Samantha Savage Smith takes us to her hometown, curating a playlist of its finest music with plenty of personal connections
So, I was very excited by the task of highlighting some of my favourite Calgary music. I thought, ‘How hard could this be?’ So I just started making a compilation and made it to almost 50 songs. It was quite the task to narrow it down to 12. I made an effort to keep things as current as possible, and bands that are currently active, but I had to bend the rules for a couple. It made me realize how rich and diverse our music scene is, and honestly, this barely skims the surface. Calgary is truly a diamond in the rough.
It can sometimes feel like a tough town to be in the arts, but maybe overcoming these challenges is what makes it so special? People here have a lot of brilliant ideas, are hard-working, and we hold our community close to our hearts. The songs I have chosen are all somehow connected to something else, but each song/artist is brilliant in their own right.
PINE & CLOVER BY CHAD VANGAALEN
Oh Chad… He is a very special artist to us Calgarians, and worldwide! He’s a true Cowtown success story. I’ve been listening to Chad since his first record came out in the early ‘00s, and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would get to know the guy, and that my partner & drummer Chris Dadge would be a core member of his backing band (The Bleach Wipes).
Chad is truly brilliant, and a wonderful, hilarious person. I think he inspired a lot of us music-makers and showed us that we could actually find success in sticking to our guns, and producing work that is truly our own.
I chose Pine & Clover because I literally saw Chad play two weeks ago in town, after a long hiatus of no live shows due to the pandemic. The night was magic, and when he played this song it just gave me chills. There are so many amazing tunes to choose from, but this one was a standout for me from this last live show. So I’m going with this one!
GROUP TRANSPORT HALL BY WOMEN
Here is one of my rule benders. Women – the band that changed the world of music (or at least the world that I live in), and it came right from the snowy downtown streets I call home. Though the band is no longer, they are forever legends. A band so formative, it shaped how young indie/punk kids thought about making music going forward. Hell, bands are still sounding like Women. It’s quite something really.
They have all gone off to start other really incredible projects such as Preoccupations and Cindy Lee, and we all still deeply mourn the loss of the late Chris Reimer, their incredible guitar player who was also known to be a pretty rad human. In continuing his legacy, his family and partner Rena Kozak started the Chris Reimer Legacy Fund. He still lives on in between that space of melodic and brash guitar tones that will forever resonate in our ears and hearts.
DRAW ME IN BY SUNGLACIERS
Look out WORLD! This group of poppy post-punkers are on the rise. I saw this band from its early beginnings, and watching Evan Resnik & Matt Blanchard develop their songwriting craft has been a fun ride to watch. They even recorded one of their earlier EPs and first full-length in my partner’s old basement studio back in the day… (see how things are connecting here?)
Their newest effort Subterrana was also co-produced by Chad VanGaalen, and it is truly worth an invested listen. I chose Draw Me In, one of my personal faves on the record. It is in some way a departure from the more brooding post-punk vibes from the rest of the album, but I just love the leap they made on this track. There is something nostalgic about it… I kinda get Animal Collective vibes circa 2009. It’s a-listen-to-the-song-on-repeat-on-the-bus kind of song.
LUNAR GEMINI BY POLLY DACTIC
Here is where we get even deeper into connections – Nyssa Brown, the founding member of Polly Dactic played bass in my live band for a few years, and she is BADASS. She now plays in Sunglaciers and has been touring steadily with them. But get this, you know the other main member of Polly Dactic? Matt Blanchard! The drummer and co-writer of Sunglaciers! But I truly love this Nyssa project. I can just vibe out to these mellow industrial synthy vibes. I hear there is a new record in the works…. Keep them on your radar!
TOKEN BY TEA FANNIE
Tea Fannie has been a relatively new artist on my radar. In some ways, we were both introduced to one another through our involvement in a Sled Island event that happened last summer. (If you don’t know, Sled Island is an amazing music festival that happens in Calgary every June). But anyways, I just fell in love with her. I sheepishly reached out to collaborate on a tune after, and she agreed! The rest is history… Tea Fannie is for sure set for world domination in my humble opinion.
Tea Fannie represents a fragment of the ever-growing hip-hop/R&B community in Calgary. I would say even a decade ago, it was small, very small, some would say even non-existent. But now it’s flourishing and there are some very stellar acts making a name for themselves beyond the city limits.
