In a community plagued by years of negative media attention, Attawapiskat singer/songwriter Adrian Sutherland is hoping his latest project will put a sheen on the reputation of his disadvantaged community.
Formed in 2011, Sutherland’s Midnight Shine released its self-titled debut album earlier this year. The nine-track disc combines Top 40 rhythms with classic guitar tones and a lyrical flair that will make any northerner feel right at home. From the soaring-yet-bluesy opening track James Bay onwards, it’s clear that Sutherland’s upbringing in Attawapiskat is central to the band’s identity and sound.
“We’re proud to be a First Nations band and we wanted that to come through in the music,” said Sutherland. “As an artist I hope my work can change some of the darker perceptions that the public has of my home.”
Sutherland fronts the group on vocals, guitar and harmonica. Hailing from Moose Factory are lead guitarist Zach Tomatuk and bassist Stan Louttit, while Fort Albany drummer George Gillies completes the foursome. After years of playing solo, Sutherland gathered the team to open for Canadian rock legends Trooper in Timmins, Ontario. The musicians unanimously dubbed their performance that night as one of the greatest in their careers, and cemented themselves as the band Midnight Shine.
“We realized we had great musical chemistry and it made sense for us to continue together,” said Sutherland, adding that the group has remained committed to their work artistically and fiscally, financing the majority of the album’s production costs themselves. “I’ve had to sell some of my guitars and even my TV, but I look at it as an investment,” laughed Sutherland.
Recorded over a two-week period at Toronto’s Noble Street Studios, Midnight Shine’s debut has a relatively consistent tone that stretches from clean radio pop-rock to an edgier, country-inspired barroom sound. The album’s few speedy, high-tone guitar solos are a shout-out to Tomatuk’s metal influences and match the rock-n-roll chords that are present throughout. The lack of an acoustic or key-driven ballad on the record is a disappointing omission, as Sutherland’s driving Rob Thomas-like vocals and thoughtful lyrical melodies could easily carry a track on their own. Although the songs on the album cover a variety of themes, the writing of standout track Indian in Disguise was an exceptionally personal experience for Sutherland.
“When I wrote Indian in Disguise, it was about me as a First Nations individual making his way through society and feeling like I was being told to be something that I’m not,” said Sutherland, who is also a paramedic and the Chief Operations Officer for economic development in his community. “I’m lucky enough to be proud of my career and my work as a musician but a lot of the time I just want to go back to my roots on the land with my family.”
Sutherland’s work in Attawapiskat and his commitment to the community through his creative work have not gone unnoticed by his neighbours.
“Like many First Nations, my community has had to deal with so many issues over the past few decades,” said columnist and Attawapiskat resident Xavier Kataquapit. “Adrian is proof that strong connections to our traditions and culture produce positive results.”
After making their Quebec debut on August 23 in Eastmain, Midnight Shine is looking to expand their fan base in Eeyou Istchee with a performance in Waskaganish in late September followed by a possible October show in Oujé-Bougoumou. Sutherland says the logistics of working as a band in the North are challenging, but hopes to perform in as many Cree communities as possible and inspire young First Nations musicians from across James Bay to let their talents shine.
To hear songs off of Midnight Shine’s album, go to: http://www.midnightshineonline.com/MidnightShine_Audio.html