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As the members of Boy With An Atlas – Riley Ducharme, Spencer Jones, Annette Amenta, Stewart Crocker, and Tyra Lennie – slowly filtered into the room, it was clear that this was not a typical stoic and eclectic indie-rock outfit. Fresh off their win at McMaster University’s annual Battle of the Bands competition, the quintet radiated a laid-back aesthetic that effectively calmed my caffeine-ridden nerves. I could see just how comfortable they were with each other in the way they conversed and exchanged little pokes, inside jokes, and playful glances. But this atypically strong bond for a young, relatively new band was not in-your-face obnoxious; it was effortless.

Battle of the Bands, an annual competition put on by the MSU, is the title event for many aspiring bands at McMaster University. Notable past winners include Arkells, The Dirty Nil, and Of Gentlemen and Cowards, all local groups who have since catapulted to commercial success. This year, Day Drunk, Monroe Park, Coyote Black, and Boy With An Atlas all competed for a spot at the Ontario Finals in London at Fanshawe University. Boy With An Atlas took the trophy home, and will represent McMaster at the provincial level on Thursday, March 26.

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The origin of Boy With An Atlas dates back to 2011, when then-singer-songwriter Ducharme and then-pianist Jones met in Brandon Hall as first year students. The two began a four-piece folk ensemble in the piano room at Brandon, along with a trumpet player and bassist. Through the years, the band has undergone various line-up changes. With the addition of drummer Crocker and bass player Amenta, Ducharme and Jones ditched their acoustic set-up for electric guitars and opted for a more indie-rock feel. Coupled with this was a persistent desire to include a synth sound to their music, and the recent addition of Lennie, a keys player and vocalist, was a natural and well-fitting progression towards that sound.

The band released their debut EP Doors of Dublin in 2013, with another soon to be released. When asked about their song-writing process, Crocker described it as dependent on the song but “usually collaborative, in a sense.” While Ducharme and Jones focus more on melody and vocals, these ideas are then brought to Crocker, Amenta, and Lennie who work on their respective parts. Although the band has a distinctly electric sound, they do cite various musical influences.

Ducharme: “We’re all into different types of music, and I think that comes out in our individual performances and as a whole, which is cool. Songwriting wise, The Killers is a big one; really, though, our overall sound is just a combination of all our members.”

Individually, the group members’ personal choices of inspirational artists reaffirms Ducharme’s take on the group’s varied taste: Iggy Pop for Ducharme, Johnny Marr for Jones, The Beatles for Amenta, Taylor Swift for Lennie, and a plethora of private lesson teachers for Crocker.

Ducharme: “I also like a lot of the bands from Hamilton who have done pretty well; the Arkells, Dirty Nill, for instance. I look up to local bands from Hamilton who [were] able to make it in their own different ways because we want to do the same with Boy With An Atlas. I think the rest of the band feels the same way – the music scene is amazing here.”

Amenta: “It’s really a vibrant hub.”

Indeed, it is. Hamilton’s music scene burgeons with undiscovered talent. Dubbed by many as the indie-band capital, many successful Canadian artists catapulted from relative obscurity in the Hammer, to stardom. To date, Boy With An Atlas has only played in their hometown; their performance at the Ontario Finals will be their first show outside of the city. Still, they are not unfamiliar with Battle of the Bands, having made it to the finals two years ago. However, this year is the first where Ducharme felt as though they had “finally found their sound,” making it an entirely different experience.

Ducharme: “Last Wednesday was a massive highlight for sure. I think we had a show in November, unfortunately before Tyra joined us, and that was great. It was the first time we played a full set with our new sound. It was the first time I thought: Wow, this could really be a thing. I got the same rush playing at the Battle of the Bands finals last week.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the key to Boy With An Atlas’ success thus far hasn’t only been their love for music and their devotion to perfecting their talent, it has been lots of practice. It seems however that though practice is key, there were many other factors that influenced their victory.

Ducharme: “Honestly, there was some really stiff competition altogether this year. I was really, really impressed with all the bands. No way did I ever think, or still think, we had or have an upper edge. At the end of the day, luck is definitely factored into this.”

Lennie: “Yeah, everyone was honestly so good. I literally went “oh man” after each performance; waiting for results, any name that was announced would’ve made sense.”

Jones: “Competitions like these really does span more than just the practice. Two years ago, we were in the finals as [a] folk band. We took a lot of comments – more hooks, more vocal melodies – from the judges then, and incorporated [those ideas] into forming our new sound. Our goal has always been to win this competition, and we truly kept in mind those constructive comments not only in our performance, but in the process of writing our songs and establishing our sound.”

Two years later, after fine-tuning their sound and implementing the judge’s comments into their creative regime, Boy With An Atlas had finally come out on top. The victory, however, comes secondary to the experience.

Ducharme: “Battle of the Bands is a great experience. You get comments and feedback from people in the industry, and it’s local so there’s always such a great crowd… last Wednesday was probably one of the best shows we’re ever had.”

Crocker: “This is truly a culmination for me. Ever since I was in the band, we talked about Battle of the Bands and being the last band standing. Coming in and winning is, to me, the ultimate completion of our goal as a band. It feels good to know we accomplished something that has always been such a big influence to us.”

In the near future, three of the five band members will be graduating. Though this leaves a hazy area for the future of Boy With An Atlas, it was unanimously agreed upon that they would all take this project as far as the road allows. Life after the competition yields recording time for their upcoming EP, as well as a show on April. 18 at The Doors Pub in Hess Village (and it’s free for students). Currently though, their prime focus is doing their best at provincials, for which they hope for their supporters back home to keep their fingers crossed.

Throughout my time with the band, it was clear how ecstatic they were with their recent victory. At the same time, not one person was even slightly blinded by the gleam of the new trophy. Their rare combination of talent and a genuine passion for music is both refreshing and deeply affecting. This is a no-nonsense, no-spectacle band; it’s a group of good friends and music lovers who enjoy making and sharing good music.

During the interview, we briefly discussed the band’s excitement whilst playing at JunoFest a couple weeks back. They were scheduled to play on the roof of a really cool building, but that somehow fell through. With their endearing charm and captivating sound, I would not be surprised to see Boy With An Atlas play wherever they wished in the near future – whether it be on stages, in stadiums, or even on the rooftop of that really cool building in downtown Hamilton.

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