By Kacper Niburski
I’m a Hamiltonian. I was born here. I was raised here. And over the years, I have seen the city change. I have seen the unsettling contradictions, from Steel City to struggling city, from impoverished grit to affluence beyond measure, from cripplingly low literary rates to a cultural Mecca of higher education.
It’s a paradox – a city cradled somewhere in between a climate that is neither too hot nor too cold, neither too arid nor too moist. It is a city whose alert, jagged landscape was carved by the slow violence of a glacier and who is now pacified by the lull of nature. It is a city that has been through everything: growth, regression, arts, industry, happiness and sadness. And it is a city whose music was once the hissing of molten steel being cooled and whose symphonies were the mechanical clattering of an anvil and hammer.
No longer. Hamilton has persistently evolved, and the rest of it – the music, the culture, the community’s passion and lifeblood – has evolved with the city. Situated at the centre of this ruffled yet unrelenting core is the musical brainchild of Hamilton, The Rest. From 2003 onward, The Rest has soared in the stratosphere of indie lore, winning both national (their song “Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing” was number two on CBC Radio 3’s Top 30) and local acclaim (SEESAW won album of the year at Hamilton’s 2012 music awards).
Their songs are often rich in layers, bubbling with instrumental prowess and finesse. With a super league of musicians comprising Adam Bentley, Blake Bowman, Dwayne Brydon, Matty Muzanko, Anna Jarvis, Steve Jones and Jordan Mitchell, they create a soothing sound that is unique yet entirely familiar at the same time.
Unfortunately, everything hasn’t always been so polished; even though the band has largely stayed together since its inception, The Rest has had hardware nightmares, financial woes and the inevitable difficulty of finding their footing in an ever-shifting city. Yet even with these troubles and a haphazard beginning that was anything but promising, the end of the band’s success appears nowhere in sight.
Adam Bentley, lead vocalist, attributes this to their musical experimentation and the uniqueness of the Hamilton arts scene. “Once I got into music, I just loved the arts scene and how diverse everyone was,” he said. “You could kind of do your own thing and focus on it, all the while still hanging out with a metal guy, a hip hop artist and others.”
He added that, “Maybe if we were smarter, we would’ve gone to London or New York. In Canada, it’s hard to work your way up. But at the same time, I’m glad we weren’t that smart. I think the road we have taken is interesting and unique.”
This may be an understatement. Like most bands who must rise from the grit, they have had their share of experiences: their album SEESAW had a malfunction when transferring the files, they have toured across the U.K. and they have continually changed their styles to express their manifold tastes and interests cultivated here in the city.
“Hamilton’s art scene actively influences me, certainly, but it’s not just musicians; it’s also the artists in the city. Just recently we were recording a song with Dan Achen, a Hamilton artist from the early ‘70s, and he still has that hunger. We all do. It seems to happen here. It’s rare that Mariah Carrie’s agent is going to hand out the million-dollar deal. You got to work for it. Not only is the town blue-collar but the arts scene is as well. You have to do it for yourself. And I think that adds to the processes – you have to experiment and do what excites you.”
And with SEESAW especially the band has experimented.
“I think this last one learned from the other two experiences,” said Bentley. “We did not want to shy away from something we might have not accomplished before. Everyone wanted to play around with the classic pop formula and the styles they had come up with in the last record.”
“There used to be a lot of arguments all the time, but now they’re fewer and to a lesser degree,” said Bentley. “I think inherently you know how others are feeling and you know when things are right. You feel that energy. And you keep moving with it, then you refine it.”
That’s not to say there aren’t disagreements, however. Bentley admitted this first hand. “Sometimes you can see something someone else can’t. It’s because the songs are sketches. You can’t say ‘here’s this awesome thing,’ but you can say ‘here’s this thing that might be awesome.’ And you have to fight through those hard moments too. Sometimes working through something more difficult will get you out of your comfort zone and into a place where you’re not just walking through the motions.”
It is this persistence and deeper investigation into their personalities that has led to the band’s uncharacteristically smooth layers and melody.
“I‘m always trying to find new and natural ways of singing,” said Bentley. “I don’t want to mimic anything, so I’m constantly trying to find new emotional places to sing from and to ensure that I don’t forget the old ones. I think that as long as you don’t lose sight of who you are and your personality as a musician, you’re doing the right thing. Part of the reason why people listen to music is personality. It’s not chord structures. It’s not the sound. It’s what’s on top.”
And for these indie muses, it is not simply their own characters that surface in their tracks, but instead the struggle of a band in a city that has changed as much as they have, from short-verse masterminds to album recording maestros to everything in between.
As for the band’s future, the rest isn’t history – despite the cliché that suggests otherwise. Bentley said that while he “can’t speak for everyone, I want to try a different approach, with a different way of recording and different sounds. I really felt that this last album was a good bookend for a ten-year period. And I think it’s time to try something else.”