Instant Rivalry Announces their Debut Country Album
Prince Edward County’s own award winning, brother sister duo, announce their album release and concert at The Regent Theatre on December 5th, 2019.
People of PEC had the distinct and exclusive honour of being allowed into the inner sanctum that is Back Forty Productions and the home of Instant Rivalry.
It’s Not Just a Sibling Thing
The name “Instant Rivalry” has always been assumed by most to originate from their relationship as brother and sister. It was a nice tongue-in-cheek reference to the natural tendency of siblings to have a built in conflict as most siblings tend to have. But that assumption is wrong. And the duo explain the reason behind the name.
Everything started with Caleb.
Caleb used to be heavily involved in hockey. He was a prolific goalie and spent years as a young boy playing the sport here in the County. But there was an on-ice conflict that spilled into his school life and spurred years of life changing events. And those school yard squabbles would turn into years of harassment and assault.
Caleb describes high school as some of the worst years of his life because of bullying. Things escalated when a bully brutally attacked one of Caleb’s best friends. Caleb witnessed this attack and so did an under-cover police officer. The bully was arrested and certain illegal paraphernalia was found on his person. Charges were laid. People around school assumed Caleb had reported him. Many people began calling Caleb a “Rat”, and that name followed him all throughout high school.
He was bullied daily at school, at hockey and online. He was shoved and taunted and some days he would step off the bus at school, and there would be people waiting there to beat him up. The bullying was constant and unrelenting. Long time friends he had known since elementary school were either outwardly contributing to his daily torture, or were distancing themselves because they were scared. He estimates that between grade 10 and 11 he was likely in approximately 30 fights where he was forced to defend himself.
Caleb wasn’t safe anywhere he went. The mob mentality and the rumour mill was unrelenting. Caleb had been beaten up so often that his trips to the hospital were frequent, and blows to the head were severe resulting in multiple concussions. His doctor told him he couldn’t afford to be hit in the head even one more time, because it would create permanent brain damage if he was.
His parents pleaded with the school board, local law enforcement and nearly every level of government for help. They received little in the way of assistance. The most helpful reply was often to just move, and while Caleb and Meg’s parents considered selling their home in the County or changing schools, none of them wanted to leave the place where they had so much in the way of family roots. This was their home, and they felt it simply wasn’t fair that as a victim their only answer was to run away. And each time someone would beat him up or assault him, someone would be arrested and the incident would be published in the local papers. And while no names were ever mentioned, everyone knew who was involved and would talk about it. And again Caleb would be labelled as a rat and subjected to further harassment or judgement. And once Meg started high school, she would be on the receiving end as well. Meg eventually left school and completed her high school years as a home school student.
In Caleb’s last year of high school there were two unforgettable occurrences. The first was when Caleb was jumped and severely attacked by eight people at a house party. That attack resulted in internal bleeding and a major concussion. He had to undergo a lot of cognitive and speech therapies, and he admits he even finds it difficult to read to this day.
The second attack was at school, he had been jumped in the hallway and severely beaten. It was witnessed by several teachers and a few of them got hurt in the process. It was this event that precipitated the school board taking closer notice and it sparked major board meetings and policy changes. It was the first time people started to truly believe Caleb and see the horror he had endured all through high school.
Soon after these encounters a major depression set in for Caleb–emotionally and physically Caleb was “just done”.
Meg described how hard it was for her to watch her big brother slowly fade away into sadness. He wasn’t exhibiting the same joy while playing hockey and she could see Caleb slowly giving up. And Caleb admits that this was the point in time when he was starting to fall apart. He slowly gave up hockey, a sport that he loved and had hoped to pursue as a career one day in the NHL. Some of “them” were still a major part of the sport and coupled with the major concussions, he felt forced to abandon it and his dreams. He was lost and felt completely isolated. It was around this point in time when he picked up his first guitar.
On a family trip to Florida one year, Caleb took note of a family of street performers in St. John’s Pass playing Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd. There was a young boy Caleb thought was about eleven years old. He was playing the solo, standing on the table and completely in rock star mode, and he inspired Caleb to pick up the electric guitar. His Dad had an old Seagull guitar that sat in the corner, and Caleb began teaching himself with the aid of online tutorials and listening to his Dad’s rock collection. He found he picked up on the guitar very easily, music came naturally to him. And he fell in love.
