‘The once’ is an old Newfoundland expression meaning ‘right away’ or ‘imminently’, which suits the Canadian folk band, who are coming to Adelaide to play WOMADelaide this year.
The band had been playing together for a while, just having fun, when a random man offered them money to record the album that launched their career right away.
Geraldine Hollett, Andrew Dale and Phil Churchill make up the Newfoundland trio whose three part harmonies and songs, rich with narrative, have won them fans and accolades all over the world.
“It was 2008, we had just barely got a name and we’d done a few demos,” Geraldine explains. “We were playing a festival and it was our first time off the island and we were in Nova Scotia. The merch people were not happy with us because we didn’t have a product. They talked about how many we could have sold and we were like, ‘Oh what? We could have made money at this?’ It all went over our heads!”
“On the very last show someone called out, ‘Next time, bring an album!’ and Phil made a joke about them being welcome to pay for us to make one, but the joke was on us, because there was a guy who went to all of our shows during that festival and had already planned to give us money to do an album.
“He does that in his town; he finds people he really believes in and gives them cash. He gave us $5000 cash to do an album. We were floored. We were just having fun and playing music and that made us really think about what we were doing. And just like that, we had a path and all we had to do is step on it, and we’ve been going ever since. That album got picked up by a record label within a year and got released.”
Speaking to us from Sydney, Geraldine explains why The Once are touring to a range of places that would normally miss out on international acts.
The trio are visiting major cities and have also plotted some rural places on their tour map.
“We don’t just want to go to the cities. We want to go see as many of the towns as possible; places where you’ll really see what Australia’s about and more of what the people are about. So we told our agent to put us in interesting places where we can see what the country is. The city centres are great because it’s urban and you can do anything, but you don’t really get a sense of what the people are like and I’m kind of addicted to finding out what people are like. In Canada, we’ve seen the strangest places, I’m telling you! I think the magic happens in smaller places,” she says.
“We’re from Newfoundland and it’s so out of the way. When people come to Canada, they always skip Newfoundland. That’s why I’m a bit disappointed we’re not getting back to Hobart; it’s just a little out of our budget right now. But that just means we’ll come back more often.”
This is their fourth time in Australia, but their first time at WOMADelaide, and Geraldine was keen to know what’s happening and who they should see while they’re here.
“This tour is pretty intense. I think we have a couple of days off in the middle, but otherwise we’re pretty busy. When we’re touring though, I usually get up at five or six o’clock in the morning so I do a lot of stuff before 10am so that’s when I see everything; before the world wakes up,” she laughs.
“We’re in Adelaide for a few days but I would imagine, because we are at a festival, we’ll see as much as we possibly can. I haven’t checked out the line up because I like getting to a new place, being surprised and checking it all out then. Who’s coming that’s a big deal for you?”
Well, I say, the Violent Femmes are headlining.
“Oh my god! That’s amazing! How did I not know that? Violent Femmes are playing? I’ve got goose bumps. Holy crap. My head’s tight! Oh my god. I’m going to see that!” she laughs.
Once the excitement has worn off and we’ve stopped raving about how much fun it’s going to be, and she’s told the rest of the band (who are just as excited), we move on to talking about how the three manage to travel all over the countryside in a tiny van and still get along.
“We have to get along, or we’ll quit. That’s what makes us get along,” she laughs. “Phil and I have known each other a long time so we know how to get along. Then we met Andrew and started travelling together.”
“It seemed like overnight we were in a band. So we had to learn who each other were really quickly. Instantly we were going out for two to three weeks at a time. We give each other space, but we also explore the friendship and find out what they like and then add that to everything we do. Phil likes golfing, so now we all have golf shoes and we go golfing wherever we are.”
Catch The Once at WOMADelaide (or perhaps on a golf course), which runs from March 11 to March 14. Book your tickets online.
By Libby Parker
Libby Parker is a journalist, teacher and life enthusiast.
You can follow her on Twitter at @upsidenews_lib