The chopping air of a helicopter passing overhead gives way to crack-a-lacking drum beat of the latest song by Quesnel’s Brad Strang. The Bouchie Lake resident was moved by the outpouring of effort by all the frontline wildfire fighters, this summer, and the emergency workers who respond to our times of greatest need.
“Hey B.C….yeah, we’re B.C. strong…working together…and we’re standing tall,” Strang’s naturally bluesy voice growls. “Neighbour helping neighbour…just the B.C. way.”
Strang is a prolific songwriter, and he frequently releases albums at a much faster clip than the big-label acts who take up all the commercial radio airspace. He’s a DIY musician and loves his craft to the tune of four albums in the past three years, two of them in 2023 alone. But he admitted that his most recent two, Acoustic Crossroads and Digital Dust, took a lot out of him.
“When Digital Dust was done, my cup was pretty much empty. It has taken awhile for that creative cup to fill again,” he said. But he felt those sparks when the climax of the forest fire season was upon us, a few weeks ago. He grabbed his banjo and started rolling over the strings, he added some gritty electric guitar, he brushed on a little underlay of piano, and spattered it with a snappy snare drum. He called up his frequent vocal collaborator Laura Kelsey, with a chorus by Deb Strang, Gage Landrud, Shannah Yager and Sarah Eberle.
Whipping up a home-based song is what he wishes other musicians would do more of, to share the creative voice and sending out those vibes that music isn’t held inside some unattainable elite production system. He’s not even in a band, although he loves and appreciates his many collaborators. He has a part-time group of like-minded friends who call themselves Easy Act To Follow, but otherwise, Strang creates for the sake of his own fun and to share.
“The whole gist of my music is positive songs that uplift people or give someone something to ponder on,” he told The Observer. “Global unity is important. As we travel together around the sun, let’s be kind together and work together.”
Some of his songs are sober examinations of the human condition. A track called Nothing came to him when he saw some graffiti on a cement wall where a mattress on the ground was clearly the sleeping spot for a homeless person. The graffiti drew a picture of what a room might look like, were that mattress indoors. Gone from Strang’s lyrics were the pomp and sizzle of celebrating firefighters. Gone from the melody were the dancing bounces of joy. Nothing could stand as the national anthem for understanding those less fortunate, and an ode to appreciating the simple things in life. Dry eyes are a challenge, on first listening, with the picture of that graffiti staring back at you and the vibration of his lone cello across your heart.
But in the spirit of the great all-around entertainers of the world - Robin Williams, Charlie Chaplin, Sammy Davis, Carol Burnett - Strang plays all the notes of the human emotional instrument. In true pull-my-finger fashion, he loves to make the listener laugh, as well. While many songwriters turn their nose up at the comedy tune or the novelty song, in their pursuit of the serious hit, Strang channels his mirth for life into music. He loves Pick Your Nose and Crazy Ole Fart as much as Dark November Skies or Different Shade of Grey on his spectrum of songs.
He might be under the influence of instrument addiction. His home studio walls are hanging with a variety of string and wood, every corner touched by cables or keys.
“I don’t know how accomplished I am on any of them,” he says, modestly. His latest addition is a National Tricone guitar, for its distinctive metallic jangle. It’s one of only two in Canada, of that model. He found it at Rufus Guitar Shop in Vancouver where he also bought his beloved Martin J40 acoustic that he’s played so often the surface has a thin spot where his hand has rubbed it down.
“Any sound and style will take you one way. It will transcend you into a feeling or a mood where the song will sort of emerge out of the fog,” he said.
He found his trusty electric guitar in the garbage bin after the fire at B&B Music in Prince George in 2006, and only now does he think it might be finished its playing days.
And if you can’t find what you’re listening for, you make it. He turned himself into a luthier for one particular project, when his hunt for the rare banjola - a banjo-ukulele hybrid - came up empty. Fine. He built his own. Don’t tell the elitists, but those sweet sounds he gets come out of a door skin and leftover pallet wood.
Strang releases most of his music to online radio and streaming services, and he gets updates on the many places around the world that play it for their listening audiences. He even gets some small royalty cheques, every so often.
But Strang is well aware that money is not the true musician’s motivation. He simply says, “It’s a gift.”
You can find him on YouTube and share the gifts yourself.