The Washboard Union talks CCMA nominations, new music and touring abroad

Over the last few years, Vancouver-based trio The Washboard Union has become a powerhouse in the Canadian country music industry.

Armed with two full-length albums, a smash-hit EP and a plethora of singable anthems, they’ve gradually made their brand a household name across the nation.

Since forming in 2010, The Washboard Union has won 16 awards overall, including nine BCCMAs and five CCMAs.

At the beginning of the year, they were named 2019’s Breakthrough Group of the Year at the Juno Awards thanks to the success of their most recent record, What We’re Made Of (2018) — making them the first country act in Juno history to earn the accolade.

Thanks to the @ccmaofficial for our nominations his year for both Group of the Year and Roots Album of the year. Thanks also to our teams at @warnermusiccanada @sakamotoagency and our manager Ron Sakamoto for all their hard work this year. Can’t wait to see you all in #calgary at the 2019 @ccma Awards. #ccma #yyc #calgary.

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Hot off the announcement that country icons Billy Ray Cyrus and Dallas Smith will be co-hosting this year’s CCMA Awards, the list of nominations was revealed.

Longtime bandmates Aaron Grain, Chris “Dunner” Duncombe and David Roberts were nominated twice for this year’s awards.

What We’re Made Of earned the trio a nod for Roots Album of the Year, while their overall effort and contributions to the Canadian music scene have them being considered for the Group of the Year award.

During the latter half of a gigantic Canadian tour, The Washboard Union took the time to talk with Global News ahead of the CCMAs.

Global News spoke with the She Gets Me rockers last year but used this opportunity to ask about their plans for the future, new music and why they love the CCMAs so much.

Global News: Congrats on the CCMA nominations, guys, that’s incredible. It seems like you haven’t had much time to celebrate yet in the midst of this huge Canadian tour.
Aaron Grain: Thank you, man. Yeah, we really haven’t. We’re going right to the end of August and September right now. We’re playing in Havelock tonight, then we’re playing the Niagara-on-the-Lake area. Then we’re off to Europe to do some shows across the pond — Spain, France — then we’ll touch base with Italy for a little bit, and then we’ve got a few more shows before the CCMAs start up in September.

David Roberts: Holy cow… we’re busy. [Laughs]

Global News: It must be pretty gratifying to play shows on the other side of the world.
David Roberts: It is. You know what’s amazing? You go over there, and the people that come see you will know the songs, and they’ll start singing the songs but they’ll sing them in French and they’ll sing them in Italian. It’s really, really cool. But yeah, it’s a real tip of the hat to how big country is around the world.

Chris Duncombe: It’s really cool that these fans don’t just find the songs that are exclusively on the radio or have been released with a video. They know a whole bunch of songs, including stuff that you maybe haven’t played in a few years, which is really cool. So the fact that you get to communicate through your music, and then someone that far away has found it is just, it’s incredible.

Aaron Grain: They have to dig a bit more, too, right?

Chris Duncombe: Yeah, they sure do.

Aaron Grain: They don’t have terrestrial radio to push a single. They just gravitate to what they like.

David Roberts: The festivals are fantastic over there. They’re really, really fun. There’s something about them. They just do things differently.

Chris Duncombe: We played in France and Ireland before and we were blown away at the fact that we had such a warm reception there so the fact that we get to go back is just… well, we’re truly blessed to be able to do that. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Global News: What’s your favourite part about the whole CCMA experience?
David Roberts: Aaron was saying this earlier, too, but it’s different in such a nice way. Usually, when you’re playing live — especially in the summers — you’re really busy. There’s this whole behind-the-scenes thing, you come and you go, you’re setting up, you’re playing your show and then you’re in the bustle until the next show. But the CCMAs, on the other hand, is great because you actually have time to chat with people that you haven’t had a chance to connect with over the year. You find out about their families, what they’re doing and how their years have been going and things like that so it’s really nice. Everyone from across the country comes, too, which is fantastic.

We are proud supporters of @imalbertabound #notinmycity movement to end sexual exploitation and trafficking of children and youths. Congrats to Paul on receiving the 2019 @ccmaofficial @slaightmusic Humanitarian award.

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Chris Duncombe: When we started playing at the CCMAs, I guess I never really thought when we started the band that there would be an organization that would bring an entire genre of music together. But it did. And it continues to… all the time. So I think it’s really cool. Not only do we get to see a bunch of our friends who’ve been playing like crazy like us, but we get to see a whole new wave of country artists as well that the CCMAs have supported, just like they did with us. We still remember showing up in Halifax for the first time… [Laughs]

Aaron Grain: Uninvited. [Laughs]

Chris Duncombe: And right away, we were welcomed into this new family. The fact is, we all talk about each other’s music, we all promote each other, and I think that’s a really cool thing that happens in country music that I’m not actually sure happens in a lot of other genres.

