In the Maritimes one's last name says a lot. It's a marker that can potentially reveal your father, the place where you came of age and the chain of ancestors you belong to. The Halifax music community is just as tightly knit.
Gillian Austin, lead singer and songwriter of Gillian Austin and the Brambles, won't reveal the possible guest appearances for the release show of her debut EP, Mystery Guest, Friday night at The Company House. But she will fess up to her legendary family name.
"Yes, Charles Austin in my brother," she says of the musician/producer/Echo Chamber recording studio mainstay. "He's my younger brother, though much wiser. Even if he wasn't my brother, he's so good at what he does.
"He wants to support the musician. He remembers when he was a teenager; he brings out the best in them. You have to feel comfortable when you are recording. He's so supportive that way. If you don't look comfortable he'll add something to it."
To help cover the expensive overhead of her recording, Austin swapped time babysitting her brother's kids, and chipped in on construction when it came time to move Echo Chamber from the Khyber to its new location on Kempt Road. The result of hard work and time spent with her two lovely nieces is Mystery Guest, a collection of six quirky, melodic pop songs.
With a hint of The Barbarellas and splashes of The Muffs, Gillian Austin and the Brambles could have listeners sorting through their record collections for girl-friendly bands who formed in the early '90s. Recorded live off the floor, the class act cast delivers an array of sound that pays homage to what the Halifax music scene once was, and provides a window into what it is now.
"There are tons of really accomplished musicians here. It's amazing," says Austin. "And people are pretty open to experimenting and I guess for me, since Charles moved here from Toronto when he was 19. I always came and popped in and out. I've always known what he is up to.
"There are a lot of the local people who have been at it for a long time, like Al Tuck and Joel. There are so many established people that make it really inspiring. It makes it easy and a little bit daunting."
Recording her disc, Austin teamed up with some of Halifax's most sought-after musicians, including Chris Pennell on bass (Joel Plaskett Emergency, the Heavy Meadows and Yellow Jacket Avenger), Jonathan Andrews on guitar (the Blown Gasket Orchestra, Bend the River and Al Tuck) and Chris "Cookie" Cookson on drums (Zumbini Circus, Al Tuck, Samba Nova and Osende Flamenco Company). Her brother even chimed in on vocals on the title track, and some yelling and guitar on "Poison Tincture."
"He was fantastic to work with," she says. "He made fun of my lyrics, just making fun of me. I'm used to that. There was no judgement involved. I think the thing that is more nerve-wracking is sharing your stuff with other musicians."