The Rise of Instant Rivalry
Since Caleb had lost most of his friends, Meg invited some of her friends over and they started a garage band in their parent’s garage, which incidentally is now their recording studio. The opportunity to enter Picton’s Rising Star was announced and Meg thought, “we could do that, that might be good for us”. They played one of Caleb’s songs and a couple of others they had written the night before the competition. “We’re so together” Meg joked. But the positive reaction from the judges was so refreshing. “To see the look on Caleb’s face,” said Meg “I’ll never forget it.” “It finally…felt like where I belonged” Caleb added. The experience broke some walls for Caleb and he knew what he wanted to do. He had always thought he would be a funeral director or a paramedic, but all that went by the wayside when he discovered music.
Caleb was always the shy kid who would never even talk back to his parents or would pass out at the idea of public speaking. But once he strapped on that guitar, he was a different person able to be his true authentic self. He can say what he truly feels behind the mask of his guitar. It was an outlet for him to process the emotions of everything he went through, and as he says “not putting up with any shit anymore.” And Meg explained that even now, they aren’t waiting to say what they really mean or feel, they’re fighting back with song and thus the name of their band, Instant Rivalry.
They’ve been playing professionally now for 12 years. Over the course of their career several people have suggested they change their name, perhaps to The Hutton’s. But they refuse each and every time. It’s what has defined them for the entirety of their journey and it’s a reminder of where they have come from and where they are going. They are hoping that with the release of their new album, they can inspire someone with their lyrics to be brave or to make a bold step. Meg says if their newest single, Ho-Down encourages a woman who is being cheated on or beaten up and abused by her husband, listens to this track and finds the courage to get up and leave, “Amen to that.” she says.
They Might Be Crazy
The tracks on their new album are–in their words–“confident…mildly over confident.” Meg emphasizes that when they say something, when they write something, when they sing something, they mean it. It’s important to them that their message comes across whether it inspires someone or simply makes someone say “you guys are crazy!” “We might be” Meg adds. “But we’re happy with our crazy.”
Megan described how when she was in high school, she didn’t like being there. The guys who had stayed behind in school after Caleb graduated would turn their attention to her and attempt to inflict the same kind of treatment. She simply wouldn’t allow that. She knew her and her brother were going places, and rather than continue to be a victim, she turned her energy toward their creative endeavours. She graduated with honours on her own, and while she maintains they both had great teachers, she feels very much that the education system failed both her and her brother. They hope that by using their platform as performers to make people aware, they can prevent future students from enduring what they both went through.
Their commitment to their craft coupled with amazing community support brought them notable success and ever increasing talent. But it wasn’t until 2015 that they were finally honoured with any awards; Meg laughs that they didn’t even win Picton’s Rising Star, they came third behind the tap dancers and the funny guy. But they were okay with that, because they were recognized. They had their start there. But in 2015 they won an All-Ontario Competition, just Meg and Caleb with an acoustic set competing against 6 and 8-piece bands. The James Barker Band and Kansas Stone were some of their competing contestants that year–musical acts that had so much more instrumentation than they did with their two guitars– it seemed rather unevenly matched. But they got on that stage and only played songs they had written whereas others played cover songs–they did it their way. When they made it to the finals, they wondered if they should deviate from their method, perhaps throw in a cover like the other acts had been. They decided against it. Meg thought it was best for them to take a chance and at least lose on their own terms. But they won. And they went on to win another one. And then they were being invited to play all over the province, and to different award shows, and suddenly they were a pair who were being pushed and pulled in different directions. It would have been easy for Meg and Caleb to be swept up into the fanfare and recognition after yearning for acceptance for so long. There were industry people who had suggestions and modifications for the pair to adapt into the act, but it never aligned with their vision or their sound. They had to take a step back and remember where they came from and remember who they were as artists. Hence the name of their album, Whiskey and Lead. Caleb is the smooth and easy Whiskey, and Megan is the hard and lethal Lead. Meg as the baby in the family says she can get away with things that perhaps Caleb can’t. She is the fiery, spunky one and she says the “crap” that Caleb won’t say. Caleb is the softer touch, the one who curates the emotional and connective ballads that tug at people’s heart strings. Megan is the fighter who likes to add a little rough and tumble rock n’ roll to the mix. Their collaboration is nothing short of brilliance when the two are blended together.