Global News: How soon do you find out about your award nominations?
Aaron Grain: We usually find out only a fraction of a second earlier. [Laughs] It’s actually maybe a couple of hours before it goes live. But oftentimes with our schedule, we’re busy anyways so we were in the air when we found out that we were nominated for the CCMAs. It was the same thing with the Junos, too. We were out of town and then we woke up to the news the next morning. We were like, ‘Oh, great! This just happened.’ So that actually gives us a little bit of time to prepare something and a little thank you for the fans or an acknowledgment post or video.

David Roberts: I love when you get off of a plane, you’ll look at your phone and your friends are congratulating you but you don’t know what’s happened. [Laughs] You really don’t why. [Laughs] You go, ‘What have I done? What have I done?’ [All laugh]

David Roberts of The Washboard Union performs onstage.

Global News: Are you going to be performing at the CCMAs, too?
Chris Duncombe: We’re going to be playing a few shows around the CCMAs, which is going to be an absolute blast. So we’re really excited about that, and then we’ve got some surprises in store. It’s going to be a lot of fun. [Laughs]

Global News: Last year, you told us you had about 35 songs left over from the ‘What We’re Made Of’ sessions. What, exactly, happened to the songs that you didn’t use?
Aaron Grain: Well, Tebey [Ottoh] plays a lot of them now. [Laughs]

Chris Duncombe: Exactly. [Laughs] The rest we gave to Dallas [Smith] and Dean [Brody]. [All laugh]

Aaron Grain: What happens is we write a lot of songs, we demo them, and then at some point, it comes the time to choose exactly which songs should be on the record. It’s not that one song is better than the other songs, although sometimes that happens, too, but it’s more like which collection of songs might make the most sense to put into what will eventually become the album.

So we have a few songs lying around still, yeah, but hey, those songs go into a little vault and will be saved for another day. Maybe it just wasn’t quite their time to be on record or maybe someone else records them or maybe we’ll record them later on down the road, revisit them or change them up a little bit. They never go anywhere, they just didn’t make the album in that particular moment.

Chris Duncombe: We never really stop writing, either. We have probably written, even with this hectic road schedule, about 20-plus songs for a brand-new record.

David Roberts: It just doesn’t stop.

Chris Duncombe: No, it doesn’t stop. It’s interesting as a band because you go into these cycles. At any given time, you’re either writing, demoing, recording, doing press for a new record, touring or making a video. At any given time you’re in a different zone so it’s always really exciting. Those zones tend to collide more often, too. [Laughs] You move from one to the other very quickly in a way we never did before.

Global News: Who needs time to rest, right?
David Roberts: One thing we’ve done differently is that we’ve actually played some of the new songs live before they were recorded. And that was really fun because there’s nothing better than playing a new song to an audience that’s never heard it. You get instant feedback. If they like it, then they’ll tell you. If they think it’s a donkey, then you know instantly. [Laughs]

Aaron Grain: It’s true. [Laughs]

David Roberts: And that’s great because we haven’t done that before. So we’ve picked the songs previously and put them out in hopes that they’d go well with the fans. But this time, we get to see their reaction to the songs and go, “You know what? That’s probably a great song for the record.”

Chris Duncombe of The Washboard Union performs onstage in April 2018.

Global News: That sounds like a very efficient method of choosing hits.
David Roberts: It’s old school, right? People used to do it all the time.

Global News: So it’s safe to say there will be new music, but will it be any time soon?
Chris Duncombe: Oh, yeah. We were here, in Toronto, only a week ago, putting the final touches on two new songs. We all had one day off so we could be here to do it. Our producer actually came up from Nashville for a day. Fortunately, he had a hole in his schedule. That’s sometimes just how we have to do it. We’re a live band, we play live a lot, and that’s what we want to do so sometimes, you just have to be nimble with how you can record and get things done.

Aaron Grain: It was either record for six hours or wait a month and a half. [Laughs]

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]

The 2019 CCMAs will air on Global TV, Sunday, Sept. 8 at 9 p.m. ET.

Additional information and tour dates can be found through the official Washboard Union website.

The Washboard Union arrives on the red carpet ahead of the Juno awards at the Budweiser Gardens in London, Ont., on Sunday, March 17, 2019.

Chris Duncombe is an employee of Corus Entertainment.

Global News is an affiliate of the Corus Entertainment Network.

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