ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 9, 1995
By Steve Newton
Only six years ago, Kingston, Ontario, was a place best-known for its contrasting institutions of promise and penance (Queens University, Kingston Penitentiary), but the Tragically Hip’s breakthrough Up to Here album put a quick stop to that. The Hip’s burgeoning popularity has put the city on the musical map, and a slew of other Kingston bands have followed in its wake. Weeping Tile, a quartet led by songwriter and lead vocalist Sarah Harmer, is among the most promising.
“The Hip haven’t really been on the local Kingston scene for a good five years,” notes Harmer, on the line from a tour stop in Saskatoon. “There’s another scene going on there that’s a little newer, with younger bands like the Inbreds and the Hellbillies and the Mahones. That’s kind of the local scene that we know, and it’s very friendly. There’s a real camaraderie between the bands.”
As well as a healthy, noncompetitive atmosphere for upcoming bands, the Kingston area itself has provided inspiration for the vivacious guitar-rock on Weeping Tile’s new release, Cold Snap. The disc’s first single/video, “U.F.O. Rosie”—cowritten by Harmer and guitarist Luther Wright—developed out of an incident that occurred a couple of hours away from Kingston, near Perth.
“We were at Luther’s birthday party up in the hills,” says Harmer, “and a neighbour woman came to the party in a bit of a huff, and she told us about this UFO sighting that had taken place the night before—a couple of people had seen it independently. We had been down in the valley sleeping in the trailer that night, and so I just kinda wrote the song about that night and what coulda happened. It’s also about prophecy and the future, and sort of where things are going.”
Another of Cold Snap’s event-generated numbers is “Westray”, a questioning song about Nova Scotia’s infamous mining disaster, which borrows lyrical ideas from Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. The seed of that tune was planted in Harmer’s mind when, while spending a summer on Salt Spring Island, she caught a live news clip on the tragedy.
“I just wrote down a coupla things,” she recalls. “Then about a year later, when I was living in Kingston, I found what I’d written down. I was all set to go out east with my friend for a couple of weeks, and I had this guitar riff, so I thought, ‘Oh, let’s go and maybe get some more ideas for the song.’ So it was kinda written on both ends of the country.”
Harmer’s latest jaunt to the West Coast will see Weeping Tile play the Commodore on Friday (November 10), opening for Toronto’s Skydiggers. She and Wright will be joined onstage by current drummer “Captain” Cam Giroux and solemn-named bassist Sister Mary, who is actually Harmer’s sister, Mary. “She’s a joker,” says Harmer, before donning the jester’s hat herself to explain how Weeping Tile and the Skydiggers complement each other musically.
“We tell each other we’re great. Sorry… No, it works out pretty well. They can sing better than we can—they have beautiful harmonies—but we’re more punky and electric. We’ve got a little more rockin’ songs.”