The first single from their album is Ho-Down, which they joke is a Christmas song. It’s not, but they wrote it on Christmas Eve while drinking bourbon. This album has been a long time coming. One song is nearly 10 years old and the rest of the album has been in the making for 5 years. They took their time and wanted to make sure it was done right, staying consistent with the sound they had developed over years of performing.
Their influences as musicians stem from so many artists and genres. They cut their teeth while sleeping beneath their father’s DJ booth while he played tunes at places like The Elks Lodge or The Picton Legion. Caleb fell asleep wrapped in his Mickey Mouse blanket listening to Faith Hill, Vince Gill, Travis Tritt. Their Mom was the country lover and their Dad was rock n roll, appreciating the musical stylings of Led Zepplin. But as 90’s kids they admitted to loving The Back Street Boys and Spice Girls as well. Caleb even has a fondness for Whitney Houston’s classic I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Their local influences growing up were The Reasons and 62 South, Caleb even remembered sneaking out at night to try and catch The Polidicks during their heyday, but they were too young to be able to get in. From rock and alternative to rap to hip-hop or punk their musical tastes and influences were varied. The thing that made them fall in love with the genre of country and folk music was the storytelling. There was a beauty and a connection to their audience they couldn’t achieve any other way. Instant Rivalry recorded another album years ago but it was an alternative rock album, and as Megan describes, it was filled with anger. So much of their experiences and hardships came out in that first work, and while it’s not who they are now it was where they started. They have grown so much as artists and as people since that first body of work.
The Journey to Nashville
It was sometime around 2009 when they were encouraged to go down to Nashville. Meg said she didn’t even know where Nashville was, and Caleb was mostly undecided. But eventually their Dad convinced them to go. They travelled down as a family together. Once they arrived, Caleb embraced the city with both arms. He had purchased the cowboy hat, the boots, plaid shirts and jeans and was loving every aspect of country music.
They had been in the city a week, and as he describes, it was like they had a horseshoe up their butt. They were walking up and down Music Row and wondering how to best give away their CD’s when some random guy named Charlie approaches them. Charlie asks if they’re musicians and asks them to go back to their car and get their guitars and play a little something for him. It turned out Charlie worked for NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) as a song pitcher, so he drags Megan and Caleb to a parking lot of a bar in Nashville that they couldn’t get into on their own, (they were underage at the time) to play for the head of Warner Bros. Music, who says to them “hey, that’s a great song!” and sets them up with another connection. In two weeks they were able to play at more open mic nights and on more stages than most people who had lived there for months ever did. They played at The Bluebird Cafe, and Megan says she looks back at that with such regret because she couldn’t understand the weight of it– they were too young and too naive. But she is so glad they got to do it, because it was a great performance. And everywhere they went in Nashville people would say to them, “Oh you’re the kids from Canada, ” or “you’re the Canadian kids”. They had recognition, they had momentum, and they used that to fuel their dreams of becoming great country music artists.
Farming and Family is at the heart of everything they do.
Rooted in their career is their connection and appreciation to family. Caleb said that if it hadn’t been for his grandmother, who passed away in 2016, this album would never have gotten made. It was her influence and presence that fuelled them and continually inspired them. So much of who they are is because of their grandmother, and they have dedicated this album to her. One of the tracks on the album, Little Old Farm House is inspired by her and the many years of playing on their grandparent’s farm across the road. Their studio is built with many pieces of the farm and farm house, which is gone now. The wainscotting is old barn board, some of the sound absorbing materials around the room are old steel roof and the sound booth is constructed from old wood salvaged from the farm house with the farm sign above the window. And a lone horseshoe adorns the wall above their computer monitor for their sound board.
