The Philosopher Kings were a seminal Canadian band in the 1990s but after a time, like many groups, the individual members pursued their own careers. Now in 2017, they’re back together with a new album and a new tour that brings them to Ottawa and the CityFolk festival this weekend. Just before the concert ARTSFILE talked by email with lead singer Gerald Eaton (aka Jarvis Church) about all of those good Platonic feelings.
Q. How does it feel to be back together after many years of solo careers.
A. I think we all got to the point where we had ideas that didn’t necessarily fall in the category of music for The Kings and decided to venture off to solo projects. Some on the songwriting side of things, others on the production side. We’ve all individually had great success in our solo careers as well which I am proud of and I think we all are. There was something over the last year that felt right about getting back together. I personally had been asked about a reunion from fans who came to Jarvis Church shows and my agent had also reminded me that it was the 20th anniversary of our hit album Famous Rich and Beautiful. It all happened really organically and all of the guys agreed without hesitation. I think we have a really exciting body of work to share now that we’ve all stepped away from the band, experienced life, relationships, family, travel. Now all of that bleeds into the new music, the writing and the production.
Q. Who are the members of this version of the Kings? Is it all the old gang?
A. This is pretty much the OGs of the Kings. James Bryan on guitar, Brian West on guitars and also overseeing production, Denton Whited on drums and myself on lead vocal. We’ve recorded some songs with another original Jon Levine, but he has a lot going on at the moment on the songwriting and production side of things so he comes into the fold when he can. It’s great to have all the guys back together.
Q. You delayed a tour to finish work on a new album. Worth it? Why?
A. Originally the intention was to do a small tour because of the demand and the fact we were celebrating the 20th anniversary of Famous, Rich and Beautiful. We had connected with our original manager, Chris Smith of Chris Smith Management. He’s gone on to manage the careers of Nelly Furtado, Alessia Cara and more. He entertained our idea of getting the original band and team back together and that’s when everything started falling into place. We decided to get back in the studio and make a full album, we signed with eOne Music and really wanted to share some modern Philosopher Kings music with our fans, that we could perform in addition to the hits. I think it was well worth it to pause and get everything together and present it in the right way.
Q. Has the music evolved since the heyday of the 90s. In what way?
A. I think naturally we’ve evolved but there are elements that will always remain relevant to our music. Soul and R&B undertones are consistent in our music. From the first listen of our new song Still The One radio people, friends and family have said “that’s the Kings” right away. Our new music isn’t dated, it’s very much relevant but has a classic feel about it. In our live set, you’ll also notice we’ve revamped our older tunes to give them a modern feel.
Q. It’s also, I guess, important to maintain some connection to the old days with the new songs. Or are you moving in a totally different direction?
A. The only direction we’ve ever moved in as a band is forward. If you listen to our first album to our current single you’ll understand the road map and evolution of our sound. We all strive to make music that is timeless and nothing feels more rewarding than performing live and seeing people sing the lyrics back to you in such a passionate way, as if they were 21 again and it was the mid 90s. It’s nice to know that people still connect in the same way. We’ve fused together elements of soul and R&B songs that we all feel connected to with modern production. Think something along the lines of Coldplay, one of our favourite bands. Modern sounds but classic rhythms and melodies.
Q. Touring can be hard work. What do you enjoy about it?
A. Absolutely. A challenge but one we’re willing to take head on. Throughout this past summer we were doing a few one off shows and festivals to get warmed up and let people know were back. I think the band and I all feel a bit nostalgic when visiting some of these venues and festivals, seeing old fans and getting that rush that makes it all worth it. Admittedly, it’s difficult being away from our wives and kids but our music and live performance in particular has always been so important to us. We love the connection with a live audience. We also don’t play with any tracks, the whole set is live music and vocals. Our band leaves it all out there on the stage. Nothing to hide behind.
