By Ray Chelstowski
Toronto might not be the first market you think of when you look to see where the jam scene is really beginning to boom. Most people agree that the next Asheville, NC or Vermont is likely to be found in Chattanooga, TN; and for good reason. But in Toronto, a jam scene is quickly building with a true sense of community and commitment to great musicianship and writing. One of the bands at the center of it all is Danceland. They have just released their debut album, Pink Lem, and it quickly has received notable praise.
Their sound is infused with elements of Americana and roots music. But what they take great pride in is their commitment to songcraft and storytelling. Danceland began as a Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia Band cover act and as a result, you’ll find bright harmonies, melodic guitar lines, and carefully deployed pedal steel. The 7-track album was mixed by Grammy award-winning engineer Gregg Rubin (The Avett Brothers, Harry Connick, Jr., Ben Folds) and his veteran touch gives this record a feel that is more grounded and sophisticated than most debuts.
Danceland’s founding guitarist and singer-songwriter, Joe Ferland, came up as a musician in the 1990’s New York City music scene, playing in a variety of rock and pop-punk contexts, and earning a few record deals along the way. After a long hiatus he returned to music by way of the Grateful Dead and co-founded Danceland with his wife Jale; where they are joined by drummer Brad Park. The balance of the band is rounded out by a variety of Toronto-based musicians who operate on what they call an “open door” policy.
Goldmine caught up with Joe by Zoom and talked about the journey that led to the creation of this band and record, how they were able to coax a legendary vet like Gregg Rubin into the project, and what other acts in the Toronto jam scene are making great noise.
Goldmine: How did this record come together?
Joe Ferland: So we were a cover band and when the pandemic hit I started writing songs again. Then across the way from us a friend completed work on a studio. So, we went in and recorded some songs. I had hoped to do 10 but we could only get seven done. We worked those out over the next year or so and here we are.
GM: Your debut presents a unique musical blend. There are clear jam tunes like “Danceland Road” and “4:20.” But others sound more like Americana or Roots music. Where do you see yourself within the spectrum of “jam”?
JF: I think we sit kind of in that pocket where the Grateful Dead operated from. If you listen to Workingman’s Dead or American Beauty you might be hard pressed to say that this was a jam band. Those songs are steeped in country and Americana. After playing that breadth of material doing Dead and Garcia Band covers, it just lent itself to pursuing a number of different avenues. I love “song” songs and I love jams. When we play these live we’ll step it out a bit and take them somewhere. I strive to be in that lane where people fall in love with our songs and then when they come see us live they really jam. That’s what we are kind of going for.
GM: Gregg Rubin (The Avett Brothers, Ben Folds) mixed this record. How did you come to work with him on this project and why was he the right person for this debut?
JF: Gregg and I worked on some things back in the 1990s. He always wanted to record our bands and he recorded one of the demos that helped one of those bands move forward. I always have thought that he had a great ear and the ability to put a song together. I was hoping that even though he isn’t “in the game” any more that he might be open to helping us, and when I reached out he jumped right back at me. He’s into the Dead; he knows that space very well. When I started getting mixes from him I was really happy because he had brought the songs to where I knew they could go.
GM: You spent some time in the New York City rock and punk scene. How did you find your way to “the jam”?
JF: I grew up a Deadhead. Then we started to see shows. That inspired me to do this professionally. I wanted to do shows and play songs. What happened is that I started to like harder music as well like Led Zeppelin and Soundgarden; all of the grunge stuff from the 1990s. When you consider a guy like Kurt Cobain, his songs are just gold. It’s not just the punk ethos; the songs stand alone on their own. Over time I started getting back into the Dead. I knew that I could play it and be very happy just doing that. So I left the original band thing behind. It was fun but this community is very embracing. So after playing their songs for the last 10 years, these songs of mine just seemed to pop up on their own.
GM: What is the jam band scene like in Toronto?
JF: It’s great; there are a lot of different things going on. There are a lot of straight-forward cover bands, and then there is this handful of original jam bands as well. Each one of them has its own great things happening. There’s a band called “Zuffalo“ whose keyboardist and bass player we work with often. There’s another band called “Must Stash Hat” and they are real “jammy.” It’s a great scene, everyone helps each other out, and there’s a lot of cross-pollination among players. We try to hook each other up with shows. It’s just been great and there’s a lot of talent here.