Formed around Kelowna stepbrothers Aaron Grain (real name Brett Ellis) and Chris Duncombe and David Roberts, Washboard Union got its start when Graine and Dunmore moved into a Vancouver house in the mi ’00s, where Roberts was also living and trying to make it on the scene.
Roberts said if it’s hard to pin down the band’s sound, it’s because of their influences. Simply sticking a ‘country’ label doesn’t do them justice for all the nuances the genre can encompass. He, himself can carry a conversation on artists Judas Priest and Uriah Heep as easily as he can about someone wearing sequins and playing a fiddle, or in this case, a washboard. It’s the latter that formed the basis of the trio’s musical kinship.
“We used to get together and play old trucker tunes from Red Sovine and CW McCall just for fun. Then we started writing our own songs,” he said, noting his own personal influences came the same way as many people, with music in the household.”
“You just discover their music because it’s beside the record player, and you put it on… I grew up in a family where my Mom sang and my Dad was always playing instruments. So we were always surrounded by different styles of music… If it makes you smile, it’s all good.”
Roberts said the Canadian music scene is alive and well, and they’re just glad to be part of it. And he admits to sometimes being in a “pinch me” moment at how they’ve skyrocketed to the spotlight, and who they’re keeping company with.
“There’s a lot of really great music out there, there’s so much talent, especially in Canada. I’m always blown away when we play places and you get to play with artists you never got to see live before, they’re absolutely amazing,” Roberts said.
At the 2019 Juno Awards, they broke that glass ceiling and won their first doorstop, for Breakthrough Group of the Year, and presented Meaghan Patrick with her first award, as well. Their cover with her of The Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road” has gained rave reviews, and again harken back to their diverse roots.
“You know when people say this music sucks or that music does, I wonder what’s going on. It’s all different, it’s supposed to be different. Life would be pretty boring if it was all the same,” Roberts said.
They released their 2012 self-titled album on their own and got the opportunity to work with legendary producers Bob Ezrin (KISS, Alice Cooper, etc) and Garth Richardson. Nearly four years later, after signing a major label deal with Warner, they released a five-track EP called “In My Bones,” which had the smash “Head Over Heels.”
“What We’re Made Of” was released in 2018, and backed by the title track, “Feel Like That,” “Livin Outta Livin,” and “I’ll Go Mine,” it was quickly heralded as the band’s strongest offering to date. Like anything they’ve done, inspiration can come from just about anywhere when it comes down to writing the music. “It comes from all over the place, and even when you’re working on something, for one reason or another it can change,” Roberts said.
They’ve taken 15 BC and CCMA hardware home over their career, and toured back and forth across the country several times now. But Roberts commented Alberta is still their favourite place to play. “Not sure why, but you guys seem to get us, so we love playing there,” he said, refusing to give even a clue as to what to expect during their shows. “That’s the fun of playing live, you’ll just have to come out to see what we’re going to do.”