Living it up

Saturday June 2, 2001
By Andrea Nemetz / Entertainment Reporter

Living it up

With their new CD, Among the Living, Sons of Maxwell have come into their ownphoto credit: Mark Wanzel

Dave and Don Carroll had some of the best seats in the house for last year's Tall Ships Parade of Sail.

The pop/folk duo, known as Sons of Maxwell, were playing facing the harbour during a corporate function at Halterm pier.

"It was our own private reviewing stand," says Don with a laugh.

That July week was the busiest the duo have had in a 10-year career
that has seen them playing at festivals, corporate events, in pubs and
soft-seat auditoriums across Canada as well as two tours of Germany and
a two-week stint in the Dominican Republic.

"We were doing two gigs a day, one in the morning, one in the
evening for seven days," Dave recalls of Tall Ships week, noting one of
the highlights was playing a corporate event on the majestic HMS Rose,
a 40.5-metre, three-masted ship, modelled after an 18th-century British
frigate.

"It was a good-spirited crowd, with another 1,000 on the dock
listening to the music, and lights shining up the masts. Our parents
were here and my dad's a real ship lover and I got him a pass to hear
us play."

The Carrolls - who hail from Timmins, Ont. where they went to high
school with Shania Twain - also released a CD of sea-related songs
during the Tall Ships. Sailors Story was a very well-received novelty
CD, in the striking shape of a tall ship.

And proceeds from that project which featured standards like Barrett's Privateers and Sonny's Dream, funded their next CD.

Among the Living, the group's sixth album, was released at Casino
Nova Scotia Thursday night and is slated to hit stores on Tuesday.

The first single - So Confusing - was mailed to stations across the
country and after a week has had "very, very positive feedback" from as
far away as Victoria, says Don.

"So Confusing is upbeat - you're not supposed to introduce yourself
to radio with a ballad," he explains. "It also has a strong message, is
radio friendly and is representative of our live show."

The 12 songs on Among the Living are a mix of up-tempo and ballads
to keep the listener's attention from start to finish, explains Dave,
who wrote them all.

"I make an effort to make sure one song does not sound like another
one," he says. "To a certain degree all the songs are inspired by life,
truth and imagination combined."

Hold On, a sweet ballad, is based on a true story related by Dave's father (named Maxwell, of course).

"It's about a guy who went to visit his wife who has Alzheimers in a
nursing home on their anniversary. The names are made up and the
particulars are changed," says Dave.

"Burning Bridges has the sentiment of frustration we've experienced
in the music business, people who've held you back a little bit, when
you're trying to do something worthwhile."

The title track, Among the Living, represents the Carolls' place on their career path.

"We've reached a point where we have come into our own. It's our
first all-original project. So Confusing, Burning Bridges, Among the
Living, they are all about coming of age," says Don.

The songs were written over two years, from just after the 1998
release of The Neighbourhood, their most successful CD to date, to
midway through the recording of Among the Living at Steve Richard's Big
Sky Studio One in Bedford.

"We wanted to make sure our next CD was at least as good if not
better than The Neighbourhood and this is better in all aspects," says
Dave.

"We spent twice the time on this one and much more thought went into
production. Mistakes made on recording we had the budget and time to
fix," says Don.

The Neighbourhood was as good as we could do at the time and I'm nothing but proud of it, but we've raised the bar."

A video from The Neighbourhood - Oceanside Again - made it into the CMT top 100, no small feat for an independent band.

"It was really memorable, because it's national. You can call
someone in Vancouver and they're watching the same video at the same
time, everyone in the whole country could be watching," says Don.

It's a good bet their mom, Sharon, was one of those tuning in.

Growing up in a musical household, the brothers played piano and joined the junior high band.

Dave took up sax and developed a love of old Glenn Miller tunes and
Don played trombone. Don liked music so much that in Grade 11 he took
two music classes a day - even though he only got credit for one. He
just wanted to play.

The talented twosome went to Carleton University in Ottawa where
Dave studied political science and Don took psychology but a career in
music didn't enter their minds until they got really strong response to
their campus pub shows in Bree's Inn and later The Rooster.

"Our mother blew on that spark and asked what would it take to
follow music as a career and we listed a great deal of obstacles like
advertising and recording and she would write up a plan to surmount
them and within two years we were doing it full time," says Don.

It helped that we were students - we were used to living an
impoverished life, so the switch to the music industry was not as
painful."

Sons of Maxwell, whose 1993 self-titled debut had two originals written by Dave, have had no huge breaks.

"It was a slow, uphill climb, constant progress, every album built on the last," says Dave, who began writing songs in 1990.

He enjoys the challenge of crafting songs, but gets frustrated trying to come up with ideas at times.

"I start with the music - I like to have a strong melody with hooks,
bridge and chorus and then try to experiment with lyrics and phrasing.
I like the sound of words. To me a good song is one that even if you
didn't speak English you would still find entertaining."

A move to Nova Scotia seven years ago was the best thing they could have done for their career, they say.

But togetherness only goes so far - Dave lives in Dartmouth and Don
lives in Halifax where they each answer about 20 fan e-mails a day from
all over the world.

"Half the CDs we sell on the Internet are to people in the U.S., we
also sell a lot in England, but we've never played either country,"
says Don, adding Sons of Maxwell hope to perform in both countries
soon.

"We've also had a number of Americans who have flown up to see us."

It's a long way from their first off-campus concert in Paddy's Pub
in Ottawa where they split a $50 fee and a $5 tip and each got their
second beer for free.

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