Derek Martin From Eastbound Of Bytown On Country Music, And Keeping Live Music Alive
Derek Martin grew up in a large, musical family who had country music on 24/7. It’s not a surprise that he now spends a lot of his time playing country music at live venues around Ottawa.
In 2015, Derek set out as a solo artist in the live music scene in Ottawa, and was joined by Kyle Howard a year later, forming an acoustic duo. The band known today as Eastbound Of Bytown includes Casey McCann who plays lead and Mark Castonguay on drums.
We chatted about growing up in Ottawa, what country music has done for Derek, and how he and his band mates are keeping live music alive during a socially distant summer.
Tell us about your childhood growing up in Ottawa?
I was born and raised here in Ottawa. However, I moved around a lot. I’ve lived all over the city from Nepean to Kanata then Westboro and finally settled in the east end between Navan and Orleans.
Besides moving around a lot, I lived a fairly normal childhood. My parents seperated when I was young, so my mom raised my brother and I on her own (seeing my dad every so often). I was into sports at a young age. I started playing baseball when I was 4 and hockey when I was 9, both of which I still play to this day.
I had always had a love for music throughout my childhood. Growing up with both of my parents listening to Country, there was always music being played no matter where we were. Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt and Billy Ray Cyrus were some of my favourites to listen to before I went through the “boy band” stage. This is a little embarassing to admit but I was a HUGE Backstreet Boys fan when they first came out. I had all of their CD’s and would listen to them on repeat, posters on the walls, Nick Carter mushroom cut….the whole 9 yards. It wasn’t until high school that i really started to listen to and appreciate country music again and don’t worry, the mushroom cut was gone before then.
You come from a family of musicians, when did you know that you wanted music to be a part of your life, too?
Music has always been a part of my life. My dad comes from a big family in Kazabazua, QB. All 9 brothers and sister either play at least 1 instrument or sing, so i’ve been around musicians my entire life. I remember going up to the farm in Kaz at a very young age for family reunions and there would be a massive hay trailer set up on the side of the house that would be transformed into a stage for the weekends festivities.
In elementary school I loved music class. It started with the plastic recorder we’ve all played growing up at some point but quickly turned into playing the trumpet and joining the choir. Although choir only lasted a couple of years as the new school I started going to didn’t offer it, trumpet stuck for about 4-5 years.
It wasn’t until I was 14 though that I decided to pick up a guitar of my own. My parents had gotten me a Nova guitar for christmas to play around on and I instantly took to it. I would sit at the computer for hours, looking up song chords and lyrics. Any chance I got, I was playing my guitar.
Growing up, what country singers were you a fan of?
There was always country playing in the house growing up. Billy Ray Cyrus was definitely one of the more noteable ones. Another embarrassing story….my mom had recorded a concert of his on a VHS tape for me to re-watch because it was on too late for me to see it live. As the concert went on, he’d sweat more and more. Well me being the “country star” I was decided to go into the washroom, splash water on my face then run back out to the living room just in time for “Achy Breaky Heart”. His concert at the Robert Guertin Arena was also my first ever concert. Besides Billy Ray Cyrus, I loved listening to Alan Jackson, Tracey Lawrence and Travis Tritt. All of which I have on my set lists today.
When and why did you make the decision to form Eastbound of Bytown?
Believe it or not, I only started playing shows in 2015. Since I was 14 I had played guitar and sang a bit here and there but I was always too shy to play in front of people I didn’t know. I played a few shows with my buddy Damien Maze late in 2014, then started booking my own gigs in 2015.
As I played more often, I got to meet more of the artists from Ottawa who play around the city. I met Kyle Hayward in the fall of 2016 and we formed Eastbound Of Bytown as an acoustic duo to add a different sound from my solo shows.
Tell us about how the band formed, and your bandmates.
Originally Eastbound Of Bytown was formed as an acoustic duo but as we started booking more shows at bigger venues as well as getting festival bookings, we decided to form a full band.
Casey McCann,who also comes from a very musical family, had been playing shows with members of my family for a few years when I met him at one of my dads gig’s. We got talking and he agreed to play an upcoming show with us. He’s been playing lead for Eastbound Of Bytown since.
Mark Castonguay joined us on drums in the spring of 2018, playing his first show with us at Poutine Fest at City Hall. Mark and Casey had previously played together and was a welcome addition to Eastbound Of Bytown.
