Diane Motel and The Windsor Scene: Artist Profile

Windsor’s music scene is a diverse compilation of genres and musicians, as it showcases not only local artists and bands, but also music from all over the world. With genres ranging from heavy metal, to folk, and so on, Windsor presents a wide network of music, with a vast present day and historical music scene. The members of Windsor’s Diane Motel, Travis Laver (vocals and acoustic guitar), Caleb Farrugia (percussion), Josh Fraser (electric, slide, and acoustic guitar), Jo Meloche (vocals), and Eric Welton (bass, vocals and acoustic guitar) all play an active role in the city’s music scene of the present day. Their diverse musical catalogs showcase the multitude of sounds that make up the Windsor scene, each member having played in numerous bands prior.

Diane Motel’s distinct Windsor identity is entrenched even in its name, which is derived from a long existing local hotel, being something of a Windsor landmark in its own right. The name Diane Motel arose due to a comment Welton made about the how the majorette sign from the motel would make a great album cover. Roughly a month away from their first show and still nameless, Laver asked: “Why not just name the band Diane Motel?” In doing so, not only did they come up with a great name, but they also gave tribute to one of Windsor’s historical buildings. Diane Motel was built in 1963 and is still running today.

This alt-folk band, comprised of two Windsor-Essex natives, was formed in 2013 and made their debut at Phog Lounge in March 2014. When asked to specify his favourite places to play in Windsor, the band’s frontman, Laver, first states The Fish Market (which used to be in a big blue building on the corner of Chatham and Ferry), though he also adds that “you can’t not say Phog”, as the bar’s owner, Tom Lucier, gives opportunities to local musicians who wouldn’t be able to find a place to play otherwise. The Phog Lounge is also the original home of the Windsor Rock Wall which has since been moved to SB Contemporary Art. Lucier’s initial idea for the project was to map out and illustrate the interconnectivity of Windsor’s music scene by linking individual musicians to every band they have ever performed live with which then emphasizes the Windsor scene as a cohesive unit.

Every member of Diane Motel has a place on the Windsor Rock Wall, as a member of the band, but also as members of the previous groups that each member has played with. All of the band members have experience playing solo or in other bands before the formation of Diane Motel. Travis Laver, the lead singer, has released two solo albums, Bluebeard in 2008, and Outside the Factory Gates in 2010. Caleb Farrugia, on percussion, has played with What Seas, What Shores, and James O-L & the Villains. Josh Fraser used to play in the unquiet dead, and Surdaster. Jordon “Jo” Meloche, the youngest member of the band has played in Teenage Geese. Eric Welton played in the unquiet dead, Square Root of Margaret, and The Eric Welton Band. Travis Laver has also collaborated with other musicians in past attempts to start a band. In describing the formation of Diane Motel. Laver says that once he formed the group, everything just clicked right away. They were all on the same page, and they all had a cohesive singular vision for what they wanted the band to be.

Every previous band would have had varying influences and niches within the Windsor scene. James O-L & the Villains is a grunge folk rock band with James O-L as the lead singer, alongside a four-piece band (the Villains). They seek to blend music of the past that moved previous generations, into music that is progressive and relevant today. The unquiet dead, a 9-person roots ensemble from Windsor, seeks to utilize the honesty of blues and the quiet curiosity of folk. What Seas, What Shores is an instrumental soundscape band that uses a mixture of instrumental genres and ambient noise, allowing the listener to project their own meaning onto the music, in the absence of lyrics. Surdaster is a progressive psychedelic rock band. Teenage Geese is a “flock and roll band” who released their first album cat and cormorant on April 2nd, 2016. The Square Root of Margaret seek to evoke every great musical format from the 1960’s and combine them together into a sensory overload, “akin to taking a particularly pleasing hallucinogenic drug for the first time”. The Eric Welton Band is a folkish rock band led by Eric Welton.

