Artist of the Month: Dear Rouge

Photo: Joshua Platt

Photo: Joshua Platt

Welcome to a new segment on Under The Rockies that we've been teasing for a long while - Artist of the Month! With this segment we plan to showcase a musician or band either from Alberta ties or from Alberta. For the first month, we've chosen Dear Rouge! Something that's not widely publicized is that Danielle McTaggart is from Red Deer (hence the band name, Dear Rouge). 

I first saw Dear Rouge live when they opened for Lights on her Siberia Acoustic tour in 2013. They were fresh off Vancouver's Peak Performance Project, a competition Calgary's The Peak radio station later adopted, where they won first place. I hate to admit it but, soon after that performance, I completely forgot about them.

Fast forward to August 31, 2014, at Calgary's X-Fest. Maybe it was having the full band with them versus a two-person acoustic set but this felt like a different band and I was very into it. I later saw them open for Mounties and Phantogram in December 2014 and, finally, Canada Day 2015, where Lauren Platt and I conducted this interview. Their performances are something you don't want to miss and I'm excited to see what else they accomplish musically.

Dear Rouge's debut album, Black To Gold, is out now and make sure you check their website, www.dearrouge.com, to see dates where you can catch them on their upcoming headlining tour with Rah Rah.


What was it like growing up in Red Deer?
Danielle: It was awesome. It was the only thing I ever really knew. I loved travelling outside of Red Deer but I always like, “Red Deer’s my home”, and then I met Drew and it was a great excuse to actually move out of Red Deer. Although I love it, it’s my home, it’s where I know most of my friends and family, it’s great to live in Vancouver now. The opportunities.

What was the Red Deer music scene like? Was there a thriving one?
Danielle: No, it was kind of non-existent. There was The Vat. There was open mic night on Sunday nights and I started playing. That’s kind of where I started playing my own music in front of people, so that was good. But there wasn’t a lot of bands coming out of Red Deer or people to look to for guidance that way. At least not bands that I knew of. 

And so then you met Drew and you started dating, is that when you moved to Vancouver?
Danielle: I pursued music in Red Deer a little bit but it just wasn’t the scene, there wasn’t a lot of people there. It was kind of a good push to pursue music out in Vancouver but also to see if Drew and I were going to work out.

Do you find you have more advantages musically in Vancouver?
Danielle: Definitely. Vancouver and Toronto are the two places where a lot of bands are coming out of. All of Drew’s family lives in Vancouver and surrounding areas. In that way it’s great. Music is thriving more and more there. We’re happy there with the music and the opportunities we’ve gotten through Vancouver.

Calgary has a really strong scene as well. It’s growing.
Drew: 
Now I think, with technology, it makes everything a little bit smaller. Back in the day, some artists would have to move to Toronto to be around it. But we could just stay in Vancouver and just visit Toronto frequently. Calgary, same thing. All the cities, the bands are creeping out.

The Peak Performance Project was what gave you that big push, right?
Danielle: Yeah, that was great. It was a launching pad for sure. We didn’t really know if we were gonna be able to do music as a career. Every band wants to but the opportunities are slim so the Peak gave us that opportunity to really pursue it as a career.
Drew: The funny thing was, when Danielle was doing her other project, it was more like singer-songwriter stuff.  So it’s like, “Let’s go to Vancouver, let’s try something really fun, energetic, something where you can perform, a little bit more high energy”, and so we had all these demos and then we got married. After we got married we were like, “okay, let’s push harder at music”, and, because I was local, I knew the Peak stuff. We applied and we hadn’t even played a show and they let us in. So our first show was for that. They said you had to play 20 minutes so we had to write another song to fill it.

And now we have the Peak in Alberta. So we have the Peak Performance Project here as well.
Drew: The showcases. Everybody gets to hang out and see all the bands. It helps Vancouver music culture a lot. Every fall, there’s all these showcases. We even try to go to them when we’re home because then we can see all the new bands. It’s a fun get together.

The first time I saw you was at the Lights acoustic.
Danielle: I was pretty nervous for that. 
Drew: We were nervous because we don’t really do an acoustic thing. But when the opportunity came we were like great.
Danielle: Let’s figure it out.
Drew: It helped push us because now we do it comfortably. Actually, what she does in between albums, she puts out an acoustic album and tours it and she gets to meet the fans. Danielle and I are like, “that is on our plan, for sure”. If we could do an acoustic album and tour, just us two, it’d be fun. That’d be the best tour probably.

How did you guys get that opening slot for that tour?
Danielle: We have a great booking agent. His name’s Adam Kreeft and he gets us great opportunities and that one came through. We don’t really say no very often. 