Guitars old and new hang all over the walls of their studio, some which were given to them by their parents including a 1974 Les Paul Sunburst Deluxe that their mother received as a gift from her father (their late-grandfather). As a farming family that didn’t have much extra in the way of money it was an expensive purchase and rather significant gift. When Caleb first found it he had pulled it out from beneath his paren’t bed. It was in pristine condition and still in tune. Now it is a precious family heirloom. And listening to the track for Little Old Farm House, you can feel the love and connection to family and to Prince Edward County. It’s a gorgeous melodic tribute to their tough-as-nails grandmother. Megan thinks there might even be a bit of her spirit in the mix for that song. While they were recording it, the ending was only supposed to be Megan’s voice holding the final note. But Jimmy Nichols, who is famous for being one of Nashville’s top session and touring keyboardists (he has played with Billy Ray Cyrus, Carrie Underwood, and he was musical director for artists such as Reba McEntire and Faith Hill) continued to play a simple little melody without consciously knowing what he had done. All the other musicians stood there stunned, they weren’t sure what to do. No one was supposed to be playing. But the moment was so sweet and so precious. Megan gave the signal to continue what he was doing, and to her it sounded like the melodies her grandmother used to play in church on her piano. She couldn’t have prepared for that even if she tried, and when Jimmy reflected afterward he admitted there was an inspiration to play and he didn’t know where it had come from. Megan credits her grandmother’s presence being there with them and beams with pride and tears when she mentions it.
Instant Rivalry was so honoured to play with such phenomenal, Grammy award winning musicians on this album. Justin Schipper who has notably played for Shania Twain and Lady Antebellum to Miles McPherson who is the drummer for Paramore and Kelly Clarkson. They had David Dorn who has played for the television show Nashville, and Steven Jay Nathan who is an award wining keyboard player for his session work with Muscle Shoals. And then they had Troy Lancaster who has played with artists such as Blake Shelton, Big & Rich, and Trace Adkins. It was important for Caleb and Meg to create a record that was professional and timeless. This team of musicians breathed life into their songs and really captured the Instant Rivalry sound. They tracked all 15 songs, live off the floor, in two days. They did a lot of one-take recordings that really captured the essence and raw energy behind every song. This album isn’t the acoustic duo you might have known in the past, it is bigger and full of energy. It is confident and fiery, yet earnest and vulnerable too. This album is going to be a sensational addition to anyone’s music collection.
And because this album was so connected to the very heart of who these two artists are, Caleb delayed the finishing of this album to capture just the right sound. The production was delayed so long the people in Nashville were starting to get angry. But he knew that each and every last finishing touch was so important. He went out into the swamp one night, and spent hours recording the sounds of crickets and frogs. It was something so little, yet so vital to the track for Little Old Farm House. He said when the farm house was still there, it was those sounds you could always hear, they surrounded you. They are now blended over top of the song and will be immortalized forever.
Meg and Caleb are so glad they didn’t run away or leave The County when faced with unspeakable trauma. They have turned an unfortunate and nightmare experience into something that is equally inspiring and empowering. These two are true role models who are not only pillars in the community, but are genuine and grounded people. And while some may remember some of what Caleb and his family endured, he has not spoken about this publicly before. He has chosen this moment to talk about it because like the creation of this album, it’s a true and poignant part of who he is. Meg and Caleb didn’t allow this painful part of their past to define them, they used it as fuel to propel them forward. And the pay-off is a creation of beauty and strength.
Instant Rivalry is launching their debut country album on December 6th, 2019. It is impressive to note that Meg and Caleb wrote, produced and oversaw the post production of Whiskey and Lead. They are also independently releasing the album. Because of their deep appreciation for their community and for the people who have believed in them and supported them over the years they have chosen to give the people of Prince Edward County a preview before they launch in stores and online. December 5th at 7pm at The Regent Theatre, Instant Rivalry will be performing and celebrating with a full nine-piece band as they perform songs from the album. “Doing our album release concert at home was important for us. Our community has supported us at every turn.” says Megan. “We are so lucky to call The County Home.”
Regular tickets go on sale November 7th at www.theregenttheatre.org or at The Regent Theatre Box Office. Regular tickets start at $25 and VIP tickets are $40. A copy of the CD is included with the ticket price.