The First End is ¾ Brazilian and known for its brazilero flavoured tunes, perhaps part of the reason why this political band made it to the semifinals of world beat Syli D’Or competition in April. Ultimately, though, the judges asked, “Why are you here?” The First End is not a world beat band. Instead, it is part groove, part rock-pop, and part political but entirely talent. Lead singer Dan Parker talks about how the First End developed from an occasional band of sessional singers to a mainstay on the Montreal scene.
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The musicians — André Galamba, Andrew Bruhelius, and Aquiles Melo in the First End all play in different groups, or as Parker says, they are “mercenaries hired for different musical projects in Montreal that specialize in jazz and Brazilian.” The band met through a Brazilian singer Julia Pessoa and began improvising together. “We ended up arranging music together to do the background/ supporting music for La Chorale du Peuple album (Quelque notes du printemps érable) that was released in 2012. We weren’t really a band, then. They were musicians playing with me. But after bonding, and finding we’re on same page, we decided to start a band.”
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In addition to groovy, brasilero style, the band also specializes in remixes lyrics of popular songs. They rewrote Ghostbusters, for example, as Vote Busters. “Part of our strategy is having a songs with a political message, but one that has a more mainstream understandable meaning,” says Parker.
The political messages are part of the band’s first self-titled EP. “One song was a song I wrote when I was 19 – it’s a softer song on album, but I changed lyrics to make it more political. It’s about how I couldn’t breathe. When I wrote it, I was getting out of a long term relationship. I was so sad and that was my sad song. Rewriting it as a 32 year old, I changed lyrics to how can I live without the earth, water, clean air,” says Parker.
The band arranged Parker’s melodies and lyrics. “Bassist Andrew Bruhelius takes on a lot of work in terms of arrangement. He does chord progressions and gets his friends to do the strings,” says Parker. Currently, though, they’re changing the songwriting method. “In the fall, we want to write the songs together from the get go. There’s a lot more jamming and less of a one person writing this part or that part. We’ll make something from bottom up, freestyle. I’m a big improviser. I love doing it.”
The band loves performing most of all “Performing that’s my fuel,” says Parker. “As a band, that’s what we try to aim for and set up for.” Lately, though, the band is facing the business end of making music. “We’re trying to get our heads around the business and promotion aspects now. All of us are musicians who have played in projects before, but never had to take it seriously in terms of promoting. This is the part that is difficult and not really fun.”
Parker seems as passionate about politics as he does about playing. I asked if there was one in particular he wants people to pay attention to. “I just took part in a 700 km march across Quebec to fight a proposed pipeline that will be going across the province taking tar sands bitumen,” he says. “We made songs for that march and I just got back fromdoing 9 – 10 days of that march, walking from village to village singing songs.”
I asked if all the band members were on board with the political aspects of the First End. “It’s me who keeps it political,” says Parker. “As time goes on, I’m sort of radicalizing my bandmates. We’ve had some conflicts, and they’re always like ‘Dan don’t make it so political.’ I think it’s good not to go so political sometimes as well. We want to make it accessible. Ultimately, we aim for the double meaning.”
Parker’s high energy blends well with his band. “I’m the guy who is theatrical in the front. I have a lot of energy and interacting with the audience,” he says. “The guys in the band are laid back when they play. They keep everything solid.”
The First End releases its new EP on June 4 at Quai des Brumes (4481 St Denis). 5 p.m – 7 p.m.