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Tara Slone Talks Hometown Hockey & The Ottawa Valley

Tara Slone has carved an incredibly unique career path as a rockstar turned hockey broadcaster. Today, she is one of the faces of Hometown Hockey. Before that, she was known as the lead singer of the hit Canadian band Joydrop, who rose to fame in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Tara grew up on the East Coast, and studied music as a young adult. When she was in her early twenties, she answered a newspaper ad for a band calling for a female lead singer. Tara was the perfect fit, and joined the band to form Joydrop, whose hit songs included Beautiful and Sometimes Wanna Die (a music video that featured Tommy Lee). After her successful career with the band, Tara went on to have a solo career, working closely with Canadian musician and producer Jordon Zadorozny. It was then that Tara spent many weekends in the Ottawa Valley, working out of Zadorozny’s studio in his hometown of Pembroke.

After her solo career, Tara looked for a new beginning. Though it was difficult to shed her identity as a musician, she fell in love with the world of broadcasting. After working for five years as a host on Breakfast Television for CityTV Calgary, she became a lead broadcaster for Hometown Hockey alongside Ron MacLean, and has since travelled from coast to coast with the show to connect hockey communities across Canada to the game they love.

Tara lives in Toronto with her husband (who is from Ottawa himself) and young daughter. We caught up with her to discuss Hometown Hockey’s return, her career highlights, and her best advice for aspiring musicians.

Tara Slone_AZ – by Anita Zvonar

You were born in Montreal, but grew up in Nova Scotia. What are some of your fondest memories from life growing up in the Maritimes? How does it compare to living in Canada’s biggest city?

I spent my elementary school years in Wolfville Nova Scotia, the home of Acadia University. It’s on the Bay of Fundy. It’s just an extraordinary part of the province and part of the country. Although I came from a divorced family, I had a kind of storybook childhood because of the freedom I had to run around with my friends, bike everywhere, and just enjoy the magical landscape of Nova Scotia. I have such an affinity and am so drawn to the ocean. I went to junior high and high school in Halifax, which is a vibrant, awesome city. And I got to work at Sam The Record Man, the legendary record store all through high school. So that’s a very fond memory for me. So I love my connection with the maritime provinces and Nova Scotia.

You were interested in all kinds of music, but you first went to school for Opera/ Classical Music and in your own words ‘botched it’ in the first year of that. Do you remember what it felt like for you to be a young kid, out on your own, feeling that sense of failure? How were you able to get back in the saddle and discover your love for rock and for acting?

Well, it was a huge learning experience. It was the first time that I really realized that I had been a big fish in a small pond in high school. I was certainly one of the best singers in that very small talent pool. And then, you know, you go into university, which is a very serious setting for people who are very serious about pursuing that career path. And you have to do the work, otherwise game over. And for me, I simply didn’t have the discipline. I was 18. I wanted to do what most of my other friends were doing, which was to have fun and party and, you know, just the first year university stuff. But the two could not coexist. So, you know, I think I learned a lot about work ethic. My work ethic now is very intense, probably overly so. And maybe that’s a reason why. It was a huge wake up call for sure.

You’ve told the story many times about how you answered an ad in Now Magazine and became the ‘rock goddess’ of Joydrop. Do you remember if you were on the fence, or nervous to go? Or did it feel like a true calling to you at the time?

That one I had to answer. It was tongue in cheek as it was written by Tony, who is the drummer, and he’s actually from Ottawa. And they were asking for a rock goddess or something, and in no way did I think I was a rock goddess, but I liked the sassiness of the call out. So there was no question that was one I was going to follow up.

Do you remember the first time you heard your song Beautiful on the radio? What was that moment like for you?

When you first service a song to radio, it often gets played on specialty shows before it’ll be put into the conventional playlist. So we knew it was going to come up on some new music show and CFNY which is 102.1 in Toronto, which is, you know, obviously one of the biggest alternative radio stations in the country, it’s mind blowing. You get to have one of those moments where all that hard work feels like it’s paid off. And then I also remember hearing it coming out of a car window for the first time. That was also a really momentous occasion.

You enjoyed a lot of fame during the late 90s and early 2000s as the ‘rock goddess’ of Joydrop. How do you think your experience would have been different if social media existed during that time? What are your thoughts on it today?

I think it’s given bands and artists a lot more autonomy. Back then, it was harder to be an indie artist. A lot of us were following the route, which was to get a record deal or spend a lot of money and go into severe debt to
a record company forever. I remember we even tried to go with an independent video director and we weren’t even allowed to. The whole thing was driven by the need to spend tons of cash. We definitely had a bit of a DIY spirit to us and weren’t really able to do that because there just weren’t the outlets. So I think we would have really appreciated social media. But at the same time, you know, it’s hard enough reading bad record reviews or any kind of criticism. And those are easy enough to kind of get away from when it’s just been in newspapers. But when it’s literally everywhere, I think I probably would have had a hard time with that.

So after Joydrop, you went on to do some solo work that led you to spending some weekends in Pembroke Ontario. What did you think of the area and your time in the Ottawa Valley?

