Regina’s Government Town has been described as Celtic-tinged, country-flavoured, alt rock, folk, pop and Canadiana. They’re OK with that.
Whatever you call it, it’s obviously working. Their self-titled debut album was released in July 2013 and immediately gathered praise, award nominations and airplay. Kudos included being named #2 Best Album of 2013 in the Regina Leader Post by both Taron Cochrane, freelance writer for the Regina Leader Post, and Brad Prosko of B-Rad Studio.
Deeply personal stories, the songs ring with hope and love and truth. “When I’m writing it all starts with a feeling,” says singer-songwriter Mike Harmel. “I play a few chords. I’ll start to hear the melody. Usually a word or idea will pop into my mind and I write a song around that word or concept.”
There’s a certain welcome gravitas in Government Town, that comes with a songwriter who’s a little older, a little wiser, turning kind attention to those shared experiences that shape us all – losing a loved one, finding a passion, trying to live a full life. The imagery remains after the last chord of the gorgeous arrangements has faded.
“We’ve got our own sound, but it’s hard to put a name on it,” says Harmel. “We weren’t looking to create a particular sound or feel. Having eight, mostly self-taught, musicians in the band, we weren’t sure how the music would take shape, but it grew organically. Each band member brings their own style and influence to the songs.”
“I’ve written about 150 songs over the past 15 years, but I didn’t expect anyone to hear them,” Harmel says with a laugh. “I just wrote for myself. Then, when we got the band together in 2011, all of a sudden people were listening to my songs. It was a big step into sharing for someone who’s never even had a Facebook account.”
Harmel’s goal from the beginning was to make music with friends. He grew up with Chris Leier (guitar) and Alan Valente (keyboard). In university, he met Brad Vance (bass) and Miles Hoste (mandolin/banjo/guitar). Not long after the guys started rehearsing together other friends started dropping by with their instruments. That’s when the band started to take shape. Valente introduced Tashia Walters. Her strong vocal harmonies contrast beautifully with Harmel’s voice. Neil Kapoor (violin) and Jason Brinkworth (drums), the only band members with formal music training, help to define Government Town’s signature sound.
With eight musicians in the lineup, you can bet there’s diversity in influences. “As a kid, my mom always had Country AM radio on at the cottage in the summer,” Harmel remembers. “My dad played folk-rock albums from the 70’s and Top 40 Radio cassettes from the 80’s. But I was most drawn to the storytellers . . . Leonard Cohen, Cat Stevens and Neil Young.” His bandmates had favourites of their own: indie rock, pop, blues . . . classical. Despite, or maybe because of, the diverse influences, the band’s sound works – everyone recognizes good music.
“To me, a good song is a good song, whether it’s the Beatles or Beethoven,” says Harmel. “When you get right down to it, all music is the same thing. It’s melodies, emotion and lyrics. I like a song that tells a story. A melody that evokes a feeling.”
Government Town’s third album III was released in May 2016 and is the band's third album in as many years. "When we made our first album in 2013, we had never been in a studio before," Harmel explains, "so we were careful. We didn't take a lot of chances with the music. I think with this album, we were all feeling more confident and you can hear it in the music. This album has a more polished, produced feel to it."
“Government Town, an indie rock band from Regina, that totally got me staring off into the distance, pondering the meaning of happiness and life. When is the last time any music made you feel like that?”
Welcome to East Van, Vancouver, BC
Michael Harmel - Lead Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica
Christopher Leier - Guitar
Bradley Vance - Bass
Miles Hoste - Mandolin, Banjo, Guitar
Neil Kapoor - Violin
Alan Valente - Keyboard
Tashia Walters - Back-up Vocals
Jayson Brinkworth - Drums