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High Holy Days break through the rock storm

After a rain-and-lightning soaked performance in Toronto, we catch up with this earnest, hard rock band on the rise.

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It’s not surprising that it’s raining in the midst of Toronto’s first-day-of-summer celebrations. It is surprising, however, to see that the band playing at the Dundas Square-based celebration has any kind of a turn out in this pouring rain. People are actually stopping to stand in the rainfall to listen to these guys.

Into the third song of the band’s set, the two first rows of the audience are already dancing in the rain. Vocalist Marc Arcand grabs his mic and smiles at the drenched crowd while he sings. Billy MacGregor’s flaming red hair is waving around his face, as though it’s dancing to the rhythm of his guitar. Bassist Jeremy Galda is dripping with sweat along with Jason Guindon on the drums.

Then lightning strikes. Literally.

The band’s on-stage energy is palpable, but it’s not as electric as the lightning above them. Fortunately, they make it through the set alive — those who are superstitious may say it’s due to the fact that the band’s name is High Holy Days.

After their rainy performance, the band steps into the 279 Club right above the Hard Rock CafĂ© on Yonge and Dundas. High Holy Days is there to shoot a spoof of MTV’s dress-me-up-and-film-me-copying-a-rock-star reality show Becoming. Arcand takes a break from the shoot to join Popjournalism on a high stool, to watch the rain pour on Dundas Square through the bar’s windows.

Arcand is tired. Hidden under a black and white cap, his eyes look pale. His demeanour brightens when we start talking about All My Real Friends, the band’s debut record, and the lyrics and meanings behind their songs. He says that everything he writes about is personal, about his life. He believes in being authentic. Although he admits that he gets burned out from every concert, because he gives so much in his songs to try and deliver an honest performance.

The importance of being genuine was burned into Arcand during his high school years. In those identity-building times, Arcand says everyone looked the same to him. That’s when he started writing music to differentiate himself. “There is an opportunity to be yourself. You gotta take it if you can,” he says. He wrote a song about it called “The Situation”.

Then he wrote “All My Real Friends”, which turned out to be the band’s first hit.

“The message [in “All My Real Friends”] is don’t trust people with everything or you’re gonna get screwed over,” he says. “People will screw up, expect that. When you think they’re always there for you, they’re only there for you sometimes. You have to be strong always.”

Being strong works for Arcand’s real-life as it does on stage. At 26, he’s a family man. He has a one-year-old son named Liam. He says it’s difficult to settle down, since he’s home maybe once a week every month. He gives his partner credit for their lasting relationship. “It takes one hell of a girl to put up with all of it. I’m never home and when I am I spend a lot of time recording so it’s an extreme long-distance relationship and she’s just so strong.”

Arcand’s dedication to writing is a refreshing change in the rock world since lately it seems that people just don’t care about rock lyrics anymore. They’re out there for the beat, for the noise and for some action. Arcand holds a different point of view: “I think there are probably a lot of bands that would offer way more meaningful lyrics if they felt that people were actually listening to the lyrics. They probably just figure that nobody cares anyway. So they’re just producing music.”

At this moment, the rest of the band walks our way, laughing, holding drinks in their hands. High Holy Days are almost too comfortable during the interview. Wearing worn-out jeans and dark T-shirts, they light up the room with ear-to-ear smiles. They’re putting their feet up, they’re not taking off their hats and they’re constantly exchanging inside jokes. One of the first topics in our freeform conversation is about their fans.

“When you start out playing music, you just do it for yourself but when you do it for a living the fans are what’s it’s all about,” says guitarist McGregor. “Without them, you’re still a garage band. To know that people really appreciate what you do is really something else.”

Galda nods: “It just feels like it’s all worthwhile.”

High Holy Days formed when Arcand met drummer Guindon through a mutual friend. When Guindon realized Arcand was forming a rock group, he literally went out and bought his drum kit that day.

“Couple years later down the road, Billy and Jeremy came into the picture. Billy being Marc’s cousin and Jeremy being a friend of mine from North Bay,” says Guindon.

While the group is now a foursome, Arcand reveals that the original band had a fifth member – one who just couldn’t deal with the music business. “The truth is,” Arcand muses aloud, “the music business is for people who can run through life with a chip on their shoulder. If the ups and downs of life don’t bother you at all, the music business is the perfect place for you. You gotta love the down ’cause you know there’s an up right after it.”

To balance that flux, the band constantly practices in their recording studio in North Bay, Ont. None of the guys will be considering a move to the big city any time soon. They love having a lake, they love camping and they love the cheap rent.

“Cities are a great visit.” says Macgregor, and as though to back his argument, a whiny siren blares below us on Yonge St. “You hear that? That’s an ambulance, man. Move to the country!”

Speaking of other sounds, the guys move onto another topic: hearing themselves on the radio for the first time. A North Bay rock station got a hold of their demo and was playing their songs without the band knowing about it. When they finally tuned in, they were taken aback.

“My initial surprise was. a surprise,” Arcand laughs. “I was like: what the hell is going on?”

They’ve been on the road ever since. To support their CD, High Holy Days have been touring across Canada and every venue – large or small – has represented a new learning experience. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve got three people or 300, those people are coming to see our band,” Arcand says. “Like today, when people were willing to sit out there in the rain to watch us play.”

Galda continues. “It doesn’t matter where you are. The more energy the crowd has, the more energy we get.”

With strong, introspective lyrics, High Holy Days are continuing their North American tour and their profile continues to rise. They’re working hard to impact the rock universe — rain or shine.

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