Bywater Blues Band. Pic: Bill King Photography
Bywater Blues Band. Pic: Bill King Photography

A Q&A with Bywater Blues Band's Meghan Parnell and David Barnes

Meghan Parnell and David Barnes – Bywater Blues Band

Bywater Blues Band recently captured the 2018 Toronto Blues Society Talent Search Award and spent the summer playing a host of festivals including the long-running Southside Shuffle in Port Credit, Ontario - September past. The band is not what you’d call a traditional 12-bar blues band, but one featuring many colours and shades. There are hints of Janis Joplin’s growl and biting high notes, Allman Brothers slide guitar and excellent keyboard work - representative of the times we live; not tethered to the past. Bywater has a good story, one many aspiring players can relate too. Get a day job, or any job and invest in your passion and hope, and hope.

Bill King: Is this a new band or one revised with a name change?

Meghan Parnell: There wasn’t a name change. Bywater is a fairly, newish project dating back two years.

What is Bywater?

M.P: Dave and I have worked together in a cover band for a long time and got to a point where we been itching for years to write our own music but were very busy. I had a day job and left it, and it was like – we are going to do this. Bywater was born out of that blues, gospel, southern soul kind of inspiration.

Is this what you mostly listen too?

We listen to a lot of stuff, but yes, there’s a lot of that in there. I think for us it’s the sound that speaks to what we want to do. I have a lot of grit to my voice, and when I heard other singers with that I was inspired.

David Barnes: I’m super inspired by old soul and blues records. We just started dabbling with song-writing and I think what kicked it off was a friend of ours was doing s show at the Central on Markham Street which is now gone, and he said, 'look, you guys should do it'. Over the next couple months, we had this push to write, and a first show that November and got the ball rolling. Parkside Drive is our wedding and event band that pays the bills.

M.P: We are getting ourselves into an interesting conundrum where we want to push hard into festival season and find the balance between the two.

When I first heard you, I thought of the groups The Civil Wars and Little Big Town and how they gave Americana a contemporary makeover.

D.B: We are also big fans of Tedeschi Trucks Band. In the blues arena, it’s nice to hear some different takes on the blues.

Honestly, I’m not a fan of bar band blues – the sameness.

D.B: It’s hard to get excited about it because it was done so well with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters – this is amazing.

M.P: This being our first album, we’re working on a huge learning curb. We want it to be right.

D.B: Was it Richard Flohil who said, “you’re not going to be happy with your first record?”

You should make the record that’s in your heart. Meghan, you spent fifteen years in the film industry?

M.P: Close to that. I have a degree in human biology from U. of T. and didn’t know what to do with that and working at the same time at Varsity Cinemas to put myself through university. I got offered a job at Cineplex head office in their film department, then worked for a couple small distribution companies by way of those I worked with at Cineplex. From that I learned a lot of different aspects about film – theatrical distribution and such, and when I first started gigging I was working with a film company that was in the process of selling to the U.S. In this particular position there wasn’t a lot to do – I didn’t want to come to the office every day and not work, so somebody invited me to join a band, work professionally and go to Morocco for four months. When I came back, I was still in the mindset of having a real job and a new a woman who worked in film PR asked me to work with her and I did for nine years. There were aspects I quite enjoyed: putting together schedules and especially meeting documentary filmmakers, and talking with them about the work they are doing and bringing them around for interviews. I worked with Hot Docs Festival for years. I was in the room with Caroll Spinney who provided the voices for Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch and and I heard him do the voices.

Just ahead?

D.B: Lots of stuff in 2019. Bruce McCarthy on drums, Mike Meusel is on bass, and Alan Zemaitis is our keyboard player. These are our bandmates.

Bywater Blues Band performs at The Toronto Blues Society's Christmas Party at the Cadillac Lounge in Toronto on Dec. 15. Tickets here

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