It was February 2015 and my step son called me asking if there was any way I could try and get him or win him tickets to see a band called Dear Rouge at the Ritual Nightclub the following month. The show was a win your way in promotion being put on by the folks at Live 88.5. At the time I had not heard of Dear Rouge so I decided I’d check them out, from the first song I listened to I was instantly a fan and knew I had to interview them to get to know them and the story behind their music a bit better.
Drew and Danielle both had steady gigs in the music industry, Drew was a member of the band McLean and Danielle was singer/songwriter when their paths crossed and fate brought them together. Their lead single, “I Heard I Had”, off of their first full length album, Black to Gold, is a driving synth-rock jam, which shocked the entire Canadian music industry by steadily climbing the alternative and rock charts to the Top 5 – with no label or album backing it; a rare feat especially for a band that had no previous charting history.
Most recently the duo was awarded the 10th annual SOCAN Songwriting Prize for their song “I Heard I Had.” Danielle and Drew will receive a $10,000 cash prize, along with a Martin D-16GT acoustic guitar, a Yamaha PSR-S950 keyboard, a $500 Gift Card from Long & McQuade, 20 hours of studio time with Timothy Abraham, and six hours of vocal coaching with Amanda Mabro.
The SOCAN Songwriting Prize is an annual competition that identifies 10 outstanding songs written by Canadian emerging songwriters over the past year, as selected by a panel of esteemed music industry experts, and invites the public to vote for the winner. Other than nominees having to be members of SOCAN, the Canadian music rights organization has no role in determining nominees or winners.
Here is the story of Dear Rouge, as told by Drew and Danielle McTaggart themselves:
SC: First of all, I just want to thank you both for taking the time to chat. I know that with your summer schedule being as busy as it is, I’m sure you guys have a mile long list of things that need to be done before you guys hit the road. Lets start with your name, Dear Rouge, we know that it came from, Daniele, your home town Red Deer, Alberta.
Danielle: Uh huh
SC: So how do you guys get that? I mean, do you just say, yeah I got a great name for a band. Let’s call it after Red Deer and we’ll call it Dear Rouge? Is it that simple?
Drew: Yeah, we tribute the name a little bit to my brother, because, uh, Danielle and I were kinda just working on our first demos, and I was visiting him in London, and we were driving all the way up to Scotland, so it was a long drive, and I was showing him the music, and he said “Well, you have to pick a band name really, because that’s the hardest part, coming up with something cool”. So since we had that long drive, we just started brainstorming a bunch of ideas, and he’s like “the best band names are the ones with a story behind it, you know, so figure out something, where she comes from, or something. Maybe there’s a story there”. I’m like, “well Red Deer is like not a cool name for a band, you’d have to switch it around and, make it, you know, that rouge instead of red”. And we just kinda brainstormed it, and we came up with Dear Rouge, and uh, we’re like “yeah, that’s kinda cool, there’s a story behind it”, and so we kinda sat with it a long time. You know, we tried to think of other band names, and we just kept coming back to it, and, uh, and we’re glad that we stuck with it.
SC: Yeah, it is a cool name. It’s not an easy to forget name either, and the story behind it is really cool. When I first read it, I was like “Red Deer? How do you get red Deer? Oh, I get it!” It was one of my slow moments, haha. Now you said that you tried to come up with other band names. Did you have any other band names that came anywhere close that were kinda cool, or was it always just, anything that comes up, it just doesn’t work, doesn’t fit?
Drew: Yeah, we liked the name. We liked, um, we were going to go with Young Lions.
Danielle: The Gallery
Drew: The Gallery, we liked Gold, like Golden Fingers, or golden… something Golden Dance, or, we kept trying that, and we ended up coming up with Dear Rouge. And the cool thing early on is when we type in Dear Rouge, nothing would come up in the internet. It would always be one point or the other one, so it was really easy for us to stick out, where if you type in, like Young Lions, you see baby lions, rather than a band come up.
SC: That’s true, and that’s a good point from a branding perspective. So you guys started out, of course, in 2012. The two of you met when you were touring on separate projects. How did that come about? Did you, did the projects you were working on kinda cross paths somewhere and you kinda got talking? How did that all come about and how did it form, the band we know today?
