The Stephen Stanley Band head to Wolfe Island to reflect on Toronto

THE STEPHEN STANLEY BAND with HUGH CHRISTOPHER BROWN, HADLEY MCCALL THACKSTON, KATE FENNER and SARAH MCDERMOTT at the Rivoli (334 Queen West), Friday (November 24), 9 pm. $18-$20. rotate.com, soundscapesmusic.com, ticketfly.com.


The jangly, hooky roots rock of the Stephen Stanley Band’s first album, Jimmy & The Moon, will sound familiar to fans of Lowest of the Low, who for decades have heard Stanley’s guitar motifs embellishing the band’s classic songs. Stanley left the veteran Toronto indie band nearly five years ago. 

“It became apparent there wasn’t a place for my songwriting in the band,” he says. But nonetheless a theme reminiscent of the Low emerged during the recording of the album: namely, Toronto’s changing landscape.

We’re talking at the Toronto Reference Library, where across the street a row of turn-of-the-century buildings are boarded up and cranes rise behind them. Stanley, who works in the neighbourhood, remembers the psychic in an upstairs office who stayed on after all the other businesses were gone. 

He’s been thinking about the long gone places that used to intersect with his life and it shows in a trio of new songs. The Troubadour’s Song, a tribute to a friend’s now-defunct neighbourhood music spot in the Junction, album highlight Under The Mynah Bird and the title track, which refers to a dive bar that used to sit at Woodbine and Gerrard. 

“One night I was waiting for the streetcar and this guy came out and said, ‘mind if I bother you for a second? See that?’ and he pointed up to the moon. ‘That’s the last time I’m ever going to see that,’” Stanley remembers. “They were building a condo on the corner. I remember standing there, turned back to him and he was crying.” 

The songs are partly a vestige of the Mayor Rob Ford era, whose motto ‘cranes in the air’ used to make Stanley angry. “Not that we shouldn’t have progress, [but they weren’t] architecturally interesting buildings.” 

Under The Mynah Bird is more personal. Stanley recently found out that his grandfather – who died before he was born – spent his last months working beneath the famous Yorkville venue where Rick James and Neil Young played. “He was a banker all his life, diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the bank laid him off,” Stanley says. “He wasn’t going to sit around waiting to die, so he got a job at a sporting goods store that was underneath the Mynah Bird and worked the night shift restocking their shelves for seven months until he was too sick to do it anymore. I imagine he probably couldn’t have given a rat’s ass [about the music going on upstairs].” 

If Jimmy & The Moon is lyrically rooted in in Toronto, its sonic home is arguably Wolfe Island, near Kingston, where it was recorded by producer Hugh Christopher Brown at The Post Office Studio. (It’s out on Wolfe Island Records, a new collective label based there.) Hadley McCall Thackston, who sings on duet Next To Me, is also based there. 

“This group of people on the island is quite incredible,” Stanley says. “Every day somebody invites you over for dinner, somebody shows up with a cake. We’d be tracking guitar solos and there’d be someone sitting in a corner of the studio knitting all day, just sitting there listening. I feel like I’m part of the community now.” 

Stanley connected with Brown and his studio through drummer Gregor Beresford – both played in the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir – and got to know him better over the course of making the record. 

“I’ve had experiences where the producer felt like a second person there, but Chris took the tapes to Ireland and recorded accordion and Uilleann pipes for Troubadour, and recorded vocals with Kate Fenner (also of BTC) at his studio in Brooklyn. He came back and said, ‘you can take this or leave it’ and I was like, ‘oh my god, this is stunning.’” 

“This is the first time in a band where I’ve been responsible for all the finances, that pure indie spirit of trying to get a record out. So it was nice to have somebody that felt like a complete spiritual part of it. That was a nice surprise.” 

“We had a great year making this record,” he says. 

music@nowtoronto.com | @sarahegreene

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