Newfoundland based contemporary folk roots band The Once recently released their latest EP, ‘We Win Some We Lose‘. The album consists of five original tracks, with two live versions that make the extra listen worth it with a surprise twist.
‘We Win Some We Lose’ follows up the trio’s previous work ‘Departures’, which won them an ECMA for folk recording of the year in 2015. More refined and polished, this album delves deep into themes of love, heartache, pain and death and reflects a natural evolution in the band’s sound. Band member Phil Churchill says, “I think each record we make has a new sound. A new space makes a new sound, a new producer makes a new sound, a new instrument makes a new sound…very few conversations go by between us without ‘wouldn’t this part sound cool on a *insert instrument here*?!’ which will illicit great joy coupled with the frown of practical limitations placed on the touring musician. The studio puts everything on the table.”
This new sound is evident straight out of the gate, with ‘The Blood Inside Your Heart (for Olive)’, a raw and emotional first track, inspired by Churchill’s Aunt Ollie, who battled schizophrenia throughout her life. “She was loved and lamented even before her death a couple of years ago. I held her hand along with my cousin Laura, for the days and hours and moments up until and past her death. This song is what I was thinking while she died in our hands,” says Churchill.
The bold first track is less folksy and decidedly more contemporary, with nary a banjo in earshot, perhaps influenced by the band’s close working relationship with Mike Rosenberg, a.k.a Passenger. Band members Churchill, Geraldine Hollett and Andrew Dale met Rosenberg, of ‘Let Her Go’ super fame, at a festival in Glasgow, Scotland in 2013, which lead to musical collaborations and touring the world together. “Mike has solidified in our collective consciousness that we are doing exactly the right thing because we are doing what we want to do. We write what we want, record what we want, we play our shows how we want. The bonus is that people seem to enjoy what we want to do. He’s a brave guy. He does what’s in his heart and head to do. He knows how to remain true” says Churchill.
This track is followed up by ‘Gonna Get Good’, which is basically everything about life they don’t teach you in high school. It’s okay though, because the band placates us with soothing harmonies and lyrics that advise, “And you’ll never get all of the things that you could/It’ll never get easy, but baby it’s gonna get good“.
The most surprising track on the album is surely the sweet love song-turned Shakespearean tragedy, ‘Last Lemonade’. The very next track on the album is a live version of the same song, but with the vocal roles flipped between Hollett and Churchill, making for a subtle and surprising change in tone. Says Churchill of the idea to include both versions on the album, “We had recorded the song with Daniel Ledwell as written, with Geri Sue delivering the penultimate coup de grâce and thought no more of it. A few months later and moments before recording the live version, Geri’s eyes brightened: ‘We’re switching parts’. We’re quite a diplomatic forthright little band. We believe each of us have the right to poison the other and the public has a right to know.”
‘We Win Some We Lose’ is music for the contemplative soul . With Hollett’s haunting vocals and all those ear pleasing harmonies, the album has the mood of a grey day spent curled up on the couch with a hot cup of tea. It’s satisfyingly melancholy; cautiously optimistic.
It also feels like the kind of album that could break the band into the mainstream’s consciousness. If you hadn’t heard of The Once before this album, we think you’re about to in a big way, because the band is currently on tour across the country, promoting ‘We Win Some We Lose’.
On what audiences can expect from their live show, Churchill says, “We don’t get a lot of time with each audience we play for so we want to get to a comfortable and pleasing place quickly for our sake and theirs. Read that as ‘the show is unscripted and subject to change in intent and mood without warning but always for the good of the room.'”