Updated: Oct 16, 2021
By Will Yannacoulias Photos By Contingent Colours Photography
Black Rain are one of those rare artists who have transcended the title of ‘band’ and become an institution. Formed in 2002 when brothers Jamie and Ryan Peekeekoot set out on their own and joined in 2012 by bassist Kevin Joseph, the group have tirelessly performed throughout the north, earning a reputation for an energetic, fun live show among their far-flung legion of loyal fans. Four studio albums (with a fifth, Forecast Calls For Rain, to be released before the end of the year) and heavy radio play have cemented their legacy as one of the bands to define a generation in Canada’s North. NSMZ spoke to guitarist Ryan Peekeekoot at home in Ahtahkakoop First Nation and bassist Kevin Joseph in Prince Albert on the eve of their appearance on the 2021 Chester Fest Afterhours stage.
The band’s earliest origin can be traced back to before any of the members were born, as both their families were steeped in a tradition of performing live music. “Back in the late 1970’s my Dad had a band and also played music with their Dad, so there’s a bit of a legacy-lineage going on there” Joseph explained. “I joined in about 2009 and they were already successful, already playing all over Western Canada.” Peekeekoot elaborated that “Jamie and I started playing together when we were little kids. We started with our Dad, Glen Peekeekoot, in his band Risky Business. He was playing with his brothers as well, then towards the end of that band he brought in Jamie and I too. Jamie was only about ten or eleven years old at that time”
Black Rain’s celebrated status in Canada’s north is indisputable. Twenty years of bringing their live show to remote locales has made the band a household name in many communities. “Our main base is here in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta a little bit” Peekeekoot explained. “We used to play a lot of cover songs to connect with the audience, but we started to notice that more and more people knew our songs wherever we’d play. Nowadays people know our material so well that they’ll just yell out songs. We don’t even use a set list unless we’re playing a bigger show, like a festival. For dances and cabarets we’ll just do a full set of audience requests.” Joseph emphasized the existence of an enthusiastic audience for any artists willing to travel to smaller northern communities, explaining “there’s a scene that a lot of people aren’t aware of; it stretches from the northern part of Ontario, through northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta and definitely into the Territories. These are people who buy CDs, people who will pack a small 100 person hall to hear a band like Black Rain. When we go to Fort McPherson in the Territories or Fort Albany in Northern Ontario they’re calling out the names of our songs. I’ve had the pleasure of doing this since I was a teenager; been to Beijing, to Paris, to New York, and there’s a Wal Mart in every one of them. In Fond Du Lac, Saskatchewan or Horse Lake, Alberta, people greet us at the airport, feed us their traditional food, tell stories, laugh with us. Go play the same clubs in Edmonton or Calgary for fifty indifferent strangers, we’ll play that northern scene and be welcomed with open arms into every community.”
Peekeekoot added music producer to his resume, studying Audio Engineering at the Recording Arts Institute of Saskatoon in 2015 and recently completing his own studio, Lightning Productions, where the new Black Rain album will be self produced. “I love playing live, and I'd say we’re a ‘live’ band first and foremost. I love it in the studio too, recording an album, building everything up right from the drum tracks. I haven’t had the guys in the studio yet, but I’ve started writing and recording some guitar tracks, recording with my son running everything. That’s usually how we do it, I’ll have some music, some lyrics. We’ll jam together, finish them up together then head into the studio. I’ve got a lot of songs I’ve written over the last couple years, probably enough to record two albums!”
Black Rain’s next appearance will be lighting up the Friday night Afterhours stage at Chester Fest on September 10th. Joseph spoke highly of the upcoming Chester Fest performance, which holds a special place in his heart as a born-and-raised resident of Prince Albert. “I’ve known Joel forever, he’s a young guy doing great things in this community” Joseph offered. “We don’t hold any gig above any other; our most important gig is the next one. Chester Fest, to me, is indicative of what Prince Albert’s potential is. People often like to criticize P.A., the gazebo fence, the homelessness. How about the beautiful things that are happening with the arts in the last ten years? When we have people like Joel and Kayanna who are willing to put so much of their energy and time into these things, it’s only going to pay dividends for every single person who comes through the city. I believe Chester Fest is going to be a permanent annual thing, so for Black Rain to be asked to play the second year is a huge honour. Every gig is an honour but this one is different; this is my hometown. This is my backyard. Chester Fest is something that makes the place that I love even better.”
photos courtesy Black Rain