Music that inspires dancing and tears

Justin Brake
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Dead Language will release anticipated first album and play final show Sunday

Much as life itself, all good things in it must end. This seems to be the motto and acquiescence of young St. John's folk band Dead Language, which is bracing for the final chapter of a year and a half-long narrative.

The story features four friends and musicians who together channeled emotion and intuition through their music, the unwitting result of which attracted listeners of all ages to their shows.

Dead Language will play its final show Dec. 20 at Bianca's. - Submitted photo by Zach Bonnell

Much as life itself, all good things in it must end. This seems to be the motto and acquiescence of young St. John's folk band Dead Language, which is bracing for the final chapter of a year and a half-long narrative.

The story features four friends and musicians who together channeled emotion and intuition through their music, the unwitting result of which attracted listeners of all ages to their shows.

The final chapter of the story begins and ends Dec. 20 with the release of their first album and a farewell show for those who sang and danced along as the four university students earned their spot in the city's folk music scene.

"All along Dead Language has been a surprise," says lead singer and violinist Katie Baggs, who now teaches elementary school in British Columbia. "I don't know if any of us originally set out to do anything other than make up songs together in the kitchen."

Baggs and friend Ben Rigby crossed paths with local singer-songwriter Matthew Hornell in the spring of 2008 and the band was born.

By summer's end, mandolin player Jonathan Bungay had joined, consummating Dead Language's lineup of four diverse musical personalities.

"We all draw upon very different sets of experiences when it comes to writing and playing music," Baggs explains. "We also have very different goals and priorities when it comes to what is most important about a song. That is why all the arrangements of these songs took lots of time and discussion to work out. Four people each wanting a different thing from a song can end up making it really interesting."

To Rigby, who plays banjo, the band represents a period of transition.

"I think over the last year all four of us have gone through quite a few changes in our personal lives, and the way that gets released seems to be through poetry and playing," he says.

"This CD for me is a period. It's the end of a specific time in my life and I think all of our lives when we had this experience, and it can't continue."

Over the course of a year, Dead Language hosted a folk night at The Ship, jam-packed the Rose and Thistle on Water Street a handful of times, and performed a summer's-end show at Harbourside Park days before Baggs would leave the province to pursue a career in teaching.

But it was their first headlining gig at Bianca's in October 2008 that validated the band's public support in their own minds.

"We realized that people were there because they loved listening to us play and felt connected to our songs," Baggs recalls. "From that point on, every show we played had a singing, dancing crowd. The dancing came as a surprise at first because I consider many of our songs to be somewhat melancholy, but I got used to it and the energy at our shows was always incredibly positive."

The most notable of the singalongs is the Hornell-penned "Easy On Me," an upbeat, infectious and highly danceable number that had all 100 or so singing along at the first Bianca's show.

And on most nights, Baggs' "Celebration Song" and "Ten Times Around" were enough to inspire tears while people were still sweating from the dances.

The self-titled debut features nine songs recorded live at a friend Jake Nicoll's house during the summer of 2009. It was also mixed in St. John's.

The album will be available at the band's final show and in local record stores shortly thereafter.

"I think the Bianca's show is the end of Dead Language as we know it," Baggs says.

"I am thinking of the CD as a document which tells the story of an amazing, difficult and fun time. We're all close friends and I think we'll play together again for sure in some capacity at some time. We've all got a lot going on in our lives and there are new songs to write."

Rigby echoes Baggs' tenderheartedness.

"How honoured and privileged we are to be able to have shared in the making of whatever Dead Language is, and how much honour you feel when people go to your shows," he says.

"Being in a band is like being in a relationship. You have good breakups and you have bad breakups. At times this was a bad breakup and at times it was a good breakup, but you end up better for it in the end," he explains, pausing for a moment as if to find the words to admit - "because you knew it had to happen."

Dead Language will be joined by Saddle Hill for their final show at Bianca's Sunday.

Doors open at 9 p.m. and admission is $10 or $20 for the show plus a CD.

Organizations: The Ship

Geographic location: St. John's, British Columbia, Water Street Harbourside Park Saddle Hill

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