It isn’t success or failure that makes or breaks; it’s how you persevere and carry yourself in the face of setbacks.
The Hamilton, Ontario-based rock band Of Gentlemen & Cowards certainly understand the power of perseverance in the face of disappointment. That inner strength is masterfully displayed on their debut album, Modern Jukebox, released on January 27, 2017, via Maisonneuve Music.
Things happened quite quickly for Of Gentlemen & Cowards; debuting in 2011, the band quickly amassed a local following, based in part on regular gigging and their demo EP, Threads. It’s easy to understand why: their songs blend contemporary alternative rock with a classic pop and rock sensibility in a way that feels both fresh and new and comfortably familiar.
What happened next, however, caught the band off guard, a move befitting a musical success story.
In 2012, on a lark, the band submitted a song into a contest. The reward: the song’s appearance on the soundtrack to an American independent film, We Made This Movie. Done as a late night “why not” move during an evening’s web surfing, the submission quickly forgotten about. Long story short: the band won the contest, and subsequently appeared on Late Night With David Letterman to perform the song—an honour for any band, but especially rare for a young, unsigned band from a foreign land. “We received a great deal of exposure from all of this, but we just didn’t have the resources to sustain the buzz,” declares vocalist Simon Edwards. “It fueled us to be more professional and to focus on our music.”
Such maturity and vision would lead them to an even bigger opportunity: a six-month engagement on a luxury cruise liner. “We prepped for that gig by practicing eight hours a day, several days a week,” states bassist Joshua Dawson.” But more went into it than mere practice, Edwards states. “We also spent four months learning over 140 cover songs in all genres: pop and rock songs spanning the last fifty years of music, as well as some country, Motown, soul, and more contemporary numbers.” But there was an ulterior motive to this gig as well, says Edwards. “It was going to afford us the opportunity to have a lot of free time during the day to write songs, and then strengthen our performance chops with the live show.”
When the big day came, the band excitedly flew to Miami to begin this lucrative new chapter of their career. Two weeks and forty-two gigs later, they were dismissed. “The music director called us into his office and informed us that the cruise line had meant to hire a jazz band,” states Edwards. They were deported to Canada, heads hung in defeat. “It was most definitely a time of uncertainty and doubt,” Edwards says. The band members went their separate ways, in order to reflect on whether or not to continue.
While Of Gentlemen & Cowards certainly had earned the justification to call it a day, they decided to persevere. When they regrouped, they quickly discovered that the disappointing cruise gig had changed the band—and for the better. “Make You Mine,” the first song written after their return to Canada, heralded in a sound quite different from their earlier work; suddenly, they had a newfound soul sensibility. “We made a conscious decision to push our sound in that direction,” states Dawson. “We learned to play so many different styles of music in anticipation of that residency, and the experience expanded our musical dictionary and coloured the way we wrote new songs.”
One song in particular, “Make It On Your Own,” certainly shows that the band had learned a lot from their recent disappointment. After their return, Edwards set out on a soul-searching hiking journey in Western Canada, and in the wilderness, inspiration struck. Returning home, the song came together quickly. “We completed it in one afternoon,” states Dawson. “Driving home from that rehearsal, it made me excited for what the rest of the record might entail.” While the song could be interpreted as one of encouragement for someone going through a breakup, there’s an element to the song that feels like the band’s own private letter of positive reinforcement to itself. “That song has certainly grown to reflect the band’s attitude that we can do things on our own, redefine what success means to us. Sitting on your ass has never gotten anyone anywhere,” declares Dawson.
Listening to the rest of Modern Jukebox, it’s not hard to pick up on the theme of perseverance as declared in “Make It On Your Own.” “There is definitely a theme of persistence and determination,” says Dawson. “Being in a band, struggles and rough times are guaranteed, but we’ve also been very fortunate and have had some amazing experiences. Parts of the album were inspired by very negative times in both our career and personal lives, but we also focused a lot on the positives and the incredible opportunities we’ve been able to achieve. Ultimately, Modern Jukebox is a celebration of the variety of experiences that we’ve had as a band during the last few years in our lives. Persistence is something we’ve always identified with, both in our personal or musical lives, and we’re not afraid of working very hard—whether it’s preparing for the cruise ship practicing eight hours a day or writing thirty songs and choosing the best ten for the album.”
With Modern Jukebox Of Gentlemen & Cowards have delivered an album of strong, upbeat music, forged from the ebbs and flows and highs and lows of day to day living. Its melodies fun, grooving, enjoyable; its strength and wisdom, hard earned, relatable… real.
Of Gentlemen & Cowards is: