I moved to Vancouver almost exactly 5 years ago. Having been a musician for essentially my whole life, I wanted to jump into the music scene in my new home as quickly as I could. On something quite like a whim, I answered a Craigslist ad looking for “someone to harmonize with” and found Stuart Alves, a local musician who had been in the scene for a few years and was looking to change directions. Over the course of the next few months, Stuart and I developed a setlist and began playing at an open mic at a bar near his house – the King’s Head.
As we became regular attendees at the King’s Head open mic, we regularly ran into Paul and Darin – two friends from high school who enjoyed playing covers and originals together. Stuart and I were offered the opportunity to play a night at the Cottage Bistro, a restaurant whose owner Stuart had known for some time. Because we didn’t have enough material to cover the whole night, Stuart and I hit on the idea of offering to split the night with Paul and Darin. Eventually the idea of trying to put together a few songs as a four-piece came up.
And so it was that we found ourselves at Kitsilano Beach, guitars (and viola) in hand, kicking around some ideas. We enjoyed the process so much that, after the original show, we decided to stay together and form a band.
We called ourselves CROWN, a clever (we thought) reference to the fact that we met and played at the King’s Head. Sunday nights became synonymous with King’s Head performances and, in the summer, jams at the beach. We eventually took over hosting duties for the open mic, taking the job when the former host took some time off. A few months later, when the King’s Head was taken over by new management, we were offered a position as the Friday night house band. This was a whole new era – getting paid to play originals and covers for an always-appreciative crowd. We soon packed the house, with Fridays becoming the night to go to the King’s Head. Life was good.
As we began playing more, our collegial relationship grew into a real friendship between the four of us. We also began writing original music together, eventually releasing a 4-track EP that we sold for $5 at shows. The fourth song, “My Time” became a favourite of ours and our tiny-but-growing fan base.
At the end of 2011, the guys who managed the King’s Head had to give up their lease, and with the incoming management being decidedly uninterested in live music, we were worried that the party was over. Luckily, Oliver, the outgoing lease-holder, pulled some strings and got us an audition/gig with his buddy Ben at the Copper Tank, a bar in another part of Kitsilano. Ben was also not terribly interested in live music, but was willing to do his buddy a favour and let us give it a shot. It only took one performance for Ben to agree to extend our relationship with the Copper Tank indefinitely, and we became his Friday night house band.
Still we kept writing music with the idea of eventually recording a full-length album. We recruited Sean, a drummer whose skill and musicianship belied his youth. We began to work seriously – renting out space, developing songs, crafting a stage show – with the aim of breaking into Vancouver’s competitive indie scene.
With the new direction came a new name – Even Handed Odds. CROWN was nearly impossible to Google, and we were no longer tied to the King’s Head. We chose the name to reflect that we were a 5-fingered unit that contributed evenly to songwriting, often switching instruments and lead vocal duties (an odd thing for a band to do, I’m sure you’ll agree).
Unfortunately, the strain and time required to build and maintain the band began to take its toll. Practices became tense affairs, and the sense of ‘fun’ disappeared. Knowing that this is an inevitable and temporary stage of growth, I didn’t see it as a problem. The rest of the band disagreed, and after our sole show as a 5-piece (video below), we decided to return to our roots as a bar band.
For a while I considered leaving the band. I wanted to keep writing music. I wanted to play shows, not just gigs. Ultimately, however, I decided to stay. The very real friendship that I had built over the years with Stuart, Darin, and Paul wasn’t something I was ready to throw away out of mere bitterness.
During that time, however, I continued to develop my own sound as a solo artist – a project that (depending on when you start counting) has been in the works for at least 7 years. I began to pick up gigs that were mostly based on covers, but with my own original compositions too. The biggest change came a little over a year ago when I began to experiment with looping both my guitar and viola, opening up a whole new set of musical possibilities and songwriting ideas.
My life wasn’t the only one changing over this period. Darin and Stuart both got married. Paul began dating another very talented musician (who he has since moved in with). We were getting older, and our lives were naturally progressing in a way that shifted our priorities around. We were still playing Friday nights at the Copper Tank, but we had largely stopped learning new repertoire and had almost entirely abandoned the idea of finding other places to play.
As I developed my solo project, I began to have to marshall my time very carefully. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day to be writing, recording, performing, networking, playing open mics, and the long list of other activities that were required of me if I wanted to succeed. I began to think of my time in economic terms – what was the value I was getting from these activities? What was my goal? What things could I afford to do, and what things did I have to abandon?
These calculations were rapidly upended by a seismic shift in the opportunities at my doorstep. I was invited to join an already-extant house band, The Sheets, who played Thursdays. I was also offered the opportunity to play my solo set on a much more regular basis at a popular lounge in the Gastown district of Vancouver – on Fridays. While I balked at the idea of leaving Even Handed Odds, the opportunity to develop my own sound (for a non-trivial increase in pay) was pretty tempting. Additionally, the contacts and exposure that I could get by playing in Gastown far outstripped the opportunities afforded me in Kitsilano.
And so, for those reasons – some nobly artistic, some mercenarily capitalistic – I made a decision: I would leave Even Handed Odds. I am leaving Even Handed Odds. At the end of this year I will play my final show with the bandmates and friends that I’ve cherished for nearly the entirety of my time in Vancouver. The remaining members have told me they intend to keep up the Friday gig at the Copper Tank, as they have been developing a three-piece setlist for some months now. I wish them nothing but the best, but the time has come for me to move on.
This is very bittersweet for me. Darin, Paul, and Stuart are my friends and have been by my side for years. At the same time, the ambitions I have for my musical career are taking me in a new direction, and with my schedule being what it is, I have to make tough choices. This is the toughest one I’ve had to make in a very long time.