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Trent Severn is an acclaimed Ontario folk trio who sing original, contemporary songs easily described as “Canadian history in harmony”. Topically modern with a humorous twist, Trent Severn have inspired audiences all over Canada to share a patriotic laugh and let their glowing hearts melt away.
Continuing the deeply poetic legacy of true ‘red and white’ pioneering troubadours such as Stompin’ Tom Connors, Ian and Sylvia Tyson and Gordon Lightfoot, the eminently talented southern Ontario trio planted their Maple Leaf flag deeply in the firmament of the Canadian roots music scene with the release of their self-titled debut album in 2012. Through regular touring in communities of all sizes, they continue to win over fans from coast to coast with their bracingly authentic acoustic-based, story-centred brand of music.
The two-time Canadian Folk Music Award-nominated Trent Severn was named after a famous Ontario waterway and founded on a remarkable creative kinship between two well-established, Stratford, Ontario area musician/songwriters. Emm Gryner and Dayna Manning came together out of a shared desire to work with one another and by their common affinity for all that makes Canada special. Accomplished fiddle player Lindsay Schindler joined the group full time in 2015, replacing the equally adept Laura C. Bates.
Their second album, ‘Trillium’ sees Gryner, Manning and Schindler even more fully embracing ‘Canadian History and Harmony’ with 10 beautifully crafted, profoundly evocative songs that are at times wistful, melancholic, contemplative, joyous but always thoughtful.
“I know I felt a little bit of pressure this time. Once I saw what the first record became and how it came together I was really proud of it and really thought that we accomplished what we set out to do,” said Manning, who produced the new album.
Self-production is at the core of Trent Severn’s collective desire to be a truly grassroots DIY outfit, free from the encumbrances of outside industry influence and the compulsion to pull into lockstep with what the ‘tastemakers’ say is hip.
Part of that is a fierce appreciation for lyrical depth – songs that have meaning, charm and wistful grace. A common theme in Trent Severn’s music is a longing for and appreciation of home – whether it’s one’s home country, province or the small communities in which the band members now live.
“The whole album has an Ontario thread to it. There is something to be said for coming home after living elsewhere for a number of years. I travelled a lot and lived out west for a while and came back to live in my hometown of Stratford and I feel like I live in paradise every day. That theme of going away, growing up and experiencing life in different places is very present on this album,” Manning said.
“Dayna and I have both done that. Where I live, there are people who are just dying to get out but I think it’s the most amazing place, and that’s after living in Montreal, L.A. and New York. We all see the beauty and appreciate different things in the smaller places that are the real heartbeat of Canada,” Gryner added.
An appreciation for the little details and interesting stories that are alive in every community is also at the heart of Trent Severn’s entire musical ethos. Much in the way Stompin’ Tom immortalized Sudbury, Tillsonburg and individuals like Bud the Spud, and Big Joe Mufferaw, Trent Severn also choose to celebrate the scenery, folklore and personalities that inhabit the communities that make us all tick.
“We love to hear the observations from our audience and they’ll write to us about what their experience is. That feeds our desire to write more and more songs that tell the real-life stories of Canada,” said Gryner.
“I get thinking about things like the pancakes at the Hoito restaurant in Thunder Bay, reading the memorial to the miners in Cobalt. As lifelong Canadian musicians, we thrive on having the chance to tour and getting to experience those things in everyone’s hometown,” said Manning.
She also pointed to the song Haliburton High which was seeded by a long drive through cottage country and attempting to annoy her fellow traveler by singing road signs along the journey. It turned into one of the most atmospheric and almost symphonic pieces on Trillium and will no doubt be a concert favourite for many years to come.
For Manning, the most personal song on Trillium is ‘King of The Background’, a touching and heartfelt tribute to fellow Stratford native Richard Manuel, of the legendary roots-rock group The Band.
“He is so important to everyone around us. We all knew of Richard through our fathers’ generation; when he committed suicide in 1986, our friends’ dads were his pallbearers,” she explained.
“I wanted to touch upon what it must be like to be as talented as he was and have to share the stage with Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Bob Dylan and Ronnie Hawkins. He was just so integral to The Band and absolutely ran the background for that scene that they painted. I wanted to give him a real honourable tribute in an artistic way.”
Gryner believes that Trent Severn is more than a band – it is a conduit for an exchange of ideas, stories and memories of people who appreciate or pine for a more simple, nostalgic, slower-paced lifestyle. The trio want to build an almost collaborative relationship with their audience. Their audiences even show up wearing their trademark plaid uniforms.
“We want to honour a particular legacy left behind by the great songwriters of Canadiana. We take this very seriously and we really feel grateful to live in this country and want to share that with our audience and we want our audience to share their love and their stories with us,” Manning said in agreement.
“We began with the musical notion of starting a band that focused on great harmonies, our communities and playing stripped-back, acoustic music that we enjoyed. As we toured the first album, we found that the people would bring something to the shows. It’s like we are growing with the audience and we are taking whatever they have to give us and turning it into something too. I am always surprised at how our songs impact people,” said Gryner.
Trent Severn, to their surprise, are also led on adventures by their songs. They’ve watched the RCAF ‘Snowbirds’ demonstration team fly to their tune ‘Freedom’ three times, they serenaded Col. Chris Hadfield while he was on board the ISS in 2013 with his request ‘Truscott’, and that same year were recruited to sing their now trademark three-part harmony arrangement of our national anthem on Canada Day to raise the flag on Parliament Hill. The band was also featured in MacLean’s magazine under the headline “Trent Severn picks up where Stompin’ Tom left off,” the year we lost our treasured troubadour.
With songs about trains, small town charms, unique Canadian personalities, a tribute to the iconic work of William Lishman, (inspired by and co-written with the ultra-light aircraft enthusiast, artist and birdman himself) and, yes even a song about the 2012 maple syrup heist (‘Stealin’ Syrup’), Trillium sees Trent Severn hitting their stride as musicians, songwriters and harbingers of all that is good, great and beautiful about small-town Canada.