Oh, I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I think it’s a great testament to Pembroke and the Ottawa Valley that somebody with the talent that Jordan Zadorozny possesses went back to Pembroke to work.
His band Blinker The Star had a giant record deal with Geffen Records. He spent a lot of time in L.A. and ultimately was drawn to returning home. And he still works out of Pembroke. So, I mean, it was a part of the world I didn’t know anything about until I met Jordan. And that was an album that was made on weekends over a span of years. So I spent quite a bit of time there. I did quite a bit of karaoke at the Lasso Saloon. So I have a great fondness for Pembroke. And if I had a Lumber Kings Jersey I would wear it.

Is there a story you’ve told that you’re proud of the most or that impacted you the most looking back on the different people you’ve met and stories you’ve told over the years with Hometown Hockey?

I tell this story a lot, but it’s because it had such a profound impact on Ron and myself and the whole crew. And I think particularly on a day like today with the discovery made at Kamloops, it is fitting. Ron and I were welcomed by many First Nations communities along the way. For our first stop in 2018 we were hosted by First Nations, in Enoch Cree nation just outside of Edmonton. It was also the first time that there was a simulcast of our NHL game in Plains Cree. It was a profound weekend. We listened a lot to people from that community, including Chief Wilton Littlechild, who was at the time, the Treaty Six Grand Chief who grew up in the residential school system. To experience them hearing the Montreal Canadiens game called in their ancestral language was an incredibly moving experience.

As someone who has really seen the heart of Canadian communities throughout Hometown Hockey, what is it about hockey that you think really brings this country together?

Well, I think at the best of times, it can be a great equalizer. When people are on the ice and they’re just doing what they love and what people love to cheer for or against. Everybody has a hometown loyalty and arenas and hockey communities can really bring out the best in people. We see it all the time, that when people are in need, these communities can be a place to grieve. The game definitely can and has the capacity to be a uniting force. It doesn’t always happen that way, but we have been fortunate enough in Hometown Hockey to see truly the best that it has to offer.

Tell us about your docuseries Top of Her Game, which explored the lives, careers and accomplishments of women in sports and pop culture. Why was this an important story for you to tell?

I really credit Hometown Hockey and the space and platform that we were given with that show to tell these non-conventional hockey stories and to tell stories that were not told during other NHL games, especially at the beginning. And that included stories of women, but also stories of new Canadians, stories of Indigenous Canadians, and stories of BIPOC people. And obviously, for me as a woman and somebody who has always been really passionate about equality and equity, I was just noticing that, although our crew is equal in numbers of men and women, we were often not seeking out stories of women. So we started to become very intentional about telling those stories. And then when the pandemic hit and there were no live sports, there was this call out from Sportsnet, you know, they actually needed content. You can look at all the NHL and baseball games they were reairing from 1993, but there was just not a lot of female programming.

We know that four percent of media coverage is dedicated to women’s sports. So we used the opportunity that came from the pandemic to find the space. Initially, Top of Her Game was only supposed to be six episodes. We’ve done about 50 by now. We just wrapped for the season and we’ll be back in the fall.

What is the best thing about being a mom?

It’s never dull. I think parenting pushes all of your limits. Whatever you thought you were, whatever you think you are, how nice you think you are, however generous you think you are or patient, it pushes all of that. It pokes at everything. But it also pushes the limits of your heart because you just don’t know how much you love somebody until you have a kid. I mean, at least in my experience. I don’t think that’s fair to impose on everybody. Parenting has taught me that you have to be able to be fluid. You know, you have to listen and be present and just keep learning because you have to look at things which are ever, ever evolving.

Netflix Recommendations?

Here’s a list of a few of my streaming favourites: Euphoria, Superstore, Please Like Me, Catastrophe, and The Wilds.

What is your best advice to anyone looking to follow in your footsteps, and achieve a level of success that you have enjoyed?

It sounds cliche, but don’t listen to the negativity around you. And sometimes it’s from other people and oftentimes it’s from yourself. I think you have to make a practice of making your voice louder than your negative voice.

Never give people a reason to say you didn’t work hard enough. You might have to work harder than the people around you. It’s not necessarily the easiest thing to do when you’re 19 years old. I would say, don’t be afraid to speak out. Don’t be afraid to use your voice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to approach people to ask for advice. Make sure you surround yourself with the right people. Find the right support network and don’t be afraid to call on them.

I spent a lot of time thinking I needed to assimilate in a certain way. But really, I think I personally do my best work when I’m being my authentic self with my authentic voice, which might not be like everybody else’s. And I think that ultimately is your strength.
You know, the stuff that makes you you.

As we hopefully move out of this pandemic, what’s next for you?

Maybe somebody out there can tell me? (Laughs) You know, in the shorter term, I certainly hope that Hometown Hockey can return in the fall and resemble its former self, at least in some way. I’m not sure how close we’re all going to get to one another. But I certainly hope that we can return because, in particular, the stories of heroism and community and healing that I think we can tell will be unbelievable. My hope is that Top of Her Game can morph into being something that’s bigger and that leads to the inclusion of more women’s sports on our network. So I do hope that that continues in some form. And, you know, in the long term, I don’t really have a need to be on TV for the rest of my life. I feel the most satisfied when I think and I feel like I’m effecting change. So I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I’m definitely open to suggestions.

@taraslone

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