Competition to Performance

By in Arts & Music

Paige Ballagh talks to Kaitlyn Gerber about how their family band, The Ballagh’s, went from step dancing competitions to international music tours. She also gives insight on what it takes to be a successful band.

You’re a family band and I’m sure you have been playing together since you were kids but perhaps you can give a brief history on when you started “officially” touring as a band? 

We grew up in the fiddle and step dance contest circuit, so us three older siblings were dancing as a group, and playing together in duet fiddle. It wasn’t until after Drayton Entertainment hired us that we decided that performing was much more enjoyable than competing, and we wanted to put our own show together.

It slowly evolved after that. We were just fiddling and step dancing, until a venue out east wouldn’t hire us unless we sang. We never had sung in front of people before, but Mom told them we sang to get the gig. It was horrifying, but turned out to be a turning point for our music. Adding vocals inspired us to write more, and we slowly developed our current sound from that moment on.

Do you remember your first official gig?

Our first official gig was in 2001. Drayton Entertainment hired us to fiddle and step dance in a Canadian satirical show. This production had us bit by the performance bug. We started doing our own gigs after this, and have done a handful of runs with Drayton since.

Who are some of the musical influences that have helped to shape your sound?

Our main influence is Canadian old time fiddle music. Our shows in our early years were entirely old time fiddle tunes and step dancing. As we added vocals to our show, we developed new influences, mostly Irish and folk. We love the East Pointers and Shane Cook for their driven traditional fiddle, warped to be a bit more modern and folky. We also all love listening to Ben Rector, Sarah Bareillas and Needtobreathe, for their story telling abilities. After traveling to Ireland,we discovered bands like Talisk and Beoga who are just nailing their upbeat driving tunes, and really inspire us to lean more into Irish music.

Do you write a lot of your own music? 

Lately, we’ve been writing all of our music. Our first album had one original on it, and our latest one has two covers. So we’ve flipped our show upside down creative-wise. As we grew up musically together, we were developing a more specific vision of what we wanted to sound like, and have been working together to reach that goal. The way we write our music has changed since we don’t all live together any more, but we are often firing audio clips back and forth. It’s interesting melding together all of our different perspectives and experiences into one underlying message for a song.

You’ve done some extensive touring, from Eastern Canada to Ireland; what’s been your favourite or the most unique place you’ve played? Do you have any big trips planned in 2017?

There is no place like the East Coast, and we feel so at home there, but our past tour to Ireland has to be our favourite. It’s incredible there – so green, so fun, and so much music! The most unique place we played there was a bar in a town called Ballaghaderean. (Fate? I think so. ϑ) We were initially wary of the lack of space in the bar, and the lack of people that were mulling around as we were setting up. But by the end of the night, the place was packed, people were dancing and singing along, we were all drenched in sweat and having an amazing time. It was a genuine Irish experience! We have a return to Ireland in the works for this summer, which we are so excited about!

It looks like 2016 was a big year for you. Besides extensive touring, you also released a new album, Arrow. What inspired that title and the overall conception of the album?

Every April, we create a new show to perform at the Belmore Maple Syrup Festival. We use that show to tour with for the year. We had gathered tunes, and the new ones were starting to pile up. Our sound had evolved so much since the first album, we thought it was time to lay down some tracks! The overall album was meant to inspire and leave listeners light-hearted and hopeful. “Arrow” is a track on our album that speaks to being pulled back before being shot forward. We threw out a couple different titles, but felt this one suited the most, and when a friend hand painted the cover, it all seemed to fit.

What one song from Arrow would you recommend to new listeners to give them an understanding of who The Ballagh’s are? Is there a favourite?

Good question! Probably “Dancing Shoes”. Although this has a bit of a different sound than other songs on the album, it kind-of became our anthem throughout touring last summer. People were singing and dancing along. It incorporates fiddle, voice, and feet, and is probably our favourite foot-stomper! It was one of the very first songs we sat down and wrote together, so it holds a special place in our hearts as well.

Apart from the band, what other projects are you all involved with? 

Devan and I run Studio 410 in Teeswater, which is a performing arts centre, and fitness and health centre. We teach group fit classes, and music and dance lessons throughout the year, as well as produce/choreograph and direct an annual musical featuring 40 local youth. That turns into a family project, as we’re so fortunate to have a family that takes each others’ projects on as their own.

We all have jobs outside of being a family band. Michael is in University in North Bay, Dad works at CKNX, Mom is an optometric assistant, and the rest of us work at the studio. It’s nice keeping the balance, because we can draw inspiration from many different factions of our everyday life.

Now I want you to imagine that you can only listen to music from one artist for an entire month. Who are you going to listen to, and why?

Ah! Hard question! Probably East Pointers, mostly because I feel like we’ve likely already listened to them for a month straight and not even noticed. Their music is so driving and fresh, it never gets old.

What advice would you give up-and-coming bands?

Our advice is just to be honest. It’s easy to listen to a great band and wish you had more of their style, or think the music you’re producing is less than stellar. But really, the only requirement is creating something that’s authentic and represents you well. No matter how it is received, it’s true to you, and that’s what makes you an artist.

You can find The Ballagh’s on Facebook @theballaghsmusic or on their website to see where they’ll be playing next. Albums can be purchased at Studio 410 in Teeswater and found online at Spotify, iTunes, Google Play and other online platforms.