Neil Haverty of Bruce Peninsula

For our second-ever Rendezvous, I was definitely not expecting to get to interview someone from such an amazing and highly acclaimed Canadian band, so this was really exciting. I had the opportunity to chat with Neil Haverty, a core member of the band of Bruce Peninsula (on vocals, guitar, and metallophone duties) over the phone.

I admittedly did not know very much at all about Bruce Peninsula (only having heard “In Your Light” in regular rotation on CBC Radio 3) and I’m so glad to have had this opportunity to delve into their music and learn more about the band. I really dig their sound and know that my fellow Tourists would as well, given our love of big, percussive sounds, folk roots, stomping rhythms, and, of course, being proud of our Canadian talent and hometown connections. Channeling my inner James Lipton, I went in-depth for this one, cue cards and all. During my research of the band, I even went as far as to look up information on the actual Bruce Peninsula, to be fully prepared!

Photo from Bruce Peninsula’s press kit

Bruce Peninsula are playing at the Molson Canadian Studio in Hamilton Place this Friday, May 25th, the first show in a series of concerts called Folk’d Up Fridays. I’m very excited to see them live and to check out the venue. Asking Neil about the show, he noted, “I’ve never seen shows there myself, but you hear about people coming through, like I’m pretty sure I remember a Leonard Cohen show there and a couple of things like that, so it feels like a bit of an honour to be playing there.”

I began our Rendezvous by asking Neil about Hamilton.
You and Steve [McKay, drummer] are from Hamilton originally, before joining Bruce Peninsula?
Steve and I went to high school together, and then I moved here [Toronto] and eventually joined Bruce Peninsula, and then when Steve moved back from Kingston, I coaxed him into playing in the band also. Steve is a really good drummer that I always knew I had in my back pocket and just was waiting for him to live in the same town again.

What were your early experiences as a musician on the Hamilton music scene?
We had a high school band, that was crappy and I’d rather not mention the name of. I very early on started running shows at a place called Transit Union Hall, which is on Wilson Street, and we started at like 15, running shows, and we would play every Friday and Saturday night.

As for more recent Hamilton shows, I know you guys played Supercrawl in September.
I attended Supercrawl but unfortunately did not catch their set in Christ’s Church Cathedral.
Supercrawl was kind of insane, actually. We also played the previous year on the main stage. That whole James Street thing is confounding to me because Hamilton wasn’t like that when I was living there. It’s been amazing to see it grow.

[Christ’s Church Cathedral] was by far the biggest church we’ve ever played in, and so the acoustics were huge, and it was really great, and the turnout, because Supercrawl was way beyond what we expected. It was a really good time.

Are you hoping to do more Hamilton shows in the future?
Oh, we’ll come whenever we’re asked; for Steve and I, especially, Hamilton is obviously important, so anytime anybody asks us to come, we’ll come.

Another Hamilton connection I wanted to ask about was your Southern Souls collaboration.
Bruce Peninsula members filmed solo performances for a series of videos for the website.

I actually didn’t know Mitch [Fillion] when we were in Hamilton, but obviously Southern Souls does some really great video work. We came up with that idea while we were sort of on hiatus while I was sick, and it just seemed like a no-brainer to get Mitch involved, and I think it turned out really well.

And was it important to showcase individual members of the band, because there are so many of you, and your different talents?
Yeah, that had always been sort of on our minds, that there was probably ten solo acts within the band, and so it seemed like a good way to introduce that. I think you’re going to see that more and more with our band; we’ve been doing some shows, actually, where we each play a solo song and then play a Bruce Peninsula song, and go back and forth like that, in a kind of revue style. We’re really enjoying doing that.

BRUCE PENINSULA – NEIL HAVERTY – ‘We Always Change’ by Jennifer Castle from Southern Souls on Vimeo.

From there, I moved on from Hamilton to ask about what touring is like for the band. Being a type of Tour ourselves, I’m always interested in what touring is like for musicians. Bruce Peninsula has played major tours across Canada and the U.S., along with major North American festivals.
Is touring an aspect of being a musician that you enjoy?

