Born out of a love of blues and southern soul, Toronto band Bywater Call makes a strong first impression on its self-titled debut album, out now on Gypsy Soul Records. Formed in 2017 by singer Meghan Parnell and guitarist Dave Barnes, the band takes a defiantly old-school approach with a sound built around Barnes’ slide guitar, a two-piece horn section, and Parnell’s powerhouse vocals.
Having already made a mark on the Toronto blues scene—they’re nominated for a 2020 Maple Blues Award in the Best New Artist category—Bywater Call is set for a 45-day tour of Europe early in the new year that will see them visit nine countries. It’s a testament to how quickly the band’s live show has come together, and how passionately audiences have responded to their modern take on vintage sounds.
We spoke with Parnell as the band prepares for its European trip, and you can find out more at bywatercall.com
Congrats on releasing the album. With so many musical elements within the band, what's the writing process like?
We spend a lot of time listening to music, and through that, we’ll find thematic ideas that grab us, and we’ll start there. Most often, Dave comes up with a chord progression and sometimes a basic melody line, and I will come up with some lyrics, then we’ll take that to the band to shape it. Through this process, the guys will throw around ideas to help define the tune with horn lines and featured sections. There’s usually some additional refining that happens between Dave and me to make sure the key and melody line suits my voice and that we’re happy with the lyrics.
Is there a story behind the band's name?
We fell in love with New Orleans about eight years ago when we first visited the city. Since then we’ve been back several times exploring and staying in different neighbourhoods. We have always especially liked to spend time in the Bywater and Marigny area just outside of the French Quarter, where there are amazing music venues, food and art markets. It’s foreign and magical but also familiar at the same time.
In a city like Toronto, it feels like half the time you’re consumed by the corporate and the concrete of the big city, so the “Call” is the call towards the other half, where music and immersion in the arts exist. New Orleans represents that half for us, a desire to embrace simplicity and soul.
What are your plans for the coming year?
We just had an amazing CD release show at [Toronto’s] Hugh’s Room Live. With that done and the album out, we’ve got our European tour starting in January. After that, we’re looking forward to the Canadian festival season in the summer. We’ll be making our way out west, and possibly east as well if it all works out. By then, I imagine we’ll be keen to get back to writing new material. We have a lot of ideas floating around, and we’re excited to see where they end up.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t singing for someone! My grandmother would march me over to the neighbour’s house and make me perform. Somewhere Out There from the movie American Tale was a popular tune, as was Over the Rainbow. But I think one of the first times I performed in front of a big-ish audience was the Grade 6 musical. I played Princess Golly Gotcha in A Tale of Two Lands. I’m sure I was nervous. I still get nervous, but once I settle in, nothing feels more right than singing.
What song in your catalogue means the most to you and why?
There’s a little something in most of the tunes that I think is special to us in some way. But for me, the most personal song is Nightmare, which we weren’t planning to record. It was one of our producers, Darcy Yates, who suggested we work on it, so we re-imagined the feel and re-wrote the chorus. I like how it turned out. The song is about sleep paralysis, which is something I suffered from for a few years. It can be incredibly frightening, as anyone who’s experienced it would tell you, but now I find the whole thing incredibly fascinating.
PR: Sarah French Publicity