For Nikki English, Keith Robertson and Matt Williams, music has been a driving force in their lives for as long as they can remember. Together since 2007, they are the members of Western Avenue, a contemporary country music band from central Ontario. The trio is heading out on a journey following their dreams. Western Avenue is winning over audiences with its new original music, including the catchy first single Highway Headin’ Out of Town, which has been picked up by Canadian country radio. The song hit the airwaves on July 2, 2012 and is also available worldwide on iTunes. An EP album, which the band is currently recording, will be released in September 2012.
English and Robertson, who are now married, live in Peterborough while Williams is from Cobourg. The three musicians met through Canadian country artist Tara Lyn Hart, who lived in Port Hope at the time and had a music program in Cobourg. Robertson and Williams were hired as back-up musicians for English for one of her performances.
“As soon as we started jamming, it was evident we should keep doing it,”Williams recalls. “The way that our voices blended together when we started singing, just the three-part harmony, we could tell we were on to something special.” For most of the time the trio had been together, Western Avenue was strictly a cover band. There was a slight detour in 2008 when the members recorded a three-song demo. Essentially the purpose of the demo was to enter a battle of the bands-type competition. A rock one at that; but Western Avenue stuck to its acoustic country. That was a good learning experience for the band, even if it didn’t return to the studio for several years. In that time, though, the members have matured in developing their music style and songwriting. Their chemistry has remained intact.
“I think it has all come from playing together for so long,” English says. “We get along so well and I couldn’t ask for better band mates. We click. We’re always open to suggestions from each other.” Writing the original music has been exciting for the band.
“We’re enjoying including originals into the set list,” Robertson says. “It’s a lot more meaningful. When you sing the same cover song every night in a pub and you can include your own songs, it’s very exciting.” “We have all been playing in some band or another through the years, but always kept this together,” Robertson added. “We always came back to this because this is the music we love to do.”
Now the focus for Western Avenue is kicking into a higher gear. Lyrics for Highway Headin’ Out of Town couldn’t be more perfectly suited for the band. The chorus goes: Like that highway headin’ out of town/ Never looking back, never slowing down/ Bigger and better things on the way/ Mile by mile, day by day/ It’s all about the journey and not about where we’re bound/ Like that highway headin’ out of town. English describes the song as 'fun, upbeat and about following your dreams'. Growing up, English fondly remembers her father Frank always playing guitar and singing around their house. He died in 2001 after a battle with cancer. While her father always encouraged her to perform, English says she was always too shy.
Her father’s passing was motivation to at least try; “That’s what he always wanted me to do, and I wanted to, but I was a wimp,” she says. “It gave me confidence to do it in his memory. It’s been a challenge because I’ve always been shy. I guess I’ve been developing that over the years, breaking out of my shell. It’s been a lot easier with the band, having people beside you.” English and Robertson have been married now for two years. “It’s great because we get to spend a lot of time together,” English says.
There was always music around Robertson’s household. The Colborne native began playing instruments at an early age and has been playing in bands since he was 12. He couldn’t imagine having another job. “The only thing I can do is play guitar,” he quips. Robertson taught guitar for 16 years, and still does occasionally. He also plays fiddle and “pretty much anything with a string on it." Keith has played professionally with country musicians Tara Lyn Hart and John Landry. Williams remembers when he knew music was a path for him. He was 10 years old and received tickets from his parents to see Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers in concert.
“As soon as the lights went down, that was it,” Williams said. Years earlier, he participated in a YMCA music program in Cobourg. He began playing piano at age six. Two weeks after the Tom Petty show, he took up the guitar. It wasn’t easy, but he’s still playing. “I had to work really hard at it, but it’s something I persisted at.” That’s what Western Avenue will continue to do.
Another line from Highway goes: I wanna feel those wheels under our dreams keep rolling. Western Avenue’s journey is just getting started…
- Jeff Gard
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