Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir has faith in the power of music to help bassist and Calgary scene vet in his battle with MS

While fans of Calgary’s Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir will delight to hear aptly titled Everything Was a Long Time Ago, the band’s first album release since 2008’s Ten Thousand, they’ll also wish to purchase the album for reasons beyond the band’s forays into pre-modern blues, folk, and country.

Money raised from the record — which features previously unreleased demos, sound checks, alternate takes, and a live track — will go towards helping bassist Vlad Sobolewski as he navigates his journey with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a potentially disabling disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord. He was diagnosed in 2009.

A veteran of Calgary’s music scene in the ’90s and ’00s, Sobolewski’s last local hurrah was as a member of Agnostic, whose old-time, mountain tunes were enjoyed by music lovers in the first decade of the 2000s, as they toured the UK and other parts of Europe to appreciative audiences

Sobolewski, who worked at Calgary’s underground club Night Gallery in 1998/99, doesn’t go out to see live music much anymore but often considers leaving his Red Deer home for a weekend to catch some local Calgary music. He’s been back in Red Deer for just over a year because, “Calgary kind of kicked my ass a bit.”

But it didn’t matter where he was living, for he collaborated on Everything Was a Long Time Ago with Choir bandmate Bob Keelaghan long distance, as Keelaghan lives in Ottawa. And while they kicked ideas back and forth for the release, eventually, they put the album out quietly online in October.

“Finally, we decided just to sort of put it out there and (let it) have a life of its own and see what happens. It’s not like we’re recording new material, although there is talk about doing that at some point. I did mailouts to radio stations (and magazines) but mostly it’s been word of mouth off our web page.”

And while the reason for the release is sad, there’s something to be said for going back and cherry-picking tracks from you past. “It’s totally cool. You know, the last time we played was 2009, so more than 10 years ago. Putting out that music and people are still wanting to hear and wanting to buy is a great feeling. The feedback has been really good. It’s not like we’re going out on tour, but, it’s been cool. 

“Bob was the one who originally started the Vlad fund for me, selling all our backlog of CDs to raise money, and then we were talking about this album and these old tracks, so yeah, Bob was the one that put it all together, mixed it down,” he continues. 

“I heard it on the radio the other day and it sounded good, he mixed it really well, and some people I talked to said it sounds really good through stereos, which is important.”

As for his health, Sobolewski remains optimistic. “The MS always affected my right hand and arm and that’s when I stopped playing, and … (in October 2021) my left arm and hand started going, so I couldn’t even use them, like, what dies one do with no hands, right?

“So that’s when Bob started the Vlad fund and things have gotten better since then. My left arm has come back. With MS, you have episodes so, it’s like a relapse I guess or something where everything gets bad again. I have primary relapse and remitting MS, so it comes and goes. I relapse and things get worse, then it evens out, and it gets good for a while. But the relapses I haven’t had for a little while; October was bad for that.”

Despite these not inconsiderable challenges, somehow the bassist is upbeat. “Well, I am very fortunate. When I was diagnosed (2009), that’s the last time I was on tour, right? So, it’s been over 10 years now, and with my right hand I can still sort of grab things but I can’t really do anything else. I know people who have been diagnosed with MS and within two years they are in a wheelchair. So, I am very fortunate that this is a slow progression. 

“And I have friends with cancer, I have friends with diabetes, so there are people way worse (off) than me. I’m still able to move around and do things. It’s slowing me down. 

“Losing music was really tough. It was my whole life. Playing music, playing in bands, at the Gallery, music, music, music, and it was slowly taken away. I finally had to sell my beloved stand up (bass); it was just sitting there gathering dust. I remember I had lots of dreams after that about playing music, slapping my bass, then those sort of faded away and now I just look at it like that was another life, when I was in my early 20s or something.”

Having mentioned the idea of recording again, Sobolewski says he could still record. “My left arm still works, and my left fingers still work. I used to play trombone, so I’ve been playing symphonium, which is like a smaller tuba, or I could play tuba, but even that’s tough. I could still make music with them. We’d get a bass player for sure. I would still somehow, you know, we’ve had horns in the band, so, we’d probably do something.”

To purchase Everything Was a Long Time Ago, go to