Last fall, Edmonton-based musicians Ian St. Arnaud and Will Holowaychuk were devastated when their bandmate and friend, Luke Jansen, was hit by a light rail train and killed in Edmonton, thus dissolving their Americana/folk trio, North of Here.
The three had met in high school and grew from humble beginnings, their first performance being in a small town library to a meagre audience of 14. They had been preparing to head into the studio for their debut album when Jansen was killed. The album title had already been chosen—The Cost of Living.
St. Arnaud and Holowaychuk wanted to honour their band and the loss of their friend, so, after teaming up with up with Juno Award-nominated producer Graham Lessard (Barr Brothers, Reuben and the Dark, Basia Bulat), The Cost of Living was released on Oct. 4 under the new band name St. Arnaud.
The band will be celebrating the album release with a night of live music at Char’s Landing in Port Alberni on Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.).
“The idea to [release the album] made sense,” St. Arnaud explained over a phone interview. “But doing it without him there to help me, that was the hard part.”
While St. Arnaud was the main songwriter behind their group, he said Jansen always had “a clear vision” of the next steps—things like production and marketing. St. Arnaud and Jansen grew up together and attended university together. Jansen had completed a degree in political science, while St. Arnaud went to school for biological science.
“We were going into totally different careers,” said St. Arnaud. “We were always egging each other on. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be crazy to totally change paths and make music?’”
St. Arnaud took what he could from songs that had already been written, going into the studio to flesh out North of Here’s songs and create new ones. He reworked and rewrote many of the songs that make up the bulk of St. Arnaud’s debut album.
“The majority are about grief and how I moved through those stages,” he said. “It’s a really weird thing to have drop into your life at 22. I’m mad, I’m sad, I’m clueless. I don’t know what to do.”
Lead single “A Sweet Song” was released as an animated music video by St. Arnaud’s brother and YouTube Creator GingerPale. The video, released on May 31, has since garnered more than 900,000 views on YouTube, and more than 300,000 streams across major streaming platforms. It has also been played on CBC Radio 1.
“It takes so long to actually put it out that by the time it’s out there, you kind of look at it as silly,” St. Arnaud laughed. “But I’m proud of it. I’m proud that I got to release some stuff [Jansen] touched.”
Despite the subject matter, St. Arnaud says that Port Alberni music fans can expect “a really upbeat show” on Tuesday. St. Arnaud and Jansen used to sing harmony, so St. Arnaud has added a horn player to his shows to replace that harmony.
“If enough people dial in, it feels like you’re singing in front of friends,” he said. “It can be three people, 30 people or a thousand people. There’s no recipe. It’s a crazy feeling.”
His goal, he said, is to meet three people in every new town he visits.
“We want to sit down, have a beer and chat with them,” he added. “That’s all we want.”
Tickets are available in advance for $12 by phone (778-421-2427), at the Rollin Art Centre or Gayle’s Fashions (cash only) or online at brownpapertickets.com. Tickets will be available at the door for $15 ($10 for kids).
St. Arnaud will be joined on Tuesday by Cassidy Waring, a folk singer based out of Vancouver.