Oh, absolutely. We’re lucky; we get to go to places that otherwise we wouldn’t be going to. All these places where, if we didn’t have the excuse of playing a show, we might not end up there, but we’re lucky for it.

Do you get much time, when you’re in each place, to get out there and explore?
Obviously not as much as we’d like, but we are pretty good at carving out time, and everyone’s into a little bit of tourism here and there. There is a lot of waiting around in bars, though, when you’re a band, so it’s not quite like I’m a tourist all the time.

Do you have a favourite place you’ve been to? Anything that sticks out?
There’s lots; obviously going to South by Southwest is an experience for a band; it’s pretty crazy. That whole trip was amazing and I’d like to do more touring in the U.S. We’re going to Dawson City in July, in the Yukon, so I’m really excited about that, and we’re going for the Dawson City Music Festival. We’re actually playing in Vancouver on the way up; we’ve only been there once. Yukon is a perfect example of a place that I may not go on my own, but music has afforded the opportunity.

When it comes to playing live, because your music is so intricate and layered, when you’re recording the material, do you think about how it’s going to translate into live performances? Or do you just focus on creating the material, and worry about that later?
To me, those things are sort of separate experiences. I don’t think that the live experience has to reflect the record. In fact, I think it’s more exciting when it’s a little bit different. So our live shows tend to be a little scrappier. The attention to detail is different, and it’s more about the experience and the energy, whereas in the studio we dwell on lots of little parts and sounds, and things like that. It’s more about the experience when we’re playing.

As noted, we Tourists love words and expanding our vocabularies, so I had to ask about the origin of the band name.
There is a lot of nature imagery associated with the band name, and this is also found in your lyrics and visuals. What does it signify for you?

The band name has to do with the fact that we’re all from Ontario and we’ve all spent time camping on the Bruce Peninsula and our families all took us there when we were younger. We all have positive associations with it, so it seemed like a good name.

And it also reflects Canada, being a Canadian band and representing Canadian music.
Yeah, what’s nice about it is for Canadians, there’s obviously an association; a lot of people know about the Bruce Peninsula. But outside of Canada, it’s sort of mysterious. It could be a dude’s name; it could be anything. So we like that it can go both ways.

What’s coming up next for Bruce Peninsula?
A few shows here and there, in Hamilton, St. Catharines, Toronto. Then going to Dawson City, and then who knows? It’s been a while since we’ve made any new music together, so we’re hoping to play again, more in the jam space, and get a little time to write some stuff. We’re taking it pretty easy; we’re going to have a pretty easy going summer, I think.

Of course, I ended the interview with our Rendezvous Rapid Fire!

Favourite place to eat in Hamilton: Che Burrito

Favourite breakfast food: Eggs Benedict

If you were an alcoholic beverage, what would you be? Straight Jameson on ice

Go-to karaoke song: “I’m not a big karaoke guy… I have been known to sing ‘Bills, Bills, Bills’ by Destiny’s Child.”

If you could speak flawlessly with any accent, what would it be? Australian

Favourite word: Accompaniment

Favourite concert/live performance you’ve seen: “I like anything where I feel like the artist really believes what they’re doing and is selling it to me in a way that I believe. Live music is an amazing place to be, an amazing thing that human beings do for one another, and so as long as I know that the person behind it is meaning what they’re doing, then I’m into it.”

What is on your Playlist right now: The new records by Bry Webb and Beach House

If you could detour to anywhere in the world right now: Europe

Favourite mode of transportation: Bicycle

What’s one thing you want to do: Get my driver’s licence

My sincerest thanks to Neil Haverty for taking the time to speak with me, and to HECFI for the opportunity to reach the band for the interview.

– Kristin

Kristin Archer is the creator of I Heart Hamilton (, where she has blogged about experiences around her hometown since 2011, growing a social media presence along the way. Encouraging locals to “be a tourist in your own city,” she promotes arts and culture across her various social media platforms, blog, and weekly radio show on 93.3 CFMU.

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