Q. What do you not enjoy?
A. I’ll speak for myself, but probably the “hurry up and wait” nature of the industry. We’ll do a soundcheck and be in a very secluded area of the country and have to wait all day to perform. We like jamming as a band, sharing ideas and recording and sometimes the schedule doesn’t allow for that or it’s not the most ideal environment. We like to stay busy and the reality is, that’s not always possible.
Q. Musical reunions seem to be a way to recall the past. Is that important to you?
A. Thank you for referring to it as a reunion. We often hear ‘the Philosopher Kings are making a comeback’ and to us, we never really went away. We didn’t break up as a band. We stepped away from making music as a band to focus our efforts on solo projects. We’re reuniting with a refined purpose and direction and it feels right. As I mentioned, we love that nostalgic feeling of seeing familiar faces and places and just connecting with fans who still feel as passionate about our music, however many years later. We had some incredible memories as a band in the 90s and early 2000s. We have a young piano player, Matt Giffin, who plays live with us and we love sharing old stories from the road and wisdom from over the years. Not to sound old, but we’ve experience a lot and it feels like our responsibility to share those stories and pass on some knowledge and insight to a new generation of musicians.
Q. Do you want this to be something more than just a trip down memory lane?
A. The whole band looks back on our past with admiration. It’s been a fun ride so far, with plenty of highs and lows. The next phase we’re all excited for and this reunion will reflect that excitement. Fans will journey through the bands history in a live set and we hope will enjoy the new music as well. Our reunion is a subtle reminder of where we’ve been and this new album is all about where we’re headed.
Q. When you got together for the first time, what drew you to each other?
A. When the band was formed it was a combination of friendship and also mutual appreciate for music. We would jam out and everything seemed to gel. We had similar musical tastes and when we started making music together it felt right. There’s an obvious brotherly bond between all of us. Brian West and I have a production duo together called Track and Field, Jon and Jay Levine were brothers, Jay Levine and James Bryan were the founding members of Prozzak so whatever journey music took us on, there was something that kept us together in different capacities.
Q. When you went your separate ways why did that happen?
A. There wasn’t some dramatic falling out, it was more of us wrapping up the Castles in the Sand album cycle and we all were kind of knee deep into other projects whether it was writing with artists or producing. Some of us have lived in different countries or continents and it felt like it was time to step away from the band and focus on other passion both within and outside of music. It’s been about 10 years since we all made music together, but even between our last two albums, there was a bit of a gap. Internally, as a band, we didn’t feel it was as big of a deal as maybe our fans did. We realize now, they missed us and we missed working with each other.
Q. When did you feel the urge to reunite, to re-connect more formally. I presume you had all kept in touch over the years?
A. We’ve definitely kept in touch. Brian and I work together often in Los Angeles where we live. In the music community, especially the Canadian one, you see a lot of familiar faces. The band is kind of split between Canada and the U.S. in terms of where we live but we’ve kept in pretty good contact over the years. It’s family at this point. The first real urge, for me, was when the fans would come up to me after a Jarvis Church show and ask if the Kings would ever get back together, or if they would request that I sing a Kings song in my solo sets. I realized there was a void they were feeling and that this could be a great time to get the guys back together. I’m glad we all felt the same way about it, almost as if everyone was waiting on the call.
Q. Can we expect more from the Kings?
A. The remainder of 2017 is being spent finishing up our new album. We’ve recorded and written a lot of material and now we’re really narrowing in on the top hits and we’re pretty close to complete. The tour, to my understanding would happen in Winter 2018. Looking to travel coast to coast. We’ll be doing a few shows here and there before the holidays but our focus is wrapping the record and putting together the best possible live show we can. That was one of the main selling features of the Kings in the past; our live show. We want to live up to that standard and exceed it. When the album is ready you can expect a lot more live shows and tours.
The Philosopher Kings
Where: CityFolk Festival, City Stage
When: Sept. 16 at 7 p.m.
Tickets and information: cityfolkfestival.com