In the 70s, professional musicians played clubs every night, throwing down all of the hits of the day. Then DJs came in with their economic efficiency and wiped the musicians out. There was still good money in the music industry for original artists, so the cover band was demoted to a second rate part-time job and artists chased the dream of writing the next big hit.
Original music doesn't pay much anymore, so we’re starting to see cover bands come back in a big way. It’s fun, the audience already knows your material and there is pretty good money to be made.
The other day, I ended up opening for a SUPER cover band, Dwayne Gretzky, at the Horseshoe Tavern. They played four Fridays in February as an annual residency and each night was sold out at around 9pm, with a 2-hour wait in line outside (in the cold).
I’ve tried my hand at cover nights as a fun one-off, but these guys are making a real go of it – with over 400 songs in their rep and counting. It’s quite a phenomenon, so for this month’s post I thought we could all benefit from a little insight into the Dwayne machine.
One of DG’s three front-people, Tyler Kyte, recently moved to Hamilton after years in Toronto. I hurled some questions at Tyler about his experiences in the cover world and he hurled some answers back. Enjoy!
SM: Who are you and where did you come from?
TK: My name is Tyler Kyte, I’m from Lindsay, Ontario.
SM: What led you to become a musician?
TK: My father is a musician so we grew up around instruments and rehearsals. All my friends were into music as well so we started a rock band in high school. When I saw The Hip ring in the year 2000 at the ACC I decided that I wanted to do music for a living.
SM: When I first met you, you were Tyler from Sweet Thing. Sweet Thing did the major label thing, toured Canada to support a record and then broke up not too long after that. It was a great record and you had label support, so what happened?
TK: Good question. I ask myself that a lot. Short answer is “we broke up."
Because Sweet Thing was a collective, it didn’t belong to any one person. It didn’t have one artist, who at the end of the day was responsible for the music and image. This made it easy for people to not feel responsible. Once the thread started to unravel there was nothing that could really stop it.
I thought Sweet Thing was going to be my life. I had accepted that this was my role and my best chance at making a living playing music. We had a great team, lots of talent and ambition. But it can be hard sharing dreams and careers with five people. I tell myself that it was for the best, it was never meant to be.
SM: When you and Nick were talking about starting this whole cover thing with Dwayne Gretzky, what was the first conversation like? Just daydreaming? Were you guys actually talking about doing this as a mainstay in your artistic life, or was it just a relief from other artistic pursuits?
TK: Initially it was just relief from other artistic pursuits. As the drummer for Sweet Thing, it was my opportunity to sing and play guitar. We were surrounded by a bunch of musicians who were in the same boat and all of us lived in the same apartment building, which had a jam space in the basement. It was called The Bunker. This became our hang zone and our chance to play with nothing at stake, just for fun. We didn’t even think we’d ever play shows. We were just jamming at our get togethers and during the intermission of hockey games.
We got lucky with our first few shows. People actually came out and had a good time. Thats when I approached the Dakota about doing a residency in the summer of 2011.
We were probably two years into playing with DG before Nick and I realized it was something we could do full time.
SM: Anyone who has seen Dwayne Gretzky know that it's not just a cover band. There is an artful performance of these tunes. After five years of doing covers, how do you keep yourself engaged? What kind of artistic goals do you have with Dwayne?
TK: A huge part of staying engaged is song choice. We’re constantly learning new songs and challenging ourselves. The first themed night we did was covering Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours front to back. That was a real eye opener for us and has encouraged us to expand our repertoire and take chances.
The band also has an amazing time just hanging out. We all love each other so we look forward to shows and rehearsals. Its easy to stay excited about a project when you have such a good time with the people who are involved. Everyone pulls their weight and it makes for a great work environment.
Also, Bobby Kimberley (Young Lions Music Club), our manager, has always helped us book interesting shows. He’s got good instincts when it comes to running events. That takes a lot of pressure off of the band so we can just focus on the performance.
As far as goals are concerned.. I wanna maintain the presence we have in the Toronto music scene. Continue to do the Horseshoe residency in February, 90’s night at the Phoenix in April, some kind of boat show debauchery in the fall and a big NYE show.
We would also love to break into some other markets. If we could have three or four big shows in NYC every year that would be amazing. I also think it would be super fun to do a tour with this band at some point.
SM: Orchestras are basically cover bands. They take other people's works and reproduce them for a local audience - if the performance flops, the audience stops coming. If the music is too obscure, the audience stops coming. I gather it's basically the same with Dwayne Gretzky. You guys tend to swing for homeruns on every tune in the set. Have you had any major flops? What does it take for a song to make it into a Dwayne set?
TK: We have had some flops. I remember we learned Bed Of Roses for a big Valentine's Day show at the Horseshoe. It did not go over well. It didn’t connect with the audience or the band. Although I love that song.
The songs that work best for the band are the songs that we really love. If we have a connection with the song then it makes it fun to learn and fun to perform.
SM: Dwayne just played four sold out shows at the Horseshoe in February and I saw a young woman ask Nick Rose if he would autograph her person. I'd say that you guys are doing REALLY well. Still - is there a part of you that wishes you were playing your own songs? Do you still keep the original music dream alive?
TK: Of course I would love to be playing my own music.
If I could recreate the vibe at a DG show at one of my own shows, I would be in heaven. There’s a big part of me that wishes I was Bryan Adams. I go through phases where I’m really focused on writing original music and I will always have a dream of playing the ACC. That will never go away.
But I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of DG. We get to do what we love for a living.