After our February pop-up at Death Valley's Little Brother, Good Co's Jenna Aquino sat down with KW's Richard Garvey to discuss what it's like to be a full-time musician in Waterloo Region.
JA: How long have you been playing music and how would you classify your sound?
RG: I’m a folk-musician to put it simply. I really just write songs about whatever is important to me at the time. I have songs about everything — from my political ideas to my spiritual wonderings, my love life and even about grapefruit being the best fruit, stuff like that.
I started playing guitar and writing songs when I was about 14. I’d play a lot of open mics and coffee houses. Eventually I joined a group called the Radical Choir which was like a "hippie love protest choir." That was kind of my community and my launchpad for creating, performing, and recording my own music.
Eventually I started a band called Far From Rich and we had a lot of fun. Now it’s ten years down the road and I’m still doing everything [as a musician] myself – it’s all very DIY.
I put out my first album in 2009 and it’s been great to see how much the quality of my stuff has gone up since then. Now I have three full-length albums available on Spotify and two EP’s, with more on the way. I get a lot of support on Patreon as well – a crowd-sourced artist subscription service.
JA: What sort of feeling do you try and create during your shows?
RG: I really just want people to feel together, together. I think sharing the experience of live music with others is really special because there is so much emotion and intention that goes into music and song writing. When people feel that together, it’s like everyone is vibrating and resonating with one another all at once. It’s a big, powerful blend of energy — and every show feels a little different.
Beyond making people feel joyful and united, I think, as an artist, the goal is to tell your truth. To point out injustice and hatred as much as you do love and beauty. I try to write music that will make people think and ask themselves hard questions about what they stand for. You can’t always focus only on the light, you know? The dark is still there, and you have to be able to look at it too.
JA: What are your favourite venues to play?
RG: I actually play a lot of house shows – especially in Kitchener. Unfortunately, a lot of good music venues in town have been closing the last little while. It’s too bad because Kitchener has a lot of artists and creativity, but there isn’t a lot of structure support for the arts locally. That’s sort of why underground shows and DIY studios are so popular. The larger music venues we do have in town don’t often book local acts, much less independent acts. That said, I think Good Company Productions is really starting to help this area develop a more professional music scene and balance out some of the gentrification we’re experiencing with more arts and culture.
Beyond Kitchener-Waterloo I also tour all across Canada two-to-three times a year. I have a really great network of people out west and the music scene there is really open and welcoming – a bit less conservative than Ontario. I’ve found a lot of support for my music out there.
JA: What can you say about your experience making a living as a musician?
RG: A long time ago I was working this really shitty job for a temp agency and I was having a hard time with it. One day on a lunch break or whatever, I was writing a song in my journal and just decided I was going to go home and finish it instead of going back to work because it was more important to me. I never really looked back after that.
People say you’ll never make enough money as a musician and I was told that a lot when I first started but it’s just not true. I mean, it takes a lot of work and dedication and it’s a learning curve for sure – you have to be able to diversify what you do. But, if you’re good and you keep getting better, you can really grow as an artist and build a business around that. It’s crazy, as an independent touring artist, I’m always planning at least eight-to-ten months in advance. You can’t just sit around waiting for stuff to happen to you, especially as an artist. You have to make things happen for yourself.
I make a living playing music and it’s challenging but I love what I do, you know? I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.
You can check out Richard Garvey on all major streaming platforms.