Beyond the city limits of Saskatoon, as the urban sprawl gives way to the endless oceans of wheat and canola that sway gently in the breeze, sits a grain elevator that calls itself home to something pretty unique.
Going by the name of The Vator Sessions, Saskatchewan bands and musicians play intimate sessions - not to a live audience - but to a set of cameras that record for a HD multi-camera experience for YouTube; giving Saskatoon fans a unique feeling of joining their favourite local bands in a polished up practice and international fans the experience of watching them perform in a uniquely Saskatchewan environment.
Brett Arnelien, Darian Dutchak and Owen Gerrard setting up the elevator floor ready for a show
Started by the members of Saskatoon psychedelic rock band, Fusarium, the elevator began its music career as their own band practice space. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, however, the band members did what we have all had to do; they pivoted and innovated. The Vator Sessions took flight as a way to stay creative during the pandemic, while supporting fellow musicians and giving something entertaining and meaningful to the community of nearby Saskatoon. To this end, the band reached out to videographer and photographer friends of theirs in the form of Kayle Neis and Jourdain Basaraba.
Aerial view of the elevator floor
Having all the pieces in place with Kayle and Jourdain, the Vator team began broadcasting the sessions to YouTube - attracting the likes of Taylor Jade, Dump Babies, Hattie, The NightJays and a whole roster of Saskatoon's finest to boot.
To find out more, I spoke to the team behind The Vator Sessions:
MARK: Hey, guys, thanks for joining me today. First and foremost, I've got to ask, what was the main inspiration for starting the Vator Sessions?
OWEN GERRARD: Our pleasure, we're happy to chat! The idea for the Vator Sessions project began with the realization that meeting as a band to write and rehearse would be halted due to the pandemic. After struggling to find ways to be musically productive in some form during quarantine, we pondered the idea of using the elevator as a session space for local artists. We decided that if we followed safety and sanitary protocol, we could record these sessions and broadcast them on YouTube for the benefit of the music community which has largely lost access to a platform for performing. In essence, the idea of using our unique resources and love of multimedia as an opportunity to have fun and promote artists in our local scene is what brought Vator Sessions to fruition.
M: I'm sure this is a burning question on everyone's minds, but what's the story with the old grain elevator? How did you secure a disused grain elevator for the Sessions? And did you face any issues with planning permissions, etc?
Greg Orrē chalkin up his set list
MICHAEL VIDAL: Absolutely! That is definitely the number one question that artists bring up, and it’s still wild to me that we have access to such a unique space. The elevator has been part of the local agriculture community for decades, originally ran by the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool before being sold to a company based in Saskatoon that used it for years. Our band was looking for a new practice space, and through a family connection to that company, the idea came up of using the elevator as it was no longer in operation. We made an arrangement that if we cleaned out and maintained the elevator, we could have access to the space. Sounded like a deal to us and we were off to the races. As you can imagine, parts of the elevator were pretty gnarly and the cleanup was quite the process, but beneath all the grain dust it’s still in great condition and we’ve had no major issues since.
M: What's the community response been like to the Vator Sessions, in terms of the local music audience, the network of local musicians and local population nearby the elevator?
Michael Vidal at the mixing and mastering station
MICHAEL VIDAL: The community response in the music world has been great and highlighted how positive and supportive the scene here in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan in general really is. It’s been really rewarding to hear from people that are discovering new artists that they love through our sessions, and that’s our main goal. From what we hear from the local population in the area, they seem to enjoy the fact that the elevator has found a new life in the music community.
M: What do you think the main benefit is of intimate multi-camera video recordings, as opposed to live audience gigs?
OWEN GERRARD: This is a great question! I'll start by saying that nothing does justice to experiencing live music. A video of a live performance cannot communicate the energy in the room of a live performance...however, we have learned that session recording is an in-depth art of its own. Being able to have hands-on control of the visual and audio elements allows us a lot of creative freedom. Having multiple cameras rolling at once allows us to select the focal points of the performance at any given moment and present details that could easily be missed by folks in a live audience. The ability to experiment with lighting and camera movements to match the vibe of the performance is also really fun and effective.
M: What do you think the future holds for the Vator Sessions?
OWEN GERRARD: In general, the future does look a little blurry due to the tumultuous state of the world at the moment, but we certainly haven't lost interest from artists or viewers! As long as there is interest from viewers and artists, we can continue doing Vator Sessions for the foreseeable future. We may also be able to incorporate other types of events and collaborations when the world moves toward normalcy which is exciting. Through experience, we are growing in our abilities and we are all quite involved in one way or another so we're going to continue doing our thing!
Thank you so much to The Vator Sessions team for agreeing to this interview, as well as aiding musicians and entertaining locals during this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Vator Sessions team is comprised of Owen Gerrard, Michael Vidal, Darian Dutchak, Brett Arnelien, Jourdain Basaraba and Kayle Nies.