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  • Jordan Snobelen

Shy Harry embraces change with new album, 'Yestermind'

Langdon Hall brought the sand and tiki torches, while Cambridge band Shy Harry brought its groovy licks to the stage last Tuesday at the historical hotel destination. Attendees dressed with intent; sporting sandals boat shoes, light button-ups and flowing dresses, mingling around high tables draped in white cloth, sipping on drinks and tasting appetizers.

Typically heard reverberating off the walls of Cambridge’s melting-pot, local pub scene, the music trio, clad in T-shirts and shorts, played to a crowd of about 140 people. What was originally planned as a pop-up pool party evolved under the threat of a looming grey sky, taking the show under the protection of Langdon Hall’s large, wood-beam gazebo spruced up with beach balls and pool floats.

The event kicked off a string of shows across southern Ontario this month, on the cusp of the launch of the band's new album, Yestermind.

While the official album launch won’t be until September — along with a rumoured party to mark the occasion — the band will be playing from Yestermind’s tracklist at shows taking place in Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, Toronto and ending off at Wasaga Beach.

Yestermind took the band on a cross-province trip to Nova Scotia and back in a whirlwind endurance recording spree.

After finishing up a show at Galt’s The Black Badger pub last winter, the band embarked on a 20-hour drive to begin recording at Sonic Temple in Halifax. The group got to work right away after arriving, spending three days straight laying down the first five tracks of the new album.

Eric Bolton, Shy Harry’s anything-but-shy lead man, recorded previous solo efforts at the studio and knew he wanted to return with the band, on the trail of past established artists, such as Great Big Sea, Blue Rodeo and Matt Mays, who have recorded inside the old, vaulted-ceiling, attic space.

Grant Gimpel, the group’s bassist, said the trip turned out to be a bonding experience, being together in a car and hotel rooms for an extended period of time was a change from the usual routine of playing a show and then going their separate ways.

After playing an East Coast gig, they returned to Hamilton, where the remaining tracks were recorded at Catherine North Studios.

The group said the recording sessions at the two studios were very different experiences but that it would take a well-tuned ear to pick up on any subtle differences between the tracks. They recorded their songs the same way at both locations, taking an open-ended approach with live takes off the floor, and also had Dan Hosh, who worked on their previous self-titled release, master the whole album.

Yestermind is the culmination of six months of writing, and takes a positive direction on love while still approaching struggle. Some songs parallel with the first album, while others are more experimental in tone and resonance, with larger, driving and rockier parts.

The name is borrowed from a song on the band's self-titled album and came to mind after a strange transitional period where Bolton was emerging from an unusual bout of depression, not typical for the musician. Bolton found himself needing to get away from his “yestermind” and embrace the change talked about in the lyrics of the original song, which refer to climbing out of a valley and up a mountain.

“You get comfortable in a bad place; you start to connect yourself with that. It’s a weird thing we do as humans," he said.

In the past, the musicians have been shy about letting their own tracks out to play at shows, but with everything poured into their upcoming release, the stakes have risen. The band plans to unapologetically balance out their typical cover-song repertoire with their own music.

It’s one of the reasons Bolton is looking forward to playing at Wasaga Beach. The first time they were brought out to the beach town, it was because of their original music.

“It was really cool to have a group of people who knew our music and wanted that. It was kind of rare,” he said.

Bolton and Gimpel have been jamming together for the past 14 years, having met at Galt Collegiate Institute. Drummer Ryan Whitney jumped on the bandwagon in 2016, after their previous drummer relocated. Shy Harry started out with East Coast-inspired folksy songs and slowly evolved into the bluesy, groove and funk band they are today.

It’s a soulful, dreamy genre, which the tightly knit trio handles well at the Langdon show. Gimpel humbly carries the background rhythm on bass, until it comes time to belt out a line over the mic. Whitney finds his way into a song, and by the end it’s not just about hitting skin. He’s moving with the music, carrying with his fills and leaning into the anticipation of a crash cymbal as the song comes to a head. Eric is often looking around, reading the crowd; it’s an art he’s come to hone over time.

You can count on him catching the eye of someone he knows, lingering with the moment, his smile spreading. When he’s not gauging the room’s vibe, his laid-back, almost hippie esthetic comes out with dirty-blond, over-the-shoulder-length hair hanging in his face as he melts into a Hendrix-style flourish or smooth Mayer rake on his custom-made Hart guitar.

For the first time since starting out, Bolton said the confidence is there for the band to become something larger. They’re handling all the work themselves for getting the new album released digitally, wanting to call the shots and retain their work.

Much like Yestermind, Shy Harry enters into a fresh mindset, feeding off the mentality of a new chapter in the Cambridge band’s bold direction to claim space for its songs and to get its message out on the proverbial mountain tops.

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