Drew: Okay, well, um, yeah, I was in a band called McLean, and Danielle did a singer/ songwriter kind of thing, and we always, when we were in Alberta or she was out in Vancouver, we would always connect through mutual friends, and she was really into our band when she saw us, and I remember when I saw her, I was like “oh man, she has such an amazing voice” so forth and so forth, and then years kinda passed, and um, when we were, um, talking about music she was kind of frustrated with her current project, and she was like “you know what, I think I’m done with music”, I said, man, it would be so fun to do, like pop rock, and, you know, because she was doing something a little more chill? It would be so fun to, you know, run around stage and so something upbeat. Also the band I was in was a pretty chill band, and so we were like “let’s just go in the studio and try, a song, and that’s just, you know, like no name, no future of it, let’s just see what we come up with because it’s fun to record music. We love songwriting, and we came up with our first song, which was called “Heads Up, Watch Out”, and it was really cool. It was really fun, and we’re really proud of the result, and it kind of, uh, forced us into doing, uh, moving to write together and work together for the duration.
SC: Then romance bloomed, and the rest is history.
Drew: Yeah, well, we actually got married. We did a summer of demos, then we got married in that process, and we, and after we got married, we’re like, “Okay, let’s work hard at this. Let’s see what we can make of Dear Rouge, see if other people like to listen to it.” And, uh, so we did our marriage first, and we started the band second.
SC: That’s cool. I like that both things kind of happened together, the marriage and the band. And it’s true, I mean, I know a lot of people who like to listen to Dear Rouge. So that’s a good thing, it’s working, right? So late last year you guys signed with Universal and released your debut album Black to Gold earlier this year. I’ve heard it’s a surprise to you, but it’s not a surprise to many that the track Black to Gold hit #4 on the Canadian rock charts in May, which, in my mind anyway, is pretty good for a debut album especially for a band that’s only been in existence for about 3 years. So, when Dear Rouge came together, did you ever dream that you could become one of Canada’s hottest new bands?
Drew: (laughing) Ah, well, you know, we hoped that was the case. I think from our past music projects we really get that, you know, there’s nothing set in stone in music, and if you work harder it doesn’t always mean success, right, because it’s the arts, so we’ve always tried to dream big, but keep our expectations low.
SC: Well I think that’s a decent expectation to set, right? You know, you hope for the best and plan for the worst I guess. Did you guys ever have a contingency plan, or what would you have done if Dear Rouge didn’t work?
Drew: Oh yeah totally. So, we could never leave music. We just love music too much that we would always find a way to do it… but we were doing other jobs that we had that were great, and so when we started doing Dear Rouge we were doing other jobs, really really good jobs, and that was our plan b. The best part about music these days is even if you were not popular and didn’t make a living out of it, you still have the ability to record stuff and write stuff in your spare time. So, even though, say if Dear Rouge didn’t work out, we still would have been doing stuff in our spare time, because music is so contagious, and you kind of get addicted and hooked to it.
SC: Yeah, I can vouch for that. I don’t make music, but I’ve been covering music for… I’ve been a music festival, I guess you can call it addict, for 20 some years, either working on the festivals or just visiting them if I could, and when the opportunity arose for me to actually start covering festivals, it’s grown Sound Check to where it is now, where I can literally go to every single festival in Canada in the summer, easily. The hardest part is getting there. And it’s tough too, because sometimes you get overlap, and it’s which one do I go to, and so on and so forth. It’s true, I mean music is great that way.
Drew: Yeah, and it’s cool, I mean really, there are a lot of changes that have happened in our culture, especially over the last 10 years, and I’m really happy… I know the music industry looks a lot different than it used to, but I think music is more popular than it ever has been. You know, there’s more bands, there’s more music based TV shows, more music based movies, everyone carries an iPod, and everyone carries all this music with them and it’s really cool. Some artists don’t like the streaming bit, some artists do like the streaming, but ultimately it’s giving people more access to music, and it’s giving the listener more power than ever before, whereas before I think the record labels could come up with something contrived and use smoke and mirrors to make a band popular because they’ve exposed it to everybody and not every band could do that. But now there’s so many bands that, really, it’s just the listener. That’s why there’s so many playlists on streaming services, where they make a playlist, and even artists- like we make playlists on our Spotify account, showcasing the music that we’re listening to. It’s really- I find it’s a really cool music industry right now, even though it seems like it’s making less money than it used to, but that’s just money. Who cares?
