Emerson Drive reminisce about their early days in Penticton

Country band Emerson Drive roll into Penticton to perform at the Peach Festival on Aug. 6.

Emerson Drive is excited to return to Penticton

Emerson Drive is excited to return to Penticton

Penticton holds fond memories for Brad Mates, the lead singer of Emerson Drive.

“Absolutely. We were stretching outside of Grand Prairie playing different bars and clubs when we were like 18 years old and Penticton was one of the stops we would make,” said Brad Mates, who will be headlining at the Penticton Peach Festival with Emerson Drive. “It was always a fun place to play and one of the nicer ones to be honest. We would play something like 300 gigs a year and it was always nice when you got to the Blue Mule.”

Mates, who also spent summer vacations at his grandparents home near Osoyoos, even seemed enthusiastic to know it still existed. Early in their career the band was known as 12 Gauge, and Mates’ first experiences at bars seemed like an exciting adventure. Except for one thing.

“It was hilarious. We would play shows when I wasn’t old enough to be in the bars and owners would make me sit on the old Blue Bird tour bus we had, come in and play and escort me back out to the bus,” he said.

Being road warriors was the best teaching tool for the band. Although days playing festivals and touring has been scaled back, they still love getting in front of an audience.

“We built our career on the road. From day one we were a touring act that is what we know how to do best,” said Mates. “It’s still exciting that is why we do it. Going out on the road and doing live shows is amazing.”

They cranked out hits for well over a decade including I Should Be Sleeping, Fall Into Me, Last One Standing and Moments. Along with those, were numerous award nominations, both in Canada and the U.S. Mates credits that early hard work they put in to their longevity. Straight out of high school to 17 years later and still delivering electrifying stage shows, the proof is in the pudding.

“When we started playing bars and clubs it was such a mash of music. At the time country was still very exciting for people to listen to live, on the radio and buying albums. It got to the point where we found our third or fourth year the club owners would ask us for sets of alternative or rock,” said Mates. “It made a pretty big impact on our sounds. The influences that came into our lives during those years were pretty crucial in coming up with a unique sound as a group. I think the road was the best teacher for me.”

But the road to success was filled with potholes. Labels they signed with collapsed causing delays and another label they signed with collapsed after they charted a number of hits. Members changed and then in 2007, the bass guitarist Patrick Bourque, who had recently resigned, committed suicide. The band had just released the song Moments about a man contemplating suicide that had reached No. 1. A few months later it was nominated for a Grammy Award. Emerson Drive pushed forward, just as they always had and later released When I See You Again in memory of their bandmate on their greatest hits album, Decade of Drive.

Emerson Drive is now working on recording a new album. Mates expects new music to be on the radio by fall and he doesn’t see slowing down anytime soon.

“We always want to push ourselves. We became a name people know in the business but the last thing I want is to become a revolving door where you can put music out and it gets played because you are a name. If you are able to push yourself as a musician and fine tune what you do that only builds your fan base and keeping the ones you have happy.”

One of those ways of testing new creative fronts is through collaborations. That is something Emerson Drive has found a lot of success in with Doc Walker and last year taking Avicii’s smash hit Wake Me Up and doing their own spin on it with Tebey.

“When you get an opportunity to do something that is cool you get out there and do it. Tebey wanted to cut that song and felt if we had more push behind it, it would really take off,” said Mates. “I was a little skeptical to be honest with you. They recorded it and brought it to me half done because they knew it would take some convincing. When I heard the music and Tebey singing, I got it.”

Mates said it is honour to have people want to do collaboration with them now.

“I see us doing that every once and awhile. As an artist some people look up to us I guess because as a Canadian act we were able to break into the U.S. market. When I was younger I had those bands I looked up too and now its pretty cool being on the other side of it.”

Emerson Drive performs at Okanagan Lake Park on Aug. 6 from 9:30 to 11 p.m. as part of the Penticton Peach Festival. As with all the entertainment and live music acts, Emerson Drive is a free event. Country singer Livy Jeanne open for the group from 8 to 9 p.m. For more information on the schedule of events visit www.peachfest.com.