Pretty Archie is a Canadiana band from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Long time friends Brian Cathcart (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Matt McNeil (Mandolin, Guitar), Colin Gillis (Harmonica, Bass, Vocals), Redmond MacDougall (Banjo, Percussion, Vocals) and recently added Scott MacLean (Guitar, Mandolin) make up the band. Always jamming together growing up, they guys decided in 2012 to form a band. The band chose the name Pretty Archie after a local (Cape Breton) character known for playing with 2 strings outside shopping malls in any weather and not always (or ever) in key. The guys thought the name Pretty Archie embodied the love of playing and performing music along with representing their hometown.
With the release of Hanging On, Pretty Archie showcase a genre-bending mix of folk, bluegrass, country, rock and vintage soul, all underpinned the band’s east coast roots, that’s absolutely impossible to pigeonhole. Hanging On was nominated for Music Nova Scotia's Americana/Bluegrass Album of the Year (2019).
Recorded in Sydney, Nova Scotia at Soundpark Studios and co-produced by Pretty Archie and Jamie Foulds, Hanging On was tracked with a very specific approach in mind. “We really wanted a sound that gave us more space to breathe vs. our last record,” says Colin Gillis (harmonica/bass/vocals). “As opposed to putting every
instrument we know how to play on every song,” he adds, laughing.
The end result is a relentlessly hooky set of high-energy songs that telegraph the Cape Breton-based five-piece’s undiminished lust for the road and the unique musical connection they’ve established with each other over countless miles, a lifelong friendship and four previous records, in equal measure.
From stem to stern Hanging On is populated by characters every listener will recognize from their own lives with almost photographic precision; long lost lovers, the best friend you always planned to run away and take on the world with, even that one person at the bar who’s perpetually on their last cigarette.
At some point in life everyone experiences mixed feelings about where they’re at, where they’re going and where they come from, and Gillis, lead singer Brian Cathcart, Matt McNeil (mandolin/guitar), Redmond MacDougall, (banjo/percussion/vocals) and Scott MacLean (guitar/mandolin) are no exception.
Nowhere is that more evident than on lead single ‘This Whole Town’. Inspired by their hometown of Sydney, as well as the people who inhabit it, ‘This Whole Town’ dwells heavily on those conflicting emotions, but always with an eye to inspiring listeners to make the most of what they have.
“That’s the east coaster in us,” Gillis says. “Cape Breton went from being an industrial hub when our parents were growing up to having next to no work, and that’s impossible to ignore when we’re writing. It’s a big part of growing up here.”
Wherever you call home and whatever the pitfalls you’ve experienced over time, any hint that some kind of salvation might be on the horizon is always welcome; something that Pretty Archie address in no uncertain terms on album opener, ‘Ain't No Saving Me’. The song literally starts out with a conversation with a preacher,which, as the title suggests, doesn’t go well. That said, it does reflect what the band refers to as a shared, ‘saltwater perspective’ on life.
“That’s twofold,” Gillis explains. “It’s about our personal narrative and where and how we grew up, but also the musical side of it as well – an east coast flavour that’s hard to describe.”
That perspective enables the band to weave multiple threads of continuity, lyrically, song to song, based purely on instinct. “It’s not a conscious decision to make those lyrical connections,” Gillis says. “We’ve just been through it all and have been going through it all together for years. So those connections are just there. It’s life for us.”
Whether it’s soul-drenched tracks like ‘Summer Love’ and ‘Sometimes’, a cautionary tale cleverly disguised as a rip it up party tune like ‘Night Life’, or ‘Holding Out’ – a song that’s essentially the band’s mission statement, Pretty Archie always find some way to encourage listeners to take lean times in stride, suck it up, stick it out and just keep going.
Put bluntly, it’s the kind of record that anyone who’s felt as if fate suddenly up and stuck a fork in their greatest dream, then said ‘That’s done’, will find a sentiment they can tip their glass to.
“Everybody’s felt like they’re hanging on for dear life at some point, like they’re not making progress or aren’t as far along as they think they should be,” Gillis says, adding that, although that’s a feeling the band is intimately acquainted with, even long before founding Pretty Archie in 2012 they always had each other to rely on.
