In and out with the F-Holes

An intimate look at one of Winnipeg’s favourite bands

  • The F-Holes share everything: Apartments, ideas, and wicked fashion sense. Photo courtesy of the F-Holes.

The F-Holes are a local band with unusual instrumentation: Five-string banjo, upright bass, trumpet, pedal steel, guitar, drums and mandolin are just some of the instruments the boys in the band change between. With such a variety of sounds, one wonders what their music sounds like.

“Asking what we sound like is like asking what do you think you look like. I look like Milt Stegal,” said guitar man Blake Thomson.

The answer conveys a certain amount of truth, but after some gentle prodding Thomson gave a more reader-friendly answer.

“There’s sort of a theme through this album. There’s jazzy tunes, there’s blues tunes, but I guess roots is how people tend to describe us.”

Recording their self-titled debut came naturally to F-Holes. Formed in 2004 by friends Patrick Alexandre (vocals/bass), Eric Lemoine (banjo), Thomson (guitar) and Evan Friesen (drums), the band didn’t find their current sound until trumpeter James McKee joined.

“The sound really came together three years ago when James joined the band on trumpet,” said Lemoine. “That’s when I started playing banjo and Pat started playing the upright bass. Until then I played [electric] bass.”

A weekly gig at Hooligan’s Neighbourhood Pub allowed the F-Holes to experiment with different sounds and ideas while demoing acted as a filter to see what really worked. Still, this did not stop the band from recording a couple of last minute songs that had never been tested at shows (“Holding Out” and album closer “Goodbye”). According to Alexandre, the selection process was easy: They put on all the songs they wrote. To Lemoine, that may not be the whole story:

“The ones that sucked, we stopped playing.”

Asking what we sound like is like asking what do you think you look like.

Blake Thomson, the F-Holes

Trial and error has kept the band flexible but has also allowed them to find what works. When it came down to recording an album the guys knew exactly what they wanted, and they got it. Their weekly gig may now be a thing of the past, but that experience has certainly left its mark.

“It’s pretty much how I learned to play the trumpet. These guys knew these songs and played together for a long time and I hadn’t even heard most of them [the songs] before. I played for months without using a microphone because I didn’t know that nobody could hear me!” said the sharply dressed McKee.

The F-Holes took their years of playing experience with them into the Bedside Studio in late 2008. Len Milne recorded the album over the course of three months. It was sealed and ready for their March
27 release.

“It was a really good learning experience. It’s very different compared to playing [shows] because you don’t have to be so busy [dancing, looking good, etc.]. You can really orchestrate what you’re doing. You can really play with the sound and what you’re doing there because there’s so much space,” said Lemoine.

The F-Holes say that their cohesive sound comes from spending so much time together. They readily admit that they barely practice and spend a heck of a lot more time getting drunk and biking around than sitting down and working on material. They not only hang out a lot and play in a band together, they also live together. Alexandre and McKee live in one house while Friesen, Thomson and Lemoine live in another. Being close friends means that they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can be candid.

“One thing is everyone in the band respects each other’s opinions. We can say ‘that sucks’ or ‘keep doing that’ but no one gets too mad about the ‘that sucks’ part,” said Thomson.

When asked what they wanted readers of The Uniter to know about their music, Blake Thomson had an answer that was in keeping with their style:

“I am 6 feet tall, 205 lbs., blond with piercing Ukrainian eyes and when I take my shirt off, I look like Milt Stegal.”

Published in Volume 63, Number 29 of The Uniter (July 16, 2009)

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