Homegrown

Jale was at the forefront of Halifax's renowned rock scene in the mid-1990s. Photo: Submitted

Remembering the glory days of Halifax’s live rock scene

About 30 years ago, the stars aligned to put Halifax on the music map. 

“We just wanted to be part of what was going on and … it seemed fun, and we were creative,” says former Jale guitarist Eve Hartling. 

Jale, a rock band based out of Halifax from 1992 to 1997, was one of many local groups to gain national recognition and popularity in the era. Others include Sloan, Thrush Hermit, the Super Friendz, the Carson Downey Band, and Hip Club Groove

For some, this time included major record releases, like Sloan on Geffen Records and Jale on Sub Pop, while others released music on local labels like Murderecords and Cinnamon Toast Records. 

Many matches lit the fuse. Part of it, Hartling says, was schools like NSCAD churning out students of an artistic bent, who tended to remain in the more affordable and accessible downtown, creating a neighbourhood where music thrived. 

“The city was different, and it (also) probably has something to do with why it happened,” she says. “It hadn’t gone through what’s happening now downtown, which is urban growth everywhere.” 

There also seemed to be more of a collaborative environment, which brought people together. 

For example, Jale’s Jennifer Pierce sang backing vocals on an early Sloan album, while The Super Friendz had a few drummers including Sloan’s Chris Murphy and Cliff Grubb of Thrush Hermit. 

“The guys helped us out quite a bit, lending us gear and stuff like that,” says Hartling. “It was a very strong community here.” 

For some bands, their sound wasn’t what executives and others in the music industry were looking for. Mostly, they wanted grunge and alternative rock. 

“In Halifax there was a big movement towards that,” says Sean McKenna, former drummer for rock band Jack Butler, adding that many newly formed bands were playing shows after only being together for a few months. 

“(That) genre exploded and kind of pushed out a lot of the bands that actually had been together for a lot longer.” 

McKenna likens his band’s sound to Aerosmith. “They said they couldn’t sign us. We were repeatedly told, ‘you guys can play too well for what we’re looking for. We’re looking for the more dark, kind of sloppy vibe,’” says McKenna.

For fans, it was all about supporting home-grown talent. 

“It felt like a community, but there was a sense of healthy competition — bands were trying to outdo each other, or one band’s success would push another band and they worked harder,” says Stephen Cooke, a journalist who’s been covering the scene for about 25 years. 

Venues like the Double Deuce and Pub Flamingo and events like Halifax Pop Explosion, helped the bands gain local followings. 

“There weren’t really more (venues than there are now), but maybe they were more consistent in what they had to offer,” he says. “They were booked really smartly and consistently, and it helped form that image of like-minded bands, even if they didn’t all sound the same.” 

This also brought bands to Halifax, like Newfoundland’s The Hardship Post, and individual musicians like Mike Belinsky. Belinsky drummed for Halifax band Jellyfishbabies after they moved to Toronto, and was also a drummer for Jale. 

“It was super cool for me to be able to experience it by going back to Halifax and rehearsing with Jale and being a part of it,” he says. “I was living in New York when that whole scene exploded. I was like, ‘Oh my God, why did I leave?’” 

By the end of the decade, things were petering out. Mainstay acts broke up or moved away, as redevelopment claimed some of the most popular venues. Halifax still has lots of music, of course, but the industry has changed. 

“Music is disseminated differently these days; I don’t even know that scenes are a thing anymore,” says Cooke. “Because so much of music is coming out of basements and home recording studios, that sort of thing, and people are making music on their laptops. There are so few bands I associate with a strong scene or geographical location compared to the way it used to be two or three decades ago.” 

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  1. What former Halifax-based record label is named after a sweet-tasting breakfast food? Cinnamon Toast Records.
  2. Mock Up, Scale Down was nominated for Alternative Album of the Year at the 1996 Juno Awards. Name the band that released it. The Super Friendz.
  3. Name the Thrush Hermit album ranked 85th best Canadian album of all-time in the book The Top 100 Canadian Albums, published in 2007. Clayton Park
  4. After Jale’s breakup in 1997, some of its members formed another band. What was the name of this new band? The Vees.
  5. Due to its booming alt rock scene, Halifax was likened to what American city? (The city in which Sub Pop, the record label that signed Jale and New Brunswick’s Eric’s Trip, was based). Seattle.
  6. This former Halifax music festival started in 1993 and was a mecca of sorts for alternative music in its early years. Halifax Pop Explosion.

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