It may not be The Oscars, but for Canadians it's the next best thing. The Genie Awards have been celebrating achievements in Canadian cinema since 1979, and this year a Gander native is up for an award.
Matthew Thompson, originally from Gander, has been nominated for a Genie Award along with fellow Newfoundlander Cherie Pyne. The pair is up for the award in Achievement in Music – Original Song for the song, Tender Steps, which was written and recorded for the Newfoundland film Crackie. The film was written and directed by Sherry White and stars Mary Walsh and upcoming actress Meghan Greeley. It is a drama about a young woman growing up in a small Newfoundland town who has been abandoned by her crack-addicted mother.
Mr. Thompson, a long-time musician, grew up in Gander, and moved to Montreal to attend Concordia University where he studied electro-acoustics and sound recording. He met fellow artist Cherie Pyne in Montreal when he recorded and co-produced an album with her in his home studio.
Mr. Thompson said Ms. Pyne, a well-known musician in the St. John's music scene, was first approached by the film's producers to write the lyrics for the ending song for the film, but was later asked to write and record the song, in just two weeks.
“Cherie was kind of stuck because they needed the song in two weeks, and she knew me because we were friends and I recorded her last album, so she contacted me and I said sure, I'll help you out,” Mr. Thomson told The Beacon.
Mr. Thompson said Ms. Pyne already had the lyrics so the pair worked on the melody and the music together and came up with a demo of what would be their Genie-nominated song, Tender Steps.
“They gave us the clip of the cue for the song and some ideas of what they wanted so we worked with that,” he said.
The end product was a six-minute-long song, the first half that coincides with the final scenes of the movie, stark and simple with just Ms. Pyne's voice layered with several harmonies and effects. The song crescendos and breaks the a capella at about three minutes with the simple addition of Mr. Thompson on acoustic guitar, sending the song into the movie credits. The song has a haunting feel that, although somewhat stripped down and bleak, resonates the listener with the feeling of triumph over some great obstacle. The lyrics are simple and repetitive and echo the oddly triumphant feel of the song. Ms. Pyne sings over and over the words “no heroes parade, just a white flag, matched by your own and tiny steps are made.”
The demo was sent to the movie's producers, who, according to Mr. Thompson, said they liked it so much they asked for a second song in the same timeline.
In just two weeks the pair wrote, recorded, and mixed two songs for the Crackie. The second song was titled, The Swallowed Times, and appears earlier in the film. The rest of the film's soundtrack was written by Duane Andrews.
“We really didn't expect anything of it. It was the first time both me or Cherie have done anything for film. It was a really great opportunity they gave but for us it was a job, we did it, it was fun, and we figured that was it,” said Mr. Thompson.
He said it was just before Christmas when Ms. Pyne was contacted by the Genie academy to send in a demo of the song, Tender Steps.
“We were kind of surprised. We were like, wow, that's pretty exciting,” said Mr. Thompson. “We didn't think anything of it but we thought it was cool they were at least considering us.”
Mr. Thompson said even when they were invited to the announcement of the nominations they were skeptical that they were nominated.
“It came to our category and the song was announced and we still weren't sure after they named it because everything was in French, even though me and Cherie both speak and understand French but sometimes you miss things,” he said. “But it turns out we were nominated.”
The awards ceremony will be taking place on March 10, 2011 in Ottawa, and will be hosted this year by the one and only William Shatner of Star Trek fame.
It's Mr. Thompson's first time being nominated for an award for his effort and he said he is honored to just be considered and looking forward to attending the show with Ms. Pyne and his fiancé.
“It's very gratifying and I'm hoping it will lead to better things, more opportunities,” he said. “When you're a musician who has been playing for so many years, recording, writing, to be recognized for something you've worked on, just being nominated is really nice.”
“When you're a musician who has been playing for so many years, recording, writing, to be recognized for something you've worked on, just being nominated is really nice.” —Matthew Thompson
Although Mr. Thompson has been involved in the Montreal music scene for a number of years, his roots in music started while growing up in Gander.
Mr. Thompson said he took piano lessons from a very early age and he got his first guitar in sixth grade. Throughout his school career in Gander he was very active in playing, writing, and recording music in several local bands.
“When I was growing up in Gander the music scene was brilliant, everybody was really into it. It was a small town so there wasn't many places to play, but just for a local scene the amount of musicians that were part of it, and how everyone was friends and trying to help each other out,” he said. “There was a big group of us and everyone was writing and recording their own music, and there were so many good musicians to play with.”
Mr. Thompson said he remembers recording his high-school band, The Racing Turtles, on an old eight-track cassette recorder. “Listening back to some of those recordings is kind of embarrassing,” he joked. “I wasn't a very good singer back then.”
Since moving to Montreal, Mr. Thompson has been heavily involved in the music scene playing with his band, Open Fields, which includes his fiancé and another Gander native Mr. Thompson played with while growing up. The band has released a full-length album and an EP. Mr. Thompson also has a solo project and recently released a full-length album, which he wrote and recorded himself. Although he said his primary instrument is guitar, Mr. Thompson plays an array of instruments from drums to banjo.
He also offers up his home-studio and recording and mixing expertise to fellow musicians.
Mr. Thompson said he eventually hopes to go back to school for his masters in audio post-production in hopes of landing a full-time gig in the field.
“I've been trying to get a job in the field, but it's tough to get into,” he said.
Mr. Thompson also said he hopes to record more music with Ms. Pyne in the future.
The Genie-nominated song Tender Steps is available to listen at http://radio3.cbc.ca/bands/Matthew-J-Thomson.