“We been best friends since junior high and grew up playing, and learning to play, together, which goes a long way when we’re writing. We can literally predict what each other is going to do because know each other’s styles and influences so well.” Collectively and individually, the band members have always been extremely serious about honing their musical chops. And for good reason, Gillis says: “There’s a big history of music here and it’s so highly valued that you can’t get away with being a bad player. We’d be hung if we were playing off island and weren’t holding our own.”
While Pretty Archie’s music blurs the lines between multiple genres, all the ingredients of their sound have been nurtured by the setting they grew up in. Even their name was sourced locally – in tribute to a local street musician the band says embodied their own love of playing and performing.
“Sydney’s a small town, so Pretty Archie was the only person we’d ever see with a guitar case open in front of a mall. Yeah, he wasn’t all there and he could barely play, but there was something about him standing out in the cold and rain, playing guitar with a big smile on his face that stuck with us. He passed away over a dozen years ago now, so he’s been gone a while, but when we’re traveling around it’s a little bit of home to carry with us."
With every record and every tour Pretty Archie are carrying that little piece of home a bit farther afield. Since their 2013 debut, Steel City, the band have built an ever- larger following on the east coast, across Canada and – since a gig this past summer at Denmark's Tonder Festival and with more international dates slated for 2019 –are poised to do so globally.
And although the stories they tell on Hanging On are rooted firmly in Pretty Archie’s Maritime roots, they know from experience that they’ll resonate with pretty much anyone. “Being honest and authentic is something we’ve always made a conscious effort to be, lyrically and musically,” Gillis says. “Everything we write and sing about is real life for us, but the same things happen to everybody in every walk of life, in every town. And I think people pick up on that honesty, especially in a live scenario.
Pretty Archie released 'Sing Alongs & Love Songs' in September 2016. Bringing on Jamie Foulds to produce this project, Pretty Archie continued to push the genre lines of Folk, Bluegrass, Country and Blues creating a uniquely Pretty Archie sound. The 10 song album is a collection of their strongest songwriting to date, addressing themes of love, loss, life and the forces that drive all three. ‘Sing Alongs and Loves Songs’ is nominated for ECMA's 'Country Recording of the Year' and was also nominated for Music Nova Scotia's 2017 ‘Americana Album of the Year’ and ‘We Dont Live Forever’ the first single from the record, was nominated for Music Nova Scotia’s ‘Music Video of the Year’.
Pretty Archie released ‘North End Sky’ in January 27th 2015. The album was featured on CBC Radio 2's "East Coast Music Hour" as an album to look for in 2015. 'North End Sky' was nominated for ECMA's 'Country Recording of the Year'. 'North End Sky' was also nominated for Music Nova Scotia's ‘Americana/Bluegrass Album of the Year’ (2015). Their first full length album was recorded in January 2013 at the famed Grant Ave. Studios in Hamilton, Ontario with well known producer/engineer Bob Doidge. The debut 11 song LP ‘Steel City’ was released on March 9th 2013. ‘Steel City' was nominated for Music Nova Scotia's 2013 Country/Bluegrass Album of the Year.
Pretty Archie has played some of Canada’s best events festivals and venues including; The Grey Cup Festival (Ottawa ON), Rogers Hometown Hockey (Dartmouth and Sydney NS), Sudbury Festival of Lights Boreal (Sudbury, ON), Stan Rogers Folk Festival (Canso, NS), Roots Night at Royal Botanical Gardens (Burlington, ON), The Ironwood (Calgary, AB) and The Dakota Tavern (Toronto, ON). The band is also beginning to showcase their unique sound internationally with shows including Denmark's storied Tonder Festival and Scotland's Celtic Connections Festival. Pretty Archie has also had the opportunity to be showcasing artists at Folk Alliance International, AmericanaUK Fest, Nova Scotia Music Week, East Coast Music Week, Folk Music Ontario, NXNE and OSAC. Pretty Archie has developed a loyal following built from their entertaining, high energy, foot stomping shows.
Pretty Archie’s genuine, heartfelt writing connects listeners with a saltwater perspective on modern living. Their fun loving and at times heartbreaking music finds common ground in the blurred genres of Country, Folk, Bluegrass and Blues. Their unique sound and energetic shows leave listeners with a lasting memory.