SC: Yeah, you make a great point. It really does put the accountability on the artist’s side to put out a solid product that the people will be willing to buy. I mean, I’ve bought albums when my favourite band puts new album and the only song that was any good was the single that was on the radio. I mean there’s no greater disappointing feeling than to run out to get an album, unwrap it and put it in your player, and you find out that you don’t like any of the music that’s on it.
Drew: Yeah, you can listen to a whole album, and if you don’t like it, you’re not going to go the shows and you’re not going to be a fan. I can remember, even as a kid I bought a CD I didn’t like, but since I spent $15 bucks on it, I chucked it in my car and tried to like it (laughs).
SC: Yeah, maybe if I hear it a few more times I might start liking it
Drew: (laughing) Yeah, totally! Or you hear those stories, you know, like the band Poison. They took out a loan for like $30,000, made a huge budget music video that looked like they were a really big deal, and they became popular because of it. Nowadays, I don’t think that would happen, unless the music was good.
SC: Yeah, and you said it earlier, you just don’t know. It’s such a funny business. Some stuff works, and you’re like “How on earth did that work?”, and other stuff you hear, and it’s like “How is that not working?”.
SC: You know, it’s so fluid as the fans… I don’t want to say they’re picky, but there’s so much choice, it’s impossible to predict anything. So now, we were talking about the playlists and stuff that you guys have on Spotify. I guess that’s all, a new way to… well to phrase my next question, that I tend to ask a lot, but if we were to look at the playlist on your iPod or your smartphone, what kind of songs would we find?
Drew: What songs are on ours?
SC: Yeah, what are you guys listening to?
Drew: Well, I think the best way to answer that question would be to direct you to our Spotify account, and if you’re doing the blog, you can make a link to what we’re actually listening to. But, um, the first- like we have a playlist called Tour Tunes, and it’s what we listen to on the road, and we have a playlist called Black to Gold inspiration, and it’s the bands and songs we were inspired with while writing the album, and that is the most honest approach to it, but I think we have to update it because we’re on tour again. There’s a band Sohn, who have a song called The Wheel, the new TV on the Radio record, Delta Spirit, FKA Twigs, there’s a bunch in there that, well, you should look it up.
SC: When you’re touring, or maybe even in personal travels, maybe you’ve been to places or you’ve heard of places from other artists- if you can think of any city anywhere in the world that you’d like to perform in, where would it be?
Drew: I think it would be, you know, the major cities, like maybe the Hollywood Bowl in LA? That would be cool, maybe an acoustic set in Carnegie Hall in New York, or playing Terminal 5 would be a good venue for us. That’s what comes to my mind.
SC: It’s no secret that music often, if not always, inspires more music. Now both being musicians- Danielle is a singer / songwriter, yourself as the musician, what bands have kind of inspired you to kind of get to where you are now, and even as a kid, what bands did you listen to and say “hey, I like that, I wanna do that”, and then as you grew in your music, what sounds kind of molded the music that we’re hearing as Dear Rouge?
Drew: Oh yeah, like early on for sure, I was fed a lot of poor music as a child, and Danielle is similar, but, um, I think realistically, I think initially, the bands that kind of sprung us on, were like, discovering The Beatles, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, uh, Radiohead- all these bands that were older, but then the music we were listening to, that my friends were listening to at the time was so… poor, you know? Then we kind of moved into the Death Cab for Cutie, Bard era, where I just loved the sincerity and the want to try hard. Then we move into nowadays where we listen to a really wide and broad music catalogue, where I love to listen to, you know, Bryan Adams, we love to listen to Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Killers. We love to throw on Katie Perry if the day calls for it. You know, we like respectable pop, but there’s some really, really credible pop out there that’s amazing. Um, I think you could say that The Killers and Phantogram and Yeah Yeah Yeahs have really inspired us a lot.
SC: Yeah, I had a chance to see The Killers about 10 years ago now, back when they were doing, kind of, a bar tour, and they really blew me away. I mean, it was one of the best shows I had been to. They were at Ottawa Bluesfest last year and I missed the show, and I would love to see them again. Now, you guys have your first big tour this summer, all over North America, with dates pretty much everywhere, Pennsylvania, New York, and also you’re hitting some of the biggest festivals in the country. from the 21st annual Ottawa Bluesfest, to the brand new Way Home Music Festival. Bluesfest was ranked one of the top festivals in the world it and Wayhome will have artists like Kanye West and Neil Young as part of their respective lineups. Does the idea of playing the higher profile events intimidate you at all?
