From the time he was in Grade 9, Matthew Thomson knew he wanted to go to Montreal and play rock 'n' roll. Doing it with friends from home is all the better.
Open Fields is a catchy, alternately sweet and crunchy sounding alternative rock band based in Montreal. Guitarist Thomson, a native of Gander, formed the group along with Glovertown pal Danielle Hamel on keyboards and fellow Ganderite Justin Avery on drums in 2006.
Thomson and Hamel are a couple who first met when both were in Grade 12 at Gander Collegiate and Glovertown Academy, respectively. As luck would have it, they both had intentions of studying music in Montreal. They also had a musical chemistry, leading to the formation of their first project, The Corduroys.
They continued making poppy music as The Corduroys until late in 2006. After Avery, who has known Thomson since they were both 15 years old, moved to Montreal that year, Thomson said a name change was necessary.
This was also due to their being a plethora of bands named The Corduroys, including a Christian rock band who were giving them a hard time.
Getting his start in Gander was a nurturing experience for Thomson, who benefited from getting to know a multitude of likeminded folks.
"Gander had a ton of musicians, and it was a really great place to play. There were loads of guys playing guitar and other instruments working with all kinds of different styles of music, and it was really helpful," said Thomson of the Gander scene that gave rise to groups like Nerbenzer, the Lazy Janes and the Racing Turtles.
Since they moved to Montreal, Thomson and Hamel have made slow but steady progress within the music scene. Last year, Open Fields released a full length CD called "Love What Your Left With," which received some play on CBC Radio 3. They have also shared gigs with loads of Montreal-based bands.
As they have learned with time, breaking through is not easy to do.
"Montreal has this big claim of how close knit the music scene is, but if you're not cool enough, you can't get into it. That's no joke, it really is kind of more snooty then you'd think. It's a beautiful city and I love playing music in it, but it's tough trying to make it," said Thomson.
The success of major alternative rock acts like Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade has made Montreal a darling in the music press. This has led to an abundance of musicians flocking to the city, resulting in competition for bandmates and live shows.
"There's so many bands that are trying to make it in Montreal," said Thomson.
Compounding those troubles are the gentrification of areas previously dominated by artists and musicians. The Plateau section of Montreal was initially a poorer part of the city whose cheap rent made it attractive to artists.
As the area began to develop a cultural niche, including what Thomson calls some of the best music venues in the city, it began to attract richer folks. Rental costs began to rise and noise complaints started to rain down resulting in the closure of some venues.
A trained recording engineer who studied at Concordia, Thomson hopes to one day make a living from music, but is aware it might not happen in Montreal. "I don't plan to be a musician for the rest of my life. This is just something I really want to do right now."
He would like to open his own recording studio in the future, and thinks Newfoundland and Labrador would be a great place for it. With the remainder of his family back here, Thomson hopes to someday return on permanent basis.
"Growing up I just always loved recording. I actually like recording more than playing live. If I could just record all my albums myself and just make money from that, it's what I'd prefer."
For now though he's content to continue making a go of it in Montreal. Thomson and Hamel live comfortably balancing their personal relationship with their musical collaboration and are not above providing each other with feedback.
"Danielle criticizes my singing all the time, because she's a really great singer and knows exactly what she's doing, whereas I'm not so great," said Thomson, with a laugh.
The band is presently putting the finishing touches on a new six-song recording, which they hope to push hard towards college radio stations, media and record labels. Their last album can be purchased from the band's website or at Fred's Record in St. John's.