We like to think we had a hand in launching the band’s career, so we’re thrilled to be able to say The Carleton‘s 15th anniversary celebrations will present Hillsburn on our stage on Saturday, July 29th. Show time will be 8 PM and tickets, while they last, are $30 + HST advanced, or $35 + HST at the door.
The constant of change has, deliberately or not, been one of the driving forces of Halifax’s Hillsburn. From its early days as a harmony-heavy folk outfit to three albums spent evolving and expanding its full-band sound to its current iteration as an indie-pop four-piece, songcraft has been the steadfast centre of an often-shifting musical outlook. Its latest EP, Stories, is a culmination of growth and upheaval, movement and loss, the sound of something new being forged in the moment.
Paul Aarntzen, as the story now-famously goes, had given up on music and was living a quiet solitary life in Hillsburn, NS when in 2014 he suffered a health scare that pushed him back to the guitar. He began writing songs again, sharing them with people again, and found himself leading one of the hottest new bands in the country, making it to the Top 10 of CBC’s Searchlight competition on the band’s first single, “Farther In The Fire.” He was the guiding force through the band’s debut EP, and its subsequent full-lengths, In The Battle Years (2016), and The Wilder Beyond (2018). After writing and recording the songs that comprise Slipping Away—pandemic-delayed to 2021—Aarntzen decided he’d had enough of the industry grind and walked away from the band he started. (Is that title prophecy or coincidence? You’d have to ask him.)
So what happens when the songwriter—also the band’s guitar player, sound engineer, video director, and photographer, incidentally—is no longer at the centre? You start moving parts around. Rosanna Burrill, Hillsburn’s dynamic vocalist and violinist, tossed her bow for a bass. Drummer Clare Macdonald learned to sing. Keyboard and soundscapist Jackson Fairfax-Perry added more effects to his already lavish pedal collection. And guitarist Clayton Burrill started writing songs.
The band supporting the words is, of course, the same—rooted in Macdonald’s tasteful, nuanced drumming; enhanced by Fairfax-Perry’s synths and horns; pulled to breathtaking peaks by Rosanna’s robust, emotive voice. Aarntzen, by the way, is still on the scene in a consultant role—he helped Clayton with the occasional lyric, was present at the Sonic Temple sessions to offer insight, and engineered the bulk of Stories in his home studio. The hallmarks of a Hillsburn song are heart and heights, and that doesn’t—it can’t—come from just one person.
Progress is inescapable, loss inevitable, growth unavoidable. But sometimes when you lean into it all, you discover that—even if it made you sad, even if you fought it, even if you worried it might not work—you always had everything you needed.