Jon-Rae Fletcher & The River with the Republic of Safety and Silt at Rancho Relaxo, Saturday (January 15). $5. 416-920-0366. Rating: NNNNN
Jon-Rae Fletcher grew up in the Church. Well, metaphorically. I mean, he probably didn't live in a church - he probably lived in a house or apartment or something. But his father was a Pentecostal pastor in western Canada.
"It was good," says Fletcher over morning coffee at a cute little place in Kensington called Ideal Coffee. "Services were split into more or less two parts. There was the worship in the beginning, which is the singing, and then there was the preaching, which I never really cared for.
"But the singing was incredible. The church I went to had this music pastor who was an amazing Hammond B3 player, and it would turn into this soul hymn sing. Everyone would sing harmonies, and it was really quite an experience."
Jon-Rae's no longer Pentecostal, or even Christian, today, but those early church experiences have had a massive influence on him. He's been playing and writing music for most of his life and has released five albums with a sixth due out in March.
The band, the River is an alt-country, folk, gospel sort of thing - urban twang heavy on loneliness, lost love and Jesus references - and is often called a "drunken hymn singalong."
Fletcher dismisses the label.
"We're not a drunk band. We're a band that gets drunk."
"I like to refer to getting drunk as getting filled with the spirit, which is what singing hymns is all about. But we don't get drunk all the time, because when we do it's just a mess and we think it's awesome, which sort of alienates the crowd. But when the audience gets drunk, it allows people to let go, which is good. It's sort of like a worship service, and because it's often happening at bars, people get into it and start dancing and singing along."
No, they don't start speaking in tongues and rolling in the aisles like at a true Pentecostal service.
"Not yet, but that would be wicked."
The Church, he says is the basis for the whole idea behind the River.
"I want the band to be kind of like a singalong, where no one's told what to sing or play and we all just play along. Sometimes it works out."
And lyrically, God is a familiar topic.
"When I was a kid and impressionable, I heard all these voices singing about God together, and it was a real positive thing. So singing about God now brings back those intense feelings, like shivers on your back."
Fletcher moved here from Vancouver just over a year ago. For a girl. Within three months, he had a new band, still called the River, featuring members of the Singing Saw Shadow Show and the Pauls, plus Steve Kado on drums and former River member Anne Rust-D'eye on vocals.
It was pretty easy to put together. "There was this one Singing Saws show where Mike (Stafford) was playing accordion, and I went up to him and asked if he'd be interested in playing accordion on the new recording. He said, 'But I don't know how to play accordion.' But he played it, and he played it well."
Fletcher plans to take the new River on tour in the spring.
"I really want to go to Vancouver and show off the new band."