MINDFUL BY UYEMI
Another taste of Calgary’s flourishing hip-hop & R&B scene, I ALSO met and experienced Uyemi at the same Sled Island event, and was just blown away by her voice and songcraft. I don’t know her personally, but I’m a fan! I also just listen to this track on repeat all the time. The video for this song is magic, and I found out that friends of mine worked on the set design! See!? There had to be a connection there somewhere. But ya, she’s the real deal…
FOAM BORN BY BLUE ODEUR
Laura Bardsley, that is the name behind Blue Odeur. A self-made producer of incredible far-out electronic/R&B tracks, Laura is also an incredible musician and has played in a plethora of Calgary bands. She constantly evolves and there is never a dull moment when you see this fairy goddess live. Oh, she also plays bass in my band. CONNECTION?? I think so.
SOUP BY CHILD ACTRESS
Rena Kozak, as mentioned in my Women blurb, is a force to be reckoned with. She’s a killer musician, and hardworking producer and sound engineer. She is now a Calgary expat and lives in Montreal, but this song was released when she did live in Calgary, so I think it still counts.
Me and Rena’s lives have always intertwined, but for the longest time we really only knew each other from the peripheries. Then finally, after many years, our worlds collided and I am lucky to consider her a friend. I got to play bass with her for a stint while she still lived in town, and this was one of my favorite songs to play.
Child Actress has released a lot of new great music, but I’m still so hooked on this sad jam that slaps. Rena is often offering live online performances on her Patreon, which is fully worth subscribing to. Who knows, maybe you’ll see her behind the mixing board making live audio magic for one of your favorite bands. Tell her I say hi! But not till after the set – don’t distract her!
BLACK HOLE BY RYAN BOURNE
I am seriously so excited for the world to hear this record in its entirety. It’s like the most fun I’ve had listening to a record in ages. It takes you on this weird, psychedelic, cosmic journey. Bourne is the sweetest and most talented human I know. He is the other entity in Chad VanGaalen’s backing band, The Bleach Wipes, and he also plays bass and sings backups on some of the songs off my new record Fake Nice.
I’ve toured with him in my band, I’ve toured with him in Lab Coast, and he’s one of the friends I mentioned in Uyemi’s blurb that worked on the set design for the Mindful music video (CONNECTION!!). He is a multifaceted artist, and I am always excited to see what new things he unleashes upon the world.
BETTER THAN ME BY LAB COAST
Lab Coast is the collaborative love child of my partner Chris Dadge and David Laing. Those two have been making short little lo-fi pop nuggets in the basement since the beginning of time. I chose this song for two reasons…
1) This song was a track that landed on a compilation put together by a then Brighton-based label Faux Discx. Thought I’d throw in a UK connection there.
2) It’s a stand-out tune for me, as long ago, before Dadge and I were together, and he just played drums in my band, I came over for rehearsal at his house, and he was showing our bass player the song, and getting his opinion on an A & B mixing option. I remember just being so delighted by it, and fascinated by this new world of lo-fi indie pop, and I think that’s truly the beginning of my romance with Lab Coast. Back then, If I had a crystal ball saying I’d be playing guitar for this band and touring the world for many years to come, I would have said, ‘This thing is broken…’
EDUCATED WOMEN BY AMY NELSON
What would be a Calgary-focused playlist without a bit of country?? There has been this sort of renaissance happening here for country music. All the cool indie/punk kids are starting country bands now, and it’s pretty awesome! It’s like they’re taking back something that was tainted by all the commercialization of it and getting rid of the stink. So that brings me to Amy Nelson, and holy, this gal rips.
I love her sound and I have a deep respect for her unwavering aesthetic, giving classic country/bluegrass a long-overdue resurrection. She is absolutely mesmerizing live, and wears these perfectly tailored Nudie suits with a cowboy hat. She is top-to-bottom thoughtful about what she’s doing. RESPECT, AMY. RESPECT. My connection? I worked with her partner (the also great Carter Felker) for a brief stint at a record shop and I totally fangirled out when it was brought to my attention.
THIS IS HOW I KNOW YOU BY GHOSTKEEPER
Ghostkeeper has been making records for a long time, and they’re a band that never fails to surprise and captivate listeners’ attention. They aren’t afraid to take risks, and the lyrics are so poignant and unapologetic. This song makes my heartache, and it’s worth diving deeper into the meaning of it.
My connection? Back when I was a wee early 20-something, I played one of my first shows as an opener for Ghostkeeper. I’ll never forget it. I was so nervous I forgot how to tune a guitar (haha). But seriously, good people, and great songs. They’ll be releasing their new record this year too! So keep those eyes peeled.