You just released your debut album in March, Black to Gold, how did that come about?
Drew: When we did that Peak thing, we had the money. We started touring then. We did our first tour about two years ago and then we started whittling away at the album. We recorded EPs before, for the Peak, but now we had time so we quit our jobs and went up to a cabin. Almost all the songs came pouring out in a month. It was about two years ago, in the summertime, where we did all the songs. We wrote and recorded Black to Gold two years ago. We started with one single and, all of a sudden, radio in Canada picked it up. Everyone wanted to sign or manage us because we were independent. We were shocked so we kind of took our time, made sure we got the right team and that’s why we had such a long lead up to the album. It’s exciting to get it out. Those songs are from two years ago but it’s still very current, which is great, it’s awesome. It was good to take our time because sometimes you can get caught up in it and make really quick decisions. Choosing label, management and our team, you have to make sure they’re right.

What’s it like working with Universal?
Drew: It’s great. They really care and the guy who reps us at Universal, he was at our first show in Toronto. He’s been seeing us for a long time and, when the time was right, all the labels were interested but he had the best relationship and he cared. They’ve been doing such a great job promoting our album. 

I know a lot of people are bummed out by major labels because they feel like they get thrown under a rug and buried. But you want to have that good relationship and not just be seen as a money maker. 
Danielle: For us, it’s been a great relationship and a great friendship. 
Drew: I can see it. Maybe one day we’ll put out a song and it might not do as well, then it gets a little bit tricky because they’re running a business, right? Labels aren’t creative agencies that purely look at the creative, they’re a business, right? I think, if you view it that way, you see that they need to make money and they do a good job because they do make money. We have a deal where we’re part of everything creatively and then, the other side, is they’re doing the business.

What’s it like pursuing an EP versus pursuing a full length?
Drew: An EP is like a short conversation. An album you get to explore more and do bigger things. It’s nice to have an album out. EPs, sometimes though, maybe you need to get something out quick and you can do it quicker.

Did you go into the EP knowing, “This is going to be an EP”?
Drew: We kind of did it in the Peak contest so our EP, we did one to get into the contest and then we did one during the contest. 

But do you feel, when you’re making music, some songs feel like they would be better on an EP or an album?
Drew: We try to write all the time so we have a playlist that says, “Dear Rouge Demos”. Maybe if we were doing an EP, we’d pick four or five songs that would be there and get it out quickly. We just focus on writing better songs.

What are the positives and negatives between making a full length and making an EP?
Drew: With an album, you have more songs, you have more time. We did a really slow song on the album. An EP, you kind of don’t do that or you want to get something quicker. Like a shorter conversation. It’s like small talk and then the album is like a deeper conversation.

You want to keep people listening and draw them in.
Drew: Realistically, right now, is that people do focus on the singles and that’s what the radio focuses on. When you do an EP, you need singles the radio can push. But the album tracks, the slow ones, that’s where you get the real fans. 

A lot of people are trying to argue that the single is where the music industry is going and is there even a point to do albums anymore or just release singles.
Danielle: I think the whole singles movement made people want to own vinyl again. I think it’d be really silly for a band not to create a full project. People want organic just as much as they want a great single.
Drew: Singles are almost like an advertisement for the album. Then people buy the album and you have that longer conversation. 
Danielle: You actually have real fans too.
Drew: Stars are playing tonight and my favourite song that I want them to play is “Calendar Girl”. It’s a seven minute long song at the end of one of their CDs and it would never be a single, right? But I’m just so attached to those songs. The music industry is changing. Back in the ‘60s, they actually used to release singles and then they would put the album together. So they would release single, after single, after single and then they’d make a full album with all the singles.

A lot of bands, now, will put out a single and then the album won’t come out until a year later because they want to plug the single.
Drew: And just get the audience, right? Ultimately, it’s just getting people to listen and getting new people. We want people to get our whole album and it’s hard when they just buy the single. We’re grateful that they like the song but we want to show them all our music.

What are your thoughts on streaming, Spotify, Apple Music, etc?
Drew: A lot of artists get involved but it is only a conversation about money. It’s not about music. We’re coming up with two million views on Spotify for one of our songs and if we didn’t have that, they would not have heard that. Yeah, the money is tricky but we’re in favour of streaming. We listen to playlists, we buy vinyl, we consume music in all ways.

You just played Summerfest in Milwaukee, what are your American shows like?
Drew: They were our first American shows. We got to play with Walk The Moon and The Griswolds so we had 2,000 kids that didn’t know our music so everyone was just watching. Sometimes it’s a little intimidating but the point that you have to take away is that everyone’s watching. We got so many good tweets and stuff. Hopefully we get to release our album down there through an American label. We did a showcase in New York too and I think it went well.

What’s next for Dear Rouge musically?
Drew: We’re trying to write. When we did our album, it came out in one month and those were kind of all the songs. Now we’re writing a lot and we’re writing with other people. We’re trying to create a lot of demos so hopefully when we pick our album, it will be better than ever. We want to get a little bit deeper and a little bit stronger so we’re really focusing on writing. Especially now that the first album did well, we need to make sure we stay hard at work.

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Mary

Mary McComish is a journalist, music junkie, vegetarian, feminist and social media queen. She received her print journalism diploma from Lethbridge (yes, where Marilyn Manson was punched in the face) College and, since then, has freelanced as both a journalist and a graphic designer.