Emerson Drive’s front man talks prairie roots

Brad Mates talks about breaking out as a band from Grand Prairie prior to their performance at the Mule in Penticton on Sept. 22.

Emerson Drive's front man talks prairie roots

Emerson Drive’s origins are much like the prairies themselves.

Sometimes tough and isolating, and definitely cold, but warmed by tight-knit communities.

“When I was growing up I guess it was difficult to branch out or record music,” Lead singer Brad Mates said. “Playing on the road too, you only had a handful of little communities, so that meant travelling down to Calgary to get to some bigger venues.”

Mates looks back on his home town of Grand Prairie, Alta. as one of the key ingredients to keeping the band going in the early days — mostly due to the people in the Peace Country area being so supportive. Local businesses got behind the band and high school teachers would let them cut out early to travel to shows.

“It’s interesting to look back now after 20 years and see that it’s a pretty big reason, and nice to have a support like that from the start,” Mates said.

The band eventually made a couple trips to Nashville a year, the country music mecca, which Mates called an “eye-opener” in the beginning.

“You think that you’re a good band until you get into a city like Nashville and find out quick how tough the competition is going to be,” Mates said.

They were consistently told that they had something with the band, but it wasn’t all there just yet.

“We’d go back on the road and work on our show and just kept getting better as a group. It took a handful of years,” Mates said.

Much of their success hinged on the single-based music market of today.

“It’s pretty interesting because we were so used to playing night after night that when you think about a three-minute song potentially dictating where you’re career is going to go it’s a scary thing. We were lucky, we had a Top 5 on our first single and the ball kept rolling after that,” Mates said.

It was an exciting moment for the band, in their 20s at the time. The fan base they created in both Canada and the U.S. from those first singles has stuck around for two decades.

“I shake my head sometimes thinking about where things started and where they’re at today,” Mates said.

Catch Emerson Drive at the Mule Concert House Sept. 22. Tickets are available at www.ticketweb.ca.