Cosmic encounters inspire Locoweed’s Scott Towaij to get a message out

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 2, 1995

Vancouver’s homegrown talent pool has never been stronger than it is right now, but there’s a lot to be said for musicians who bring their talent here from other places, too. The most prominent transplants to Vancouver are folks such as Sarah McLachlan, k.d. lang, and Colin James, but for every artist who’s made it big after settling in Lotusland, there’s a thousand more just struggling to get established.

Take Scott Towaij, for instance. Leader of local politico-rock act Locoweed, Towaij (pronounced “to wage”) came out here from Ottawa five years ago, and when he’s not helping disabled men in his full-time role as a group-home manager, he’s forging compelling message music like that on his group’s debut CD, Pushing Through the Pavement.

Formerly with a Grateful Dead–influenced Ottawa band called Longbottom, Towaij wound up here after taking a summer off and travelling a route that took him through such cosmic locations as the Black Hills of South Dakota, which Beatles fans will recall as the setting for a catastrophic confrontation in “Rocky Racoon”. Towaij went through some heavy-duty life experiences in the Black Hills himself.

“When I travelled through the Badlands and the Black Hills, there were some things which happened to me which I didn’t really have any rational explanation for,” says the singer-songwriter. “It seemed that, for whatever reason, I was almost directed to come out here, for lack of a better way to describe it.”

Although such spacey confessions combine with his band’s reeferish name to make Towaij out as somewhat of a weed connoisseur, he claims that he was totally straight when, during his travels westward, he came upon a clearcut and was instructed “by an inner voice” to pull over. According to Towaij, he walked over to inspect the stumps and was suddenly struck by a vision of dead American Indians, slaughtered buffalo, and his own hands covered in blood. Another freaky occurrence took place in Seattle, where Towaij received mysterious inspiration for a song that would become Pavement’s angry indictment of man’s rape of nature, “Our Mother”.

“I was looking around at this concrete jungle one day,” he says, “and I started writing these lyrics, and it just went nonstop, start to finish. The next day I started writing this weird piece of music, and I was like, ‘Where the hell’s this comin’ from?’ And then the third day I realized the two of them perfectly matched up with each other, and I got like a chill in the spine.

“I put them together and worked it through and thought, ‘My god, who the hell is singing this, or who is channelling this?’ And what this really showed me is that you have to use [music] as a vehicle for change or expression. I mean, if there’s anything I learned from Bruce Cockburn for sure, it was really thinking about what you’re gonna write about, and making sure that you use it as a vehicle to draw some attention to different issues.”

On Pushing Through the Pavement, Towaij’s potent lyrics explore such topics as deforestation (“The Sacred Tree”), the abuse of women (“In Equality”), and social injustice (“What Will You Do for Freedom”). His words are given musical life by a core band that includes bassist-coproducer Paul Manly (from Montreal funk-rockers Straight, No Chaser), lead guitarist Daniel Hanneson (from Victoria reggae band Dadawah), drummer John Prescott, and percussionist Kim West. The disc also features performances by saxophonist Cappone D’Angelo, backing vocalist Jenica Rayne, and violin great Marcelle Nokony.

Although a recent bicycle accident will keep Manly from the stage until the new year, Towaij promises that when the bassist fully heals, his band will emerge as a live entity. He says he’s got commitment on the concert front from everyone involved with the Locoweed project.

“The whole bunch,” he confirms. “I mean, Marcelle Nokony, for instance, she’s an amazing musician, and I just thought because of all the people she’s played with that she’d maybe not be so interested in doing music with us on a permanent basis, but then she’s saying to me, ‘Look, you guys want to take this on the road, I’m there.’ Every single person had maybe come in with the intent of just doing some recording, but now they’re all saying how they really feel strongly about the project. And it’s not just about the way which we play together; it’s really about the message in the music and the motivation behind it.”

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