Hiding In Plain Sight: Prolific Saskatoon-Based Songwriters Johnny Sinclair and Leslie Stanwyck
Updated: May 31
“Our songwriting is all over the place which is kinda nice. My phone is full of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of little snippets of songs basically because they go through my head on a daily basis. Sometimes I’ll bring a melody to Johnny and he writes the lyrics to the melodies or sometimes we’ll just jam out a guitar riff and a melody will come to mind. We’re really open to the process (of songwriting)… It’s so much fun just writing music," recounts Saskatoon-based songwriter Leslie Stanwyck in a recent telephone interview.
“Of course then its just a matter of getting it down to some form of magnetic source whether it's tape or a disc or a hard drive or something. We have tons of demos too that have just been sitting here and we think back ‘Why didn’t we put that song on a record? Why didn’t we do that song?’," laughs Johnny Sinclair as he talks about the songwriting process with his partner Stanwyck.
They make the process of writing great songs seem so simple so "every day" when in reality Stanwyck and Sinclair have been a working musical partnership for over 30 years. Starting with their short time in legendary Canadian indie rock act The Pursuit of Happiness where they were a part of the bands signature and groundbreaking debut record Love Junk, many people may be tempted to end their story right there . But, to focus on this part of their history, although crucial to their development as songwriters, would be missing the point. After playing an active part in the making of TPOH's 1990 outing One Sided Story the pair would move on to carve their own niche into the Canrock pantheon via a few different projects and a pile of critically acclaimed albums. In particular, when thinking of Sinclair and Stanwyck, their Universal Honey band comes to mind. After getting several albums under their belts using the Universal Honey moniker, the couple moved to Saskatoon in 2010 in part to raise their son and spend more time together as a family unit.
"We’ve been here (in Saskatoon) now ten years and when we got to Saskatoon we just started playing as an acoustic duo for a little while. We always knew we wanted to (play as a duo) and obviously start playing if we could because that’s what we love to do. So we started doing that and then we hooked up with Johnny’s childhood friend Brent and we were just playing around clubs in a cover band," says Stanwyck.
"(In our past) when we used to talk about playing and stuff like that we were the band that would hop in a van and drive from Toronto to Omaha, Nebraska for one gig. We were always on the road. We were always doing shows in those days so we thought 'we’re parents now and we can’t really do that.' I know other bands that would take their babies on the road and stuff like that. We didn’t feel particularly comfortable with driving through Saskatchewan in the winter time and being far away from our son for a long time and having that on him. We just decided to stay home as parents and that’s when we started thinking like if we’re going to play regularly we gotta play covers in this town because original acts can’t play two to three times a month in Saskatoon and expect to draw. When you’re in that situation you gotta play covers. So it kinda kept us busy for a while," explained Sinclair.
Soon enough, however, the two got hungry to release new things again on top of the need to preserve their legacy and make their classic Universal Honey records available to a new audience via streaming services. Streaming was something new to these old school rockers but, in true Sinclair and Stanwyck fashion, they decided to figure it out as they went. They are DIY to the core but that is a big part of their rock n roll swagger.
“(Our music has) that sprit of rock n' roll like The Replacements and The Pretenders. It’s a little bit shaggy and a little bit rough and tumble. We kinda like that. Although we can’t help sound a little polished and I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s just the pop side. But again it goes back to the traditional lineup of two guitars, bass, and drums. That's where we start.” explained Sinclair of the sound and overall vibe of the music that, together with Stanwyck, he creates.
“Even though we’ve got that pop side like Johnny said, there’s a whole kind of spark and inspiration behind our music. I always hope that it comes across (in our music) because there’s some bands that sound extremely contrived and sound like they are completely doing the formula. These bands have a pop side that sound like machines wrote the song or whatever whereas we fly by the seat of our pants as far as creativity goes. We have nothing contrived. We don’t think that way at all,” said Stanwyck.
Together the two have a very cool dynamic. They've known each other so long they finish each other's sentences. They seem to intimately understand each other as artists. It's a very endearing part of their charm. It makes you want to be that proverbial "fly on the wall" during one of their writing sessions. True art often times comes from friction. These two likely have their fair share of "disagreements" but they have come out the other side with a long and fruitful careers in their rear view mirrors and plenty of gas left in the tank. Case in point, in the last two months they will be have released a Universal Honey ep (Universal Honey EP 2020) and Christmas album (Can't Stop Thinking About Christmas) with a full length via the pair's roots project Tucker Lane ready to launch in the new year. For Sinclair and Stanwyck, it's always onward and upward and NSMZ looks forward to what the future has in store for them.
photos by Mark Allard-Will