It seems like a typically machiavellian, Eastern Canada attempt to pit westerner vs. westerner, Calgarian vs. Calgarian.
You know, divide and conquer those in the prairie outposts for some kind of cruel and perverse Centre of the Universe, Hunger Games-like sport for their amusement.
When you look at the roster of those 30 acts and artists appearing on CTV’s new musical competition The Launch, you’ll notice that there are only two from this city: Veteran and respected singer-songwriter Amy Bishop, and young but enormously accomplished retro rock act The Static Shift.
You’ll also notice that they will be pitted against one another in an upcoming episode of the series.
“They should have had somebody from Edmonton just so we’d have bragging rights when we kicked their asses,” Bishop jokes before she edits herself for television. “I mean bottoms.”
Actually, if you look at the premise of The Launch it’s perhaps a little less barbaric and musical bloodsport than most singing competitions.
For those unfamiliar with the show, which kicks off Wednesday, Jan. 10, it’s a rather interesting attempt to promote, as Bishop says, “developed but not known” Canadian acts. The concept is that those 30 acts chosen from thousands of entries across the country are divided into groups of five, paired with two mentors, given a hit-worthy song which they’re separately trained and coached on, with one of those acts then, at the end of each episode, given that track to record in an attempt to help “launch” their career.
Or, as Bishop says, with The Launch, you’re “starting with the song and you’re finding the artist that suits that song best … (is) better equipped to make that song their own.”
So, again, there are no knockout rounds, tribal councils or snarky, Cowell-esque comments from self-absorbed judges, nor even the sense that artist is being pitted against artist due to the fact that there was never any actual interaction between them.
In fact, as both Bishop and the boys from The Static Shift explain, they weren’t even really sure which other acts would be featured on the song, on the episode — the only knowledge they had that each was involved was unconfirmed sightings from across the hallway in the studio facility.
“They encouraged everyone to, ‘Be in your own zone and focus on your music.’ ” says Static Shift drummer Isaiah Stonehouse during an interview with the band at the Wild Rose Taproom, while noting that he thought he saw Bishop — whom the band had played a gig with earlier in the summer before the five-day September filming in Toronto — but his two other bandmates, guitarist-frontman Mitchell Brady and bassist Keone Friesen, dismissed him.
Bishop, too, had only a vague notion that there were fellow Calgarians involved, and actually was happy to be distanced from any sense of competition, where they were all ultimately aware “one artist or group gets launched and the other four don’t,” but there was no real direct head-to-head battle.
“I’d still be rooting for those other people,” she says with a laugh. “There’d be this torn feeling of, ‘Well, I really like that person, but I still want to beat them.’ ”
The mentors over the course of the series include such notables as Shania Twain, Fergie, Jennifer Nettles from country act Sugarland, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and’ 80s icon Boy George.
In The Static Shift and Bishop’s episode — which will air at a yet-to-be-confirmed-date in the coming weeks — they were paired with Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue and hit-making songwriter, musician and producer Dann Huff, who has worked with a who’s who of talent over the decades including everyone from Whitney Houston and Barbra Streisand to Megadeth and his own rock act Giant.
The Static Shift crew admit they weren’t that familiar with Huff, but when discovering who they’d be working with, did their homework and were, not surprisingly, blown away.
“To be in front of a guy like that, it’s like, ‘Whoa.’ Because he’s worked with everybody,” says Friesen.
Bishop was more familiar with him, thanks to the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet he worked on titled You Can’t Make Old Friends, which she admits “brought me to tears” the first time she heard it.
And Sixx? Here she acknowledges a little less familiarity.
“I knew the hits, you know, Girls, Girls, Girls,” she says. “But mostly from when I was over at my friend’s house and they were listening to the hard rock. And then I’d go home and listen to the Carpenters and Anne Murray.”
She laughs, noting that she was surprised when she saw that he was her mentor.
“But he’s such a sweet, gentle fellah. A nice guy. And when you listen to the music and see the hard life that artists like that you assume they’ve lived, I was expecting to have somebody a little harder … And he is just such a nice, nice man.”
The Static Shift, not surprisingly, were well aware of Sixx, the Crue and their reputation, but concur entirely with Bishop’s assessment.
“He’s a really sweet guy,” Friesen says. “He’s really kind and knows what he’s talking about, for sure.”
Stonehouse agrees. “One of the cool things about having Nikki Sixx on our episode, too, is that he has experienced many ups and downs in his musical career, so he was able to give us lots of advice from that sense.”
The rest of the experience of shooting The Launch, they all agree was a pleasure. The only real difficulty they had was coming to terms with the elephant, or, rather camera, in the room that was filming their every moment — good or bad.
“I had such a hard time with it,” Bishop says and laughs. “I felt like Michael Scott from The Office …
“But in the moment, when I was singing or in the coaching or being mentored by Nikki, I felt like I was able to just be present in the moment with that person.”
“It was a challenge to get out of that mindset about it,” Friesen agrees about the TV eye that was always on them. “It was challenging.
“But it was also fun … I think it only made us a better band.”
As for any worry about how they’re portrayed or whether or not any minor arguments or meltdowns are going to be ramped up to manufacture drama or conflict, The Static Shift aren’t worried, comfortable with the band dynamic they have created over the past five-plus years together.
“Ultimately whatever happened I think it’s cool what this documented,” Brady says, noting they rarely fight anyway. “Whatever they decide to show, I think they’re in it for the artists. They’re not in it for shock value … It’s not a reality TV show. I mean there are aspects, but ultimately it’s a show about music.
“So we’re just excited to see what happens.”
And although they already know what did indeed happen and who actually “won,” they all uniformly describe it as “an incredible experience” and consider it an honour to be involved in the first season of something special.
As as to whether or not they’re ready for whatever might come from what Bishop describes as “like getting into and elevator and skipping the stairs,” here, too, they’re looking forward to the opportunities ahead — as daunting as they might be.
“My career has changed,” she says simply. “To go from obscurity somewhat to having three million people watch the show and know who I am, that’s going to be a huge thing to adjust to.”
“We’re hoping that this opportunity will just give us a bigger audience,” Brady says. “More people at the shows, man, because we love playing shows. We just want more people to hear about us, and this show is going to make that happen, it’s going to help us do that, and we’re really excited just to see what goes on.”
“Music is something that we’ve always wanted to do,” Friesen says, “and the fact that what can come out of this could give us a really good shot at that—”
Stonehouse interjects cheekily, “It could launch us.”
The Launch premieres Wednesday, Jan. 10 on CTV. The episode featuring Amy Bishop and The Static Shift airs Jan. 24. If you want to catch these local artists live, Bishop performs Jan. 18 at the Blues Can and Jan. 20 at the Ironwood, The Static Shift Jan. 27 at Mikey’s on 12th.