The three of us have done the majority of our shows as a trio thus far. Although for bigger shows we’ve been lucky enough to borrow some talent from around Ottawa to fill in the sound on Bass with the likes of; Mat Charrette, Rory Mayhew and Scott Reeves.
Being able to do something I am so passionate about with guys I look at like brothers has been a dream come true. We may not always see eye to eye on everything but that comes with the territory. There will always be songs we don’t agree on or just creative differences that crop up, but it’s a blessing to be able to do something you love for others to enjoy.
What’s your favourite song to perform live?
Although I love playing the 90’s “classics”, my favourite song to perform is hands down “Beer Never Broke My Heart” by Luke Combs. From the moment he came out with it I knew it would be a fun song to play but with the success of the song and how popular it’s gotten, the reaction from crowds when we play it is amazing. From the opening line to the end of the song, it’s a song people sing and dance along to and i couldn’t imagine our set list without that song in there.
What is your favourite thing about country music?
I think my favourite think about country music is the fact that almost every song is relatable in one way or another. No matter what mood i’m in or what I may be doing, I can always throw on country music and know I’ll be satisfied. It could be a bad break up, the birth of a child, or just sitting on a boat drinking with your buddies, there’s a country song about it that you can relate to.
What are some of your favourite venues and festivals that you played at around Ottawa?
Being that we are a country band, there aren’t too many places in Ottawa that cater to our set lists. However, we’ve had the chance to play at Lone Star on St.Laurent and had an absolute blast. The British in Aylmer is a fun stage to play as well. We tend to get a great crowd out every time we’re there. My personal favourite though would have to be Lasso Live in Pembroke. The crowd is always ready to party and they love their country music in the Ottawa Valley.
As far as fairs and festivals go, we’ve been lucky enough to be included in quite a few of them. Although rain dampened our show at the Renfrew Fair last summer, we got to open up for Eric Ethridge, which was an awesome experience. The Poutine Fest at City Hall has been another festival which we’ve played at multiple times. With great crowds and such positive feedback, it’s definitely been a festival we look forward to every year.
Mark and I play a lot of acoustic duo shows around the city and there are some amazing venues within the city of Ottawa as well like; Ridge Rock Brewery, The Royal Oak Pubs, Heart and Crown, Barley Mow, and Taproom 260 in Orleans to name a few. Playing these smaller venues as an acoustic duo allows us to play a wider variety of genres as well as gives us a more intimate set with the crowd, while maintaining a similar sound that people are used to hearing from us.
What’s your best advice for aspiring artists who’d like to follow your bands footsteps?
Honestly, just put yourself out there. The live music scene in Ottawa is an amazing family to be a part of and there are so many venues that host live music. If you are passionate about music and have a sound that people enjoy listening to, put yourself out there. Contact venues, create a press kit that allows you to gain more bookings and network easier as well as grow your following.
Don’t ever allow your passion to feel like work. Although is definitely a lot of leg work to be done when trying to obtain bookings at the start, it should never feel like something you HAVE to do. It’s fun, enjoy it.
Most events have been cancelled this summer, but how is EOB going to continue to perform and stay connected to fans?
As many other musicians can attest, it hasn’t been easy dealing with the amount of cancellations due to Covid-19. Fair/Festival season is something we look forward to every summer and from the looks of it for the time being, there won’t be one this year.
The entire music community has rallied around Live Streaming and making the most of these trying times. Having the ability to be in the comfort of your own home yet still enjoy live music is definitely something we should be grateful for.
Due to the social distancing restrictions we have only done 1 live stream together but both Casey and I have been doing solo live streams for the entire duration of the shutdown thus far.
Lastly, what’s next for you, and next for EOB?
Personally, I’ve been taking more time to learn new material as well as writing more. I find myself practicing guitar a lot more as well. It wasn’t easy at first to be honest. When you’re used to playing 2-3 shows per week then all of a sudden you’re not able to, it takes a bit of getting used to.
As far as what’s next? As many of us are, we are hoping this shutdown ends sooner than later. We’d love to be able to make the most of the summer in whatever way possible and salvage some of our bookings if the restrictions allow us. But for the future, we just want to continue growing our following, playing music for people to enjoy and get into venues like Crazy Horse in Kanata. It’s been a goal/dream of mine to play there since it opened and being a country band, we’d love the opportunity to play at the best country music venue in Ottawa.
We hope everyone is staying safe and can’t wait to see you soon!!!