Dear Sarah, Thank you so much for getting in touch with us and choosing our band to do your school project on. We’ve had students from all over the world do projects on us, but never one from Crapaud, PEI. This is a historical event in our careers thus far and we are grateful for the opportunity. I hope the answers written below are what you’re looking for and enable you to carry out your project successfully, responsibly and drug free.
Who are you? Stage name (real name)
Our band name is The Town Heroes. My name is Michael Stephen Ryan and I play guitar and sing. Bruce Gillis (no middle name! I didn’t believe him when I first met him, but it’s true…. I swear to God!) plays drums. Within any band, family, or business, there are multiple roles within the group which must be followed out in order to make it a functional and viable unit. We are no exception to this. In addition to our musical roles there are various tasks we must each partake in for this to be a successful dynamic. For instance, Bruce is the designated driver; as in, he is always designated to drive. I got my license two years but don’t really like driving. Also, I don’t think Bruce would trust me behind the wheel (LOL) of his car/our luxurious band vehicle, a 2005 Impala. He also has a credit card with a decently moderate limit, so he often purchases anything that needs to be paid for, such as plane tickets, hotel accommodations, large sums of peanut butter, etc…. He usually takes care of BBQ assembly, twitter updates and is good at emailing people between the ages of 19-25. I myself usually take care of writing such letters as this, making sandwiches, finding couches to sleep on/free meals and writing lyrics. I demo and record a lot of our music, do 1 on 1 interviews and am good at responding to emails from people over 25.
How did you start out?
The Story of The Town Heroes starts 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, serving as means for summer jobs: cutting grass on the hot, endless summer days on the west coast of Cape Breton, the sun setting on the Atlantic Ocean, mesmerizing us all with it’s fabulous display of colours so vibrant that it almost seemed fake. 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, 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. Do people still make yearbooks? What do you think the title of yours will be?
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 and we both played music, our paths were not destined to cross till many years later.
Our official bio, which you can read on our website, doesn’t divulge into these meticulous details, but I want to give you the whole story, I want your project to be a success, I want you to have the best class project to ever come out of Crapaud, PEI. I remember what it was like back in my days spent as a student in the halls and classrooms of Inverness Academy. I remember a school project much like this. I remember writing to my favourite NBA basketball player and asking him one simple question; a joyous, excited child with but one request: “What is your favourite kind of sandwich?”. He never wrote back. It was a hurtful and painful experience, a devastating blow to my younger self. This is why I want to give you every bit of information you possibly need. For there was a time when I asked for answers but received nothing in return; there was a time when I was left to fend for myself in the big, bad, cruel world that we live in and was forced to find the answers, or at least try, on my own. I know the sting of that; I know how much it can hurt. I could never wish that upon you, Sarah. Never in a million years. So, as the story goes....
We both grew up in our individual small towns fifteen minutes apart, unknown to the other, the people and the characters around us influencing us and inspiring us all at the same time. I started to play guitar when I was about 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 tuned it with. By the time I was 14, I had saved up all the money I made from mowing lawns with the lawnmower that was purchased the same day I was born (talk about the circle of life, eh!), and bought a Fender Stratocaster from one of my good friends, Danny MacDonald. This guitar is the same guitar I use to this day at every live show we play – talk about longevity! The first band I was in was called Hailstone. When I was in grade 9 we played our first show, a variety concert at my school. The first song I ever played on stage was Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”. That, along with a song we wrote titled “And Still I Wait”, was my musical debut to the world. From then on 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, where it would take me, but I had to see. I was a junkie, I needed more, I needed it all the time. I wanted to be on stage and I wanted to create.
Meanwhile in Mabou, fifteen minutes away, Bruce started drumming when he was 16. He was low on funds since lawn mowing, coincidentally his summer job as well, was his only income and there was a recession (drought) on so grass wasn’t growing like it used to. He turned to the infamous Maritime Merchant, found a drum kit for $250, and, after skipping school (which you should never do!) his brother Brennan drove him to purchase the kit with his own lawn mowing savings (who would have thought that lawn-mowing would ultimately lead to both our starts in music?!). It was a "Sound Source" kit that, in his words, “sounded terrible!”. He got Sabian B8 cymbals for $100 from a gentleman that his father knew at the pulp mill in Port Hawksbury and he went from there. He practiced along to 90's rock tunes in his basement in the winter months and in the garage during the Spring, Summer, and Fall. As Bruce was falling in love with beating things with sticks, his neighbor, although too polite to ask him to stop, was amassing a definitive hatred for Mabou’s second most famous son (#1 - Jimmy Rankin).
