Washboard Union driven by stories and sound

Facebook/EA Rawlinson Centre

Washboard Union might not be your typical country music band.

The band originally formed in Vancouver, as Run GMC, established as a tongue-in-cheek joke to themselves. They wanted to get together as a band and sing songs that had stories to them that they could sing harmonies to.

“I remember thinking I just wanted to bring an acoustic guitar to a gig, plug it in, and sing and play. That’s it,” said Aaron Grain, who provides guitar and vocals for the band.

“We created this group that would do old 40s and 50s trucker tunes. We learned storytelling from some of the best, Roger Miller and Johnny Cash. It was about getting together and not paying for drinks on the weekend.”

But the group that started as a fun little project soon caught the eye of Warner Music.

“Maybe because we weren’t taking ourselves too seriously it … turned into something,” Grain said.

“We realized we could use the same instrumentation, and the same three-past harmony and ultimately, still, I would just bring a guitar and use a microphone when I got to a gig. No computers, no extra instruments, no effects pedals, just really pure music out of an acoustic instrument and voices.”

That simple approach has proved successful for the band. They’ve won a slew of CCMA awards, including Roots Artist of the Year in both 2017 and 2018. They’ve been touring across Canada, and are stopping at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre for the Arts Saturday.

While the band got its start in Vancouver, Washboard Union’s roots go deeper than that. Grain and singer/banjoist Chris Duncombe are stepbrothers from Kelowna. It was there, living in the Okanagan Valley, that they learned about the pride that comes from small town living.

“Our roots, essentially, are more rural country,” Grain said. ‘We’re very proud of where we grew up.”

In Vancouver, they added David Roberts and his harmonica, guitar, mandolin and washboard. Together, the threesome has grown close.

“When (we’re) together, it’s an instant energy,” Grain said.

“I love those guys from the bottom of my heart, and could not see doing this journey without them. It feels like home when we’re together. I think that’s another piece of the element of knowing where you come from and knowing where you’re made of. (The) hometown feeling is really based out of that great relationship we have together.”

Saturday, Grain expects that hometown connection to help get Prince Albert up and moving.

“It’s a shame for all of the people who have bought tickets for a seat because we’re not going to use the seats much. They’ll be standing up,” he said.

Washboard Union will bring a mix of music, including a never-released track fans won’t have heard before.

“We’re always writing,” Grain said. “We’ve already written 12 songs for our next album. For this last album, we had 35 songs to choose from.

“There’s a really fun song that never made the record, but we love playing. We’re playing that song at our sets now. You can definitely expect some brand new, unheard Washboard music at these concerts.”

The show gets started at 7:30 p.m., and also features all-girl country quartet Nice Horse. Orchestra seating is full, but tickets are still available in the mezzanine. Tickets are available at the EA Rawlinson Centre box office, or online at www.earc.ca/events.

— with additional reporting by Scott Roos.