Danielle: Um, no, it doesn’t anymore. It used to when we first started getting into the music world, but I think now it just inspires us to see the trajectory, just watching other people succeed in doing what they love. Um, yeah, it’s inspiring. It pushes us to want to succeed like that, but it does actually make you think too. Like, are these, are some of my favourite artists watching our band right now? (laughs) I guess honestly, it can be a tiny bit intimidating.
SC: Do you ever take notes? Like say, hey I like what they’re doing? Because festivals are different than arena shows. It’s a much different environment. They’re two completely different shows. So, do you ever look at what another band is doing onstage, and say, hey, I like that, you know, the way they position themselves and so on, and say I want to incorporate that into my show?
Danielle: Yeah. You take- music is just a mishmash of inspirations that, I think, that every artist has. You just kind of pick your favourites, and you take what you like and you kind of make it your own. Definitely with the live shows, that’s the kind of thing we do- we watch the other bands and “oh, that’s really cool. We could do that, but add to it to make it our own thing, but definitely we’re inspired by other bands, for sure.
SC: I know your schedule can get really busy. Are you going to have a chance to take in some of the other acts, or are you sort of jumping right onto the bus or the plane and heading right off to your next gig?
Danielle: Um, Sometimes we, like this summer, we’re actually excited for Way Home, because we’ll get to hang out and just watch our favourites, and so, we try to schedule so that we can actually stick around. The lineup they have there is really good, and you never know who you’re going to connect with, so that’s why we like to stick around.
SC: Yeah, especially with festivals like Way Home. They’ve got artists like Neil Young, and such a variety, and I think a lot of them are artists that I could see… becoming influences, if they’re not already for Dear Rouge. Um, I get creative influences by kind of watching what other guys do and I try to incorporate that into what I do, and I can see that happening with a band as well. If you had to pick- now you’ve seen the lineups for Way Home and Bluesfest- if you could stick around and see an act, do you have anyone in particular that you want to see?
Drew: Um, St. Vincent.
SC: There are some who, including myself, who have never seen you guys live, and that will change this summer. What kind of stage show should we expect to see?
Drew: Well, we’re definitely upbeat. You know, you can definitely tell from the music. There’s a lot of synth stuff going on, and guitar stuff. We do like to have a lot of fun. We’re fun people, we’re enthusiastic people, so we always will have fun playing live, and smile on stage because it is really fun, but we love it when the audience is having fun with us. It feels like we’re all together, like we’re making music, but everybody’s enjoying it all together. That’s kind of our goal, but live, we bring an upbeat show.
SC: Unless you’re having fun, what’s the point in doing it, right?
Drew: I know, totally. And, when you play a lot of shows where people are into it, but they maybe don’t show that they’re into it, as a band, we learned early on that we have to, you know, we want to invite the audience to participate with us, but if they’re not doing that, we’re still gonna have fun, so we might as well give each other a little bit more.
SC: So now, looking ahead, I know that the album just came out, but I mean, you’re going on tour this summer, and I imagine not long after that it’s time to start thinking about a new album if it hasn’t already been started?
Drew: Yeah. We have, uh, we have huge plans for the fall. Huge plans, so people can stay posted because probably around August we’ll announce a lot of big plans for the fall. And, um, it’s going to be really exciting for us. And during all this time we are writing, but there is no talk about a timeline. We just enjoy the writing, and when the time comes to do the record, we want to be well equipped and prepared and not have to rush anything, but to have all these songs that are coming out of us right now. I think you should always be ready.
I want to thank Drew and Danielle for taking an hour out of their busy schedule to talk to me. Catch Dear Rouge live at RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest on July 17 at 7pm on the Canadian Stage and at WayHome Music and Arts Festival on July 25 on the WayAway Stage at 5:15pm.
Last month we visited with Dear Rouge in Toronto on the set of their upcoming video for their latest single “Tongues” watch for it in the very near future.
For more on Dear Rouge be sure to check them out online here:
Here’s the video for the song that started it all: “I Heard I Had”