Two years ago, Matthew Hornell and the Diamond Minds played a “no-case” during the East Coast Music Awards in Corner Brook — 20 minutes in a bike shop somewhere in town, Hornell said. These days, that bike shop should be so lucky. Since 2009, the St. John’s-based folk/alternative group — featuring Hornell on vocals, guitar and harmonica, Jonathan Bungay on guitar and mandolin, Paddy Byrne on bass, and Joshua Bourden on percussion — has amassed a loyal fan base, released a successful CD, picked up no less than four 2010 MusicNL awards (for Group of the Year, Molson Pop/Rock Artist/Group of the Year, Entertainer of the Year and Rising Star New Artist/Group of Year), and completed a 3 1/2-month-long cross-Canada tour.
That tour took them to some interesting locations, including the country’s smallest music venue — a place in the town of Bruno, Saskatchewan. Population: 495.
The venue’s capacity was 16 people. The show, needless to say, was sold-out.
“It was great, though — they had a stage and a small sound system and it was just nice. It was really a lot of fun and we really connected to people, and those 16 people paid $10 to get in and then they all bought CDs,” Hornell told The Telegram.
There were plenty of bigger venues that sold out as well: the tour took them to Montreal’s L’escrograffie, where they played with country band The Sure things, and Toronto’s El Mocambo.
Hornell and the Diamond Minds were also featured at last year’s Salmon Festival in Grand Falls-Windsor, and showcased at last year’s Juno festivities in St. John’s, as well as the ECMAs in Sydney, N.S.
In a couple weeks’ time, they’ll be showcasing at the ECMAs once again — this time in Charlottetown, P.E.I. on the Rising Star stage, among others.
This time, unlike the gig in the bike shop, they’ve got more experience from which to draw.
“We’ve got more things to talk to people about,” Hornell said.
The group is touring its way to Charlottetown, with a show in Grand Falls-Windsor Friday, April 8, and one in Corner Brook the next night.
Tonight and Saturday night, the guys are performing their first-ever gigs at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s. Tonight’s show is sold out.
Musicians Bryan Power and Katie Baggs will each open the show with a 30-minutes set tonight; tomorrow night it’ll be Allan Ricketts and Joanna Barker on the bill.
Hornell admits the other musicians’ styles might not exactly fit with the Diamond Minds, but that’s something he likes about having them open the shows.
“It was great, though — they had a stage and a small sound system and it was just nice. It was really a lot of fun and we really connected to people, and those 16 people paid $10 to get in and then they all bought CDs.” - Matthew Hornell
“I think people will really enjoy it,” he said. “We just thought we should try to do some things we’ve never done before, so that’s how we’re approaching the songs, that’s how we’re approaching the stage, and the whole evening.
“It’s a really special space and we’re trying to approach it with as much grace and honour as possible. We were thinking, ‘Oh, we should have this and that,’ but then we thought we should just let that room breathe. There’ll be no big banner, and we’re not going for the smoke machine and the lights.”
Concert-goers can expect a mix of the Diamond Minds songs that have gotten the band to this point in their career, as well as some new arrangements and some new songs the members are trying out, deciding whether or not to include them on their next CD.
Hornell — who does most of the songwriting for the band, drawing his inspiration from things he experiences in life, he said — figures the band will go back into the studio to record material for the next album sometime this summer, between performing at the St. John’s Folk Festival, Writers at Woody Point, and other gigs.
“I think we’re going to try to do a seven-inch vinyl, which will have a song from the record and probably a B-side that won’t make it on the album,” he said. “We’ll probably press a limited quantity of those, we’ve had a few people asking, and it would be fun to have. Then for the new record, we might press the whole thing on vinyl and CD as well.”
Hornell said he’s not quite sure what the Diamond Minds have that has propelled them to popularity this quickly, and even wonders if audience members genuinely do like them.
He and the other band members feel blessed by their success.
“We’ve worked hard but it’s been worth it. The main thing is that we all love each other and we love music. We’re good buddies and want to support each other, no matter what we’re doing,” he said.
Tickets for Matthew Hornell and the Diamond Minds Saturday night show are $12 and are still available by calling the box office at 753-4531 or online at www.rca.nf.ca. Showtime is 8 p.m.