There isn’t a formula for what makes a band great. Every so often, a group comes along with the right sounds, energy, and optimism to set them apart from other burgeoning acts of the shared genre. It’s not the plaid shirts; it’s not the accordions or the occasional brass section thrown in for flair; and it’s definitely not the hair-throwing; it’s Good for Grapes.
A six-piece folk band hailing from Surrey, GFG is composed of frontman/guitarist Daniel McBurnie, guitarist Graham Gomez, pianist Alexa Unwin, Sean MacKeigan on accordion, Robert Hardie on bass, and Blair Hansen on drums. The band formed when several of the members performed in their high school theatre production, A Very Potter Musical. In 2011, a casual jam session on a ferry in Victoria attracted an unprecedented crowd, and Good for Grapes was born. A humble beginning for a group that’s now a finalist in the Peak Performance Project.
I first encountered the band when I saw them perform at last year’s CelticFest, where I was instantly drawn to their ambient sound, well-layered harmonies, and energetic presence. Now, just over a year later, the band is attracting a fast-growing fanbase, releasing a full-length album, and will soon be hitting the road for their first cross-country tour across Canada.
I sit down for a Skype interview with McBurnie and Gomez, just as the band finishes rehearsing with a new cello player. GFG draws upon artists like Bob Dylan and Mumford & Sons — but the music doesn’t sound like either one. After all, Good for Grapes fans are accredited with a rising dance move to match: the folk stomp.
“A man told us that we sounded like a mix between Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin… on shrooms,” says McBurnie.
GFG’s first full-length album, Man on the Page, arrives this month and features the single “Renminbi Tips,” for which a video has already been released. I ask about the cryptic title and McBurnie demystifies: “I’m outraged at Steven Harper’s non-transparent action plan regarding oil, enbridge, and his back door deals with China. It’s no secret that he’s desperately selling out his country’s resources and all the while setting the stage for environmental devastation, just for access to the deep pockets of oil companies near and far… I’m very opposed to it all.”
Songwriting and composing is done by McBurnie and ideas are bounced back-and-forth with Gomez before they push the material to the rest of the band.
When I ask about their most unforgettable gig, McBurnie tells me about the time GFG played for a primarily homeless crowd at the Carnegie Centre in downtown Vancouver and opening for Mother Mother at the Commodore Ballroom. When asked about their dream venue, McBurnie and Gomez share similar replies.
“I think arenas would suck,” McBurnie says. “I would [rather] play at two smaller venues on two different nights.”
“I would play at The Orpheum,” says Gomez. For some bands, bigger isn’t always better. By playing in smaller venues, you’re able to attract a more intimate audience.
At a typical GFG show, stomping and singalongs are inevitable. Crowds are packed tight, there’s sweat and good cheer, and a genuine energy vibrates from the band for the audience to react to. Perhaps what sets GFG apart is the relaxed and positive dynamic shared between the members; an inevitability when a band evolves organically from high school friends.
Captured the attention of folksters and the rest of us alike, I see many more amazing things for this young band in the future. At this rate, playing The Orpheum seems like just a matter of time.
Good for Grapes will be headlining at the Vogue Theatre on December 14th. Be sure to catch them then.