Brian Byrne and his buddies find an artful way to fight autism
There’s something that happens to you as you get older, Brian Byrne says, that makes you realize your place in life. At 37 years old with two daughters and a son on the way, Byrne realizes he’s not a young kid anymore. An Old Classy Dog, is how he likes to put it.
“You get to a certain point where it’s not all about self-gratification,” the I Mother Earth frontman explains. “That’s really prevalent when you’re young and you’re in this industry; it’s a real chest-pumping thing. I really stayed away from that, being like that and thinking I’m important — I hope so, anyway. Old Classy Dogs are guys like me who have come to that age where I really just want to do what I do and do things for others if I can and show my kids that Daddy’s all right.”
Byrne is a native of Steady Brook who joined Canadian rock band I Mother Earth as a vocalist in the late ’90s. He recorded two albums with the group, the most recent one 2003’s “The Quicksilver Meat Dream,” and has released two full-length solo records including 2010’s three-song EP, “Boots and Blood.” I Mother Earth has played a number of live shows over the past year, having announced an end to their hiatus last January, and Byrne has continued to perform as a solo act. I Mother Earth was one of the headliners at this year’s George Street Festival, and Byrne, who’s based in Ontario, was back in St. John’s earlier this fall to play an acoustic show at Turkey Joe’s.
Having seen longtime success as a musician (as well as a tattoo artist), Byrne has recently launched his very first clothing line, OCD (Old Classy Dogs) Collective, starting with a line of T-shirts designed to raise awareness of autism. Having a line of clothes is something Byrne said he’s often thought about over the years, but he never wanted to do “the gratuitous rock thing,” selling clothing just for the sake of fame or money. It was Byrne’s friend, Jason Wells, and his 10-year-old son who inspired Byrne to come up with the line of T-shirts.
“Aiden is autistic and almost completely non-verbal,” Byrne explains. “Jason took his son to Aloha Toronto, which is the Canadian chapter of Surfer’s Healing. He went and said it was so life-changing and how incredible the people were and how well they work with the family, just how inspired he was and how he and his wife couldn’t stop crying all weekend, and how he hadn’t seen Aiden that happy his entire life.”
Surfer’s Healing camps are hosted in towns across Canada, the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico, with the goal of exposing people living with autism to the experience of surfing. Experienced surfers work one-on-one with children with autism, teaching them to ride waves.
Upon seeing his friend’s reaction, Byrne decided to incorporate his love of clothing with his desire to help families affected by autism, with Wells as his project partner.
“I said, let’s actually pick a family and get them what they need to get to a Surfer’s Healing camp. We’ll do it again and again, as many times as we can throughout the year.”
Byrne — thinking, “Nobody’s going to buy enough T-shirts from the I Mother Earth Guy,” he says, laughing — chose to recruit some Old Classy Dog friends with celebrity power to help design the shirts. On its first run, OCD Collective has launched a collection of T-shirts with artwork by people including Our Lady Peace singer Raine Maida, musician Sam Roberts, CBC TV host George Stroumboulopoulos, and actor/comedian Shaun Majumder, a fellow west coast Newfoundlander.
“I’ve come in contact with some people who are absolutely beautiful human beings, like all those guys,” Byrne said. “There are actually other people in the wings waiting to do this with us. It was an incredible thing: there wasn’t a single artist or musician or photographer or tattoo artist that I’ve talked to that I had to do some kind of hard pitch; everybody’s like, ‘Yep, I’m in, 100 per cent.’ There wasn’t anybody that I had to press. I kind of made the decision in my mind that if I did have to chase after anybody, then they really weren’t right for what we were doing, anyway. For it to be the thing that I want it to be, it’s just got to come from the heart 100 per cent, and I really, truly believe that.”
The designs on the T-shirts are modern and, for the most part, quite simple. Stroumboulopoulos created a linear design with surfboards, while Roberts made a stick-figure surf kid on stylized waves with a sunset. Majumder’s is the most colourful of the line so far: ocean, cliffs and sunset, with the word “LIVE.”
“I am honoured to be a part of such a great cause,” Majumder said this week. “As a Newfoundlander, I feel a deep connection to the ocean, (and) the fact that proceeds from the sales of these original OCD Collective shirts can help send kids to (Surfer’s Healing) camp puts a smile on my face.”
Funds raised from the sale of the shirts will go towards giving families the opportunity to take part in the annual Paskowitz Autism Family Surf Camp in San Diego, Calif. All the OCD Collective T-shirts will have a QR code on them, allowing people to scan it to read the stories of the families being helped, the artist behind the design, the current monetary goal and how close the project is to achieving it. It’s a way to get the public involved and aware of what autism is, Byrne says.
Autism spectrum disorder is a range of conditions characterized by difficulties with socialization and communication, as well as repetitive patterns of behavaiour. According to Autism Speaks Canada, roughly one in every 110 children are diagnosed with the disorder, which is more common in boys than girls. There is no known medical detection or cure, and the cause has long been debated.
Byrne hopes to expand the OCD collective members to include other musicians, artists, athletes and celebrities.
“Anybody who wants to give back and who sees this as a good thing with good heart and spirit,” he explains.
OCD Collective T-shirts are available online at www.ocdcollective.com.