UNITED STEEL WORKERS OF MONTREAL with HEATHER MORGAN & THE COMPANY OF MEN and TEN YEAR DROUGHT at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), Friday (July 28), 9 pm. $7. 416-763-9139.
Other than having "wolf" in your band name, being from Montreal is probably the next-best thing that could happen to your indie group if you're looking for some attention.
Even though New York Times reporters and major-label deals haven't yet made their way to the door of the United Steel Workers of Montreal headquarters, gravel-voiced singer/guitarist Gern F. concedes that just living in the city that Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade and the Dears transformed into a hip scene has its advantages, even for a banjo-pluckin' country string band with a mandolin player who doubles on "pig harmonies."
"All the media attention focused on Montreal certainly hasn't hurt," he says from a stop in Sudbury. "I think the main consequence of the success of those types of groups is that people in the industry now take what's happening in the Montreal scene a lot more seriously than they did before.
"We've definitely had a lot more calls from people at labels and those involved with booking shows asking us what we're doing and what we've got planned. There's a nice light shining on Montreal right now, and we're just trying to make the most of it."
For the tireless Steel Workers, that means leaving the comfortable surroundings of their regular gig at Grumpy's Bar to tour outside Quebec and starting to record a follow-up to the group's impressive debut, Broken Trucks And Bottles (UrbanHanded Works), released just a few months ago.
According to Gern F., all the songs have been written and they've been airing out various selections at each show. By the time the Steel crew get to Toronto, they should have enough worked up at sound checks to deliver a 40-minute set of new material.
The good news is that the gorgeous voice of the group's other lead singer, Felicity Hamer, will be featured prominently on the new stuff. Listening to her sweet hamonies and seductive croon on songs like Wandering Eye, it's difficult to imagine USWM without her, but believe it or not, she was added to the lineup as an afterthought.
"We'd been talking about adding a female voice for a while, thinking it would be great to have a softer voice to sing harmony and balance out what we were doing," explains Gern F. "I also thought it would be great to do some George-and-Tammy-type duets. One of our friends overheard us discussing the possibilities, said, "Hold on, I know just the person' and gave me Felicity's number. When I called, she wasn't home but she'd sung the outgoing message on her answering machine. It sounded amazing.
"That was really all I needed to hear, so I left a message and she was in the band. Felicity's been a real force in the band ever since."
The new album doesn't have a title, and the band have yet to establish whether they'll release the disc themselves, sign to a label like Weewerk (head honcho Phil Klygo is presenting the Silver Dollar show) or cut a distribution deal, but Gern F. doesn't sound overly concerned about how it all might shake down. Although getting their disc into more stores across Canada and elsewhere would definitely be advantageous, the United Steel Workers of Montreal have done remarkably well getting their music out independently.
"We've been talking with some people at labels I probably shouldn't say who, because I don't want to step on any toes but so far nothing is set in stone.
"We have a solid infrastructure built up after putting out our first disc, so we're not going to sit around on our hands waiting for someone to decide whether or not they want to do a deal. But if a reasonable offer comes our way," he adds, "we'll welcome it with open arms."