tasty chocolate chip cookies. Our family often used the microwave to store such baked goods as incredibly tasty cookies and various other snacks. While my father timed us upstairs with the microwave, he was inadvertently melting and destroying the cookies inside. When my mother returned home hours later to find a batch of literally “nuked” cookies, my father, not privy to his own wrongdoing, had blamed the cat. Since my cat was capable of such an act, my dad was effectively let off the hook. Days later I had an epiphany and clued in to the reality of the scenario — it was my Dad and not the cat who brought about the demise of the incredibly tasty chocolate chip cookies. To this day I’ve never told my mother.)
The summer after my second year of university was the summer everything changed. It was a time of music, playing shows nonstop, writing songs every minute of every day and believing in every one of them. I remember late nights and sunrises, watching the fiery sphere rise above the Appalachian Mountains like a ball of enlightening fire letting us in on all the secrets we pined for our whole lives. I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to miss anything. I didn’t want anything but to be alive in that feeling of certainty. We didn’t want that summer to end or that feeling to be lost. So we went for it. We decided to see what we could do with music. We quit school, said no to real jobs, moved to Halifax, found a slum with cheap rent and started at the bottom.
Now, this is where Mr. Bruce NO MIDDLE NAME Gillis comes into the equation. We moved to the city without a drummer. Bruce came for a try out, knew how to play “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder and the rest is history. He joined the band and we set out to take over the world. We recorded an album, toured to Ontario a few times, got some radio play, brewed up some stories that Hunter S. Thompson himself would be proud of and made a lot of new friends along the way. I even know of humans who now exist because of people who were brought together by us playing music. Pretty neat! The band eventually broke up in about 2005. At this time a shoulder injury forced me to stop playing guitar. The fingers on my left hand lost mobility and felt like a popsicle in the sun. It’s was kind of like the finale of a fireworks show in the heart of summer on a perfect evening with all the people you care about and love beside you, but theopposite. Good times!
Up until this point in my musical journey, I didn’t sing. I wanted to keep playing music, writing songs and continue to get better as a musician, but I couldn’t play my instrument any more. I decided to teach myself piano and attempt to learn to sing. I had too much in me that I wanted to get out. I set to work practicing and rehabbing the hell out of my shoulder. After about three years with no guitar and lots of physio, swimming, and various Dr.’s, I was able to eventually wean myself back onto the 6-string. I couldn’t play the way I used to, and still can’t, but I could at least make a few sounds come out of the guitar. That was good enough for me. I had to use a weird strap that looks like a shitty white trash jetpack and play in open tunings, but I could play again!
Myself and Bruce were living together at the time. Once I got back to playing guitar we jammed every day for almost 2 years straight. Get tight, we figured. We wrote songs and tried to improve our musicianship as much as we could. When it came to the logical time to start playing shows, I was a bit hesitant. I’d never been a front man before and was nervous to sing in front of people. There’s not a lot of ways you can put yourself out there more so than singing in front of a crowd and I was afraid of that. Then everything changed. On a murky winter day in February I got in a car accident. I hit black ice, slid off the road and rolled three times. There was even a full knife set sitting on the back seat — unprotected, sharp knives. The truck was totalled, knives were strewn throughout the inside of the vehicle, but amazingly no one was hurt.
I realized a lot after this. I realized how short life really can be. I realized right then that I had to go for it. My shoulder hurt but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t the best singer, but I was good enough. I couldn’t put it off any more. We had the songs and we’d been rehearsing them for 2 years. We had to put them out to theworld and see happened.
Before then, I thought that maybe we were missing something, that we weren’t ready in some way. The only thing it was was a little bit of guts on my end. The world wasn’t going to wait for me, the songs weren’t going to come to life on their own. Life is fragile and for whatever reason I was still alive after that accident. I felt like I owed it to something or someone to do what I knew I could. I told Bruce I was ready and we had to start playing. He was good to go. After all, he had a drum kit from a clown and at this point was already the 11th most famous person from Mabou.
A few months later we played our first show as a duo. It was an all ages show in my hometown in Cape Breton. The two of us, self-taught, no idea of music theory, what the hell a treble cleft is or the difference between a bar and a measure, got up and played 2 hours of songs we wrote. And people liked it. Most of them. Harry O said it wasn’t his cup of tea, but that’s fine. Can’t please everyone.
And so it began.
Our blog details a lot of the things that happened next — overseas trips, letters to celebrities, various class projects done on us, the “Hand Dryer Olympics”, etc... This will help paint the picture.
And now, 7 years later, a thousand or so shows under our belts, another change is taking place. We’re not a duo any more. The new songs we’ve been working on felt like they needed more. We felt like playing them as 2 people didn’t do them justice. As a 2-piece, we only had 3 things to rely on: guitar, drums and vocals. Those limitations crafted our sound to some extent, but we felt like things were progressing in a different direction, something the two of us couldn’t tackle on our own.
I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know where it will go from here. I do know that no matter what, it’s what’s supposed to.
And just in case you forgot: Bruce bought his drums from a clown.
of this particular piece of writing. The beginning of us a 4-piece