When one thinks of the lively musical scene of Newfoundland, images of crowded bars, thirsty patrons, explosive fiddling and kitchen party sing-a-longs come to mind.
The roots-folk three-piece The Once, on the other hand, has carved out a more contemplative, softer piece of the Rock.
No stranger to accolades, the band has already won an East Coast Music Award, a Canadian Folk Music Award and an Atlantis Music Prize between 2009 and 2011.
Phil Churchill, Andrew Dale and Geraldine Hollett originally met as actors who were all attending a small theatre company in rural Newfoundland. Moving from the acting path into the realm of music, Hollett has always seen the trio's roots as having been earthed in a quieter sound.
“Honestly, we just get used to telling stories,” Hollett said.
“We tend to write more about the real experiences we've gone through, and not the Irish experiences or the bar experiences. We just got used to playing songs that weren't always about hard times, but that were about our own backyard and our granddads going fishing.”
Not having the easiest time in early academia, Hollett applied for the serendipitous theatre school as a way to try something new.
“I wasn't sure what I should do at that point in my life,” she added.
“I wasn't a very good student but I applied and I got in and that was the beginning of many things for me.”
The haunting but harmonious vocalist didn't grow up in a school-based musical atmosphere, but her earliest musical memories were ones of running through the hills and singing at the top of her lungs.
“I didn't take any lessons but my mom and brothers used to sing a lot,” she added.
“And although they are called 'kitchen parties' to the rest of the world, that's more of a tourist term because for me, it was just what we did growing up. There were always people around telling stories and singing songs and being from a small town with 10 houses. I used to run around the hills and sing as loud as I could.”
With two albums in tow, The Once has used an acting-based background to help sharpen an onstage presence when they perform.
Hollett has always been enthused about the power of storytelling, and with her beautifully even voice, she aims to do so by using very few words.
“Phil is still acting but I think that theatre and music are totally connected, anyways,” she added.
“People sing about stories and acting is really about stories that people need to get out. I think it's really taught us how to speak to an audience, and given us a lot of confidence when we are on stage. Sometimes, you don't even need to say that much to tell a story.”
After already toting three substantial awards, The Once was nominated for a 2012 Juno Award in the category of Roots and Traditional Album of the Year. Hollett was floored when she and her band mates were notified about the prestigious nod.
“We really had no idea that was going to happen,” she said.
“We had no idea it was even a possibility, actually, and I think we were in Saskatchewan or Manitoba when we found out, and the three of us spent many hours watching the Aurora Borealis that same night so we were all pretty moved, for sure.”
The highly praised sound of the trio is an uncomplicated one that focuses on strong melodies that are all on a bed of acoustic instruments.
Using such stringed weapons as mandolin, guitar, fiddle and bouzouki, the instrument arsenal stays light while the vocal attack comes on heartily.
Their latest record Row Upon Row of the People They Know is one that that focuses specifically on the people and places of Newfoundland and the hidden heroes of the province.
Hollett sees the east-coast influence of the band's song writing as something that is second nature, and practically inescapable.
“It's a huge part of me. In this province, no matter where you go, there is a lot of spirit that comes from this little spot. Those stories about the people who lived the hard life and just wanted to be honest and good people are what inspires me.”
With a strong Newfoundland influence to their lyrics and overall musical philosophy, The Once has already ventured far from home and has toured on an international level for many years.
Specifically within Canada, however, Hollett is always excited for a chance to see another part of the country when the opportunity arises.
“To me, the west coast is just like a bigger version of Newfoundland,” she added.
“Although I do think it is terrifying in the winter because we once drove through B.C. with no winter tires, so that was not too fun. But everywhere we go in Canada, people always want to hear stories. Even if it you don't fit in anywhere else, I think you can fit in in Whistler. We can't wait to play out there.”
Planning to release a new album in the late winter or early spring, Hollett and crew are hard at work in the crafting of a new set of songs that they hope will be part of their most diverse work to date.
“We want to go into the studio sometime in November for a spring release,” she added.
“That's the beautiful plan right now, but who knows what will actually happen. We want to make sure we take our time with this new record and that we can be proud of it.”
The Once will perform August 30 at 7:30 p.m. in the Whistler Olympic Plaza as part of the Whistler Presents outdoor concert series. There is no admission charge.The band was scheduled to open for Ashley MacIsaac, but as of Thursday (Aug.29) MacIsaac had cancelled his Whistler performance due to a family emergency.