John, John, John, you’ve been gone so long
by Chris Morin
Since the release of his latest album Always With You, Saskatoon folk rocker John Antoniuk (a.k.a. Smokekiller) has spent nearly as much time on the road as he has at home. That’s not likely going to change anytime soon.
Antoniuk is currently touring throughout western Canada with fellow Saskatonians Young Benjamins, hot on the heels of spending time out east with another Saskatoon band, Castle River (who both opened and played as his backing group). His next stint will see him spending the rest of the year back in the east, before eventually ending up back in his hometown opening for The Sheepdogs.
It’s not easy being away for such long stretches but Antoniuk says the persistent roadwork is beginning to pay off.
“With the momentum I’ve been building, I never realized how much that adds into things,” he says. “When we went out last September for the initial CD release tour everything went pretty much normal as far as a tour goes. Then we went out again in May, and the crowds were starting to grow and we were selling a lot of albums on the way.
“This tour came together really easily and it’s really positive being able to play these same places — and people are genuinely excited that I’m coming back,” says Antoniuk.
“This run with Young Benjamins has me reinvigorated. I’ve never taken on touring this much as a full-time thing before. Just being able to see it work is exciting.”
Currently doing the solo acoustic storyteller thing, Antoniuk’s music has come a long way since his first EP in 2003. After years of recording and gigging as Smokekiller, Antoniuk began playing under his own name as a sign of respect after his mother passed away in 2010. Always With You, characterized by rolling acoustic melodies and a folky, countrified sound that includes pedal steel guitar and hazy vocal lines, is a tribute to her.
It’s been out for a year now, but the emotional impact of the album still weighs heavily on Antoniuk.
“It’s been a very therapeutic record for me,” he says. “I’m at the point where I’m not breaking down on stage anymore. Sometimes I’d be feeling that thing and I’d miss a line and have to take a breath before going on. But this time I’m feeling the positive messages and not have the loss come in and tear everything apart.”Antoniuk is pleased with the staying power that Always With You has had with audiences during his relentless touring, and he’s pumped about keeping that going.
But also ready to get home, back to both family and new songs.
“I had gone out on tour without my partner in crime, Jen Lane — we’re usually hand-in-hand and playing together, and that was my first time away from her in a few years,” says Antoniuk.
“I have some new material I’m excited about, but I really wanted to get on the road one more time for Always With You. I’ve been through this country three-and-a-half times in 15 months. That’s a lot of tour.”
YOUNG AND BENJAMIN
It’s been a banner year for Saskatoon’s Young Benjamins —they signed to Dollartone Records for the release of their debut album, Less Argue, and clocked in some major time on the road.
Playing festivals across Canada, including Ness Creek and Sled Island, frontman Neusha Mofazzali says that having his four-member band play at the illustrious Hillside Festival in Guelph was something of a personal coup.
“There was so much hype around that festival and it’s been great to be able to build up our resumes,” he says. “This year was pretty crazy for us. A couple of years ago we were only dreaming about the shows we are playing now.”
And it’s not likely going to slow down for the Benjamins anytime soon. Less Argue is an infectious blend of high-octane folk along with infectious, bouncy bass lines and the twin vocals from Mofazzali and violinist Vaero Poulin.
While many of the songs are fun, light anthems, Mofazzali says that the band has been crafting deeper arrangements.
“We have several new songs on this tour and we hope to record an EP in the next couple of months,” says Mofazzali. “The label has helped bring up our professionalism — we have a bit more of an understanding of how things work in the industry and they’ve been really great in terms of giving advice and getting us on festivals.
“We are definitely getting more attention now than before.” /Chris Morin