From Nova Scotia, Canada comes a sound. Not just any sound, but a special one. One that identifies a shared feeling. Some people call it simply “the blues” while others, well aware of Darren Arsenault, know better than to define this rhythm with such cavalier indiscretion.
The blues are present, but so is bluegrass, folk, jazz, country and the collective attitude of every moonshine swigging east coaster that’s ever stayed up drinking with their record collection.
This music hits home, identified with by all Canadians coast to coast to coast and cherished by those who still let their freak flag fly. The beatniks. The peace lovers. The dreamers indebted to the music that has become their only source of freedom.
There are over two hundred songs in Arsenault’s arsenal ready to be unloaded in the face of the awestruck audience at anytime.
Whether he’s performing on stage or on the street, this man follows the music where ever it takes him. A true rambling man, he may as well ride into town on a train car with a bindle packed with spare banjo strings and his diner.
When Arsenault was a child his parents set him loose on a set of drums which taught him rhythm, however the influence of the guitar and the brightness of the spotlight at the front of the stage drew him to the strings. He taught himself how to play the guitar and then perfected his own unique style that takes from a multitude of genres, crashing them together just to see the beauty in the carnage.
Picture a smokey bar, dimly lit with a neon sign outside that spells the owners name. It’s there in that special place that exists an existence free of government hypocrisy or fascism, one that revolves around the music and nothing else. Insecurity and vulnerability are present but impossible to spot under the heavy blue lighting. Everyone in the place feels a common sense of unity and belonging, something rare in their lives and reserved for the night where they are free and unguarded.
It’s this environment where Darren lives, thrives, belongs, like a creature that feasts off of the collective energy conjured up by the crowds attentive and connected being.
Contentment for Darren comes with a thumb pick and a melody to share and experiment with, touching the far reaches of improvisation and then reeling back to polished perfection. He wears his heart on his sleeve and the same shirt a couple times a week. This is a musician who embraces the ups and downs and laughs in the bony face of the grim reaper who tried and failed to take him away from us too early. In 2017 Arsenault suffered a heart attack, knocking his life out of balance but into perspective.
I had the opportunity to ask Darren about his heart attack and his music.
In 2017 you had a heart attack and then you were playing again in 2018. What was your motivation?
I couldn't wait to get back at it. Stints are great.
In your teens you bought a guitar and taught yourself to play. What kind of guitar was it?
It was a 20 dollar Degas.
Should have been suspicious of that bridge coming off. That guitar taught me a lot.
Your parents bought you your first instrument, a drum set. Were your parents musicians? If not what did they do for a living?
My mom played piano, not professionally. Her dad played in the silent movies and was a piano tuner in Toronto. One of the sweetest memories in my life... my big brother and my dad trying to set up a drum set at midnight when I was 12. Drums are loud.
How long has the DA trio been together?
About 15 years, or an eternity.
Do you prefer playing on stage or the street?
Much prefer the stage. Though maybe my love of street performance came from being in the Brampton majorette and drum corp. Canadian champions 4 years in a row. Ontario 3 years. Paid for this house through busking. Banjo rules.
If you couldn’t say organic, soulful, or original, how would you describe your music in one word?
Hmmmm... It was once described as blue country swingabilly.
Are you still playing solo on the side or are you always with the trio these days?
Have you always lived out east?
I lived in my mom for 9 months in Toronto. Then grew up in Brampton for 23 years.
Presently growing up in Nova Scotia.
I'm not ashamed to be from Brampton any more.
Was there ever a time where you worked a regular job? If so how did it end?
Don't get me started.....
What’s your most memorable performance?
My first love.
Have you ever bombed?
I used to play drums for a Newfy band in Bramalea called Gordie and the Islanders.
We bombed at Christopher Steak House, between strippers at 15 years old. My folks were so proud.
Where is your favourite place to play (city, venue or even street corner)?
This kitchen table. Forever.....
With a life dedicated to music, Darren has become the pride of Nova Scotia and represents what it is to be a free spirit, a gambler, an outsider with a talent that takes him town to town, nation to nation running amok with no remorse for the squares he upsets.