Diane Motel’s (the band) most recent album Lonesome for the Colour was released November 24th, 2017. While they did not use the Diane Motel’s sign for cover art, the cover features the artwork of Greg Maxwell, a local artist. The artwork was inspired by the town of Okemah, Oklahoma which is the hometown of Woody Guthrie. According to Laver, visiting the town was “weirdly disappointing”, as it’s just a “random little town in Oklahoma.”  The album’s title and the line “lonesome for the colour of the skin that once warmed that old hand” was inspired by an old man that Laver saw while sitting in a cafe somewhere in Oklahoma. He looked like an old farmer; but he had the palest skin Laver had ever seen. Laver couldn’t help wondering how he had become so pale living in Oklahoma, until realizing that the old man probably wasn’t always that colour.

Alternative Folk is Diane Motel’s self-proclaimed genre, but they also list off Alt-country, alt-folk, psychedelic, pre-punk, and many more genres on their website. Laver describes their music as a way to “infuse folk sensibilities with more of an ambient, shoegaze kind of feel”, however, and I think this is a far better representation of the band’s genre. Two descriptions of Lonesome for the Colour also stand out when trying to describe their music; the first is that it blends soulful harmonies with insightful lyrics, the second being it juxtaposes the familiar and the original.

When asked about where he thought Diane Motel’s place within the Windsor Scene was, Laver describes his own experience following folk artists like Rob Leary and Kelly Hoppy (older Windsor artists he looked up to), around the time (the mid-2000’s) there was a sort of folk revival. Laver felt that Windsor had its own take on this folk revival that was more of an “industrial folk, or dirty, gritty folk” sound, one that is uniquely Windsor. Today, Laver notes that this is no longer the genre dominating Windsor’s music scene, and that Diane Motel is now “transitioning into being the old dudes in the scene”, like Leary and Hoppy were when Laver was coming up.

The members of Diane Motel represent a network of genres, and bands within the Windsor Music Scene itself. This is especially important to note when examining the interconnectivity of the Windsor music scene. While neither Windsor nor Chatham (a small town in Windsor-Essex County) are known as being the musical meccas of Canada, they both are home to thriving music industries; from the Chatham’s House of Bleen, of which Square Root of Margaret and many other local bands were born out of, to the Phog Lounge, which offers opportunities to many bands starting out or unable to play elsewhere – you can find local music just about anywhere in Windsor-Essex County.

According to a Windsor-Essex music strategy report, “It was top 40 music that truly put [the Windsor music scene] on the map”. This is due mainly to the CKLW Windsor radio station which gained a large following due to its ability to reach 28 states and 4 provinces, making it one of the most important radio stations in defining popular music for North America. The radio station served as a propellant for bands like The Guess Who and KISS, giving them airtime long before their platinum hits. Today, Windsor’s music scene is altogether different, no longer defining the popular music of all of North America. Despite this, Windsor continues to represent a thriving musical industry.

The Windsor scene is vast, showcasing thousands of working musicians living in Windsor-Essex, and that is not to mention those that work other jobs as their main source of income. Windsor is a small but vibrant community with a mixture of large-scale venues, such as Caesars and WFCU Centre, and small-scale venues, such as Phog Lounge and Taloola Cafe. Windsor also has globally respected and renowned production studios such as SLR Studio, Polaris Productions Ltd, and Pushers Studio (where albums by DJ Yella, Tech N9ne, and more have been recorded). There is a lot of potential in this city for growth, partly because of the large American market nextdoor. Nonetheless, there are significant lacking factors, those being, limited rehearsal spaces, unreliable/competitive sources of income, and unfortunate sized venues.

While there is still much to improve, bands like Diane Motel, as well as musicians and artists like Farrugia, Fraser, Meloche, Welton, and Laver continue working hard and representing the diverse interconnectivity that is the Windsor Scene. As the music scene changes and the Windsor Rock wall grows bigger (even if the new bands and artists remain unrecorded), Windsor will no doubt have a history and a future within the music industry to be proud of.

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