Thrashed Silence is a bilingual Fredericton-based rock quartet. The band will play its first show of 2023 this weekend at Grimross Brewing Company.
Last week I was writing about a play making its world premiere this week at Theatre New Brunswick. During my discussion with playwright Don Hannah who grew up in one of just a handful of English families living in Shediac in the late fifties, he shared a story describing how a friend and fellow playwright once attempted to discourage him from setting a story in New Brunswick. His friend, a fellow Maritimer, actually told him, “Don’t do it. It’s the kiss of death.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that quote ever since. As someone whose writing focuses almost entirely on music, art and related stories about New Brunswick, the thought someone would consider our province a terrible place to set a story rubbed me the wrong way. But it did get me thinking.
Hannah attempted to explain his friend’s reasoning by telling me how in theatre, Prince Edward Island has Anne of Green Gables, and Cape Breton and Newfoundland share a uniqueness in their way of life that is appealing to audiences in other parts of the country, while some view New Brunswick simply as being a land of oligarchs spread across a region divided by language. Where is the broader appeal in that?
A few days later I found myself in a lengthy Messenger chat with Fredericton-based musician Jason Robichaud. Robichaud (originally from Tracadie) is a member of the band Thrashed Silence (in English) or Silence Saccagé (in French). TSS for short. What started off as a quick chat about the band’s upcoming show quickly morphed into a conversation about French and English music in New Brunswick. More specifically, how rare it is for these two distinct language paths to cross. With the exception of, say, Les Hay Babies, Lisa LeBlanc, Les Hôtesses d’Hilaire, and a handful of others, we don’t see a lot of musical crossover between the province’s two official language communities. Perhaps walking this line could be seen as just another interpretation of what Hannah’s friend called, “the kiss of death.”
“We are all about sharing and fostering community,” said Robichaud, speaking about his band. “When I put together this band, I asked my bandmates to agree with me on one thing. I asked if they could see past creative differences. That way we could create something unique together since we all have different upbringings.”
In a way, TSS is a bit like the province they call home. Half the band (Robichaud and lead guitarist Jonathan Arsenault) are from French parts of the province while the other half (drummer Melissa Lavigne and bassist James McCoy) are from English communities.
“Jonathan and I come from the Tracadie area,” said Robichaud. “We grew up in a Francophone community and school. We listened to French and French Acadian music. Melissa and James Grew up in the Fredericton area. They are mostly uniquely English speaking. Our cultures are not so different except for our language. We all complement each other well. It’s incredible the creativity that flows when we collaborate on creating songs together.”
TSS have plans to release an EP later this year featuring three songs in French and three in English. Robichaud understands the language divide that separates music in the province. He knows it. His bandmates know it. And as confident as his group may be in walking the language line, Robichaud admits to occasionally worrying the band’s chosen path could present a challenge to potential audiences despite being a major motivation behind starting the group in the first place.
“I always second guess myself,” said Robichaud. “Did we do the right thing opting for the easy way to release music and have it played on French community radio stations? Did we lose our potential Anglophone listeners or possible fans? When we advertise our shows should we leave out the fact that we will be incorporating songs of both of New Brunswick’s official languages? Would this turn off or push away people reading or hearing this being advertised?”
As we continued to talk, we tried unsuccessfully to establish an easy answer to these questions. Eventually our conversation shifted to how cultures inform music and how this is often reflected in audiences. Robichaud told me how his Acadian lyrics typically include English words or phrases, because, as him pointed out, that is an important element of his language as a French speaking New Brunswicker. But he doubts if it would work as well in reverse. “I don’t know how receptive it would be if my predominantly English lyrics incorporated French words or sentences,” he said. And he’s probably right to think so. Music is an uphill battle at the best of times. But music in New Brunswick that speaks to both French and English audiences in their own languages, that’s another hurdle altogether. A challenge Thrashed Silence aims to tackle head-on.
Thrashed Silence will be playing their first show of the year on March 25 at Grimross Brewing Company with Dayne Ring and a few special guests.