Citizen West finding their direction

Striving for success has mythologically turned its face into the setting sun.

Progressive cultures of all kind are called "western."

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Newspaper editorials in the mid-19th century bade settlers to "go west, young man."

Led Zepplin emblazoned it into rock 'n' roll when their Stairway To Heaven anthem expressed "there's a feeling I get when I look to the west."

Even Batman got started on TV with a prominent West.

Four consummate artists, all of them schooled and skilled at music, are now evoking this spirit of youth, of reaching for better. Individually they are nationally acclaimed singers, but they believe it is better to travel as a group. Pop tenors Cody Karey (who grew up in Fort St. James), Marc Devigne and Brett Pruneau have joined forces with pop producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Trevor Hoffmann to form a neo-traditional ensemble called Citizen West.

Together they are not a boy band nor are they barbershop, they are not The Three Tenors nor are they the Canadian Tenors, they are neither melisma nor Motown.

Citizen West is a nest feathered by traditional classical stylings with tasteful additions of modern electronica.

Their website - www.citizenwestmusic.com - signals the start of this new art-venture.

"I think we all come from very, very similar background," said Pruneau, the only non-Canadian in the group, he being from the St. Louis area with New York also on his recent address list. "We've all grown up in the classical-crossover genre and been pretty close to quote-unquote 'making it' individually, several times, but never quite made it over that little hump.

"We all had this connection which was Trevor Hoffmann, the producer and our instrumentalist in the group," Pruneau added. "We've all worked with him on various projects and he brought us all together one night when we happened to be in town for a casual YouTube cover and I think we all realized that something interesting and not that common had happened."

It came as a surprise to three out of the four, and Hoffmann, the matchmaker, was iffy about the introduction himself.

"Oh we were rivals. We were not big fans of each other for awhile," said Karey, a protégé of superstar producer David Foster. "Back when I was working with David, I knew about all these guys. I kept one eye on them to sort of always see what was going on, and over the years we all sort of rose to the top of that pool of talent in our respective locations. It was almost inevitable to cross paths with each other, especially since we'd all known and worked with Trevor. After that first moment of jamming together, the rest is really history."

"The funny story about that is how we all had sort of preconceived notions about each other before actually meeting," said Marc Devigne, once a top candidate on Canadian Idol. "When Cody says we were rivals, it was really based out of ideas we placed on each other, some of it more out of a competitive nature and maybe a bit of jealousy. It wasn't until Trevor brought us together that all those walls came tumbling down."

Hoffmann is used to working in collaborative environments. As a friend of Prince George maestro Kevin Zakresky, Hoffmann has even worked on multiple occasions with the PGSO. He wasn't sure what the first 60 minutes would be like, but he was confident that if Pruneau, Devigne and Karey could get past those first few measures, there would be a whole melody as a reward.

"The amazing part for me was hearing these guys talk about each other from across the continent," Hoffmann said. There was sniping and professional guardedness in that discourse. "I call it the tenor tension between all of them. So yeah, I created this plot to get them to all meet. I knew it would either go incredibly well or incredibly terrible. And it went incredibly well. These guys all have big, dominant personalities. Almost all tenors do. It just comes with the territory. So I knew they would either gel or butt heads, and I'm so glad it was the former, and here we are, more than a year-and-a-half later."

They have written, arranged, refined and recorded an ever-growing repertoire of music in that time. Very little of it has been released to the world (a handful of YouTube tracks are drawing attention). It took them a long time to massage the sound that would define them, and although Karey joked that one of the traits they each possess least is patience, they believed in the process and each other so much that organic songwriting from all over the continent was worth the wait.

The group is a four-way democracy but the proverbial speaker of their Parliament is Hoffmann who balances the three voices between his beats and melodies. All three singers are so skilled that none need worry about who can meet the demands of the music, it is simply a matter of who handles which part of any given track. It is about the singers serving the song, not which singer the song might serve.

"I've been involved in a lot of projects, but they were always at the hands of other people," said Devigne. "What's been exciting for me is seeing the four of us coming together and organically creating and figuring out what it is that makes us unique and different. That's been the most rewarding thing in my career thus far - having 100 per cent control in delivering the sound and vision for this group."

Hoffmann said it felt like his life's varied work - a foot in the classical world and a foot in the electronic world - finally finding a single home.

"The exciting part for me is getting to work on developing a new sound for these guys," Hoffmann said. "What's wonderful is that I've known these guys for years, I know their voices intimately, and together we are working on the arrangements to do something that's never really been done before. As I've been listening, even during the recording process, and trying to find something to compare it to, there's nothing that we've heard that's in this sound-world. So that's exciting for me, that we are forging new territory."

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