He played in a high school band named "Red Exit" which, much like the drums he purchased from the infamous Maritime Merchant with his lawn-mowing money, sounded terrible. Aside from the sounding horrible aspect, Bruce began to fall in love with all the aspects of playing music. After graduation from High school, his generous aunt gave him $500. In his own words, he states: “I took that and put it towards a $1000 Mapex drum kit that was sold to me by a clown in Antigonish. I drove to a random garage that I heard sold instruments, fell in love with a kit, and found out that the guy running the garage was a real life clown. 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. Oh yeah, I also still play this kit to this day and will never sell it.”
Back in Inverness, things were progressing in a similar way, but unfortunately, sans clown. My first band, Hailstone, eventually turned into Shed who eventually, by the time I was 19, turned into Billy’s Flick. All the while, I continued to practice/write songs daily, and tried to learn as much about music that I could. (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 three minutes and thirty seconds. This was years before the technological explosion of smart phones and their various technologies, such as a timer or stopwatch, that exist in all our pockets nowadays. 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. Unbeknownst to him, earlier that day my mother had cooked a batch of incredibly tasty chocolate chip cookies. Our family often used the microwave to store such baked goods as cookies and other various delicious snacks. While my father incessantly 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 knowing what he had done and in sheer honesty, had blamed the cat. Since my cat was capable of such an act, he was effectively let off the hook. Days later I clued in to the fact that he was using the microwave to time us and realized it was him who brought about the demise of the incredibly tasty chocolate chip cookies. To this day I have never told my mother this fact).
After two years of playing summer shows with Billy’s Flick, we decided to go for it, to see what we could do with music. It was the summer after my second year of university. I remember the music, playing shows nonstop, writing songs every minute of every day and believing in every one of them; endless parties, uncle Tommy’s infinite supply of red wine that we continuously got into (Don’t drink until you’re at least 19, Sarah!); getting by on gigs and not having to work a ‘real’ job; beach days, tanned, the warm salt water, our calves big from beach volleyball; no desire to rest, a hundred different campfires and the perfect smell of burning driftwood stuck to our clothes; I remember the late nights and the sunrises, watching the fiery sphere rise above the Appalachian Mountains like a ball of enlightening fire, letting us in on all the little secrets that we pined for our whole lives, confiding in us that what we were doing was right, that it was the way. 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 blissful certainty – and that’s an amazing way to live, to be. We didn’t want that summer to end or that feeling to be lost. We wanted every day for the rest of our lives to feel like they did on those hot July days, when we felt what it was like to be completely uncontrolled, when we saw the potential to be a part of something we were 100% sure about. We had to do it. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. We had to extend that summer eternally, to never let it die. We couldn’t let it just end, go back to the lives we had before and forget completely about our dream. Music, partying, girls, and that feeling of conviction, of being more alive than we’ve ever been before, made it a pretty simple decision. 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. My cousin James, rhythm guitar player with Billy’s Flick, had met Bruce at a party a few years back and knew that he played drums. James asked him if he’d be interested in a try out. Bruce came over and the rest is history. He joined the band and we set out to take over the world. We played all throughout the Maritimes, 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 solely because of Billy’s Flick! That’s kind of cool, don’t you think Sarah? The band eventually broke up in about 2005. At that time, a repetitive strain shoulder injury forced me to stop playing guitar. Up until this point in time, I never sang. I wanted to continue playing music, writing songs and keep getting better as a musician, but I couldn’t play my instrument any more – the fingers on my left hand lost all mobility and my arm felt like World War 2 was happening on it all the time. It wasn’t very fun! I decided to get a piano and teach myself that, along with learning to sing – all the while, rehabbing my shoulder daily to hopefully be able to play guitar again. After about three years with no guitar playing, rehab every day, and playing keys in a number of bands, Deadline Sunday and Silvergun, I eventually weened myself back onto guitar. I couldn’t play the way I used to, and still can’t, but I can at least make a few sounds come out of the guitar, and that has seemed to work well enough so far. Myself and Bruce were living together at the time and, once I got back to playing guitar, we jammed every day for almost 2 years straight. We wrote countless songs together, and improved our musicianship as much as we could. Initially, we were looking for other members to join us, but soon decided to play our first show as a duo. Under the name Holdin’ Up Grants, our first show was held in my hometown of Inverness at the Arts Center. After playing under that name for about a year, we eventually changed our name to The Town Heroes, and here we are. That takes us up to the very start of The Town Heroes. A lot has happened since then and we've gotten to experience some things and places that we never thought we would. We've been fortunate enough to have played in 5 different countries and meet some great people along the way. Who knows what the future will hold. Hopefully rocket launchers, convenient trips to space, portable microwaves and maybe even the answer to what Michael Jordan's favourite sandwich really is. That and lots of songs and stories.... you can never go wrong with that!
I hope that answers any questions you may have had, Sarah. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.
The Town Heroes