Victoria folk-reggae group Jon and Roy are making their way to Vancouver for a concert at the Imperial on Sunday, December 27th. Fresh off the release of their sixth studio album, Riverside, the trio — singer and guitarist Jon Middleton, percussionist Roy Vizer, and bassist Louis Sadava — spent most of November touring Ontario and are excited for their home province show. In many ways, the seven-song album mirrors their previous five LPs. Fans know what to expect of the trio, yet Jon and Roy’s style never grows old. The band’s rhythmic approach to songwriting is as apparent as ever, with Middleton’s calm vocals providing a lullaby-with-a-beat-to-it effect. Known for their intricate instrumentals and polished performances both on record and live, Jon and Roy’s sound is so specifically Jon and Roy that fans would be able to recognize it if one of their songs came on in a loud department store during a holiday gift-buying rush.
Being without a label contract allows the band to function with a fair amount of freedom. They are not under pressure to release albums by a certain time, and therefore, the songs that make it onto the records have been trialed by being played live, sometimes for years.
“There are ones that stick out,” Middleton said over the phone from Victoria. “Sometimes I’ll play something for a year or two, and it will take me a while to be happy with it. Some songs we’ve been playing forever. [For us] it’s a process of determining which songs are worth recording and which aren’t.”
Middleton credits Riverside‘s fifth track, “Quatro”, a seven-minute, rhythmic folk epic, as being the group’s best live song.
“It’s really about feeling the music that we’re making,” Middleton said. “If it feels good playing it after a long time, then it will probably make it to an album. Some songs cater better to an album than others. But I [also] definitely have written some songs specifically for an album, and sometimes I’ll write something and then revisit it after a year.”
Jon and Roy’s passion for instrumentals and songwriting has helped the group construct albums that work beautifully as complete pieces, and that is thoroughly evident with Riverside.
“We originally recorded nine songs. It was going to be a bit longer. But it just seemed to be a better listen with just the seven…. It’s about the flow, not just the individual songs. We might still release two as free downloads.”
One difference this time around was the recording venue for Riverside. The recording all happened at Vancouver’s own Greenhouse Studios.
“We usually record in our manager’s basement,” Middleton explained. “This time we could play live together, [and] that gave the album more energy. And the recording [process] was a little more relaxed. Normally, our manager kicks us out of the basement so his kids can play piano. So this was good for focusing. The drums sound better and fuller in a space like that. There’s more space to let it out.”
Jon and Roy’s deep-seated connection to nature is one of the most recognizable parts of their music. Their sound pairs so well with BC’s landscape that their DIY approach to album art, music videos, and Instagram succeeds in being both homey and breathtaking. Middleton himself took the photo for the cover of Riverside.
“I was in Canmore out on a little wander by myself. There were cool reflections on the river, and we thought [my picture of it] would work well as the cover. All of us spend a lot of time outside. I hike a lot, and naturally, it shows up in the music.”
So far, the group has released two music videos for the album: “Ripples” and “Come Again”. The latter features real scenes of a bear and its cub while the former is a compilation of vintage home footage. The result of the simple yet charming pairing is soothing and artistically symbiotic.
“Roy’s brother-in-law Howard Nirenberg suggested the idea.” Middleton further explained that the videos “came from a website with old archival footage that you can access for free because it’s public domain now.”
After a little break — no doubt consisting of some outdoor exploring — the islanders plan to head out on another short tour.
“We’re planning on doing some stuff in the states in March — maybe Colorado and [the] West Coast,” Middleton said. “There’s been some talk of doing some the Colorado shows with Current Swell; we share the same manager.”
Jon and Roy and fellow Victoria band Current Swell have shared a lot of the same experiences and growing pains over the years. Collaborations, linked performances, and similar tour schedules keep fans of either band familiar with the other.
“There’s definitely been a lot of healthy competition over the years…. It’s nice to have a band going through the same things as you.”
Jon and Roy will be joined by Montreal-via-Victoria’s Kandle and Burnaby folk-singer Luca Fogale at the post-Christmas Imperial concert. “It’s going to be really fun. We’ll play our hearts out.”
Tickets for Jon and Roy with Kandle and Luca Fogale at the Imperial are $17 in advance and $20 at the door. Available at Red Cat, Zulu, and online.